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Porto is like an old, faded 50’s film, complete with noir characters, surreal neon lighting and cozy cafes hidden in steep, windy streets. It has a faded glory, a timeless style and grandeur which harks back to colonial success, to days when Porto was once a great city of Europe.
Today it may be a bit faded, a bit rusty, but the essence of Porto is still the same: elegant, unrushed, unselfconscious - and just a touch melancholic. Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, once the seat of great Portuguese kings and the home of her famous academics. Wandering her streets, passing through the ramshackle old town to her central square and the wide streets of the commercial area, you’ll be spellbound by her timelessness. In fact, Porto seems to have been frozen in time, on that cliff edge just before Europe got caught up in the industrial frenzy.
This city caught in time will also capture your fantasy immediately. They say that her bigger sister city, Lisbon shows off. Well, Porto works – but you wouldn’t guess it, with the clearly relaxed pace of her inhabitants. The old-world charm, medieval treasures and long lunch hours would trick you into believing that it’s all just about enjoying the sunshine, fresh seafood and long afternoon tea breaks.
But to really enjoy Porto, don’t rush too much. There’s a lot to do in Porto, but it doesn’t mean you need to conquer her all in one day! Put time aside to take in a traditional Portuguese tradition: tea time in the afternoons. Spend an hour or two enjoying your sweet, delicate pastry and make friends with the waiters… who, in typical Porto style, will probably still sport a neat bow tie.
What to see & do
Don’t be deceived – Porto just wants to seem relaxed, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be left with nothing to do. Explore her hilly cobbled streets, find those hidden restaurants in windy alleyways, or cruise the sunny, dazzling riverside Riberia area, filled with bars and restaurants.
For fresh produce, and a glimpse into everyday life, wander around the markets near the Town Hall, under iron roofs with produce from Brazil and ladies watching soaps behind the counters. Visit the Sé Cathedral, with it’s medieval origins and changing architectural styles from Baroque to Romanesque. Attached, there’s the stunning cloister decorated with beautiful detailed azujelos (painted ceramic tiles). For something energetic, try climbing the Torre dos Clérigos and its 225 steps for a dazzling birds-eye of the city.
For something more active, try crossing the iron bridge in Riberia, and hop from one Port Winery to another. You’ll taste the wine that Porto is famous for, and get to know what the fuss is all about.
What to eat
In the afternoon, you’ll be enticed by the smell of seafood wafting from the restaurants all over Porto. Portugal is famous for its seafood, particularly the bacalhau, and in Porto you won’t be disappointed - by the quality or prices! Seafood is great value here, so grab a spot at one of the restaurants along the Riberia, or in one of those hidden windy streets, and make sure it’s a long lunch.
For something lighter during the day, Porto’s Café establishments are well-known for great fillers. There are croquettes, filled with bacalhau, cheap and filling soups, grilled meats, fried savoury pastries… And always, a shelf filled with mouth watering pastries.
If you’re up to it, Porto is also known for the franchesina, probably the heaviest ‘snack’ you’ll ever try. It’s basically a sandwich, with wurstel, beef, chees, all toasted and then coated in a special tomato sauce. Famous - and well loved in Porto at that!
Where to party
The happening areas in Porto are generally in Riberia, or among the commercial streets around Rua de Santa Catarina. Try Matosinhos, the industrial suburb of Porto for a really happening nightlife scene. Take the bus no 1 about 11km northwest from Porto’s centre.
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