Published On: 2013/01/03

My beloved Lisbon and I have an ongoing love affair, which has lasted for years. But if I ever happened to cheat on Lisbon in a weak moment, it would be with Porto. That other great city, up in Portugal’s north, where the people are even friendlier, the food is heartier, and the wine is even sweeter.

The old wooden boats of the port wine cellars

Porto is just adoringly Portuguese: Beautiful, at ease, a little slow. It is not a perfect city – the streets aren’t free of dog poop, and most of the houses in the city are atmospheric, yet ruinous. But somehow, this exactly is the origin of Porto’s charm. And I don’t know a single person who didn’t fall for it.

The colorful houses near the waterfront, the Ribeira do Porto

Porto is not very much about sightseeing. There are few things that are nice to visit, but there are no “musts”. You will find every iconic building by just randomly walking around. I loved strolling through the city, glimpsing into churches, backyards, and little streets every once in a while. There almost is a guarantee to stumble upon gorgeous view points, street art, beautiful cafés, and fantastic jewelry shops.

Porto – ruinous houses and laundry never looked prettier!

Pequeno-almoço no balcão – Breakfast at a little Pastelaria in Porto

Necessarily, Porto is about port. All port wine distilleries offer free tours and tastings. You could literally spend days in the wine cellars of Villa Nova de Gaia trying to find your favorite brand. I loved learning about all the different kinds and productions processes — especially knowing it would be recompensed with few glasses of heavenly delicious port in the end.

Port wine barrels in the cellars of Calem distillery

Porto is about water. The river Douro is the aorta of the whole valley — and the connection to the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean is in a (n extended) walking distance from the city, and holds some nice, slightly wild beaches. Both bodies of water coin Porto’s beautiful cityscape, and are closely intertwined with its history.

Gorgeous Porto and the Douro River

The Ribeira do Porto seen from the river

Porto is about baroque architecture. I must admit I’m not a fan of baroque. Like, at all. But in Porto the baroque churches are what I especially like about the city, because all of them are clad in the typical storytelling white and blue tiles. It’s the baroque churches that create this incomparable picturesque impression of the city.

Igreja do Carmo – Portuguese baroque in perfection 

Porto is about partying. Many universities, many students, many bars! Especially during the summer months the streets are packed with people drinking and having a good time until morning.

Clubbing in Porto

But on top of all — Porto is about views. In Porto you mostly either have to go up or down. But once you’re “up” Porto rewards you with the most amazing views!

The majestic Avenida dos Aliados in Porto’s city center

Sunset over Avenida dos Aliados – seen from a little attic hotel room 

My favorite spot in Porto: Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

Porto is the perfect city for a European weekend getaway: You won’t feel pressured to see as many sights as possible; it is best and easily explored by foot. The prices are cheap (if you don’t insist on eating right at the Ribeira boardwalk).

Amazing people, (free) port wine, delicious regional food, beauty with a twist, and beaches close by — what are you waiting for?

Me, flirting with Porto during golden hour… (Lisbon, it’s not what you think!)

Have you been to Porto?