Our trip to Lisbon and Porto already seems like it was such a long time ago! I had such a wonderful time exploring these beautiful Portuguese cities and I know lots of you want to visit, so I thought I’d share some of the things we did on our trip and a few top tips along the way too. If you're interested in Lisbon specifically, then I wrote a guide on that too!
From Lisbon we got the train to Porto which took just over 3 hours and cost about €22. There are some slightly faster and cheaper trains too I think. Kurtis did lots of research beforehand and found the best route for us was to go from Santa Apolonia to São Bento, which was all really convenient and I enjoyed staring out of the window on the train! Book your tickets in advance as apparently they can sell out.
• STAY / TRAVEL •
We stayed in an Airbnb on Rua dos Caldeireiros which was a few minutes walk from São Bento Station and within walking distance to everything we needed. There's a metro and lots of buses and trams if you do need them though, and although we didn't use public transport while we were in the city I hear it's fairly easy to navigate.
Spend some time looking around you when you arrive at (or leave from) São Bento Station - there are around 2000 hand painted tiles in the front hall depicting historic battles and they're quite a sight to behold!
We had planned to get a train back to the airport on our last day, again from São Bento, which should be easy enough, but being Kurtis' birthday we decided to leave it to the last minute to go to the station (we may or may not have been guzzling wine) and after a stress trying to figure out the ticket machines we gave up and ordered an Uber (which cost €19 by the way!). If you're using public transport then getting a rechargable Andante Card is the most efficient way to travel I hear! Leave yourself plenty of time to figure out the ticket machines though or prepare to wait in line for the counter… or just don’t decided to get wine after your coffee?
• EAT OUT •
Street food markets where you can try cuisine from lots of different traders are always my favourite places to go on holiday if the option is there. Our Herb Lester guidebook said this place looks "like a futuristic airport terminal" which is think it fairly accurate - it's a 1950s food market where you can sample dishes from lots of Porto's well known restaurants. We went for a seafood platter from Mariscaria which was wonderful - a dressed crab, prawns, mussels with a fresh salsa and some French toast. It was more than enough for the two of us (especially since we also couldn't resist some real fries from one of the other stands - you'll understand this after reading my Libson post!). This was really near the Casa da Música too which I will talk about later, so I'd recommend combining the two in one visit if there's a show on. We popped into the market on our way back to our Airbnb too for a custard tart!
If you're hoping for some authentic chicken and chips in Portugal this is the place to go! It's really close to the centre and is very popular, but don't be put off if you turn up to what looks like a full restaurant - there's a dining room upstairs and another branch directly opposite (although it wasn't open when we went). We had to wait a little while, but OMG the food was worth the wait. We’ve been eating vegetarian at home, so this felt like a proper indulgence, and it was definitely the best chicken and chips I've ever had! There were lots of locals enjoying dinner and queuing up while we were there which I found very encouraging and only added to the atmosphere!
This was our favourite meal from the whole trip and hands down the one place I would tell everyone to go to when they visit the city! There are only four tables in this tiny place and the food is cooked right in front of you - seasonal dishes served on small plates for €4 each. The waiter had to talk us down from ordering everything on the menu, it all sounded so delicious, and we ended up with 5 dishes all of which were incredible! So much love and thought had gone into the whole experience. The chef and waiter were totally charming and really happy to chat after the meal about where they'd worked before and how Porta 4 came about. It's run with passion and a love for good food - the chef had spent a long time working in fancy restaurants all over Europe and wanted to connect with the people who were eating his food again. Honestly - just go there! We booked through facebook a couple of days beforehand, I really wasn't expecting to get a table, so book early! Our 5 dishes (more than enough!) with bread, salad, olives, wine, port and dessert came to €50 which I think is bloody great value for what we ate and experienced.
Top tips and the ones we missed:
I didn't do as much research on Porto before we left as I did on Lisbon, so I don't feel like there was anywhere I was desperate to go to that we missed. One place in our Herb Lester guide that intrigued me was O Caraças - a proper traditional Portuguese restaurant run by a mother and daughter team with a choice of only two dishes each day - meat or fish - with soup to start and dessert. I love to visit places where you can sample real home cooking on holiday!
In terms of top tips they're pretty much the same as my tips for eating in Lisbon - book if there's somewhere you're desperate to go to or eat early to avoid the rush. Lots of restaurants will give you bread and olives at the start of your meal and you’ll be charged for these whether you asked for them (or ate them!) or not. Don't be fooled by 'chips' on a menu, the likelihood is that they're crisps (even if they're served with something you think MUST be real chips/fries). Don't be put off by places that look like simple snack bars or the equivalent of a greasy spoon in the UK, sometimes these are the places you'll find the BEST food at the best prices. don't be surprised if you see people queueing up outside somewhere that looks like a bit of a dive. My bet is they're after Francesinha - a sandwich sure to put your cholesterol up a few notches.
