If you spend any time traveling around Portugal, the first question any Portuguese person will ask you after your trip is, “Did you prefer Porto or Lisbon?” Lisbon is Portugal’s capital and largest city, but Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, is certainly no slouch. Porto is full of amazing cheap food, stunning blue and white tiles, bathroom signs made of books, gold covered churches, and of course the deliciously eponymous Port wine. Spend just one day in Porto and you’ll have a hard time saying it’s not your favorite city in any country, not just Portugal.
Morning: Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis
Address: Rua Dom Manuel II 44
Hours: 10-6 Tuesday-Sunday
Price: 5 Euros
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love museums and those who have not yet learned to love museums. I love museums because I love learning and in my opinion the two best ways to learn about a new place are in on a walking tour or in a museum. As I had a walking tour scheduled for the next day, I thought it would be perfect to kick off my tour with a morning in a museum dedicated to the art of Portugal. Allow me to share with you some of what I learned with:
the approximately top five best things to see at the museu nacional
1) The Museu is housed in what used to be a palace, so how fitting that the first thing you see when you enter is what looks like a metal statue knight on horseback. But looks can be deceiving! This work by Pedro Valdez Cardoso, entitled “The Weight of History”, is entirely made out of tape and not metal at all. I assume that it’s meant as a commentary about how just because someone wears shiny armor doesn’t mean they’re a good person. Or Cardoso just got a roll of tape really tangled up accidentally and couldn’t get it unstuck. You decide!
2) Problematizing contemporary art aside, do remember that you’re in a palace, so don’t forget to enjoy the interior! Check out those insane porcelain walls! I can’t even imagine how many peasants needed to slave away to pay for those suckers.
3) From the second floor, you can also get lovely views of the palace gardens. Don’t miss the blue and white tiles on those red walls. Blue and white + red are definitely the colors I most associate with Porto.
4) One of the industries most associated with Porto was the manufacture of pottery. Some pottery was made right in the Miragaia neighborhood of Porto, and other pottery in the museum is from different parts of the country. But my favorite pottery are the pieces shaped to look like real fruits or animals. I think that grasshopper made out of pottery could be an excellent, if expensive prank someday!
5) The museum has a wonderful painting collection. I especially liked the Impressionist style paintings of Porto because they all were full of blue skies and red walls and roofs. This painting is of the Castelo da Foz by Portuguese painter Artur Loureiro.
6) But there are also many more modern looking paintings, like this Cubist-ish “Tambores” by Fernando Lanhas. I haven’t seen many Portuguese painters outside of Portugal, so I was interested in the fact that they were clearly influenced by foreign movements like Impressionism and Cubism.
Travelerette Treasure: The one thing in the museum you truly can’t miss are the sculptures by Antonio Soares dos Reis, the artist for whom the museum is named. (Well, you also can’t miss the Tape Horse at the entrance but for different reasons.) This sculpture above is of the imposing Conde de Ferreira, a 19th century nobleman from Porto. I love how alive he looks, like you could just reach out and touch him. But don’t get fooled! They kick you out of museums if you try to touch the statues.
Lunch: A Sandeira
Address: Rua dos Caldeireiros 85
Now that’s enough learning for the morning! It’s time for eating, drinking…and learning about what we are eating and drinking. For lunch we shall feast in a cozy sandwich shop called A Sandeira, which I’m pretty sure is Portuguese for The Sandwich. Way to get straight to the point, A Sandeira! I shall do likewise.
A Sandeira has one of the best lunch deals I have ever seen. For five euros you get fresh lemonade, potato soup, and a sandwich. I chose the Clerigos sandwich. BEHOLD ITS MAJESTY!
This sandwich was made with feta, tomato, and olive paste. As you can imagine with that combo, it was super salty and hella flavorful. Also the bread was flawless: crusty on the outside and light as air on the inside. The restaurant was really crowded, but with these prices and quality, I don’t know why it wasn’t even more crowded. There should have been lines snaking around the block.
