As I walked out of the Campanhã station, still groggy from the 2 and a half hour train from Lisbon, it hit me that I didn’t know much about Porto. I researched Lisbon. Watched videos about Lisbon. Talked to other travelers about Lisbon. But as for Porto? I knew less than nothing. Well, I knew it was Portugal’s second largest city, in the north of the country, and more industrial than the country’s capital city. I also knew I wanted to sample port wine.
Indeed, I drank a lot of port at Taylor’s – which is technically located across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. And Porto did feel more raw than Lisbon with fewer sun-seeking Easter tourists roaming its narrow streets.
But Porto surprised me.
Porto is the embodiment of medieval Europe without the spiffy commercialized zones, touts, and big tourists buses. Unlike Lisbon, which was flattened by an earthquake in the 1700s, Portugal’s second city remains much as it did for hundreds of years.
What did I love about Porto?
The blue tiles. Oh, god, the blue tiles. They were everywhere. Inside buildings, on the outside of buildings, in small shrines. I lost count of how many pictures I snapped of these exquisite pieces. On my walking tour, the guide explained Portugal’s complex history via the scenes on Sao Bento’s walls. I never saw such an artistic train station in my life!
The Maria Pia Bridge connects Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. In the entire city, I would say the waterfront draws the most tourists, but it still felt less commercial than other popular European destinations. What’s so cool about this bridge? Gustave Eiffel was one of the architects.
I wanted to eat a lot in Porto to compare the specialities of the north and south. Overall, the food in Porto was fresh and spectacular. On my walking tour, we stopped at the Bolhão Market. We learned that the market was declared a site of public interest due to its history, existing since the late 1800s. The scent of recently caught fish hung in the air as we browsed the stalls and nibbled on random treats.
Later in the day, four social German travelers and myself returned to the market for lunch. I chowed down on Francesinha, a sandwich originally from Porto. Does ham, sausage, linguiça, and melted cheese on bread with a side of french fries appeal to you? It did to me. And every bite was delicious. Diets, be damned!
For more information about Bolhão Market, check out Lauren Aloise’s post over at Spanish Sabores.
Livraria Lello & Irmão. Look at this bookstore. Look at it! Need I say more?
Is Porto or Portugal on your bucket list?