• COCKTAILS AND COFFEE •
This is a coffee shop within a shoe shop. Go upstairs for coffee, where you'll find a big communal table and a friendly barista who will whip you up an excellent strong cup of coffee to drink while you peruse their selection of coffee table books. Don't expect to get breakfast here - the focus is very much on the coffee! Just try not to spend all of your money on expensive beautifully made shoes and clothes on the way out.
A former second hand bookshop that shows old silent films and still displays a range of cinema books, magazines and paraphernalia for you to look at while you drink? I'm sold! This was the place responsele for our wine guzzling that made us miss our train to the airport! The staff were really friendly and let you taste the wine before you made a choice, and their coffee was really good too. Although we came in here a few times we didn't try their food, but they did have some snacks and small plates - the bruschetta looked great! This was one of our favourite discoveries and I'd definitely recommend it for a drink at any time of day! It's open at 4pm on weekends and 10:30am Monday to Friday. There are loads of restaurants nearby too.
When in Porto you must drink Port! Cross the Dom Luís I Bridge to Gaia and go on a tasting! There are SO many cellars to choose from, but check out this blog post to make up your mind about where you want to go. I was most interested in going to Ferreira, as it's a port cellar with a powerful woman behind it, but we just missed an English tour and would have to wait 45 minutes for the next one, so we ended up going to Croft, which I really enjoyed! We were served two ports to try before a tour of the cellars where their resident bats put on a show for us. The tour was really interesting and you're served a third port at the end which we sipped on their terrace overlooking the Douro river. Three ports and a tour for €10 - I thought that was pretty good value! You can also ask to pair your ports with wine, cheese or nuts - apparently the chocolate tasting is excellent but they were sold out by the time we got there.
Top tips and the ones we missed:
There are loads of bars in Porto we walked past but didn't have time to go into. We also just loved Cafe Candelabro so much that we kept going back there! Cocktails in most places were between €5-7, with some fancier ones going up to about €9. Wine was pretty cheap where we visited as long as you drank local wine - much cheaper than London anyway!
Based on how chilled out the staff were in Candelabro, I reckon you could get away with asking to taste wine in most places before you commit to buying if you're genuinely not sure what you want. I wouldn’t dream of doing that in most bars at home.
If we had time we would have loved to have gone into the Douro Valley to visit the vineyards, so if you're going for longer that's something to consider. I was also intrigued by Galeria de Paris - a bar/restaurant which is packed full of stuff, including a vintage car hanging from the ceiling. Next time!
• SEE / DO / SHOP •
There is so much incredible street art around Lisbon, you could definitely do a self guided tour! I picked up a free zine in Circus Network (made by them) that had a street art map in it, so it's worth keeping an eye out for those, and our Lonely Planet guide also had a big section about street art.
There's lots of murals around Rua de Miguel Bombarda, and you could definitely combine a little street art tour with visiting the shops I mention below as they're all super close.
The lovely Laura from Out Loud Studio recommended this place and it didn't disappoint. Circus Network is a creative agency, gallery and shop and I just thought it was really cool! They seemed be really involved in the community and played a part in promoting street art and large scale murals as a good thing in Porto. The shop is also a co-working space and there's always a display of work on the walls too. From what I can tell the people involved are mostly local artists who love their city. I was happy to find a street art magazine in here (SAM) which included an interview with hedof, a street artist and illustrator I discovered in Lisbon - it's all gone full circle!
Another really cool shop and gallery, just round the corner from Circus Network is O Galeria. I could have spent a lot of money here! The walls are filled with inspiring artwork, mostly from young illustrators and you can also buy t-shirts, zines, postcards etc, if unlike me, you budgeted to buy yourself lots of gifts whilst on holiday! There was a really great exhibition showing illustrations about gender on when we visited.
Coração Alecrim was the DREAMIEST shop run by two women with a passion for sustainability and Portuguese products. Again, I wish I had some more spending money because I could have bought a whole suitcase’s worth on stuff in here. It’s within 10 minutes of both of the shops mentioned above and has a really pretty painted front door so you can't miss it! Coração Alecrim stocks a beautifully curated selection of homeware, clothes and accessories, with lots of vintage mixed in with design-led independently produced items and I’d quite like to move in to be honest.
