What Really Happened in Portugal and Why Porto is One of My Favorite Cities

Port view from bridge

No matter how long you are traveling or how far you have gone, there are a lot of cities that will fascinate and surprise you. However, very few can capture a heart of a well-traveled person. That’s exactly how I felt when I came to and left Porto.

Since I was living in Madrid last winter, traveling to Portugal was automatically on my list. One of my college friends from Manila was doing an MBA exchange in London and invited me to travel along with her. Since we’ve both been to Spain, Portugal immediately came to mind. Luckily, I got a super good deal with a Ryan Air flight from Madrid and booked it right away. Unfortunately, with such strict Schengen visa issues in Netherlands, my friend was denied a visa. Since I already booked my ticket, I went to Porto alone.

Here’s a note: If you’re an Asian passport holder, try to avoid applying with Schengen countries in Northern Europe. They’re usually the strictest. The easiest way to get a Schenegn visa is to apply with more lenient countries i.e. Spain and Portugal.

Traveling solo is not new for me and traveling solo in Europe is by far the easiest travel I have ever experienced. But during my visit last summer, I wasn’t really traveling solo for the most part since I was visiting friends all over Europe. So this was actually the first time I traveled alone this year and I couldn’t have chosen a much better place. Porto is such an amazing city not only for solo travelers but also for people who just want to get away from all the crowds, tourist loaded cities but still want to learn more history and culture of a least explored territory.

In here I’ll show you that while everyone is saying that Lisbon is his/her favorite city, mine is absolutamente Oporto!

So What Makes Porto Special?

1. Colorful Architecture

Laundry day in Porto

Everyday is laundry day in Porto

Where else in the world can you find a place where hanging laundry can be so photogenic? Porto does it beautifully.

Porto Houses

When I got to Porto, the first things I noticed are the old architectures, buildings and colorful houses. I consider myself an average travel photographer but the beauty of this place is just astonishing that even I was surprised on how beautiful my pictures turned out. Porto is just like that, simply photogenic.

2. The Climate

Porto view from Church

I was traveling in Porto during the first week of March and though it’s not spring yet, the weather in Northern Portugal is much better and warmer than Madrid. Basically, I was still traveling during winter and though it gets a bit cold at night, the city enjoys enormous amounts of sunshine during the day and is fairly warm.

Sunset in Porto Sunset on my first day in Porto

The best way to explore the winding and hilly roads of Porto is by foot and if a place is too cold or too hot, it’s no fun. Luckily, Porto is a place that experiences light chances of rain and cold winters due to its location. Even though it’s best to travel during spring or fall, winters are not too bad and the city experiences warm weather all year round.

3. Home to the World’s Best Hostel

Gallery Hostel Porto

After staying at more than hundreds of hostels and guesthouses and having my fair share of que horror hostel stories the past two years, I can say that Gallery Hostel Porto is the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at. It’s the hostel with the feel of a luxury boutique hotel. Not only is the place beautiful but they also serve three course dinners for just Eur10 and they are excellent! The staff are the friendliest people I ever met. The hostel dorm itself is very pretty and super clean. There are bathrooms in the girls’ dorm which also includes a hair dryer. A hair dryer! You cannot go wrong with this hostel.

Gallery Hostel Lounge

In Spain, no one sleeps earlier than 12 midnight. But Ryan Air flights from Madrid to Porto are at 8 am. After having only a few hours of sleep that night and after taking the train from the airport to town, I knew I still need to recharge and this is what I came home to. I couldn’t have chosen the most comfortable place to stay. If you’re going to Porto, this is a no brainer. I wish every hostel is like this!

4. The Food

Vegetarian FrancesinhaVegetarian francesinha Yes there’s such a thing and it’s delish! 

As an Asian with very Southeast Asian taste buds, I am not used to eating bland foods. A lot of places in Europe serve bland dishes. I had no idea what the food was like in Portugal and I was happily surprised to find out that Portuguese food is so tasty and so good. 

Porto’s specialty is a francesinha, and it’s made of meat and meat sauce. It’s inspired by the French croque monsieur, and is usually served with tomato sauce, eggs, fries and beer. It’s very popular in Porto and is a must try. Since I’m a vegetarian, this was definitely out of my agenda but I accidentally stumbled upon an authentic Portuguese restaurant  one night while wandering the small side streets of Porto and got to try a vegetarian francesinha. Two thumbs up!

