With cheap flights into Porto, Portugal, I thought, “why not?”
Exactly. Why not.
There are no reasons to withhold from yourself the pleasure of spending your days under the Portuguese sun. I didn’t know I had a desire to go to Portugal, but now after teasing myself, I can’t snuff my burning craving to return to Porto, and explore more of the rich country.
Porto represents its country mighty well, and I’m itching to return and see more.
I arrived Friday afternoon, my flight arriving a little after noon. With excellent directions from my gracious AirBnb hosts and straightforward public transportation, my accommodation was easy to find. I arrived at about 1:30 p.m., and walked across the street to an organic grocery and cafe for a mesmerizing goat cheese, apple, walnut and honey sandwich.
Once full and happy, I met up with my friend and we went on a 8-hour walk around town. Our first stop was a local market where we picked up some special, handmade goods for ourselves and friends, then continued, admiring the striking tiled facades and charming town.
We walked through Igreja do Carmo, past Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso (Church of Saint Ildefonso) and Igreja de Santo António dos Congregados (Saint Anthony’s Church Congregados), and finally passed the Muralha Fernandina when we headed to the stairs, down to the water’s edge.
Once on the water front, we took the 6 Bridges Cruise on the Douro River, then enjoyed a hot crêpe (not very Portuguese of us) and coffee at a cafe overlooking the water and listening to local street artists play lively tunes.
After taking in enough time, we crossed the bridge (first on the bottom) and enjoyed the view from the other side, but immediately crossed back, and began meandering up the hill (make sure to pack good walking shoes) in slow pursuit of dinner but quick pursuit of discovering the town. We ended up at Igreja Paroquial da Vitória (Church of Nossa Senhora da Vitória) where a sweet, petite old lady stood at the gates welcoming all the tourists walking in.
We also took time to enjoy the amazing panorama of the park next door, of both sides of the river lit in the dark, night sky.
A hop, skip and a jump up from the church and lookout, we had dinner at Taberna d’Avó. We stumbled upon it by happenstance, and decided the menu on display outside was enough to lure us in. Large portions, good service, great prices, and a long, relaxing evening (with sangria, of course).
An inexpensive breakfast at Cafe Célia got us off on the right foot: a generous cafe with a sweet, almost-brioche Portuguese croissant. First thing, we set out for Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, or the Cristal Palace Gardens.
I can only imagine their stunning beauty in the springtime and summer, with full trees, colorful flowers and warm sunshine (although it was plenty warm for me coming from freezing temperatures). We enjoyed a leisure meander amid the turkeys and peacocks, along the pathways and ahead of the striking river panorama.
Soaking in nature’s gardens and admiring the diverse terrain, we snapped photos before continuing to one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. Livraria Lello’s decadent staircase and rich, intricate walls and ceiling have inspired countless authors, such as JK Rowling and her famous Harry Potter stories. Entrance is €4, but the price is deducted from any book purchase you care to make, an opportunity I took-up as a souvenir for my niece.
Escaping the rain at the perfect moment, the rain both began and ceased during my time inside Livraria Lello, and I reentered the outdoors just in time for a little sunshine and dry skies: perfect conditions for a lot more walking across the bridge (the top this time), to the train station, an unlikely tourist destination.
For a stunning view and breathtaking experience, down the road, don’t miss the Sé do Porto, or Porto Cathedral. I didn’t go inside, but the most magnificently charming views of Porto from the terrace would’ve made me fall in love with the city if I weren’t already. We stopped by and took a nice, long look before crossing over the Lúis I Bridge, and I could’ve stayed for hours.
More meandering lead us to Bunitos Garrafeira for free port tasting (a small shop we happened to pass after failing to find free port tastings at the wineries, contrary to what my earlier research has suggested), Munchie the Burger Kitchen for lunch, Majestic Cafe (unfortunately just for a peek through the window), and finally to the old trolley (line 1) for a ride along the river until we landed near the open ocean waters and darling lighthouse.
After spending about an hour on the beach, we caught the tram back to town, and climbed back up the hill to our AirBnb, where we picnicked for dinner. We made one stop at a small park to watch the sunset, per the suggestion of our AirBnb hosts; unfortunately, it was too overcast and there wasn’t a show that evening.
While my friend packed up and left before I woke up, I spent all morning wandering around, enjoying the last bit of sun, and views from the patio at Confeitaria Primar with a coffee, traditional pastry, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Porto chimes carols of joy, curious, darling and simple joy. Constructed on a hill, the rolled rooftops, laundry lines and ambrosial tiled facades profiles the most charming and love-inspiring views at every vista.
The crooked, narrow streets and crumbling structures whisper stories and don more character and magic than I could absorb while breathing. I couldn’t stop smiling.