This place was really cool! Armazem is a big warehouse full of antiques to swoon over - the sort of place you could spend half a day looking around and making up stories about the objects you find. Most of the stock was pretty pricey, but the quality was very high and it was just such a pleasure to walk around and look at everything. There's a bar in the middle which I'm told serves excellent wine and food and also a bar outside in the sunshine too where we spotted some people playing board games. This is somewhere I can see myself going back to time and time again!
We didn't explore the inside of this building further than going to the bar to buy giant gin and tonics, but the outside is pretty spectacular and its modern facade really stands out in this tile-clad city. During the summer months Casa Da Música hosts free outdoor concerts on their Super Bock stage, so be sure to check what's on if you're visiting June-September. We saw a great show by JP Simões, a well known Portuguese singer-songwriter. I only wish I understood more Portuguese as he was making the audience laugh a lot in between songs. If you want to see a concert inside the venue apparently there are some tickets available for €5 for Sunday mornings or midday concerts and apparently there's a terrace with great views too! Check out the nearby Mercado Bom Sucesso for dinner before a concert!
This was definitely one of my highlights from the trip and went above and beyond what I was expecting. Serralves consists of a big collection of contemporary art, a huge estate with a farm, a lake and lots of sculptures and also the most beautiful pink art deco villa - Casa de Serralves.
The contemporary art collection was great if you're into art - I read loads of reviews of this place afterwards from people hating on the art. I don't understand why you'd go to a contemporary art gallery if you hate modern art in the first place?! I have to say I didn't really 'get' a few of the pieces, but there were also some really brilliant pieces that I found either thought-provoking, totally beautiful or bizarre/hilarious and I always enjoy visiting a new gallery. I loved the way the space was curated here and there were some much appreciated flashes of colour on the walls too.
The gardens were a big surprise for us, and we enjoyed exploring the ground and discovering all of the sculptures, some of which are interactive. There's a really lovely tea room too where we got some delicious sweet treats! We even found a donkey to stroke. Best day ever?!
The real highlight for me (apart from the donkey of course) was the candy floss coloured Casa de Serralves which was built for the Count of Vizela, Carlos Alberto Cabral, who obviously had impeccable taste! You can go and wander around inside, and although there was another small exhibition on I was much more excited about the details of the house including a pink marbled bathroom and some of the most beautiful floors I've ever seen! House goals right there.
Entry to the museum, estate and Casa was €10, but it's free on the first Sunday of every month 10-1pm. Allow yourself half a day here, there's lots to explore!
Honourable mentions, top tips and the ones we missed:
Check opening times - lots of shops close for lunch and for the whole day on Sundays and some restaurants have a break in between lunch and dinner service too. Rua de Cedofeita was lined with lots of shops to look at, but I'd recommend exploring the sides streets off this strip for some more unusual boutiques and lots of street art - all of the shops I mention above are near this road.
Check out Cinema Trindade if you're a film buff - they show an eclectic mix of new and old films. Sadly we tried to go here one night and missed out on the last tickets to the people queueing in front of us - buy your tickets early!
Wander along the river on a Saturday and you may well find some live music to entertain you for a few hours. Just under the Dom Luís I Bridge on our first day (a Saturday) we came across some great live music that had us captivated for a couple of hours - it was conveniently located next to some places selling beer for €1 too... We were also entertained/horrified by a group of young boys who were having a wonderful time jumping off the bridge into the river below and getting told off by the coastguard. You can’t beat a bit of people watching and the main drag by the bridge is a great place for this!
The Photography Museum (Centro Portugues de Fotografia) is worth a trip - it's housed in an old prison, and the exhibitions when we were there focused on Portuguese prisons and their inmates which I found really captivating. There's a huge collection of cameras too - from the huge freestanding kind, to the teeny tiny spy kind. We visited on our last day in a bit of a rush, but I could have spent hours looking at the camera collection alone. Great views of the city from the top floor too!
I was recommended Livraria Lello by lots of people before our trip which is a stunning bookshop. Sadly there was always a giant queue outside and you have to buy a ticket for €4 (which is redeemable against any purchase) so we just never made it in as we didn't fancy queueing. Harry Potter has a lot to answer for - JK Rowling lived in Porto whilst writing parts of the books and anywhere with any kind of link to her that we passed (like this place) had an enormous queue. They're dedicated those Potter fans!
Finally if we'd had longer in Porto and weren't so exhausted from our Lisbon shenanigans I would have loved to have done a day trip to Aveiro - often dubbed the Venice of Portugal. It looks so colourful and pretty and is only about an hour away by train.