As the end of my time in the UK fast approaches, I am taking all opportunities to fit in any as-yet-undone trips still on the list. I am slowly coming to the realisation that there are many trips I will have to leave without doing, but I am choosing instead to focus on the bright side; how lucky I am to have been to so many beautiful places, to have had a brief glimpse at the cultures they hold. On that note... Porto.
My sister, a friend and I recently visited the Portuguese city for a quick weekend break, and while we struggled initially in the pouring rain to fall in love with it as other travellers always seem to, we did eventually follow suit. I quickly discovered a deep appreciation for the city's famed port wine (I never knew what I was missing), beautiful people (all olive skin tones and vivid green eyes) and tiled exteriors. Here are a few highlights from my time in the cultural gem that is Porto.
Let's start with the first thing most newcomers to the city notice - the abundance of gorgeous tiled exteriors. While the majority are in blue (cornflour, aquamarine, navy...) you'll find tiled facades of every colour and texture lining the streets here. Walking the streets is a visual delight.
A SKYLINE LIKE NO OTHER
The steeply sloping streets of Porto give us amateur photographers a mighty gift as we're presented with surely one of the most picture-perfect urban landscapes there is. The top of every street here offers a different view, and every one is as spectacular as the last.
THAT'S ONE HELL OF A BRIDGE
Porto is a city of many bridges, but arguably none is so impressive as the imposing Dom Luís I Bridge, a double-deck metal arch structure in (you guessed it) pale blue which connects Porto city to Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite side of the river. You can walk over at either of its levels but be warned, the top level is not for those scared of heights (and I didn't even think I was). No worries if that's you though; this bridge is impressive to look at than to stand atop.
THE PRETTIEST CHURCH
There are countless buildings in Porto that present a perfect opportunity for tourists to marvel at beautiful azulejo, a type of ornamental blue-on-white ceramic decorating of buildings... you can even see an example at the Central Station. You'll want to stop by Igreja do Carmo though for its interior as much as its exterior. In addition to the truly beautiful display of azulejo that's the stuff your Instagram-inspired dreams are made of, inside you can visit one of the narrowest houses in the world. It was built between this church and the one neighbouring it a few meters to the left to prevent fraternisation between monks and nuns back in the day. As well as this peculiar wee house, the inside of the church itself is worth a look-in. It's imposing and grim as all hell, but in an impressive sort of way.
THE FAMOUS PORT HOUSES
Don't leave this city without doing a tasting and/or tour of one of the famous port houses which line the river on the Gaia side. I can personally vouch for both Porto Cruz and Cálem. Yes, I visited two... it was raining, OK? It was also substantially more delicious than I had anticipated and deserved a second look-in.
WHERE/WHAT TO EAT
We were recommended and directed to Mercado Municipal da Beira-Rio, a local indoor food market, by two regular Porto visitors at aforementioned port house tour, and we never would have found this place otherwise. As well as being dirt cheap for the quality and quantity of food provided, it serves up all the local dishes from the world-famous pasteis de nata to the heart-attack waiting to happen, Francesinha. Tread with caution, and vegetarians stay away... this is a sandwich made filled with ham, local pork sausage, chipolata, slabs of steak and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce. Good God. I simply couldn't stomach that much meat and don't need beer sauce anywhere in my life, but if that sounds like your cup of tea, go nuts. We were also lucky enough to be staying right next to the Negra Cafe which I couldn't recommend highly enough. As well delicious food, coffee, and the best cake selection I've ever seen (oh, the cakes), the sixties interior deco is to die for.
WHERE/WHAT TO DRINK
After you've made sure to try to port, make sure you try Portugal's famous vinho verde which literally translates to 'green wine.' Unbelievably crisp and more delicious than I had even been led to believe. We stumbled across quirky bar Galeria de Paris entirely by chance and were instantly spellbound by the array of captivating objects displayed around us as much as the art-deco architecture. Walking in at 10:30 on a Sunday, we realised these were our people when they asked us if we were after dinner or just drinks... God bless this southern European lifestyle! We were delighted when a man appeared and started playing a paino in the corner of the room, and even more so when a woman joined him to perform on ribbons which materialised from the ceiling. Head to Hot Five Jazz Bar to sip on port or espresso martinis and listen to slow jazz that will fill your ears and soul until 3am, and echo round your head the whole walk home.
A HIDDEN GEM
Don't miss Armazém, an unexpected delight we found a wee walk out of the city centre, along the river front as you walk towards the sea. Browse a seriously stunning selection of antiques, sip on some vinho verde amongst the relics and take in a pretty magical atmosphere.