[PORTO, PORTUGAL] — The Bridge.
The Bridge is everything in Porto. It looks like the Eiffel Tower on its side crossing the lazy Douro River — which makes sense since it was designed by Gustave’s company. It’s hard to believe that this beast has been carrying traffic since it was built in 1886. At that time, it was the largest bridge span in the world.
This is the view from my room at the Pestana Vintage Porto.
Such a stunning setting, which is why, when looking where to stay in Porto, I found a hotel that had the above amazing view on TabletHotels, my favorite go-to hotel site. This was literally the view out my window of the Pestana Vintage Hotel. Can’t ask for much better. You can see why the city’s core is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Douro has long been the lifeblood of this city, the receiving end of all the great wines and ports of one of the first true export vineyards in Europe, shipping boatloads of claret to all the pink cheeks in England. All the famous port lockers sit on directly across the river where they were stored before shipping off to Great Britannia. Today, it’s all still there for our amusement.
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Porto is actually pretty small, so it only takes a couple of days and you’ve seen most of it.
(See the 36hours articles in the Reference section below). From here, you can base your adventures to tour the stunning, world-famous wine region on the upper Douro River, which I’ve posted before. You can even book a day-long wine tour with the lovely Ana and her husband Marco from Douro Exclusive wine tours. There’s a lot of driving, so would suggest you actually stay out in the valley, but you can have an awesome day-tour for Porto and Ana and Marco will pick you up, take you on a full day and then drop you back off before nightfall. (Do the Gold Experience, which includes a killer meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant right on the river).
I’d read about the famous tiles in the São Bento/San Benito train station as a must-see. At first I thought “meh”, more decorative tiles. But then I saw a dramatic picture and said “Wait, where is that??” The tiles. It was there. So I went. One of the prettiest train stations I’ve ever seen.
You gotta go here.
Time your visit when the sun hits it just right, from the south.
Livraria Lello is one of the most photographed bookstores in the world. A little jewel box of a bookstore. Unfortunately, it is so jammed with people taking pictures, I don’t think anyone is actually buying anything… 🙁
You can do Porto in 2-3 nights. Tour the port bunkers and climb around the town. But you can really knock it out in a day and a half. The main reason you come here is to get to the Douro Valley which is just stunning. If you’re driving to Spain, you could stay in Porto for two nights, then stay in the Duoro and then keep going on into Spain.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to have many fine dinners in Porto — coupla nights I just stopped into nondescript little local places on the Ribeira. But if you do go, look for these places.
Rui Paula is one of the best chefs in Porto and has several places here and in the Douro. Look for DOP. DOC. And I think he has one called DOM.
I found this more casual place walking around the top of Porto. Really great food and super nice people.
I did go to an amazing meal at the Graham’s cellars across the river, in their restaurant Vinum. Amazing views over all of Porto and great food. Unfortunately, I got the flu going right up to the meal, so I literally had to leave right when they brought a bounty of lamb and Douro Valley red. I was so looking forward to the meal. “This looks wonderful, may I have the check?” They were stunned, for obvious reasons. As I was. Had to leave the entire meal there. Very embarrassing. But you should make reservations here, try to get there for a cocktail before sunset. Check out these views from their website:
The Vinum restaurant has killer views all over Porto. Go there for a drink before sunset. You need reservations. Ask for a table by the windows. (This is from their website)
Here are some other eating suggestions:
Here’s another great list from my new friends Culture Trip. Solid recommendations.
The KING of all things food in Portugal is Nelson Carvalheiro. Trust whatever he writes. Follow his instagram. He’s also very responsive with questions. Met him once at a travel blogger conference, super nice guy.
Besides the Pestana, I’ve heard great things about River House and The Yeatman. I saw Anthony Bourdain recently stay there on Instagram. The Yeatman is unusual in that it sits way on the top of Porto, so you get to look down at the city and river…. and don’t have to walk as many hills. Click on that link and look at those views!
Here’s a link to another post I made on wine tours through Portugal’s stunning Douro Valley.
Here’s a great overview of 36 Hours in Porto from the New York Times. And another 36 hours article in The Telegraph. And the UK Conde Nast Traveller’s Porto Guide. And a beautiful website, unusual for a tourist board, from the Porto travel website. A great overview from The Guardian. And another deep guide on Porto from Travel & Leisure. And a Weekend Guide from The Times of London.
Portugal is fairly small with awesome new tollways (expensive, though) so you can easily get anywhere. Here are some relative drive times I found in my ten days there.
Driving times in Portugal
Last visited April 2015
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