Having only being to Lisbon for a long weekend, we were both extremely excited about spending a few weeks getting to properly know Portugal. Literally descending the cloud from rainy Spain, we crossed the Minho river and immediately parked up in a cool forest near the beach, about 50km north of Porto. The sun was shining, and although super windy (great if you're into wind surfing or kite surfing), a nice place to chill out and plan our decent along the Portuguese coast.
Following another downpour, the next morning we headed directly towards Porto, which turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered, and a perfect place to explore whilst the weather wasn't playing ball. We based ourselves in a pretty basic campground (Canidelo Camping, €24 per night) near Praia da Sereia (Mermaid beach), and with it only costing €6 to €9 for Ubers to and from Porto, we managed to see quite a lot of this epic city. Here's our top things to do!
1. Porto Walking Tours
Like most cities in Europe, a great way to get your bearings and to provide a foundation for your exploring, is via first doing a free walking tour. After reading a few reviews we used Porto Walkers. It was three hours very well spent getting to know the dramatic history of how Portugal became independent from Spain, as well as the city of Porto itself. It's free (although you tip the guide approx €10 per person).
2. Eat Everything
Tapas, tarts, desserts, seafood, crazy protein-carb-loaded Francesinhas; this is definitely a city worth wining and dining. Stay tuned for another post on our top eats in Portugal coming very soon!
3. Drink Port
This could easily be the top thing to do in Porto, but we thought we'd suggest the walking tour and eating first, before you head straight to the port cellars and a guaranteed hangover. Whether you like port or not, you must do a tasting whilst in Porto or up the Douro Valley.
Whilst we wish we had time, only a few hours east of Porto and up the Douro river is the actual vineyards in which the grapes for the famous port and local wines are grown. Well worth a visit. As an alternative if like us you are strapped for time, make sure to do a few port tastings in Gaia, as well as drink as much Douro wine as possible whilst out at restaurants.
We used the same Porto Walkers company for a port tasting tour and it was well worth it. €25 gets you four hours of tastings (seven glasses in total) across three different wine lodges, all whilst being provided a thorough history on how port came about and how it's made. This all takes place on the Gaia side of the river, finishing on a roof top bar with great views of Porto. We met some awesome Americans, Canadians and of coarse Aussies (they are everywhere), and needless to say we continued on into the early hours of the morning, drunk too much and still ended up with a hangover ;)
4. Luís I Bridge
The result of a contracting battle between Gustave Eiffel (who apparently built some tower in Paris) and his disciple Théophile Seyrig. The Luís I Bridge has an impressive 172.5m between it's two levels, connecting the lower and upper parts of the adjoining streets on each side of the Douro river. It's well worth crossing both below and above during your wanderings of Porto, and to get to and from Gaia. They both give quite different views of the city!
Most people don't know that either side of the Douro river are actually different cities. Gaia is where most of the port wine lodges are, and offers splendid views back towards Porto. A great place to view the vivid colours of the houses, which the Portuguese women deliberately painted bright hues to counteract the feeling of not knowing if their men were going to return from sea.
6. Majestic Cafe
Set in the 1920's and the cafe in which J. K. Rolling wrote Harry Potter. The coffee is expensive, but this is a site not to be missed, especially for Harry fans. It's closed Sundays, and quite often can have large lines, so get there early!
Overall Porto is breathtaking, and a place that is hard to fully imagine until one actually immerses themselves amongst the brightly coloured streets. In the end, we almost added on a few extra days, as one feels they could spend a week here.
Nevertheless, the rest of Portugal awaited us, and we were still yerning for sun, sand and sea! Thus we headed south along the West Coast, and closer towards the Algarves...
Bidi & Dan