For anyone needing a well-earned break post-exams, I would highly recommend visiting Porto.
I had never really thought about visiting Portugal until my friend sent me a postcard from Porto. My first encounter with Portuguese culture was during a short trip to Macau, a former Portuguese colony an hour away from Hong Kong.
I was surprised at how cheap Portugal is! My return flight only cost £50 and a three hour train ride from Porto to Lisbon was only €18.50. I didn’t do any research prior to my trip because I was busy working on my essay (and because I am lazy). But personally, I think the best way to explore a city is to get lost in it!
I arrived on a Sunday, so most shops were closed. I tried a traditional dish called “francesinha” in Café Luso (Praça de Carlos Alberto 92). It’s a sandwich layered with bread, ham, sausage, steak and covered with melted cheese and gravy served with fries – basically a heart attack! If you’re a meat lover, you’ll love it.
Porto is rather small, just the way I like it – everything’s within walking distance. Two days is more than enough to do all the touristy things on your checklist: Clérigos Tower, Luís I Bridge, Church of São Francisco and São Bento railway station to mention a few.
If you’re a book lover, Lello Bookstore is a must-go (there is an entrance fee of €4 but this is deductible on purchase of a book). It is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and one of the most beautiful in the world with a neo-gothic façade, stunning interior, marvelous stairway and amazing stained glass ceiling.
My favourite thing about Porto, and Portugal, is azulejo, their traditional painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework. You can see it everywhere. Blue is my favourite colour and I gasped a little too loudly when I accidentally found Capela das Almas (Rue de Santa Catarina 428). São Bento station is also well known for its tiled panels.
Everyone has been to Lisbon, but Porto is underrated! The wine is surprisingly good and cheap, and there are wine and port tours for anyone interested. The river is so calming, the alleyways are full of surprises, and Portuguese people are very friendly and speak good English – although this means my Portuguese did not improve at all! I’m so glad that I decided to visit Porto.
Below are some recommendations:
Best sunset spot (with a view of the bridge and river): The Gala Cable Car upper station, Calçada da Serra 143. You can either sit on the edge of the wall or check out the wine bar next to it, depending on your budget.
Best sandwich shop: A Sandeira, Rua dos Caldeireiros 85. Best. Sandwich. Ever. Terrific lunch deal between noon and 3pm. Limited space though. Closed on Sunday. €
Best seafood restaurant: Adega São NIcolau 1. Mixed reviews online but I really enjoyed my 2-hour dinner with the view of the river. Good food, good wine and free port with dessert. Must make reservations in advance. €€
Best hostel: Gallery Hostel, Rue de Miguel Bombarda 222. A hostel in an art gallery, wonderful staff who gave me the most elaborate tour of the city on a map upon arrival, the rooms were spacious and clean with comfortable beds and a nice hot shower. There was a big breakfast included in addition to a rooftop terrace (and cats!). €21/night