It’s been a whole three weeks since my trip to Porto and although I wrote a brief overview of my time there (Five days in Porto), I would like to share some of the best parts of my trip: seeing the city, meeting with friends, eating the most amazing food and staying in the best hostel I have ever stayed in!
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, behind Lisbon the capital. Porto has a very different vibe and identity to Lisbon and I loved exploring a new city and region of Portugal. Just like everywhere else in Portugal it seems, Porto is very hilly! My five days spent there was a great work out for my legs and I am glad I took comfortable trainers, I don’t know how these other travellers walk up and down those hills in flip-flops!
Ponte Dom Luis I
This is by far the most essential thing to do in Porto; walk along the top level of the Ponte Dom Luis I, which gives great views over Porto from Gaia (the city on the other side of the river), especially at sunset. The walk back from Ribeira (the area on the riverbank) back to my hostel was the must brutal climb ever.
I also stumbled across the Miradouro da Victória which was a gem and gives views of the bridge, Gaia and the wine caves and Sé cathedral.
Estação de São Bento
This train station is absolutely beautiful and you will fall in love with it if you appreciate azulejos (that’s those blue tiles which the Portuguese adorn everywhere on their buildings).
Many tourists come to the station simply to admire the artwork on the walls but the station also has trains (shocker, I know) with destinations to nearby towns of interest. I hopped on trains to Guimarães (the birthplace of Portugal) and Aveiro (the Venice of the North) during my trip, but there are also trains to Braga too. There are so many tour companies which offer day trips to these places, but they are usually no less than 40€ each. Train tickets are a mere 7€ return for a one hour journey each way (rough estimate), and the towns are small enough to visit without a guide, just maps from the local tourist offices, which saved me a lot of money.
Torre dos Clérigos
The Clérigos tower was the first thing I did on my day of arrival and it’s a great place to climb to get a view over the city of Porto. It’s 3€ entry and there are exhibitions in the tower to look at and you can also enter the ajoining church.
Nearby is also the Livraria Lello, a famous bookshop known for inspiring the library in Hogwart’s for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It’s very touristy and difficult to get a picture without people getting in the way which can be frustrating, but it is worth the stop as it is indeed a very pretty bookshop. It was interesting to learn that J.K. Rowling lived in Porto in the 1990s and that her time here gave inspiration for many aspects in the novels; from the Hogwart’s uniforms, to the library and the house at Grimmauld Place. It’s something not much talked about so it was really interesting to learn something new about Harry Potter.
Jardins do Palacio de Cristal
The Gardens of the Crystal Palace were a short five minute walk from my hostel. Although, I probably would not have gone there if it were not so close, it turned out to be one of the highlights during my time in Porto. The gardens, although unfortunately surrounded by the ugly “Crystal Palace” building that is falling apart and deserves levelling off, are absolutely beautiful and when exploring you come across spectacular views of Porto and the River Douro too. Personally, these gardens deserve a visit to anyone visiting the city. I’d recommend visiting in the morning as the gardens are quieter and more opportunities to get photos.
Year Abroad perks
What I have loved about the Year Abroad is that my coursemates and I are scattered across Europe (some more further afield), and it has been in many cases an opportunity to visit both somewhere new and also catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a few months. As my friend Nathan has been living and studying in Porto this semester, I promised I would come to visit, as it isn’t all that far away from Salamanca!
Although his mum was visiting that weekend as well, we met up and walked along the Ponte Dom Luis I, which was obligatory during my time in Porto before having an Italian meal (I am amazed at how cheap the food is in Portugal still!).
The weekend I was visiting coincided with a music festival at Serralves called “Serralves em festa.” Serralves, as far as I understand, is a Contemporary Art Museum in a massive park (it is huuuuge), which happens to be the most visited museum in Portugal and a short bus ride from Porto’s city center. The festival is a 40 hour nonstop thing all weekend but we ended up going on the Saturday night to see what it was all about. We caught the free bus from the Casa da Musica Interface and met up with some of his friends. We managed to stay until 3am, which for me was quite an achievement as I had been climbing up and down hills all day without even a siesta. The music was totally bizarre, there were no lyrics, but the park was littered with people, so some people must have liked it. It was difficult to see as there was hardly any lighting and walking around was a safety hazard. We stayed until 3am as we were waiting for the “Brazilian music” to start, but it wasn’t what we were hoping for so we caught a taxi back.
