So last week I wrote all about why I thought Lisbon would be the next top European place to be!
Because it’s worth it!
And you know what?
So we did.
We went to the Northern part of Portugal. To a place called Porto.
Porto – Portoooooooogal!
Do you see what I did there?
Porto, otherwise known as Oporto, is the second-largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon.
Porto’s combined Celtic-Latin name is known as Portus Cale, and is believed to be the origin of the name “Portugal” meaning “the port”!
Located along the Douro river estuary in Northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European cities in the world and its historical centre was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996!
Porto’s settlement dates to as far back as when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire, during the Medieval Ages, and to important artifacts found in the 8th century!
And of course, one of Portugal’s most internationally famous exports is the port wine, named after the city of Porto itself!
Truth be told, until a year ago, I had never even heard of the city of Porto!
Yes, of course, I’ve had many a glass of port in my time.
But somehow, it didn’t click that the lip-smacking tipple of port, came from an actual place called Porto!
Until last year!
I was watching the BBC Travel Show when a feature came up on the city of Porto, and on how parts of it had been forgotten, with many of Porto’s oldest houses either abandoned, or at the risk of collapsing.
Porto was once an important global centre of trade and production for many a century, and then just like Bristol, business moved to the capital of the country, and that was that.
The locals moved away into the suburbs of Porto, the city lost it’s populated buzz, business followed suit, and what was left was the emptiness of a harbour, and the quiet husk of a neglected abandoned building.
I was intrigued!
And so, when I planned our Spain & Portugal Spring Break, I decided to add Porto to the core!
AND YET. I HAVEN’T A CLUE!
- Porto is a lovely city-break destination:
Most people have never heard of it! Up until last year, even I had never heard of it!
- Porto is an important city steeped in history and river-side glamour:
Porto seems to be dying. A little over 220,000 people live in Porto with 1.5 million living in the suburbs! As a result, 18.8% of residential buildings in Porto are empty, with many more abandoned and neglected. A very untypical story.
- Porto is a city of wine:
Who doesn’t like to buy a souvenir to take home? Portugal has a reputation of high quality, standard goods.
Some shops were raking it in, but many shops and buildings were boarded up, becoming quite the eyesore, not only uncomfortable to see, but also with a hint of “is-it-safe-for-me-to-walk-through-this-street?” feel.
On almost every street, you’ll find some sort of bookshop.
Outside of the pretty historical few, when was the last time you patronised a bookshop? A real bookshop. Of brick and mortar. Come to that, when was the last time that you even purchased, and paid for a book?
I love cats. In fact, we have two lovely twin cats at home and we love them dearly.
There were cats literally everywhere! Under cars. On roofs. On walls. In doorways. Everywhere. I can’t imagine that they’re all domestic, looking as skinny and scrawny as they did. Certainly not the type of animal that you would think of stroking.
Or touching, come to that.
- Blue and white tiles:
Lovely, pretty mosaic tiles with pictures of historical or religious images, donned the walls of various buildings.
You only have to turn around a corner or a side-street, and you would find a building that was derelict, covered with broken red brick, over-grown with weeds, strewn with old newspapers, bottles and rags, or half-built derelict buildings.
11 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT PORTO AND WHY IT MATTERS!
As always, my number one piece of advice is not to shy away but to visit.
And here’s why!
- It’s a river-side city: Porto, like Lisbon, is a city that owes much to the sea. The D’Ouro – meaning gold – is where the river flows into the sea where you can have lunch or dinner on the river side, go fishing or simply sail on a gentle boat or cruise, while taking photographic selfies as you cascade along the rivers and shores of history!
- A weekend destination: Porto is a great destination for a short-term stay as most people are young, it’s cheap and with most tourists coming from Spain, from France, Brazil, or Portugal itself, it hasn’t yet attained a reputation of a lager-lout hub!
- The architecture: Wow! What amazing colours that you see splashed across the city. Where some cities look dull or have no personality, Porto has a colourful enthusiasm. In spades!
- Porto is utterly charming: It has narrow streets and a young, vibrant, cosmopolitan centre.
- The wine: Wine fans will want to be in the Douro wine region. We tried to go on a wine cellar tour but we couldn’t find it, and ended up buying a huge amount of port an hour before we had to leave for the airport! Luckily, on every corner and in every shop, a bottle of port can be found in a multitude of forms and sensations such as ruby, tawny, white, rosé, and vintage! Phew!!
- Little shops and galleries: A lot of the shops have retained their old style traditional appearance, so that visitors can imagine what things were like in times gone by. In fact, antique dealers and art galleries make a roaring trade!
