Knowing how much I absolutely loved Lisbon a few years ago, I was very excited to not only be getting back there, but also to finally hit up Porto. I’ve always, always heard good things about Porto – it feels like Lisbon’s little sister with even more hills.
We were only going to have one full day in Porto, so we wanted to make the most of our time there.
While I’ve been meaning to return to Portugal since 2017, this trip actually wasn’t meant to happen just yet. We were booked on a cruise to Norway at the start of June, but two weeks after booking it, the cruise company panicked over Omicron and the entire ship was taken out of service with all cruises rescheduled on another ship or cancelled. Unfortunately, none of the alternative options worked for us, so I looked into other ways to get to Norway over the extra bank holiday.
It wasn’t meant to be, which is a slight piss-take after our failed Japan trip – now two of my top three bucket list trips have been booked and subsequently cancelled! (The third is currently booked and set to happen next month – I’m scared!)
I started looking into alternatives to make the most of the UK’s bumper bank holiday weekend for the Queen’s Jubilee, and flights to Porto and back from Lisbon worked out perfectly. It’s not quite Norway, but it IS one of my favourite countries in Europe, with one of my absolute favourite cities and a brand new one to explore!
Typically, our flight was then pushed back to the evening, losing us an afternoon in Porto. Flights in 2022 are a nightmare and a law unto themselves.
But, importantly, we got there eventually.
And promptly bumped into a friend from my work.
This was actually planned, but despite us talking about our travel plans at work, neither of us can ever keep up with where the other’s off to next, and somehow we had missed the fact we would both be in Porto at the same time!
It was only when he posted a photo on Facebook that I went, “hang on…” (See – Facebook is still very useful for some things!)
And so it was still a fairly spontaneous meeting, and we enjoyed some drinks down a dark alleyway in what had felt, on arrival, a slightly dodgy bar behind the train station. It turned out to be exactly the sort of bar I love – a real dive bar – and we spent the night regaling fun stories that mostly had nothing to do with work, which was refreshing!
We would only have one full day in Porto, which is a shame but actually ended up being perfect for us.
In the morning, we set off from Sao Bento rail station (we stayed at the COOLEST hostel in the world, by the way – more on that later!), or at least we did eventually set off after a few photos of the station itself.
Sao Bento rail station
You see, Sao Bento is a tourist attraction in its own right, and is actually tipped as one of the top things to see in Porto.
It is COVERED in the famous Portuguese tiles (azulejos), making up huge scenes around the entrance to the station.
Our first stop of the day, after Sao Bento, was one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.
Livraria Lello has become such a popular attraction that you actually have to buy a ticket to enter. On the upside, the “ticket” can then be used to redeem the value against anything you buy in the store, so it’s actually a really good idea on their part, as it means any actual customers aren’t technically “paying” to enter, but if people only want to go in for photos, the shop gets some money for that too.
It’s a win/win for everyone.
As we approached the growing queue and I loaded up the ticket on my phone, I gasped in horror.
I’d booked it for the wrong day.
Incredibly, this is the first time I’ve ever done something like this!
I asked someone if we would still be able to get in, and thankfully she said that’s fine – the only catch was that the voucher was only redeemable on the day of the booking, so we wouldn’t be able to use it against a purchase.
I wasn’t too bothered about that – but once I was inside, there were immediate regrets. There are SO many amazing books in this place, many of them with exclusive covers on classic books. I wanted to buy so many. I loved it.
A lot of people think Livraria Lello is overrated, and to be honest it was insanely busy, but I still think it’s well worth the visit if you love beautiful bookshops. It felt like we’d stepped back in time, or into Hogwarts, which is actually one of their selling points as apparently JK Rowling used to frequent the store when she lived in Porto.
The only thing that annoyed me was the wannabe Instagrammers hogging the stairs, where everyone goes up and down, for 5,362 photos before anyone could move. That girl in the hat in the first photo? She literally stood there, on and off, for more than ten minutes. It caused a ton of queues between the two floors.
I did somehow manage to get a photo of the bottom of the stairs with no one on them – the only millisecond I saw them empty the entire time I was in there!
