In March of 2016, I took advantage of a great excuse to explore Europe: Fearless Photographers offers a yearly photography conference in different European cities and this year’s conference was in Porto, Portugal. I was excited to attend what turned out to be an incredibly inspiring and enriching experience. I met some incredibly loving and gregarious people who I look forward to future adventures with, drank on the streets until 4 AM with them one night, and wandered the iconic city for hours on end every day taking photos of vibrantly colored buildings and its beautiful traditional azulejo, the ceramic blue tiles that adorn many of its historical buildings. I discovered a love of expensive port and ate like a king. Porto’s people are unvaryingly calm and collected: they have soothing voices with evenly paced pronunciation that makes you feel incredibly tranquil in their presence. Here is my personal Porto travel guide and all the reasons Porto is STILL to this day (this post was updated in Feb 2023) in my top 3 travel destinations in the world.
Porto is charming af. This coastal city, located in the north of Portugal, is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Today, Porto has a preserved historic center thanks to it’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status. If you stay in the Ribeira district, you’ll be able to wander the streets endlessly amazed by the blended architecture. Most famous, obviously, is the Dom Luis I Bridge, which spans the Douro River and offers stunning views of the city. Portugal is already well known for it’s food, but Porto’s dining situation and it’s focus on seafood really stood out for me. Make sure you grab a Francesinha, a traditional meaty and cheesy sandwich. And last but not least, let’s not forget the wine (how could I?). Porto may be known as the birthplace of port, but you can also travel up the river on a wine tasting cruise and taste all of the dry varietals the region is known for. In short, I found Porto to be endlessly charming, incredibly affordable, and filled with wonder around every corner and it’s why I continue to recommend it as a destination so many years later.
My personal recommendations are included in the Porto travel guide after the photos, but, in the meantime, here are a few of my favorite images from my trip, interspersed with images taken of us by Momento Cativo for Flytographer. Interested in additional travel posts? You can find Lisbon here and all of them at this link.
Porto Travel Guide
Porto won me over in every way from head to toe. It is everything I want in a vacation destination: unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging. I could easily spend weeks in this city and never tire of wandering it’s streets. Here’s a mini Porto travel guide of navigating this beautiful city.
STAY: You want to stay in the Ribeira district: it’s charming historical winding streets and churches around every corner give it the old world European feel. There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible food. The riverside offers unbeatable vantage points of Porto, especially if you cross over the bridge into Gaia for an evening. There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $40-70 a night in the area. We really enjoyed our stay at Hugo’s TocToc Studio. It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.
EAT: The most memorable places we discovered in Porto were tiny and intimate. Most had five tables or less. Most had three people working, or less. Restaurants in Porto open late (expect to eat after 8 PM every night) and reservations are usually needed. We were there during Easter week, which is a big holiday for most of Europe, and in some cases it was hard to get reservations for places. At dinner most nights, we started just asking them to bring us whatever they wanted to serve us or whatever they thought they did best, and the results were always inspiring. Of all the places I’ve traveled, Porto will remain in my heart as one of the greatest culinary experiences I’ve ever had.
- A Sandeira for lunch: score a bowl of homemade soup and a sandwich for 5 euros. Like most wonderful Porto restaurants, this place is incredibly intimate and has very few tables so go early if you don’t want to hang outside waiting for a spot to open up. It’s worth the wait!
- Our meal at La Piada was one of the most memorable of our trip. The staff is incredibly gracious. The restaurant itself is wide open, with tall ceilings, a tree in the middle of one of the tables and local art on the walls. The couple who owns the restaurant is Italian and Portuguese and they offer piadinas: a small italian flatbread filled with Portuguese staples.
- One of my other favorite meals was at Porta4. There were three tables in the entire restaurant and two brothers took turns cooking and serving us.
- Amarelo Torrada for breakfast: if you are dying for something bigger than an espresso, this gal never minded serving me up a large americano. I was craving eggs and actual breakfast for most of my trip, but these guys had some wonderful breakfasts like toasted bread combos like cream cheese and lox that were a good stand-in.
- I found Livraria da Baixa on my first day and I returned every day thereafter. The staff is warm, and welcoming, and remembered me and my drink. They mix a great cocktail and if it’s a nice day, you can sit out on the patio and people watch. If it’s a rainy day, you can while away the evening in the incredibly cozy upstairs lounge. Just push the bell on the bookshelf when you are ready to order another round!
- Graham’s is one of the oldest and most renowned of the Port makers in the area. Tour their famous lodge overlooking Gaia and Porto and then partake in a tasting in the tasting room. Be forewarned: the vintage tawny tasting is worth the expense but may ruin you in regards to port forever. I have come to the new self-realization that it is not that I don’t like port – it’s that I don’t like cheap port.
- Take a boat trip on the Duoro River. This is one of the few things that I wasn’t able to do and wish I had. You can view the architecture of Porto from a new vantage point, or take a boat up the river into the wine-growing region and go wine tasting.
- Go on a church tour: Igreja dos Carmelitas has an incredibly picturesque traditional tile wall on the outside. Clerigos Church offers a 75-meter tall tower that offers unprecedented views of the city from the top of it. Expect a wait to climb the 240 stairs if you are there at a busy time. The Church of Sao Francisco is filled with gilded Baroque decor.
- Get your tourist on: Lello & Irmão Bookstore is apparently the third most famous library in the world, most likely because it supposedly inspired many aspects of Harry Potter for JK Rowling. The architecture inside is supposedly incredibly stunning. I didn’t have the patience to stand in line for four hours to go inside, so I’ll have to go back. If you really want to see the inside, you might go first thing in the morning before it opens to avoid the crowds, or right at closing. Cafe Majestic opened in 1921 and used to be the meeting point for the area’s elite and creatives. I was told it’s incredibly beautiful but has “tourist pricing.” JK Rowling also apparently spent many a day in this cafe on the first book in the series.
- Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer’s photographers for Porto are Ivo and Vanessa. This dynamic duo of a photographic team are married and totally in love with their home. They were incredibly fun to wander the city with for an afternoon, exploring the tight winding streets for the best kind of souvenir: photos of ourselves playing in a city we came to love.
- Visit the Oporto Craft Market: it’s filled with small stalls of homemade art, foodstuffs, and other creations by local artisans.
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