- Antiquarian booksellers: On almost every street, you’ll find some sort of bookshop. The most famous one of all being the Livraria Lello neo-Gothic beauty which was built in 1906, and which many say was the inspiration of the Grand Staircase, or the Hogwarts Stairway in the Harry Potter series, as well as the Flourish and Blotts Diagon Alley bookshop! But be warned, the bookshop has become so over-run with over-excited tourists, that the shop has begun to charge €3.00 for entrance, which you are reimbursed, with purchases made in the bookshop!
- Porto is tiny: The city is even smaller than Lisbon with a population of slightly over 220,000 inhabitants, and charmingly walkable, cobbled stones, and hilly steeps!
- The train station: Wow! The Estação de São Bento or the São Bento Railway Station looks pretty sexy! Built between 1905-1916, it’s famously known for its tile (azulejo) panels that depict scenes and historical events concerning the History of Portugal. What with its alluring magnificent blue and white tile panels, that reach to up to 20,000, helpful staff, wide-open spaces, and the shell of a Benedictine monastery! It’s no wonder that other train stations just look dull and functional, in comparison!
- Historical buildings and artistic monuments: You know how I love a good old building. Well, Porto didn’t disappoint with artistic creations such as the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi Church, the Stock Exchange Palace, the beautiful Porto Cathedral, the Torre dos Clérigos, or the Tower of Clerics, leading to a breathtaking view of the city, the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis or the Soares dos Reis National Museum and the Serralves Foundation – a cultural institution – making it Porto’s high point of art-deco architecture, and one of the most relevant museums on the contemporary European art circuit!
- Because Harry Potter: J. K. Rowling lived in Porto for a little while and so the influence and inspiration of Harry Potter world is right there. Under your nose! Think Salazar Slytherin – an acronym for the authoritarian Portuguese president – António de Oliveira Salazar! Think the Grand Staircase, or the Hogwarts Stairway – an acronym for the upstairs cafe of the Livraria Lello Bokshop! Think Flourish and Blotts – which is said to be inspired by the Livraria Lello Bokshop too! Think the Hogwart school uniform gown – an acronym for the gowns related to the Praxe Académica worn by the students of Oporto University, and a tradition stemmed from a century ago. Having said that, we have academic gowns in the UK too, but perhaps no longer on a daily basis….!
TAKE ME THERE?
Getting from Lisbon to Porto was enormously smooth.
This time we took the train. Again, I can’t remember the exact details, but the train the company was called Comboios de Portugal and we bought our ticket just 24 hours previously. It pays to do so a little earlier, as the cheaper tickets went pretty quickly! The cost was something like €25.00 for adults and 25% off for “youths!”
The Portuguese train was clean, smooth and efficient. Some trains are also “quiet” carriages, but it shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re planning to party your way along the aisle lol!
The journey from Lisbon to Porto was roughly 3 hours.
If you’re flying from the UK then Ryanair is virtual proof of the pudding. If you’re on the Continent, then Easyjet and any other airline residing in France, in Belgium or Switzerland, is probably your best bet. If you’re coming from the Americas, then you’d probably need to fly to Lisbon or any other European hub, first.
IS IT GOING TO BE CROWDED?
With a population of just 220,000 people, you’ve got the place to yourself!
WHAT IS PORTO LIKE?
We were only there for three (3) days but Porto is on the one hand charmingly young, and on the other, historically old!
I DON’T SPEAK PORTUGUESE
English is widely spoken, but there’s nothing wrong with learning a few basic words of Portuguese as a measure of respect!
AM I GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT?
Things haven’t quite come to that!
I’M ON A BUDGET, BUT I’M LOOKING FOR A BIT MORE LUXURY AS I DON’T WANT TO ROUGH IT! WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Just like in Lisbon, we stayed at another rather adorable contemporary styled boutique hostel located in the trendy Art Quarter of Miguel Bombarda.
The Gallery Hostel characterizes the new concept of a luxury hostel, and is based in an impressive 1906 building house, blended with a modern décor, infusing neutral and earthy tones, with unique textures and furnishings.
We chose this hostel not only because it was family-friendly and family-owned, but because it has it’s own art gallery!
An Art Gallery!
An. Art. Gallery!
I’m not going to lie.
I like my luxuries, pampering, and exclusive service.
Simply because I can!
And sometimes, I target luxury boutique hostels.
Just like the Gallery Hostel.
See you next week!
This article is part-sponsored by the lovely boutique Gallery Hostel, but all opinions, and the delightful glasses of port that we sipped whilst on the riverside quay, are my very own!
Next week, I’ll be focusing on food!
From June 2nd – June 3rd, I’ll be at the Berlin Fashion Film Festival.
From June 28th – July 2nd, I’ll be at Berlin Fashion Week.
Save the Date!
June is going to be fabulous!
I’ll be there. Will you?
If you’re not in Berlin in June, you’re going to miss out on everything!
Watch this space!
Have you ever been to Porto? What’s your tipple of choice – Wine, Whisky, Sherry or Port?
See you in Berlin.