Veggie Burger 

Vegetarian Traveler Recommendations

If you’re a meat eater, there’s no problem with you looking for great food in Portugal, but if you’re a vegetarian, you are actually in treat! Porto is not only a delight for your eyes but also for your tongue. I’ve sampled a few restaurants with vegetarian options and I found two that are amazing:

Rota do chá- peaceful ambience, great atmosphere, affordable lunch sets and a wide selection of teas from all over the world

Bugo Art Burgers- tasty and delicious veggie burgers

5. The Wine

My last night in Porto

Life is good!

Before my traveling days, I was a typical Pinot Grigio white wine drinker. But when I got to Spain, everything changed and I acquired the taste, loved red wine and never looked back ever since. Whether you are a wine lover or not, there’s no other place to sample the finest red wines in the world but the regions of France, Spain and Portugal.

Wine Recommendations

Douro Wines

You cannot go to Porto without sampling its famous Port wines. Wine tastings are a dime a dozen and are relatively cheap starting at Eur 5. Other than Port wines, one should definitely try Douro wines. Douro is one of the finest wines I’ve tasted and the region where they are harvested is an absolutely stunning place that deserves another blog post.

6. Little Shops and Art Galleries

Vintage Shop in Porto

Porto is filled with small, independent family owned shops, cafes and vintage stores. There’s also a lot of flee markets that sell vintage stuff. If you’re a shopper you will love roaming around to see good finds in Portugal here and support small business owners. It’s also an excellent place for window shopping, which a budget traveler like me has become a pro at.

Pedro Quintas

Brilliant.

Gallery Hostel is located exactly at the heart of the art district of Porto. Miguel Bombarda street houses more than a dozen of art galleries and have exhibitions every six weeks. Without a clue, I was actually there during the art exhibit so I thought might as well see them. Most of the galleries presents new exhibits free of charge. I’m not the biggest art fan but the artsy atmosphere of Porto made me love their art scene.

7. Old Streets of Porto

Old Streets of Porto

I mentioned on my post about Segovia, how much I adore the narrow streets of Europe. The very first thing I do whenever I get to a new city is get lost and wander the narrow streets. Porto was not an exception and here I found how old, dirty but most of all unpretentious this city is. Just like this street:

Porto street

I simply love it. I didn’t shoot this at an angle to make it cool, but this is the actual street of Porto. Porto is a very hilly city and the narrow streets are winding. The roads are also made of tiles and cobble stones. If ever you’re bringing heels or anything difficult to walk with, leave them at home. Expect to have a good workout after your walking tour.

8. Porto at Night

Porto at Night The magical city of Porto 

Porto Bridge View

What else can be more beautiful than the photogenic city than seeing it at night? Porto is one of the most beautiful cities to look at and savor at night. As soon as I got to Gallery Hostel and saw the panoramic shot of the river at night, I knew I had to see it myself too. It’s much better in real life and that’s why one should go.

9. The Cost

The Real Porto The Real Porto

You might be wondering why on earth did I take this photo and post it alongside the gorgeous pictures of Porto. Well, one night I was sightseeing with a lovely American girl who unluckily missed her flight to London and ended up staying in Porto instead. I found out that she was studying in Coimbra and she gave me excellent insider details that any local can say about Portugal. This is one of them. Almost anywhere in Portugal cities are made up of unfinished roads and constructions.

So what’s the point? With so much beauty, history and culture this city offers, you probably think it would cost so much. Quite the contrary. This is the cheapest place that I’ve traveled to in Western Europe.

Here’s my expense breakdown:

RT flight from Madrid: $69.82

Accommodation (includes breakfast): $87.71

Food: $50.62

Douro Tour (Wine tasting + Lunch): $83.85

Shop (Scarf): $5.21

Transportation: $18.77

Overall I spent $315.98 on my 5 day tour in the region. All in.

It could definitely be done at a lot cheaper rate if you drive or do the Douro Valley tour on your own, cook your own food and choose a cheaper accommodation, which Porto has plenty of. 

