A week or so ago, myself and my colleague, Nathalie, were chatting about how much we wanted to book a trip to Copenhagen. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, Copenhagen? But this blog is about Porto! I’ll get to that…
Anyway, as I was saying, we really wanted to visit Copenhagen together and decided that since we were both free the following weekend, now was as good a time as any. We quickly jumped onto Google flights & Airbnb, found some reasonable prices, and committed to booking the trip later that day. Typically, when the time came, we researched the trip over and over, only to find the prices had fluctuated and we didn’t quite fancy paying 400 euros for the flights alone.
Feeling deflated, Nathalie continued to work, but now I had this travel itch I just could not scratch. I found myself scrolling through Transavia’s website, looking for a good deal elsewhere. And that’s when I landed on Porto.
Porto is somewhere I have wanted to visit for a few years now, so when Nathalie returned to the lunch room of the office, I raised my eyebrows and said “so, I have a proposition”.
Being the free-spirited, wide-eyed adventurer that she is, her immediate answer was yes. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t even more excited than I was with the Copenhagen plan. Summer is just about setting in, the weather forecast for Porto was high 20s, and I was looking forward to basking in the sunshine for a few days in a beautiful city with great food and great company.
We book the flights immediately and hopped on to Airbnb where we found a cute apartment called ‘The Red Couch Flat’. It was booked. We were going to Porto in little over a week. I was thrilled!
Upon arrival at Amsterdam Airport, we giddily headed for a bite to eat, a juice and made our way to the gate. It was at this point that Nathalie suggested something that has now changed my life forever. I mean, not to be dramatic here, but I am seriously obsessed.
Nathalie said that she was going to listen to some podcasts on the flight. Podcasts…she’s always listening to podcasts, so I asked her what all the fuss is about. Now, as someone who is always eager to learn, and is interested in pretty much everything, I was almost surprised at myself for never really digging into this content before. We were just about to board the plane when she told me that if I were going to start listening to podcasts, I had to start with Serial.
Now, after listening to the whole first season in a matter of days, I am left wondering how I have gone so long without ever hearing about these podcasts, or why I’ve never looked into what podcasts had to offer before. They’re captivating, and there’s so much content to discover. I’m hooked.
Of course, our trip to Porto was only just beginning, and although I would be lying if I said I didn’t listen to at least two episodes a day, luckily for Nathalie that’s not the only thing I wanted to do on our 3 day adventure.
We kicked off the trip on the Thursday evening. As soon as we landed, we were met at arrivals by a kind man who would take us to the apartment (‘home’ for the next few days) and check us in for our stay. My name was on the sign he was holding, and I was very pleased about this. Though, it’s a good job I was not travelling alone, because my lack of visual acuity would’ve meant I walked straight past it, no doubt.
As soon as we arrived at the apartment we threw down our bags and headed out. Almost immediately upon stepping onto the streets we could hear music, and what sounded like a small concert. We followed the sounds and ended up at what we now know was a Beer Festival, at Jardins do Palácio de Cristal.
The park was beautiful, bright, bustling. People were gathered around, sipping on their beers, moving around to the kooky music and the vibes were what can only be described as chill. We already loved this city.
We quickly moved on from the festival, as we were desperate to get our forks stuck into some amazing food. Luckily for us, the Portuguese seem to like to eat dinner exceptionally late, as finding somewhere nice to eat at past 10pm was no problem at all. We ended up wandering around the famous Rua das Galerias de Paris and eventually settled for a place that shares its name with the street: Galeria de Paris.
The food was good, and astoundingly affordable. We started the trip as we meant to go on: by ordering a jug of sangria. There was live music playing and the atmosphere was laid back. I already felt myself melting into holiday mode.
We woke up the next morning to brilliant sunshine, the forecast was 29 degrees. My redhead skin resembles a ghostly shade of paper, so I lathered on the factor 50 and our priorities were well and truly in order. What did we want to do first? Brunch. #DTB.
We had Googled around to find the best spots for brekkie and one that clearly stood out to us was Zenith. It was apparent upon arrival that our estimations were spot on, as people queued outside the door minutes before the suggested opening time, 10am.
Once again taken aback by how much more affordable the prices were in comparison to our usual Amsterdam hangouts, we decided, why order reasonably? …we were on holiday, after all! Coffees, juices, two ‘eggs zenith’ and a berry pancake stack later, we were much more than satisfied. The food was excellent, in fact, it’s one of the best brunches I’ve ever had.
