Hello and Happy 2016!
We’re slowly settling into our new house--endlessly rearranging the furniture, unpacking the mountain of boxes in the garage and wandering further afield in the neighborhood. The kitchen is more-or-less back in place and I’m ready to start cooking again. But before I go into full-on recipe testing mode, I have another Wanderlust Guide for you!
This time I’m sharing my go-to spots in Porto, one of my very favorite cities. Porto boasts a picturesque harbor, fantastic food and wine, and a decidedly down-to-earth vibe, due in part to its working-class roots. Porto is also home to a burgeoning community of young artists and designers, who are busy pushing the boundaries in fashion, architecture, food and art.
I’m head-over-heels for Porto. I think you will be, too.
Food + Drink
Pedro dos Frangos is an unremarkable looking rotisserie chicken restaurant. If this place had not been recommended to me, I never would have stopped. But as is the case with many local gems, this unassuming spot served one of the best meals I ate on my last trip to Portugal: Porto-style tripe. Let me explain. I too, thought tripe was disgusting and deplorable and utterly repulsive before my conversion experience at Pedro dos Frangos. Tripe was, in fact, the only food that I categorically refused to eat. But since tripe is a specialty of Porto, I decided to give it one more chance. The tripe at Pedro dos Frangos is decidedly un-tripelike. It is meltingly tender and delicious. Ours came in a tomato infused sauce with velvety-soft white beans and crispy pieces of pork and roast chicken floating alongside. It was delicious. The crispy fried sardines and bottle of vinho verde we ordered to start the meal off were equally wonderful. Pedro’s is well worth a stop. And don’t worry, there’s charcoal-grilled chicken and towering plates of french fries for less adventurous eaters!
P.S. There are actually two Pedro dos Frangos restaurants located across the street from each other (???). We ate upstairs at the one on the east side of the Rua do Bonjardim. Also, this is a locals-only spot. We heard nothing but Portuguese while we were there. So be prepared to pull out your Portuguese phrasebook or a translator on your phone to navigate the menu.
Espiga Cafe + Gallery. This cafe/bar/gallery/concert venue/creative space is the perfect place to stop for a coffee or a meal after a long day of exploring the city. The seating is comfortable, there’s a chill vibe, and the (inexpensive) food served by the young couple who run the space is solid. On my last trip, I often slid into one of the soft leather sofas here after a long day of walking the cobblestone streets and found myself revived with a hot bowl of soup and a glass of wine. They are open from 1pm to 1am, but when I was there, they never got busy until late in the evening. So if you’re looking for a mellow afternoon spot to work or read, stop in and take advantage of their strong WiFi connection. If you’re looking for a hip place for a late dinner or a drink, head over after 9pm.
Much like Espiga, Café Vitória is a great space to stop in for coffee, a cocktail, an afternoon snack, lunch or dinner. The beautifully designed interior and open-air courtyard in the back are full of hipsters, young and old, throughout the day. Students come here to study. Creative professionals come for business meetings. Older locals stop in for lunch. It’s a wonderful slice of Porto and a centrally-located spot to stop and take a break, work or just people-watch.
P.S. Stop into Galerias Lumière, the hip, design-centered shopping space across the street while you’re in the neighborhood.
Cantinho do Avillez is Michelin-starred chef José Avillez’ cosy spot for traditional Portuguese food executed with the precision of a classically-trained chef. You’ll find tender grilled octopus with silky olive oil poached potatoes, Alentejo black pork with black beans and crispy fries, crunchy cod fritters and other traditional dishes served with an upscale presentation. The wine list is excellent, too. This place is popular with locals and tourists, so be sure to call ahead to reserve.
Rota do Chá. This tea house located in the up-and-coming arts district of Porto boasts a charming interior, a large plant-filled courtyard in back and a wonderful list of teas from around the world. And it’s open on Sundays! (A rare occurrence in Porto.) This tiny place can get busy on weekends and sunny days, which leads to rather leisurely service. Take a book and be prepared to wait a little while for your pot of tea to arrive.
Comer e Chorar por Mais. If you’ve been following along on the blog, you know that I’ve been amazed by the quality of the cheese and charcuterie in Portugal. This 100-year-old shop tucked away just around the corner from the bustling Bolhão Market is the absolute mecca for Portuguese cheese, charcuterie and wine. The selection of products they manage to fit into this little deli is mind-boggling. And everything we tasted here was delicious! I especially recommend their Alheira (traditional Portuguese sausage made with bread). Their staff speak English and are incredibly knowledgeable, so ask away if you’re looking for something in particular or have questions.
Leitaria da Quinta. Ok. I am not a huge lover of eclairs. (Despite the fact that they are becoming the new macaron in terms of trendiness. Or maybe eclairs are done already and cream puffs are the new macaron? Who can keep up?) Anyhoo...Leitaria da Quinta, founded in 1920, makes one stunner of an eclair. Unlike it’s restrained French cousin, the classic Leitaria da Quinta eclair is stuffed full of whipped cream and topped with a dark milk chocolate glaze. It is ridiculously good. It’s the type of sweet that leaves you wanting to eat about 10 more. Which might lead you to opt for an assortment of their mini-eclairs. But don’t be fooled; as cute as the little lemon and caramel-coated eclairs are, the classic is where it’s at.
