Porto is the second largest city of Portugal and one of the oldest cities in Europe.
Renowned for its port wine, Porto is charming, flavoursome, and relaxed. Wandering around the city, you will feel instantly at home, and all the worries of the world melt away.
At every corner and every turn, you will see a perfect picture. It makes you stand and admire and be happy that you are alive and being able to experience such a sight. Such, is the picture perfect Porto.
What’s in a name?
Porto is an ancient city. Founded in 300BC by native Iberians and newly-arrived Celts, this Northern Portugese city gave its name to the country. When the Romans arrived, they named the settlement ‘Portus Cale‘ – portus being port, door, gate, while cale was the name for Celts related to the Celtic names of Wales, Gaul and Wallonia. Another possible etymology for the Celtic name Cale is ‘port’, so Porto was already simply called a Port by the Celts.
Places to see in Porto
As a people, the Portuguese are NOT Mediterranean like their Latin cousins the Spaniards, the French and the Italians. They are Celtic and Atlantic even though they have lost their Celtic tongue. Especially in the North here in Porto, people are reserved, thoughtful, complex yet humble. This is very much reflected in the architecture. Of all the places we have visited, I highly recommend (not in order of interest):
- Bolhão Market: The heart of Porto’s commercial activities where you can taste port for less than two euros
- Clérigos Church: Beautiful Baroque church that is the symbol of Porto
- Church of São Francisco: No photography allowed in this most gold covered and intricately-sculptured church in the world!
- Dom Luís I Bridge: For that amazing panorama view over the Douro River
- Livraria Lello: The overcrowded but magical bookshop that inspired JK Rowling to write Harry Potter
- Palácio da Bolsa: The former Chamber of Commerce that houses the most exquisite Moorish Hall
Things to eat in Porto
Of course, you drink port in Porto. Generally, you have white and tawny (red) port but according to the lesson we got from the bartender, there are hundreds of differences within these two broad categories. In the rest of the world, we have already wrongly drunk it as an aperitif when port has always been meant as a digestif.
You can try out all the different winehouses on the other side of the Douro river (most of them for tourists so beware), or you can try out your Portuguese by visiting the stalls run by old grannies at the Bolhão Market for a fraction of the price.
Leitão means suckling pig – it is roasted suckling pig that is famous around the world for its crispiness unmatched elsewhere. So crispy, they cut it up with a plate in Portugal. They even have a phrase for this: leitão assado da bairrada. Unfortunately, Porto is not the place for Leitão. More in Mealhada in the Bairrada region. But if you want, there is a small busy outlet in Porto called ÉLoi’os that also serves other local dishes (Rua dos Caldeireiros 13, 4050-140 Porto, Portugal)
If you want a hearty barbecue place meant for the locals, you shouldn’t miss the amazing Pedro dos Frangos. It will satisfy your meat cravings for the rest of the year for a mere 20 euros. Warning: go with an empty stomach (R. do Bonjardim 223, 4000-065 Porto, Portugal).
Pastel de nata
This famous Portuguese custard tart originally came from Belem in Lisbon. But now it has become the signature dish in the whole of Portugal. You can literally get it everywhere in Porto. But you can certainly try out the ‘factory’ here at Manteigaria – Fábrica de Pasteis de Nata (R. de Alexandre Braga 24, 4000-049 Porto, Portugal).
Bacalhau means ‘cod‘, but here it means salted and dried cod. One has to soak it in water and rinse it for three days before being able to tear out the usable meat. But the whole process adds amazing umami flavour to the cod! The result, the amazing Bolinhos de bacalhau. Fried boulette of cod that can be eaten cold but best when freshly fried. Again, you can find it in any corner of Porto. Porto is also THE city where they eat cod. So whenever you go to a restaurant, go for fresh cod or desalted bacalhau!
In general, Porto is the capital of seafood, not just bacalhao! I strongly recommend our favourite restaurant in the world – Tapabento.
Where to stay in Porto
Where else but at the InterContinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas hotel? It is so luxurious, you wouldn’t want to leave!