After all of the eating, we knew it was time to get exploring, and make some attempt to burn off those pancakes. We headed towards Ribeira, a popular area of town and a World Heritage Centre, no less! It was breathtaking. The winding, cobbled streets, the orange rooftops as far as the eye could see, and the beautiful riverbank, dotted with numerous (and impressive!) bridges. It looks like a postcard.
After walking around for a reasonable amount of time, we decided the 32 degree heat was not making for the best circumstances to explore more via foot, but we still wanted to see as much as we could. We saw a few hop on hop off buses circling the inner areas of time, and though sceptical (we’re the kind of tourists who usually like to avoid, you know, tourists), we decided to give it a shot.
Luckily the buses were open top, and the breeze when driving up and down the streets of Porto were welcomed with open arms. We decided to take the purple line, which I appreciate makes no sense to you, so lets call it the long route. It wound all the way along the coastline areas. I’ve never experienced such a quick change in climate and surroundings as I did when we approached the coast. The air was salty, much cooler and we could smell the ocean. It was amazing. We decided at this moment that the yellow tourist buses were, in fact, a great choice.
After sitting on the bus for over an hour, absorbing as much scenery as possible and slowly figuring out what was located where, we hopped off, made a quick juice stop and headed in the direction of the river. One sweaty uphill walk and hundreds of steps later, we wandered across the Dom Luis I bridge. Greeted by more beautiful photo opportunities and the bright mid-afternoon sun shining down, hotter than ever.
Thirsty, and not yet used to such amazing views, we headed to a cafe on the riverbank and enjoyed a moment of peace alongside a drink with plenty of ice. We cooled down, spent a healthy amount of time people-watching and listened to some great buskers on the street whilst discussing what we wanted to do in the evening.
Our plans were simple, we wanted good food, good drinks and good entertainment. We headed into town and ended up in a nice restaurant called Book. The food was good, the staff were kind and the wine was great. Another spot that did not disappoint.
We then hailed an uber (we did this more than we would like to admit, Porto is relatively small, but when they offer cross-town trips for 3 euros, you cannot refuse), heading for Hot Five. We had made a reservation for this small jazz and blues bar we had read only great things about online, and the act performing that night was Nuno Andrade Blues Drive. We had a great time, the music and atmosphere were great, I would recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the city.
The next day we woke up, the sun was shining and we were ready for another day of getting to know Porto. We decided that today we definitely wanted to visit Zenith for brunch (yes, it’s that good) and check out Livraria Lello, a famous bookshop in the heart of the city. The building itself is beautiful, and being a book lover it was a really nice visit, though I couldn’t help being slightly disappointed with the overwhelming crowdedness and the lack of choice when it came to English books. Of course, we were in Portugal, but I was really hoping to buy myself a nice souvenir. Instead, we settled for a Porto city guide. Something to remember the trip by (and to get some last minute recommendations in for the rest of our stay!)
We then decided to make the most of our bus pass, which expired that day. This time we took the orange route, which wound around all of the narrow streets of the city centre, across the bridge and back around again. We chose to get out of the bus across the other side of the water, and explore it a little. Once down to river level, we spotted a restaurant we had read good things about online – Sandeman. We headed over at around 3pm, with the idea to just get a drink and a snack, but when we saw other people’s dishes being served, we knew we had to try something from the lunch menu.
Nathalie ordered roasted octopus, which was highly recommended by the staff. Myself, leader of the seafood resistance, I chose steak. I have to note that I did try the octopus, and I didn’t hate it. Anyone who knows me well will be proud of this feat. The staff were funny, warm and simply seemed happy. Well, I couldn’t blame them, the terrace of this restaurant has a stunning view, and I can’t imagine anyone leaving that place feeling any less than elated. Top tip for foodies: take the vegetables side. Sounds boring, but they season the veggies so well, we really enjoyed them alongside our dishes.
On our walk back from the restaurant in the direction to our apartment, we stopped at a viewpoint bar. The name escapes me, but the view was, once again, incredible. We ordered some juice, some sangria and Nathalie then made me take a personality test, which was interesting to say the least. Anyway, here’s a picture that Nat took, which she describes as ‘our drinks casually enjoying a good view’.