Early Afternoon: Taylor’s Port Wine Tasting
Address: Rua do Choupelo, nº 250
Hours: 10-7:30 in the summer, 10-6:30 in the winter
Price: 12 Euros, audio guide tour and Port tasting included
Of course you cannot go to Porto without drinking Port wine. It is like going to New York and not eating Yorkshire pudding. Port is a fortified wine, which means that brandy is added to the wine at some point during production,often served as a dessert wine. Taylor’s is an English port company located in Porto, which makes sense as Port has always been super popular in England. But Port isn’t just for old English barristers and their wigs anymore! All of us can enjoy its sweet majesty.
Join me for a tour of Taylor’s Port Cellars and we will learn…
three fun facts about port wine
1) The most important fact about Port wine is that it has to be produced in the Douro Valley, which is the area around Porto in northern Portugal. Otherwise you’re not allowed to call it Port. They grow the grapes for Port wine in these beautiful terraced fields pictured above. I don’t really think it’s fair that the grapes get to grow up in such a beautiful place and I have to live in a studio apartment with holes in the walls with upstairs neighbors who smoke pot all the time.
2) There are three types of Port: red ports, which age for a short time in oak vats, tawny ports, which age for longer in oak casks, and white ports, which are white. I don’t think you need me to explain the difference between white and red, do you Internet Stranger? White ports can come in dry or sweet, but I prefer sweet Port.
3) Taylor’s has been in the Port business since 1692, though the business has changed hands many times due to death, financial misfortune, and Napoleon. The symbol of Taylor’s is 4 with two Xs underneath, though no one is exactly sure why that is. I assume it’s because of pirates because I prefer to think everything is because of pirates. ARRRRRR!
Travelerette Tip: Don’t expect you’ll be able to choose your Port at the end of the tour. We were given tastes of the Chip Dry white Port and a sweet red Port. The red tasted exactly like what I expect Port to taste like, but the Chip Dry almost tasted just like a thicker dry white wine. It would be good for people who want a fortified wine but don’t like sweet things.
Travelerette Treasure: Don’t miss out on touring the lovely garden behind Taylor’s Cellars. There are some amazing rose bushes…
and some adorable birds for you to make friends with.
I hope they’re not giving Port to those chicks and roosters. That would be bird abuse.
Late Afternoon: Explore Porto
Porto is hands down one of the most fun cities I’ve ever been to for just exploring. Now that you’ve gotten the big stuff out of the way: museums and port wine, take the rest of the afternoon to wander around the city and get to know it. I can get you started with:
approximately five of the best things to do in porto
1) Turn around. Seriously, as soon as you leave Taylor’s, turn around and head toward this gorgeous view of Porto’s red roofs. You can see Clerigos Tower in the distance, but don’t worry! We’re heading there tomorrow when we’re a little more drunk.
2) Walk across the Ponte de Dom Luis I. For reasons that completely mystify me, this bridge is currently ranked No 1 of things to do in Porto on TripAdvisor. How can this be? It’s a beautiful bridge, but it’s just a bridge. It’s fun to walk across, but it’s no Brooklyn Bridge or Golden Gate. Can you help me out here, Internet Stranger? Anyway, though the bridge may not be number one in my heart, it is still very lovely and you should definitely walk across it.
3) Stroll along the Douro River. The graceful Douro is one of the major charms of Porto, and one of my main regrets is that I didn’t spend four nights in Porto, so I would have enough time to take a day trip up the river. But you will certainly have enough time to meander down the Douro’s edges, get some more glimpses of the little red Portuguese roofs, and dream of returning to Portugal.
4) Visit the Porto Cathedral. It costs three Euros to enter the cloisters of the Cathedral, but I think it’s worth it. If there’s one thing the Portuguese know how to do…scratch that, one is not enough for the Portuguese. If there’s three things the Portuguese know how to do, it’s make sandwiches, navigate, and build churches. If you are not a church-person, I bet you will still enjoy exploring Portugal’s sacred wonders. Just keep an eye out for these three things, gold-covered statues:
blue and white tiles
and stone sculptures.
I said, gold-covered statues
blue and white tiles
and stone sculptures.
