For me, Porto is the ultimate weekend city. In two days you see and taste it all – from the stunning tile-covered churches to port wine tasting to the city’s famous hearty sandwich. The architecture is different, the tiles are different, the city is cooler, but the people are a little warmer.
If you have more time – and I suggest you make time – hire a car and drive out to the Douro Valley. About two hours from the city you’ll hit vineyards that defy gravity, sitting on steep terraces that melt into the river. This is where port wine is grown before being shipped down the river to mature in the humid seaside climate in Porto.
Study a population map of Portugal, and you’ll see that the small cities in the north actually make up a huge portion of the country. Skipping over the wild north would mean missing a bit part of the Portuguese identity.
Keep exploring and you’ll uncover a raw and authentic side of Portugal. Up here the food is better, they say, perhaps thanks to the cooler, greener climate. Small cities like Braga, Viana do Castelo, Guimarães, Chaves and Bragança are all worth a day. Plus, Portugal’s only national park, Peneda-Gerês National Park, is right on the border with Spain.
Sunset tip… Like Lisbon, Porto has a number of hills and park terraces overlooking the river. My preference for sunset is down by Ribeira. Here you can watch the sunset, admire the river and chill in the old town while people-watching tourists and locals.
In Porto I like staying around Mercado do Bolhão. The side streets are peppered with small market stores selling local goods, smoked meats and cheeses. From here it is easy to walk everywhere too. A little further out, Marques is a nice suburb too with easy metro access.
People say the food in the north is best, and Porto is a food wonderland. Try a northern-style bifana at Conga, pork sandwich at Casa Guedes and francesinha at Cervejaria Brasão. Yes, those are all pork sandwiches at heart – there’s a vegan buffet in the centre if you need balance. A full food run down is to come.
Porto is a smaller city so if you stay in the city centre you can easily walk everywhere. Alternatively, there is a metro and tram with a similar system to Lisbon.
To explore outside of Porto, there are city train lines that will shoot you to Braga or Guimarães in no time. There is also two regional train lines: one follows the Douro Valley to the east, and the other goes north, passing by Barcelos and Viana do Castelo towards Valença.