Oporto is an old beauty. She’s a cozy and colorful refuge from the gray skies above. Her river has helped bless the world with sweet Douro valley wines for centuries. Sure, she’s a little rough around the edges but that gives her character! I fell fast.
My father and I traveled to Porto just after Christmas and stayed in Vila Nova de Gaia near Praia da Sereia and Praia da Madalena (beaches). In Gaia I loved to walk along the coast line then river into the Port wine cellars area. There is a little fishing village on the way called São Pedro da Afurada I had an amazing fresh fish as part of a 6,50 euro prato de dia (multi-course lunch + beverages) at Casa Machado. I ran into this place after a long and rainy walk along the coastline and had the plate of the day which was delicious! I loved the atmosphere immediately and the food and wine did not disappoint (they poured me not one but two glasses of vinho verde- yay!). From this area you can also take a small ferry across the Douro river to Porto Pier.
Take a Port cellar tour in Gaia! I walked into a random shop on the inner street (running parallel behind the touristy street) and got a tour + tasting for 5 euros. With more time (and maybe warmer weather) I’d have loved to get to the Douro Valley vineyards… next time.
In Porto we did a self-guided walking tour.
Starting at Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar in Gaia (an excellent spot for viewing NYE fireworks!) walk across Luís I Bridge (build by the guy who did the Eiffel tower) then past the Church of Saint Ildefonso (passing Majestic Cafe) to Manteigaria– Fábrica de Pasteis de Nata. These custard tarts are so good! They come outside on the corner and ring a bell when fresh ones are ready. Have two for 2 euros and add a coffee for ,70 cents. Best second breakfast ever!
Next up: Livraria Lello (SUPER beautiful but tourist-crowded bookstore which I couldn’t handle entering based on the line around the block but maybe you’ll be lucky and get to see the pretty staircase!) then walk across the park to Clérigos Tower. You can pay 3 euros to go up to about 250 steps for a view (but I was happy with the view from the bridge). If you haven’t already seen it, check out the São Bento train station (blue and white tiles depicting Porto’s history inside) and finally see the Porto Cathedral and Monument Church of St. Francis (inside!) finishing in the touristy but pretty Barrio La Ribeira.
On my second trip to Porto (in mid-December) we opted to stay closer to the tourist center. Almada guest house was inexpensive and authentic. The weather was massively rainy so we took an opportunity to dive into Port wine knowledge aka tour both Taylor’s and Cálem + taste a flight at Portologia. If I can recommend just one MUST eat it’s Dama Pé de Cabra. This husband and wife team made our first hours in Porto unbelievably warm and welcoming. The bread, cheeses, meats, and fish didn’t disappoint. The service and quality were both outstanding. Good prices and coffees or wines to accompany your meal. I will be back! Five solid stars for this one. A nice option to balance all of the Pasteis de Nata and Port wine is Da Terra – their vegan all you can eat salad bar (for 10 euros) is an excellent pre-tour choice.
Lisboa was a place I’d heard was beautiful but honestly didn’t know much about upon arrival. The port city is ancient (older than London, Paris, etc.) but due to an earthquake on All Saints Day 1755 which flattened much of the city and killed about 50% of the population, it was rebuilt around 1775-1800. As you walk through different neighborhoods you can feel the histories in the wide/narrow streets and crumbling/rainbow facades. Portugal’s role in globalization is important to remember- this was the place where spices and produce and precious metals from five continents came into Europe. You can find pagodas across the park from statues of elephants and sword-yielding Christian missionaries. There’s a statue of Jesus like the one in Rio as you cross a Golden Gate Bridge (like in San Francisco).
There is quite a bit of tourism in Lisbon. Here’s a list of places to eat which is a blend of my finds and recommendations from my local airbnb hostess:
Tapas and wine – Artis Bar or Lagar do Cais
Rooftop Bar – Sky Bar
Bistro 100 Maneiras – art deco interior and innovative cuisine
Pharmacia – an “antique pharmacy” themed place with cocktails
A Cevicheria – try the ceviche 😉
AO26 vegan food project – very crowded (vegan food is hard to find here)
Princesa do Castelo – vegetarian
Speaking of Tourism…
Walk through the city to various view points. There is much to be seen, smelled and heard on the way! When you’re walking through Alfama you can buy shots of homemade Ginjinha (local type of cherry brandy) from people selling out of their home windows for 1 euro.
An easy place to eat (especially with a group) is Mercado de Rebecca. You can grab wine by the bottle and meals from different top-rated restaurants around the city here. Try Sea Me for black tempura and green wine or the local favorite: cod and potatoes.
Good photo/picnic spots: Miradouro De Santa Catarina, Miradouro da Graça (see the Golden Gate/25th April bridge), Miradouro das Portas do Sol, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
I do recommend a day (or two) trip to Sintra it is still touristy but feels much more relaxed due to vegetation and the ocean and mysterious gardens and castles scattered around the area. It’s an easy train trip from Rossio station (under 5 euros round trip) and for me provided a much-needed escape from the city. I recommend packing a picnic and enjoying your meal in the great outdoors.
I have mixed feelings about Lisbon, about visiting monuments and structures commemorating explorers whose discoveries meant globalization’s also colonization. Today I say a statue in the distance which appeared to be a cross but as I got closer I realized it was a sword being carried on the backs of men heading for Rio de Janeiro.