The funniest moment
On the way to the festival, I met Nathan’s Brazilian friend Julio and he later promised us that before I left Porto, he would cook us a Brazilian beef stroganoff. This was set for the Monday evening after Nathan’s language class, and I was looking forward to some good food – although of course, nothing went to plan. After getting all the ingredients, we forgot to get rice (oops) but it’s okay, it got sorted, until the glass jar of rice broke on the floor. Then, when cooking the beef, the plate that was on top of the pan keeping the heat in, shattered under the pressure of the heat and landed in the meat in tiny pieces, making it unedible. We couldn’t really believe it for a few moments but we accepted the inevitable. It was already quite late, 11pm more or less, so we tidied up what we could before ending up in a kebab shop eating falafel kebabs, or as the Spanish say “Kebaps” but that is a different story…
I’ll hopefully get some of this famous stroganoff without the plate bits someday.
My final evening in Porto was rounded off just how it should be; I really wanted eat somewhere which served cod because no trip to Portugal is complete without consuming cod – this is a fact. I ended up having Bacalhau à Braga, fried cod, surrounded by half chips half crisps (I still am amazed how they manage to do this) with onions and lots of olive oil and peppers. It was a good moment. I would really recommend this dish but I still uphold my love for Bacalhau à Lagareiro which I had in Lisbon in March.
We then walked along the RIver Douro at sunset until it went fully dark and then walked back to Ribeira. It was a lovely walk and the views were stunning as there was even a full moon that evening! By the time we reached Ribeira I was already exhausted but then I remembered there was still the massive hill to climb back to my hostel, so that was something!
Although I love Spain for its tapas culture, the pintxos I had in Bilbao, the tortilla… Portugal’s cuisine is much more accessible to me; Spanish cuisine is heavy on pork and seafood dishes, foods I don’t eat. I have therefore been limited in sampling my region’s specialities such as hornazo amongst other national dishes. Portugal however is very fond of cod and chicken and there is always an option for me at a restaurant in Portugal, something less common in Spain, so my experiences at finding somewhere I can eat has been more positive there. Plus, there are pastéis de nata, enough said.
During my five night stay, I stayed at Gallery Hostel in the art district. It was rated number one on TripAdvisor in Porto and I am so, so pleased I stayed there! Unfortunately, I now have extremely high expectations for every hostel I stay in, yet none can comapre to Gallery Hostel *cries inside*: from my room, to the comfy mattress, to the lack of noise levels, to the in-room bathroom, to the delicious breakfasts, the exceptional evening meals, the fact that they wash up your dishes for you and make your bed every morning… the quality of this hostel is superb and there was nothing I could fault. It was like staying in a hotel but sharing a rooom with 5 other travellers at the price of any other hostel.
Overall, I had a fantastic visit to Porto, it’s a beautiful city, some great memories were made and it was also good to practice speaking plenty of Portuguese in context outside the classroom.
I wasn’t too sad to leave Porto on my return to Salamanca because I already knew it would not be long before I was back in the country! I was anticipating my return to Spain as my time there was more limited as I don’t know when I will next be going back… I fly to Lisbon in 11 days for 4 weeks, it has come around so fast! Some prefer Porto, but I am still whole-heartedly in love with Lisbon, it’s just got that something.
I have already blogged about my return trip to Hammam Al Ándalus in Madrid, but I’ll be blogging next about my visit to the city in general. Madrid really surprised me as I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I couldn’t be more wrong, as I absolutely loved it! I had been putting off going for so long. I don’t regret leaving it until now but I am so glad I gave it a chance while I could!
Hasta luego (from cold Northern England – for now)