That night we decided to go for dinner pretty late, as we were still feeling satisfied from our lunch. But being our last night, we were not going to miss an opportunity to continue eating our way through Porto. We sifted through the many recommendations on Google, were disappointed by a lack of reservations available as we’d stupidly left it until 8pm on a Saturday night to call. But then we got lucky, we got a table at a place called éLeBê.
At first I wasn’t sure, we arrived and the staff did not realise we had made a booking, as we had done so only half an hour prior. But, after a short wait, they managed to clear us a table. The restaurant was full, so my hopes were back up to scratch. The staff had a good sense of humour, were friendly, and happy to make recommendations. Once again, I went for the steak, and Nat for seafood. I mean, you can never have too much, right?
The food was delightful. The sangria equally so. Everything tasted fresh, was cooked well and served beautifully. The staff waited on you with great timing and manners. We started to realise that the food culture here is just another level, especially when it comes to value for money and general customer experience. Later into the night we also went for dessert, we took the chocolate mint mousse and the strawberry, mint and lime cheesecake, both were great. We then headed for a walk, our bellies were well and truly stuffed and we needed to walk it off. We immediately stumbled upon a whole area full of bars nearby, it was buzzing. The atmosphere was great. There were people scattered all over the streets, drinking, chatting, dancing. Having a great time. The vibe was infectious.
I woke up the next day feeling a sense of sadness that we would be leaving that evening. Our experience so far had been incredible. The food, the views, the people. Everything about Porto appealed to me. We asked each other, how do we want to spend our last 10 hours in this city? And, without hesitation, we browsed Google one last time for the best brunch places and viewpoints.
We ended up at a small, cosy brunch spot, Miss’Opo, which we found tucked away down a small street. The decor is quirky, the staff are kind. I do feel a little like a broken record, but one thing stood out to be true to me during my time in Porto. Portuguese people are hands down some of the kindest people I have encountered. Out of all of the places I have travelled, this place really made a lasting impression on me. I really felt like one day, I could live there happily.
Now, to avoid more soppy, keep-dreaming-Loren, kind of talk, I will say one more time, the food was delightful! We had croissants, toasts with jam, eggs, yoghurt and granola, juices and coffee. The whole shebang. Yet another foodie spot that did not let us down.
Feeling satisfied, we headed uphill in search of a rooftop bar named PortoBello (cute, huh?) We ordered a couple of cocktails and silently decided to take in the views and soak up the sun for the last time. A couple of podcasts later, we chatted the afternoon away and before we knew it, it was 4pm.
When making our way back into the centre, we stumbled upon what we realised was São Bento train station. We headed straight through the beautiful arched doorway only to find the most stunning walls covered in azulejo tiles and a gorgeous ceiling to match. We spent a fair bit of time snapping some pictures and this is when Nathalie made yet another pun. She looks at me, and immediately I know what’s coming by the grin on her face.
“These people are looking at the timetable to check whether their trains have already de-Porto’d!” To which, I sighed, probably gave an eye roll, and then told her that, this time, her pun was grammatically incorrect. I think that’s a good summary of our friendship.
In our last couple of hours, we realised that we had yet to try any real Portuguese treats. We had regularly seen bakeries with what seemed to be a popular sweet egg tart that people enjoyed, called Nata. We googled ‘best Nata in Porto’ and followed the directions to Nata Lisboa. The tarts were good, not the kind of thing I would usually go for but good nonetheless. Alongside it, I gladly enjoyed my final sangria of the trip. We listened to yet another great street artist for a while, and then we received a call.
An old colleague and friend of Nathalie’s and his wife were nearby, so of course we stopped for as long as we could for a drink and to catch up together in the sun. This was nice, it was also a relief to hear from them that the heat was not only a little overwhelming for us, but for them, too! It is June, after all. Unfortunately we had to make it quite quick, so we called our last uber of the trip, picked up our luggage and headed straight to the airport.
The only silver lining I could think of when it came to leaving Porto was escaping the heat, for the vast majority of our trip the temperatures reached 33 degrees. That’s quite enough heat for pale, ginger me.
It’s safe to say I had a great trip, and although I have not been on Dutch ground for 24 hours yet, I am already wondering when I can return. But first, Greece is on the cards for next week, so for now, let’s look forward to the next adventure.