I would definitely recommend getting there as early as possible if you want to get photos with less people in – and if you just want a less chaotic shopping experience. It would be a really great place to browse but there are a lot of people. However I still maintain that it’s worth it just for how beautiful it is.
Igreja dos Carmelitas
From there, we headed to Igreja dos Carmelitas, a pretty church with tiles on the side of it.
We ended up paying to go in, as I thought it might be the church with the exceptionally gold interior, but it wasn’t. (That’s the Sao Francisco church, which we didn’t go to.)
It was nice, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it over other churches.
There’s a small museum and also some creepy catacombs to visit.
The church faces a really pretty square, and I attempted to get a cup of tea from somewhere just as a huge group of school kids turned up – we ended up wandering down an avenue towards our next stop and popping into a coffee shop to plan our next moves.
Views over Porto at Igreja dos Clerigos
Next up, just around the corner is Igreja dos Clerigos, with its huge tower boasting some of the best views in Porto.
I love getting views over cities, and Porto has such an interesting layout and landscape that I wanted to go to at least one of the acclaimed viewpoints.
THIS was very worth it, but the only thing to bear in mind is that when you queue up, you’re queuing for a timed ticket. This worried me when I realised, as I thought we might be asked to come back in several hours, but luckily I was offered one in just over half an hour, so I was quite happy to mill about and explore the area some more before heading back.
Therefore, I would definitely recommend coming here first before exploring any of the streets in the immediate area. You can always do that afterwards if you get in straight away.
The views from the top are fantastic.
What I found interesting is you can’t see Dom Luis I bridge, which normally dominates the iconic views of Porto – so here’s an alternative.
Miradouro da Vitoria
While waiting to go back to the tower, we wandered down a nearby side street and found ourselves at Miradouro da Vitória, which offers a pretty sensational alternative view – with the bridge.
The view from the tower is definitely better, but this is a fantastic alternative if you don’t fancy paying to go up. Plus I loved the higgledy-piggledy layout of all the buildings from this angle, which you don’t quite get the sense of from above.
By now, it was time for lunch, and I had one thing on my mind.
Eating a francesinha for lunch
Porto’s speciality, a francesinha, is guaranteed to fill you up, and probably for the rest of the day.
A francesinha is like a mega meat sandwich smothered in what seems like tomato soup. It is much, much more delicious than it looks. You can also get it with an egg on top, which Ash did – but I thought I might struggle with it as it was, let alone with an extra egg!
We headed down, down, down to Praca da Ribeira to enjoy some riverside views with our lunch as the clouds rolled in ominously.
To be honest, we probably chose one of the most touristy places to eat, but it was reasonably priced and wasn’t all that bad.
And then, drama.
A HUGE gust of wind swept through the square and ripped several of the huge umbrellas clean off their stands at the next restaurant. One flew across the square and practically destroyed, miraculously, the only empty table. Even more miraculously, we had almost sat there before we decided to go further in. I maintain that it could have killed either of us if we had sat there.
(He’s going to hate me for mentioning this, but this was perhaps an hour after a bird pooped on Ash’s head, and I made the whole “well it’s meant to be good luck!” trope. I’m starting to think there’s something in that.)
Dom Luis I bridge
One of the biggest landmarks of Porto is the Dom Luis I bridge, spanning across the Douro River.
We crossed over one way underneath the bridge, and ended up walking back across the top for sunset (which unfortunately wasn’t much of a sunset, it has to be said).
Of course, for the bridge itself it’s better to get photos of it from either above or below – but the views from along the top are pretty fantastic.
Gaia – port, bacalhau & street art
If you want to drink port in Porto, you cross the bridge and go to Gaia.
Which is why that’s where we met my friend Caroline from Pack The Suitcases.
I can’t say I’ve ever been a port expert, but I do enjoy a tawny, and I was excited to try a bit more. There are lots of tasting experiences you can book, but we were happy just to pop into somewhere and try what they had on offer. Caroline has been spending a lot of time in Portugal, so we went with her recommendation, 3+ Arte, which led us down alleyways that we probably would never have discovered.