10. Ease of Transport

Train Travel in Porto

Why I included this reason is pretty explanatory. As I browsed through my travel journal, I can’t help but smile when I read my journal entry when I rode the train to Guimarães. Here’s what I wrote and thought of sharing:

“Yesterday I joined the free walking tour of Porto that involved a visit to the library that inspired JK Rowling’s Harry Potter. The same tour ended at the beautiful train station and I decided in two minutes to hop on a train to go somewhere further north of Portugal. Then I found myself in a pretty little city that was the birthplace of Portugal…

Nowadays my travels only involve tickets, pretty much unplanned with no guidebook and I’m loving getting lost and finding myself in places I never even imagine I’d reach and meeting interesting people along the way. This taught me an important life lesson: there’s no guidebook in life and you cannot really plan it but the more open you are to serendipity, quite often life takes you somewhere surprising. The place of uncertainty is a place where the magic happens.”

And most of all… The People

Oporto, Portugal

Sure, nice people are everywhere but why I included this reason is because of my new travel experience that happened in Porto: hitchhiking.

I almost missed my flight because of the transport strike. I’m usually calm and collected even during times like this (My record: missed 1 flight, almost miss 3 others) but this was an exception. I had students waiting for me in Madrid and I couldn’t afford to miss this flight. I never thought that one day I will hitchhike and Porto was the best possible place I could have done it. I have never felt more safe in all my travels than in Portugal. Here’s what I wrote that fateful day:

“So the bus and train drivers decided to have a strike in Porto the day I had to catch my flight back to Madrid and I was stuck in another city. With no taxis in sight and just two hours before my plane leaves, I was very close to panicking until I came up with a solution- to hitchhike. So hitchhiking it was and I made it just a few minutes before the plane closed. Upon reaching my seat and still trying to catch my breath, my seatmate offered me a bar of chocolate. I couldn’t help but have the biggest smile to end my time in Portugal.

This is why I still travel. Because time and time again in my series of misadventures, I get overwhelmed with the kindness of the strangers I meet in my travels. And time and time again, they prove to me the goodness of humans. Angels are simply everywhere…”

To Porto, misadventures and life lessons,

Anna

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Author:Anna

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16 Responses to “What Really Happened in Portugal and Why Porto is One of My Favorite Cities”

  1. Joey
    June 27, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    I love your new post b.. this is why you shouldn’t stop writing ♥

    • July 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      Thank you S! <3

      • elsa
        July 11, 2013 at 4:16 am #

        Thanks for thinking so highly of my city! It’s always nice to hear that someone else likes it almost as much as we do!

        • July 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

          My pleasure and thanks for reading! :)

  2. July 10, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    I just miss my city so much… Thank you Anna

    • July 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      Thank you for reading Ana! :)

  3. July 10, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    You’re always welcome again.

    Thankfull for the lovely words. Travelers have this power to see and value things that locals rarely pay attention.

    I have to publicate your adorable post in my facebook :)

    Regards,

    Lília, Oporto, Portugal

    • July 10, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

      Thanks so much for reading Lilia! Your city is wonderful! :)

  4. July 10, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    I loved your article about my city. I was very happy that you fall in love with her,as much as I’m aalways.
    About the Real Porto – just hope these works are finished very soon, because that’s one of most beautiful square we have.
    Hope you return :)
    Nice cronica

    • July 11, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      Hi Sandra, I loved everything about Porto. Even the real Porto. It’s imperfection made it much more appealing to me. Would love to return as well! :)

  5. Paulo
    July 11, 2013 at 4:32 am #

    Dear Anna,

    And what about Guimarães? Are you thinking of writing some lines about the city?

    In case you’re wondering… yes I am from Guimarães :)

    Cheers

    • July 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

      Hi Paulo, Yes I thought about it but I’ve only been there for half a day. But definitely worth sharing the beautiful pictures from there! :)

  6. Paulo Renato
    July 11, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    Awesome read and thanks for your visit and kind words to my city :)

    Not really my city because I was born in Coimbra but I’ve been living here for 21 years now and it’s definitely my home and your words describe it so well…

    going to share your post on my facebook… Thanks Anna :)

    • July 11, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

      Thank you so much Paulo! It’s definitely a great city I wished everyone knew about it! :)

  7. João
    July 11, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Next time try Lisbon. I am sure you will love it as well!

    • July 11, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

      I did go to Lisbon eventually. I just haven’t written about it. Really loved Portugal!