From Harry Potter to sweet pastel de nata and the salty Atlantic Ocean – my top 4 recommendations for what to do, see or eat in Porto, the favorite parts that made my journey special. Oporto, the second largest city of Portugal is a true gem.
Most people combine it with a visit to Lisbon, but I believe this city is worth a trip alone as well. “Wise is he who enjoys the wonders of the world’, as Portughese poem Fernando Pessoa puts it.
1. Three words: Harry Potter inspiration
First, follow the steps of J.K. Rowling, who lived in Porto several years, teaching at the University of Porto and found inspiration in the city for some aspects of the Harry Potter novel. For instance, the Lallo bookshop (or Livraria Lello & Irmão) resembles the magical Hogwards library and the lions from the University of Porto’s fountain were the inspirations for the Gryffindor lion.
Plus, the black Hogwards uniforms were modeled after the distinctive uniform of the students, the ones they wear on special occasions and only if they want.
It goes without saying it – as a huuuge Harry Potter fan, was pure magic to visit the Lallo bookshop. You first buy the ticket from across the street. While waiting in line, you can admire the beautiful façade of the library, with Art Nouveau elements.
It costs 3 euro to enter, but when you buy a book, the price of the ticket is discounted. I purchased the book “Eat Portugal,” which leads to my next point.
2. Sweet Porto
Eat pastel de nata and drink coffee
Second of all, eat and drink coffee (and port wine of course, but more about this here). Survival phrases read on the “Eat Portugal” book are:
- “café de saco” is a filtered coffee similar to an Americano
- “cimbalino” – the Porto name for espresso, while “bica” is the name in Lisbon
- “pingado” would be my favorite – espresso with a few drops of milk
Café Majestic is the most beautiful location to stay for a coffee, but my favorite one was Café Guarany in the center, close to Aliados metro station.
I tried pasteis de nata in several places, but the most delicios ones I found in Pasteis Ribeira (close to Porto University). Best to serve sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon on top.
3. Architecture and Azulejos (tiles tiles tiles)
Most important, admire the architecture and the beautiful azulejos on houses, churches and restaurants. As I wrote in my article about Lisbon, everywhere in the Portuguese cities you see azulejos – the Portuguese and Spanish word of Arabic origins for painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework.
Start with the train station São Bento, a story of travel and time told using 20,000 azulejos. You definitely won’t find many other train stations as pretty as this stunning São Bento. Most tiles are beautifully hand-painted, telling literally a story about travelling.
Confession – I love train stations and here, I found myself staring for minutes at the details of this blue tiles.
Dreaming time – I am sure, when I will have my own house, my kitchen will be decorated with this colorful Portuguese ‘azulejos’.
4. Porto, stay salty!
Atlantic ocean and the sunset
Last, but not least, head to the salty ocean in the afternoon. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen last year (competing with the one in Dubrovnik).
Taking the tram 1 “Infante-Passeio Alegre,” which follows the river Douro, you will reach the ocean in Foz do Douro. I went on my last afternoon in Porto and was an amazing way to end my trip.
In the summer, for fresh fish, locals go also a bit further, to Matosinhos.
Originally, “to be salty” is the slang for ‘to be upset or angry’, usually when something doesn’t go our way. But to me, everything that is salty (tears or the sea) has a healing power. I went to Porto last autumn, when I wasn’t in the best place in my life. And being there helped me heal, organize my thoughts and put things into perspective.
The article was first writen for the blog of the Travel Capsule.