Sometimes if you’re lucky, you can even get two at the same time.
Also you might find this black cat lurking on the Cathedral grounds, who is very clearly the devil in disguise.
GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN CAT!
5) Visit the Igreja de Sao Francisco. It is located at Praça Infante Dom Henrique and costs 4 Euros for admission, but it is well worth it. Sadly I can’t convince you of this with my photos because photos are completely forbidden inside the church. Suffice it to say that the walls are entirely coated in gold, so much gold that they would make King Midas blush. Do I think this is the greatest way to honor a saint as famously austere as St. Francis? Not necessarily. Is it beautiful to look at? Absolutely.
If you want a preview of the gold, the church museum next door does offer some tantalizing hints, and you are allowed to take photos inside. Take this altarpiece as a sign of things to come.
There. Just imagine that altar times infinity and you have imagined the interior of Igreja de Sao Francisco.
Travelerette Treasure: Even more than the gold, I liked exploring the creepy catacombs in the basement of the church. Apparently before 1845, Portuguese people were buried in churches like this instead of cemeteries. What happened in 1845? Did people decide these catacombs and their skull decorations were just too creepy?
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest!
Address: Largo São Domingos 18
Reservations: Online here
DOP is a restaurant run by Chef Rui Paula, who is a native of Porto. DOP serves upscale versions of classic Portuguese foods. I found the place great way to experience fine dining on a somewhat limited budget. You can do the whole seven course tasting menu thing for around 60 Euros as opposed to the astronomic prices you would pay for a similar meal elsewhere. There’s nothing I love more than writing up a tasting menu except eating a tasting menu, so allow me to walk you through my feast.
Amuse Bouche: This was a cute little smoked salmon salad on one side paired with a rich sausage ball on the other. I liked how the lightness of the salmon went with the heavy sausage. I also liked that this was really two amuse bouches in one.
First Appetizer: This was a paper-thin octopus carpaccio lightly accentuated with a drizzling of pesto sauce. I’ve never had octopus carpaccio before. It was very fresh tasting and had none of the rubberyness I sometimes associate with octopodes.
Second Appetizer: This is a francesinha, which is the traditional sandwich in Porto. It is normally made with many kinds of meat like steak, sausage, ham, what-have-you, etc. Then you top the sandwich with melted cheese. Finally you dump a reddish-brown sauce made with beer and probably tomatoes over the top. It is the most perfect bar food ever, which is why it was so exciting to see one in a classy restaurant like this. I could tell the chef really wanted to honor his heritage.
PS. The sandwich was delicious, and I especially enjoyed the chorizo in the sandwich.
Fish course: This was a fine piece of trout served with summer vegetables and ham and topped with a salty fish sauce. I like how the salty ham and fish sauce paired with the delicate vegetables and mild flavor of the trout.
Intermezzo: Because this is a tasting menu, we’re going to need courses within courses. So here’s a tiny cod ball to enjoy between the fish course and the meat course. I found this amusing because cod balls are such a traditional Portuguese working class food that it is surprising to see one all tarted up like this in a fancy restaurant.
Meat Course: This was a rich piece of pork neck with celeriac puree and red cabbage. Because the pork was so rich and this was my sixth course of the night, it was nice to have the sweetness of the red cabbage and the umami flavor of the celeriac balancing out the pork.
Pre-Dessert: This was a smooth and flavorful orange pannacotta. I really think the pre-dessert should catch on as a concept. The more desserts, the merrier!
Main Dessert: This was a pine nut cake layered with custard and topped with olive oil and powdered sugar. I absolutely love pine nut and olive oil in desserts. It reminds me of eating in Little Italy growing up as a kid. The powdered sugar tasted good, but the way it is presented in this picture makes me worry a little that my cake has a cocaine addition.
After you finish dinner, you won’t have room in your stomach to do anything but roll yourself into bed and dream of codfish balls and another day in Porto!
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day in Porto!
What would you do with one day in Porto? Do you think the pre-dessert should catch on? AND WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THAT BRIDGE? Please leave your thoughts below!
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.