Draw-dropping views, fresh seafood, music in the street, quirky bookshops, historical sites, orange roof tops, blue-tile architecture, Harry Potter, wineries, affordable hotels… need I go on?
Where to stay?
The old Ribeira is the place to be. The Ribeira do Porto Hotel proved to be historic, clean, affordable, and came with killer views. We lucked out with a corner room on the third floor. From the bed you could see the top of the bridge, Ponte d. Luis I, through one window, and down onto the river through the other window. Both loomed over the hot-spot in town: the square in Ribeira. Seconds away from souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, street performers, and a few paces to cross the bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia.
A river boat cruise! There are a few companies with tickets available right down on the waterfront in Ribeira. You could reserve them online in advance, but it’s really not necessary unless you’re under a time-crunch and you need a specific time. The weather was really hit-or-miss when we were there, so we waited to see when the most ideal sunny skies would hit to do our tour.
Taking the trolley to Foz. Taking the trolley is a step back in time, and even if you just hop on for the experience, you’ll get a thrill. But Foz do Douro is the beachy side of town, and will definitely give off some more modern and relaxed vibes. It’s definitely the place to go to get that coastal photo and touristy tan.
Eating in Ribeira.
There are so many restaurants and options to choose down here. No matter what you choose, you’re sure to find fresh seafood, bacalao (cod) is the local favorite in Porto. Some of these restaurants may seem like they are up-charging, and they certainly are. But we found it worth it to get the atmosphere that they had to offer. One night there would be a violin quartet serenading us, another night an opera singer. One afternoon there was a dance competition. The boats are nearby, and the area is swarming with people-watching opportunities.
Attempting to eat a Francesinha. This local favorite named after a little French girl, could not be more ironically named. It’s chockfull of cholesterol and would add some serious girth to any the hips of any little French girl. We found ours at Café Santiago, who boasts one of the best and original Francesinhas.
Sipping some port in Vila Nova de Gaia. After all that’s where Porto gets its name. Just hop across the river via the Ponte d. Luis I bridge to find your pick of wineries. Or just pick a restaurant there to order a glass, some food, and take in a whole new view of the city. Sunsets from this side are pure magic!
Crossing the TOP of the bridge, Ponte d. Luis I. Take the time, and the leg workout, to hike up those cobbled streets and steps to get the the top of that bridge. It’s truly an urban hike and you’ll feel like king of the world when you get to the top, where you’ll find the most beautiful cityscape: The bluest river contrasting the orange rooftops.
Checking out the São Bento Train Station. This train station is better decorated than most castles. The architecture is entrancing and will keep your neck careening here and there to take in all the images and architecture on the surrounding walls and ceiling. Note: extreme yoga poses may be necessary to get a good photo of this room in its entirety. Between its massive size, and restrictive standing area options, its a challenge. Panoramic and fish-eye may give you the best single-photo glimpses.
Check out the Sé do Porto, the Porto Cathedral.
Also take a break from your daily squats to scale the stairs of Clérigos Tower and Church. Not only is it an incredible workout, they have wifi (woo!) and amazing views of the city from the top of the tower.
Wait, Harry Potter?
Yes you read that correctly. It’s said that JK Rowling collected much of her inspiration from the streets and sites of Porto. Living here and waitressing by day, writing by night, she was charmed by the hilly cobbled streets (many of which resemble Diagon Ally), and took particular interest in a quirky local bookstore, Livraria Lello, that gives off definite Floruish and Blotts vibes! Don’t miss a stop here to take a photo with the iconic red stairwell. Though take note, it requires extreme skill, a touch of rudeness, a dose of patience, some acrobatics, and your nerdy tourist card, to pull off a picture of these steps without any muggles [humans] in the way. You really have to elbow your way through and wait around to prove yourself as the biggest Harry Potter fan to win a picture like this one below. (Though note…there are still some muggles lurking behind the railing there).
Another tip! You will need to buy a ticket to enter the bookstore at a different store (just down the street a few hundred feet). At this store you can also buy some strange array of paraphernalia and some Livraria Lello trinkets. And if you meander your way far enough into this store…you will find another photo-op with a cart and a makeshift Platform 9 and 3/4.
Also find some Potter in Porto (by the way this is probably one of my favorite hashtags, #PotterinPorto), in the cafe where she spent time actually writing the precious pages. The Majestíc Cafe is supposed to be a distinguished and classy coffee experience unto itself, let alone considering the Wizarding World connections.