While Porto might not be as big as Lisbon in size, it more than makes up for when it comes to its offerings. The aura encompassing the city is so culturally rich and vibrant in its visual appearance that I would find it inconceivable to even forcibly forget what I had experienced.
Having exited the airport and made my way to the train station outside, the cool air greeted me like a long-lost friend (a welcome blessing, having previously arrived from a heat wave ridden Spain). My fleeting 20-minute train journey while entering the city is one that I will never ever be able to turn my back on. Initially passing through some quaint and quiet neighbourhoods before charting passage across the historic Luís I Bridge, all of which had a deep-rooted sway on me. The view from atop the antique iron bridge, my oh my, with the sun steadily setting behind the city (albeit a 30 second transient journey for the train to cross the bridge), it was an adequate amount of time to present a vibe of the city. Instantly transporting me to a beloved childhood game known as Assassin’s Creed which was set in medieval 16th century Europe, seemingly unplanned, narrow cobbled streets, mostly uphill was the narrative of the game in a gist.
Simple observations within my first 30 minutes of being there such as train stations being open to the elements and not having automated barriers for metro entry and exit but rather card scanning machines off to one corner (making it all too easy to not tap your card and still gain seamless entry to the metro) told me all I needed to know. This was a city different to other big cities.
There’s much to see, eat, visit and discover in Porto. If you want a comprehensive, all-inclusive experience then the following are a must:
Luís I Bridge
A symbol of the city of Porto, the remarkable Dom Luís I Bridge links two cities, namely, the unfailingly lively Ribeira in Porto with the port wine houses of Vila Nova de Gaia and is a true sight to behold.
With construction having commenced in 1881, the bridge begun operations in 1886. An astonishing sight even in present day and age, the bridge was unmistakably well ahead of its time and truly remarkable for the day. So much so, that at the time, its 564 feet span was the longest of any bridge in the world!
This twin-level metal arched bridge that spans over the River Douro was envisioned and conceived by the German engineer Théophile Seyrig, a name you perhaps recognise as he co-founded Eiffel and Company with Gustave Eiffel.
Watching A Game at Estádio do Dragão
FC Porto are the second most triumphant club in Portuguese football, and can proudly claim 25 Primeira Liga titles and 16 cups to their name. Add two Champions League/European Cups as well as two Europa League/UEFA Cup titles and you have a serious legacy on your hands.
If you aren’t very familiar with FC Porto, a visit to the Estádio do Dragão on a matchday will make you appreciate the importance of the team to the city. If one word were to be used to describe the atmosphere inside: ‘electric’ would be one, ‘exhilarating’ another.
If you already happen to be a bit of a fan already or a football aficionado, then perhaps a visit to the museum in the east stand of the Estádio do Dragão will be to your liking. From celebrating legends such as Deco to using interactive multimedia, there is much to see.
Cais da Ribeira
Set beside Porto’s riverside in a very picturesque piazza, almost always chaotic, this a fun place where tourists and locals alike come together.
Restaurants and bars line the riverside on every corner here, most of which afford brilliant views of the Luís I Bridge.
Having spruced up the area in the recent past, you will still need to find passage through a confusing maze of steep stairways and streets that are nestled between pastel coloured houses in varying states of repair. All in all adding up to a very characteristic aura.
Anybody who has been to Goa will be able to tell you all about the sweet port wine that is almost considered as a delicacy there. But have you ever stopped and questioned how its sales are so widespread in the region?
As most Indian people would be able to tell you, Goa's past involved being a Portuguese colony in the days of yore, it is in fact in Porto (Vila Nova de Gaia to be specific) across the Luís I Bridge where port wine actually originates from.
Located on the south bank, it may be a good idea to tour cellars and perhaps drink some port wine whilst at the source. Real Companhia Velha, Taylor’s Port and Graham's are a few of the notable ones which are steeped in a rich history.
As for the wine, it becomes fortified by adding grape spirits which halt the fermentation process and help port retain its sweet flavour. Different to any other wine, it is sure to surprise your palette.
Said to have been introduced to Porto by an immigrant returning from France, the sandwich is an adaptation of the French toasted sandwich known as croque-monsieur.
Made with bread, ham, sausages, steak and ordinarily coated in melted cheese and topped with an egg. It is rounded off in a tomato and beer sauce that floods your sandwich and is accompanied by fries on the side.
A ton of meats, an abundance of cheese and sauce, whats not to like! This hearty sandwich almost becomes too much for one person to tackle alone but is the kind of soul food everyone desires once in a while.
Bolinhos de Bacalhau
A national treasure, there are said to be over 365 ways to prepare bacalhau and over a 1,000 ways to serve it. From fried to baked to barbecued to served with a host of extras.
Among the most popular way locals enjoy it, is by eating the salted codfish cakes in a fried patty. This patty contains plenty of onions, parsley, eggs, mashed potoato along with the key ingredient – codfish.
These little bites are mostly eaten as appetizers and are not only easy to eat but are beyond delicious!
With so much to do in and around Porto itself, one may almost be excused for neglecting Porto’s beautiful beaches.
However, if you fancy cooling down on a hot summers day then you have at least 10 beaches at your disposal that not more than a few minutes from the city!
If convenience is high on your agenda then Matosinhos past the Parque de Cidade might be the choice for you. If you’re willing to make a teeny journey then the tiny town of Miramar (with its 17th century chapel) and its golden sandy beaches is a must visit.
A Douro River Trip
Here’s a fascinating fact, the Douro travelss roughly 900km from its source in Castile and León and all the way across northern Spain and Portugal to its outlet at Porto!
Vast majority of the people who have spent time around the Douro or next to it will tell you that the river carries a magical charm. While you could look to join an hour-long cruise from Ribeira for around €15, which comes complete with a guide who will share information on Porto’s landmarks, trading routes and provide glimpses of port wine warehouses.
In my humble personal opinion, merely lounging next to the river or looking down at it from the Maria Pia Bridge (which is 10 years older than the Luís I Bridge and was built by Gustave Eiffel) was equally enjoyable.