I spent this past weekend in Porto, Portugal. Let me start with how this trip was chosen. My friend and colleague, Alexa, and I both agreed from day 1 that we met each other that we wanted to go to Portugal! I had my heart set on Lisbon, and she on Porto. So I agreed that whichever flight was cheaper, would be our trip. And it was Porto! So in a sense, I like to think that this trip chose us :)
We left directly after our long day of Halloween festivities at the school, and caught a 6pm flight to Porto. A one hour flight plus a one hour time difference means we landed at the same time we took off. Magic! That first night all we wanted to do was eat and explore. So we checked into our AMAZING hostel (Tattva Design Hostel, comments below), and asked for a recommendation for a good place to get a traditional Portuguese dinner. The sent us to a diner called Santiago, where they are known for Francesinha, which is Porto's staple dish. It's a sandwich with three types of meat (ham, spicy chorizo, steak), toasted and topped with melty cheese and a fried egg, served with fries and smothered in a spicy (we'll they called it spicy, we found it pretty mild but still PACKED with flavor!) gravy. It was Portuguese comfort food at it's finest, and although Alexa and I both agreed we couldn't eat it every day, we both enjoyed every bite! The rest of the night we attempted to walk off the calories of the sandwich, which wasn't an easy task but the steep hills of Porto definitely helped the process along! We happened across one of Porto's many stunning bridges, and took lots of photos. At about 10:30 we called it a night, because we were exhausted.
Day 2 we woke up with one thing in mind, get to the free walking tour of Porto! at 11am we met our tour guide, Graça (or Grace for us English speakers) a young and bubbly Porto native who took us all around the city. Although it was raining (more like misting) throughout the day, we didn't let it hinder our day! Plus, we expected the rain... come on, it's Portugal; a small price to pay for lush green landscape. Grace took us around for about 3 hours, giving us an insiders view of the city. Lots of cool history and culture, but I won't bore you with that. But to paint an image for your mind (in addition to the few pictures I've added), Porto is a city built on a river, with eclectic architecture, bright colors, orange rooftops, steep hills and tiled sidewalks practically everywhere you go. Also, interestingly enough, there are tons of abandoned building everywhere. Grace told us it's because a while back, the city of Porto became a UNESCO world heritage site, which is quite the honor but it makes renovating extremely difficult. Although UNESCO has good intentions, their strict restrictions on preserving building in their original state prevents Porto from moving forward in a sense. Don't worry though, the abandoned buildings don't take away from the stunning views. Back to the architecture; Porto reminds me of buildings I've seen in Scotland (dark, mossy stone), Granada (blue and white painted tiles), and Argentina (buildings of every color of the rainbow) just to name a few, which gives it a really unique look! Anyway, after our city tour our tour group went to a café for lunch. After that, Grace took us on an optional second tour, the Port wine tour. We learned all about Port wine (a mix of wine and grape brandy) and got to try three types of Port as well as regular Portuguese wine. We had a nice relaxing afternoon with wine and great people (our group was from all over the world!). That night, we decided to grab dinner in the hotel and join our hostel on their nightly pub crawl (Grace ran the pub crawl too)! We had a blast, once again meeting new people and having a good time dancing into the early hours of the morning.
Although we were exhausted, we pulled ourselves out of bed (free breakfast from the hostel is always a motivating factor) the next day around 9:30. After breakfast we checked out, even though we weren't leaving until our 6am flight the following morning, we decided to save money and spend the last night out instead of paying to sleep in a hostel bed for a few hours. It was a rainy day again but we still had our hearts set on going to the beach. So Alexa, a new friend and I caught the 30 minute bus to the Atlantic Ocean. The rain temporarily stopped and we were able to spend some time walking up and down the beach and watch the wavey ocean as a storm rolled in. Not the beach we intended to see, but worth the visit all the same. The rain started up again so we went back into town for lunch, after lunch, Alexa and I took a little break, and then headed out for coffee around 5pm (coffee hour in Europe!). We indulged in some delicious Portuguese pastries including the "Pastel de Nata" which is the famous pastry of Portugal. It is a small custard cake, almost comparable to a creme bruleé if it had a pie crust. It was tasty. Then we walked around the city until it was dinner time. We were having trouble finding an affordable place for dinner that we didn't need a reservation for and then we found it. The Ceuta Café. We later found out that it's the oldest restaurant in Porto, and one of the most famous (and we found it on our OWN!). The restaurant was an absolute STEAL! Alexa and I split h'ordeuvres, grilled squid with boiled potatoes, bacalhau (Portuguese's most famous fish, cod) with caramelized onions and fried potatoes and two drinks for 19 euro! We felt like we robbed the place, and it was the best meal we had in Portugal. After dinner we did the bar crawl again until about 3am when we went back to the hostel, grabbed our bags and caught the night bus to the airport. It was a long trip home. I didn't arrive to my flat in Madrid until 10am. Yikes.
Overall Porto was AMAZING! Amazing, CHEAP food and wine and views to die for. Perfect for a 2-3 day trip. If you find yourself in Porto, here are my top five recommendations.
1) Tattva Design Hostel- Definitely have to stay at this hostel. It's amazing. Each bed has its own curtain, electric key locker, light, fan and multiple outlets. The rooms are clean, the food was great, and the staff was friendly, helpful and professional. Not to mention, it's a great value. From someone who has stayed in 20+ hostels in her lifetime, this is easily in my top 5, if not top 3.
2) Pancho Tours- Grace worked for a company called Pancho tours. They're tours (some free) in the city of Porto, and they're also in charge of the pub crawl. They do an amazing job. The best city tour and pub crawl I've ever been on (a 10 euro pub crawl with 4 drinks and all cover charges included?! COME ON!)
3) Port Wine Cellars- There's a million Port Wine Cellars to tour in Porto. It's maximum 5 euros to visit and do a wine tasting. Definitely worth the money. The prime wine-tasting season runs April-October.
4) Francesinha- Even if you're a health nut, let yourself indulge in this local dish. If you're not a big eater, however, split it with a friend because it's pretty heavy. Ask the locals where the best place to try it is. Everyone will have a different answer, but they're all correct. Try it, you won't regret it.
5) Ceuta Café- This restaurant is a MUST visit. The oldest restaurant in Porto, where you can eat like a celebrity without breaking your budget. Everything from local seafood to burgers and steaks. All Portuguese and all DELICIOUS.