Right beside Leitaria da Quinta, you’ll find my favorite bakery in Porto: Padaria Ribeiro. Unlike the eclair situation next door, however, I advise diving into their dozens of bite-sized pastries. I’m going to be honest: I have no idea what most of them are. There are SO many. And I don’t know the names of the ones I like best because Padaria Ribeiro is always busy and the staff is a little brusque and not exactly in the mood to explain to me in English the nuances of all the various traditional Portuguese pastries they serve. But they’re all good. Some are sweeter than others. Some are filled with coconut. Some with apple. Some with egg cream. I recommend pointing out several in the case that look good, ordering one of their excellent espressos and taking a seat on their sunny patio to figure out which ones you like best.
Port Houses. While not in Porto, strictly-speaking, the port houses of Gaia right across the river are definitely worth a visit. I recommend both Sandeman and Ferreira. Both were established in the 18th century, are still Portuguese-owned and produce world-quality port wines. Join one of their daily tours (available in English, check their websites or call ahead for details), which finish with a port wine tasting.
Pro-tip #1: book well in advance if you’d like to do a tasting of vintage ports.
Pro-tip#2: Walking across the upper level of the Luís I Bridge (just past the cathedral) yields spectacular views of Porto and Gaia. Bring your camera.
Roasted chestnuts. If you’re in Porto in the fall, order a cone of roasted chestnuts from one of the street vendors. Smoky, subtly sweet chestnuts make a great snack when you’re out exploring the city.
Founded by a world-traveling journalist, A Vida Portuguêsa is home to an assortment of nostalgic and 100% made-in-Portugal goods for the home. You’ll find everything from locally-sourced olive oil to cleaning products in vintage-inspired metal tins to old-school canvas and rubber sneakers. I always opt for the inexpensive woven rugs and pretty soaps in art-deco wrappers, which make fantastic gifts (Claus Porto is my favorite brand). With it’s hardwood floors, vintage shelving and views out towards the Clerigos Church, the store is beautiful as well. Not to be missed.
P.S. Be sure to climb the stairs to the second floor of the building that houses A Vida Portuguêsa. The first floor is home to store selling more touristy and lower quality goods. It can be a bit confusing the first time you visit; just climb the huge wooden staircase in the back of the store and you’re there!
Coração Alecrim is another gem of a shop. Selling a delightful mix of vintage and hand-crafted housewares, clothing, jewelry and art, this magical shop will make you want to stuff your suitcases to the brim with their carefully curated selection of goods. (I actually had to buy another suitcase to take home the last time I was in Porto!) Another store I never miss when I’m in Portugal.
Cru. I discovered this little concept store right around the corner from my hotel on my last trip to Porto. The front serves as a shop and display area for the artists and designers whose studios are located in the back of the building. The selection of handmade clothing, jewelry and accessories changes frequently. Their jewelry selection is especially amazing!
Patch Lifestyle + Concept Store. This might be my favorite shop in Porto. This little gem of a shop carries and eclectic mix of Portuguese ceramics and textiles, vintage clothing and stationary and handmade jewelry. On my last trip alone I found a hand-painted silk scarf, a set vintage notebooks in the perfect shade of pink, a vintage navy pleated skirt perfect for travel and a stack of old school labels perfect for sticking on mason jars and/or gifts. I never come away empty-handed. Don't miss it. And bring cash--they don't except foreign cards here.
With its long history, famed art-nouveau staircase and Harry Potter associations (J.K. Rowling frequented the bookstore when she lived in Porto), Livraria Lello is one of Porto’s most popular tourist attractions. It was so overrun with (non-shopping) tourists that it was, until recently, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. There is now a kiosk across the street that sells tickets to the bookstore for 3€. In addition to helping preserve an historic landmark, this keeps things a little more orderly inside. The view from the top of the staircase is well worth the 3€, in my opinion. And the bookstore will apply the price of your ticket towards any purchases you make.
Pensão Favorita. Ema and Margarida, who run this guesthouse in a converted 19th-century town home, are two of the warmest, most gracious women you’ll ever meet. They make booking a breeze, attend to every detail of your stay with a smile, and are available to provide recommendations for what to see and do in Porto. The rooms themselves are spacious, clean and bright. The larger suites have lovely tile flooring and sunrooms with views over the courtyard or the city. The common spaces include a cool, art deco inspired breakfast room, a mid-century lounge area, and a sunny and plant-filled back patio. You will love your time at the Favorita!
Rosa et al Townhouse. Right around the corner from the Pensão Favorita, you will find Rosa et al, another charming guesthouse in a 19th-century town home. The wonderfully eclectic mid-century decor will delight design-lovers and the serene back garden is perfect for introverts who need a calm sanctuary at the end of their day. Whether you stay at the Rosa et al or not, I highly recommend stopping in for the fantastic weekend brunch or enquiring about one of their seasonal pop-up dinners.
There are many, many tourist attractions worth checking out in Porto. My personal favorites are:
The 18th-century Carmo Church with it’s beautiful tile facade.
The Porto Cathedral with its soaring views over the river.
The Centro Português de Fotografia, which is home to a series of rotating photography exhibits and a fun collection of antique and vintage cameras.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to my favorite spots in Porto. Don't forget to leave me your thoughts in the comments below as well as any spots you think I should add!