January 13-16, 2022
Following several canceled trips in December due to Omicron-related restrictions, we booked a last-minute getaway to Porto as soon as travel started getting back to normal in January. Neither Andy nor I had been to Portugal before, but we are absolutely planning to come back and explore other parts of the country after such a wonderful three-day weekend in Porto.
Portugal’s second city is located along the Douro River estuary in the northern part of the country and is full of Old World charm, a trendy food scene, and excellent wine. Its compact and historic city center is brimming with cobblestone streets, flower-potted balconies, and 18th- and 19th-century buildings covered in azuelos, the typically blue-and-white-painted ceramic tilework for which Portugal is famous. The atmosphere is extremely laid-back, the residents couldn’t have been friendlier, and it was almost absurdly affordable — we truly couldn’t find anything to not love about Porto.
We flew in late on a Thursday night and had a fantastic experience with TAP Air Portugal (the state-owned flag carrier airline) on both our departure and return flights. Even Porto’s airport was remarkably pleasant and well-designed, and it was a quick cab ride away from our hotel in the city center. We stayed in the trendy, downtown area called Baixa at Exe Almada Porto and I highly recommend both the area and the hotel, which was unbelievably inexpensive for a four-star hotel in the heart of the city (<€200 total for three nights).
After a lovely breakfast at Mercador Café the next morning, we walked across the Dom Luís I Bridge and spent most of our first day in Porto on the south side of the River Douro. Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia, is where all the major port houses have caves (cellars) to age and store vinho do Porto (port wine) after it is grown, processed, and fortified ~60 miles away in the Douro Valley, a region with Portugal’s highest wine classification that produces both fortified and non-fortified wines. I must admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of dessert wines, but it was still very interesting to learn about and taste different types of port. The tasting we did at Caves Cálem included non-fortified Douro wines and it was a perfect way to start the afternoon before eating a phenomenal late lunch at Enoteca 17•56.
The rest of our weekend was spent back on the north side of the river in the Baixa and Ribeira areas of Porto proper, eating as much delicious Portuguese food as we could handle and walking it off on the hilly, cobblestoned streets. The weather was beautiful and sunny (a welcome change from dreary London winter), and the trip was simply the very best way we could have kicked off our 2022 travels.
If you’re planning a trip, click here to open and download my Google Maps saved locations for Porto.
Food & Drink
- Enoteca 17•56: This gorgeous seafood restaurant is on the top floor of Real Companhia Velha, a traditional port winery on the south side of the Douro, and had fantastic views of the river and the historic city center. The lunch we had here was easily our favorite meal in Portugal — and the sushi is probably some of the best we’ve ever had, period.
- Cordoaria Honest Food N Wine: Lovely restaurant near the Igreja dos Clérigos with an excellent, modern spin on Portuguese classics and a stellar wine list. We had dinner here one night and the service, food, and wine were all incredible. It was also extremely inexpensive for such a nice meal.
- Cantinho do Avillez: Michelin-guide bistro in the historic city center with a contemporary Portuguese menu and surprisingly affordable prices. We went here for dinner on our first night and had a great experience.
- Tasquinha Zé Povinho: Low-key neighborhood tasca with a menu of daily specials. We went here for lunch and Andy had a Francesinha, the local specialty sandwich made with several types of meat and covered with cheese and a special beer-based sauce. I had a much-less caloric grilled fish platter, but both of our meals were absolutely delicious (and absurdly cheap).
- Mercador Café: Excellent option for American-/Australian-style breakfast or brunch, with awesome service and reasonable prices.
- Nicolau Porto: Super cute and very popular cafe/bistro with a lovely brunch menu. It was packed every time we walked by, but we were able to get seated as a walk-in very easily and the service was great.
- Lazy Breakfast Club: Probably our least favorite of the three breakfasts/brunches we had in Porto, but it was still very good. The restaurant is very trendy/Instagram-y, but the menu was surprisingly hearty and had lots of variety.
- Fábrica Coffee Roasters: A gorgeous, airy coffee shop and specialty roastery in downtown Porto. The baristas were very friendly, and the coffee was excellent.
- Angel’s Share Wine Bar: Lovely and spacious wine bar in the WoW complex with a fantastic rooftop and great ambiance.
- Brutt da Picaria: Trendy, yet surprisingly laid back and welcoming, champagne and tapas bar in Baixa. The servers were so friendly and attentive, and the wine list was fantastic.
- Café Candelabro: A charming and extremely popular café-bar/bookshop concept in Baixa with a great menu of wines by the glass and a busy patio area.
- Espaço 77: Low-key bar in Baixa serving late-night food and cheap beer. We just grabbed some sandwiches for takeaway after getting into Porto late on a Thursday night, but the owner was extremely friendly and the place was packed.
- Cremosi: A delicious ice cream shop with creative flavors and several locations in Porto. They also serve coffee and pastries, cakes, and other desserts.
Activities & Attractions
- World of Wine (WoW): I was a little skeptical about visiting this wine-focused complex that opened in 2020 with over 420,000 square feet of converted wine cellars on the south side of the River Douro. The highly promoted “museum experiences” didn’t really seem like the type of thing we would enjoy, but I’m glad we at least walked around the area and had a few drinks at a beautiful rooftop wine bar.
- Caves Cálem: We randomly stopped in at the caves of this well-known wine producer while wandering around Vila Nova de Gaia and sat down for a phenomenal tasting of local port and wines from the Douro, which was perfect for those of us who don’t love sweet/dessert wine but still want to try the local specialty (AKA me). Our server was very informative and gave us a great (and very efficient) introduction to the different types of port wine before leaving us to enjoy the wines, which were served with delicious local chocolates.
- Livraria Lello: The Lello Bookstore, located near the Igreja dos Clérigos, is often featured as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. Although it was certainly beautiful, I was disappointed by how touristy and crowded it was — you have to buy tickets to go inside and unless you buy them in advance (which I did, thankfully) you have to wait in an extremely long line…just to go in a bookstore. Once inside, the selection of books is very underwhelming and the employees were much more focused on touting the building’s miscellaneous awards and accolades (including the false claim that J.K. Rowling used it as an inspiration for the Hogwarts library) than actually discussing books.
- São Bento Railway Station: A gorgeous train station in the city center with an entry hall that is famously decorated with approximately 20,000 azulejo tiles laid between 1905–1916 that represent key moments in Portuguese history.
- Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace): Ornate, 19th-century palace and a small park at the Infante D. Henrique Square in the historical city center. We didn’t go inside, but the interior is supposed to be even lovelier than the exterior.
- Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral): Roman Catholic church originally built in the 12th century. The Romanesque façade has beautiful murals made from azuelos, and its location on a hilltop provides stunning views of the historic city center and the River Douro.
- Igreja do Carmo & Igreja dos Carmelitas: The stunning, azulejo-covered Igreja do Carmo is an 18th-century church originally built as a monastery separated from Igreja dos Carmelitas, a convent built in the 16th century, by the 1-meter wide Casa Escondida (“Hidden House”).
- Igreja de Santo Ildefonso: 18th-century church with two bell towers and a façade adorned with more than 11,000 blue-and-white azulejo tiles depicting the life of Saint Ildefonso.
- Igreja dos Clérigos: An 18th-century church known for its 75-meter-tall bell tower, Torre dos Clérigos, which is one of the most commonly used symbols of the city.
- Mercado 48: Cute/fun little gift shop and art gallery with apparel, accessories, and decor created by local designers.
- WorkShops Pop Up: Converted warehouse in the city center with a cooking school and a diverse array of pop-up vendors selling ceramics, vintage fashion, and more.