We were offered a “basic” flight of port, or an expert – we decided to go for one of each so we could taste the difference!
Mine were definitely a bit richer. I’m happy with my choice! That senior tawny was especially lovely.
I’m glad to see that like me, Caroline enjoys the quirkier side of things, so finding a place like this was perfect!
We spent much of the afternoon and evening drinking, chatting and… taking a bath.
Go on holiday, meet a fellow blogger, jump in a bath. Standard, right?
We’d actually just been talking about the unique street art of a rabbit made out of recycled materials, when we turned a corner, and… there it was!
One of the coolest pieces of street art ever, right?!
I also picked up a bacalhau, a traditional Portuguese speciality that’s a bit like a fish cake (but much nicer), from Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau, before we settled down for more drinks at Sandeman’s. It’s not the sort of thing I’d normally eat, but it was actually quite nice! Gulliver may or may not have had a bite.
…and then we crossed back over the bridge to Porto for more drinks.
And so Porto turned into a destination of friends and alcohol, and I am not complaining about this at all. Thankfully, I felt like we’d “ticked off” the attractions we’d wanted to see, so it was perfect just being able to relax and take some time out to enjoy the city on our own terms.
There was, however, one small thing left to do in the morning before we left…
…well, first of all, take a photo of the poshest McDonald’s we’ve ever seen.
IT HAS A FLIPPING EAGLE STATUE, WTF. We were almost (*almost*) tempted to eat there. Obviously we did not, because I had other things on my mind…
Pastel de Nata at Confeitaria do Bolhao
When in Portugal, I only want to have the best pasteis de nata, thank you very much.
So when I read about this place offering one of the best, I added it to the list. A short walk from our hostel, we headed here on our second morning, with time to relax before our train ride down to Lisbon (where I would be eating many, many more pasteis de nata).
We should have sat in at a table.
As we left, the heavens opened. And when I say opened, I mean…
The entire road flooded within a couple of minutes, as we huddled with a huge group of other people underneath some scaffolding.
It wasn’t the most glamorous way to eat a pastel de nata, it has to be said.
Eventually as the rain started to subside, we got back to the hostel only somewhat soaked, and I finally managed to drink some of my tea which I hadn’t been able to hold properly in the kerfuffle of hiding from the rain.
Speaking of the hostel…
Where we stayed – Passenger Hostel
You may remember that I mentioned that we stayed in one of the coolest hostels ever.
That’s because… it’s INSIDE Sao Bento station!
Yup, you could literally be overlooking the platforms of a historic and beautiful train station from your bed!
As it happens, our room was on the other side of the building, which meant we were by the street. It was really busy outside on the Friday night, but the hostel actually provides everyone with earplugs which is thoughtful of them.
Plus, this was the view from our bed!
The corridors are massive, and feel mostly unchanged from their original decor. Plus the common area upstairs is fantastic. Beyond the kitchen – which is also excellent, and they put on a free basic buffet breakfast every morning – is a brilliant hangout area, complete with swing seats! I loved it.
We’d opted for a private room, and their mezzanine layout is great – it feels like a tiny flat, and it was really homely. I could have spent much longer here than we did.
With that, though, our time in Porto had swiftly come to an end, and we were off to Lisbon! I was absolutely giddy with excitement. It’s rare that I love a city just as much as I love Lisbon.
However, I really enjoyed Porto too, cementing the fact Portugal is probably one of my favourite countries.
If you’re short on time, it’s the perfect city to be able to explore in a small amount of time. Obviously we didn’t do everything, but I felt like we saw everything we wanted to see. You can do day trips out to the Douro Valley to continue an alcohol-fuelled holiday. But we got our fill of port, and best of all we did it with friends.
Sometimes it takes more than just a great destination to make the best memories.
Stay tuned for our Lisbon adventures, and whether I loved it just as much this time around.
In the meantime, check out my other Portugal posts:
⭐ 24 Hours In Lisbon: Falling In Love With Portugal’s Capital
⭐ Exploring the Best Beaches on the Algarve
⭐ Visiting The Algarve: Why You Shouldn’t Skip Faro