It wouldn’t be a trip to Portugal without a stop in this large, sophisticated city with pockets of old world European charm. Spend three days in Lisbon and you’ll have plenty of time to discover all the pockets of wonderful things this area has to offer.
Lisbon, while charming and mysterious, wasn’t quite as thrilling for me after spending so many days in Porto. It’s a much larger city and it feels that way. That being said, it’s a worthwhile stop for two to three days while you are exploring the country. Although I won’t return for a second visit, I am overwhelmingly happy that I visited and it wouldn’t be a trip to Portugal without a visit to Lisbon.
STAY: You want to stay in the Alfama district: it’s tight magical winding streets are even smaller than those that have a similar feel in Porto. There are tiny restaurants and cafes tucked into every corner with traditional food and Fado music, the melancholy but traditional music of the country. There are charming and vintage private rooms to be had on Airbnb in the area for $20-40 a night in the area and entire flats for $35-$70.
EAT: I had a harder time finding cuisine that I was over the moon for in Lisbon, simply due to the grander larger nature of the city. Small intimate recommendations were harder to come by here: Lisbons’ seem to pride themselves on being a cosmopolitan city and most of the places that were suggested were fancier and more American than we were looking for. That being said, I had some solid meals in the city, the most memorable of which came on my last night in a small restaraunt with three tables run by one older woman who spoke no english. She fed me the traditional dish of Portugal: salted cod with shredded fried potatoes and it was clearly the nation’s comfort food.
- Queijaria for afternoon snacks or lunch: this place was quaint, unassuming and filled with amazing cheese. It’s a great place to stop and refill mid day while you are out exploring – you can quench your thirst with a glass of wine and eat cheese and antipasto to your heart’s content.
- Garrafeira Alfaia is dark, unassuming and comfortable. Dine on traditional black pudding rice with cumin, sausage with scrambled eggs or the secret black pork Lagareiro. If you aren’t that hungry, order more wine and cheese. I may have consisted on pure wine and cheese this entire trip.
- Frangasqueira Nacional for lunch. This small grilled meat shop offers nowhere to sit, but quite possibly the best blood sausage and roasted chicken in the city. Order up a mixed meat platter and head down the road to the Principe Real Garden to enjoy it. After that, head down the road to the Botanical Garden to walk off your massive food coma.
- Solar do Vinho do Porto is a warm cozy place to curl up on the couch with a book on an overcast day. It’s dark and wonderful in there and the selection of ports will astound you.
- Listen to Fado at anywhere that draws you in at night in Alfama. You can wander the streets until you hear something that intrigues you or make dinner reservations
- Get lost in the streets of Almalfa. The view is particularly gorgeous from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Wander all the way up to the mediaeval Castle of São Jorge, the royal residence until the early 16th century.
- The Museu Colecção Berardo has an impressive collection of modern art and no entrance fee. It had more Warhols than I’ve ever seen in one collection!
- Still not museumed out? Head up to the Museu da Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian which has an incredibly impressive collection of ancient world, religious and Impressionist and European art.
This past March 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 adventurous people who I look forward to a future adventures with, drank on the streets until 4 AM with them one night, wandered the iconic city for hours on end every day taking photos of vibrantly colored buildings and it’s beautiful traditional azulejo, the ceramic blue tiles that adorn many of it’s historical buildings, 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’s a few of my favorite images from my trip, interspersed with images taken of my friend and kick ass travel companion Shaunte, of Shaunte Dittmar Photography, and myself by Momento Cativo for Flytographer.
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 taking 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 breakfast 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, 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 renown 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 all the way 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.