narrow colourful houses quaint streets porto

Porto – Historical Charm, Contemporary Cool

Porto is a city that doesn’t have to try. It simply is…

One of our all time favourite destinations, Porto continually calls us back with its quaint charm and picturesque architecture. Situated on hills either side of the River Duoro, the city is a maze of colourful buildings filled with great restaurants, boutique shops, a bustling market hall and countless cafés.

porto historical charm, shop houses on a hill, quaint streets,
Narrow houses seemingly stacked on top of each other line the slopes alongside the Duoro

Porto exudes casual cool like no other city. Its art boutiques host original, beautifully crafted handiwork at affordable prices; its food markets sell the best produce from Portugal with inventive twists on traditional sundries, and its denizens dress with an ease both hip and relaxed. Porto is a city that doesn’t have to try. It simply is.

porto historical charm, Dom Luís bridge, Duoro
The Dom Luís bridge spanning the river Duoro

We stay in a charming apartment right outside a street filled with nightclubs, bars and live music. Phil, our all time favourite travelling companion, arrives hours earlier than we do and strikes up a friendship with our host’s mother, who shows up to pass him the keys to the apartment. Maria, like every single Portuguese we met, is incredibly friendly, warm, positive, and most of all, authentic. She cracks open a bottle of port as they discuss Portuguese literature. Eventually, she takes him on a tour of the town, showing him a delightful bakery from which we ardently bought breakfast the next few days.

porto historical charm, São Bento, art deco railway station, old shophouses
The São Bento railway station

There are many sights to see in Porto, all within a short walking distance of each other. Along the way, cafés, bars and finer dining options line the sidewalk, so the walk to the site is almost as entertaining, if not more, than the site itself.

porto historical charm, gin and tonic,
Botequim Nostalgic, a fantastic gin and tonic bar along the river

When we arrived, it was already well into the evening. But the Portuguese dine late, and we had time for a gin and tonic or two. On a previous visit, we’d stumbled upon Botequim Nostalgic, a hole in the wall bar by the Duoro. (In truth, the bar was located outside a shophouse, and the kitchen was a small room under a flight of stairs.)

porto historical charm, busker, gypsy kid
A busker with his daughter, outside Mercado do Bolhão

The Gin and Tonics here are highly original, boasting a wide variety of gin from all the world over, paired with all sorts of exotic spices and fruits. The thing that made it for us though was the service. The boys that ran the bar were charming and very knowledgeable when it came to the drinks they served. The simple and delicious tapas style food was made of the best Portuguese ingredients and presented with a flair.

porto historical charm, colourful doors, abandoned shophouses
Porto was full of these colourful doors leading into abandoned buildings

When it comes to food, there are countless restaurants in the city. In fact, the entire economy of old town Porto seems to exist solely on the quality of the food served up and the quaint, refurbished shophouses lining its streets. Even in the most touristed of areas, you can rest assured that you’ll only be served what the Portuguese expect to be served. With one exception, we did not encounter the slipshod, cheesy diners serving frozen pizza that plague cities like Paris and Rome.

porto historical charm, craft sausages, chorizo
Locally produced sausages flavoured with spices from all over the world

Here are the links to our two posts in which we list and give a few details on some of the wonderful shops, cafés and restaurants we managed to discover. It is, alas, a small fraction of all the places we wanted to try.

Porto – Where to Eat and Drink

  1. Chocolataria das Flores
  2. Botequim Nostalgic
  3. Saboriccia
  4. ODE Porto Wine House
  5. Vinhas D’Alho
  6. Galeria de Paris
  7. Padaria Ribeiro
  8. Café Majestic

Porto – Where to Shop

  1. Armazem dos Linhos
  2. Typographia
  3. R. de Mouzinho da Silveira 270
  4. Livraria Lello
  5. Mercado do Bolhão