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Escape the Winter: A Weekend in Porto

Porto is an under the radar city in the already-under-the-radar country of Portugal. The second largest city to Lisbon, I came here for absolutely no reason other than the fact it was less than £40 round trip, shoutout to Ryanair. I also wanted to go south to try (and fail) to prevent the inevitable Seasonal Depression that comes with living in a city that, on average, has less than 50 hours of sunshine a month in the winter. In other words, less than two hours a day. Also, unlike 99% of my travels, I actually travelled with a friend, my flatmate, Daniel!

Being able to show an inch of skin in public in Porto for a few days, without it freezing off, was a much needed time of rejuvenation. It also helps that Porto is a beautiful riverside town with incredible food and its speciality, Port wine.  Porto often brought me back to LA from the palm trees to the cliff-lined seascapes, to its affinity for overpriced fruity drinks. If you’re looking to overload on wine, cheese, jamón Iberico, and sugar, this is the place for you! Here’s how to take advantage of a weekend in Porto to escape the Northern European cold.


Day 1: Old Town

We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb (use my code here and get $34/£25 off your first trip and I’ll get $20/£15!) with a sea view for under $40 a night in Vítoria, a young and trendy district. You can also stay on the riverside promenade of La Ribeira, or pretty much on the main street, in São Bento.

We started our day with pastel de nata, these incredible egg custard tarts for breakfast. If you’re in Portugal, they’re pretty much the national pastry and you have to have them. As soon as you bite into the buttery, flaky pastry and through the crunchy shell of the burnt sugar top, a rush of sweet, vanilla-y egg custard overtakes the taste buds; suddenly, the world is right, and all your problems have gone away. They’re especially amazing with cinnamon on top.

Pastel de nata

After our culinary epiphany, we trekked up to São Bento to check out the central square on Avenida dos Aliados.

Here’s the thing about Porto: it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of bigger cities in the sense that there are few museums or proper attractions. When I was searching for things to do, one of the top things to do was check out the Porto stock exchange. Okay.

But, one thing you must see in Porto is the Sé Cathedral. It has this absolutely beautiful and opulent entrance, and it’s situated on the hill of Terreiro da Sé. I forgot to go inside, but the inside is decked out with gold-plated columns, Romanesque artwork, and it even has its own courtyard.

(I stupidly forgot to take a photo during the day and my camera was dead hence the iPhone quality)

Porto is known (besides Port wine) for being divided along the Douro River, with a massive bridge connecting the two. You should definitely walk down this bridge both in the day and in the night! The hills on which Porto was built on shows its long history, with a mix of modern street art and 15th-century castles such as the Muralha Fernandina. Looking down on La Ribeira offers the best views Porto has to offer. You can also take boat tours of the city or even kayak!

Muralha Fernandina on the hills of Porto

There are many, many places to go Port wine tasting in Porto’s city of origin. We didn’t do an official Port wine tour as we saved that for another day, but we went to a restaurant and did our own little tasting. However, if you want to do an official Port wine tour in the city, here are a few tours you can do.

  • Caves Ferreira: Established in 1751, it’s a quintessentially Portuguese brand of wine. For €12, you’ll taste two Port wines, though for more you can taste three.
  • Caves Croft: For €10, you can taste three Port Wines, and for €20, a chocolate pairing is added
  • Real Companhia Velha: This one’s a bit different as they show you a video of the wine-making process, then they guide you. For €15 you’ll taste four Port wines.
  • Espaco Porto Cruz: With the most options, you can do anything from three tastings for €9.50 to five wine+cheese pairings €20, to a three-course meal with seven wine tastings for €95.

Day 2: Day-Trip To Quinta de Santa Cristina Vineyard

You really can’t get a better deal for a Vineyard tour than this. For just €12(!!), you get an intimate tour of a local vineyard an hour outside Porto. You see the complexities of how Portuguese wine is produced over two hours; you’re shown everything, from the grapevine to the fermentation, even to the bottling! This Vineyard, in particular, is community and family-owned, so they only produce up to 10,000 bottles a year. The community even stomps the grapes with their feet! Along with the scenic tour, you try three white wines and one red, and you get tapas with it too! Each €4 bottle of wine was amazing, so we bought two. And that’s expensive by Portuguese standards.

After the tour, we were unsure if their website was wrong. The whole time, we thought “there’s no way we got ALL of this for €12 when every other tour is €50+.”

If you go, go in mid-November like we did! It’s their off-season so Daniel and I got a private tour. It’ll be warm and surprisingly, the Portuguese countryside is way more autumnal than what I’ve seen in most of Europe. You can take a taxi for €55-75 each way…or do what we did and rent a car for a day for €45! We rented our car very last second, aka I bought our car on the way to the car rental.

Day 3: Bottles and Beaches

In the first day, you pretty much saw a vast majority of what Porto has to offer. The city itself is quite large but 95% of the sights worth seeing are in its compact centre. So what are you to do in a coastal city with too much time? Go to the beach! Daniel and I brought our wine from yesterday and sunbathed to rid ourselves of our newfound pastiness. For €3, you can take the 1 tram at Infante-Passeio Alegre which provides a charming, authentic vintage trolley experience. From here, you’ll pass through the Douro River and some beautiful landscapes. Once you reach Foz do Douro, make a right and unwind from these exhausting few days of wine-tasting and sightseeing.

 

After the beach, we spent our last hours at the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, a gorgeous park by Porto’s university. They have wild peacocks, exotic plants, and a big hill with underrated views of the Douro River.

 

We spent our last night on Rua de Cândida dos Reis where there are tons of bars. There was one bar we went to that I could’ve sworn I took a pic of, but I didn’t. They had the best pineapple and mango mojitos, and they sell cigars too! We just went upstairs and played jazz until 3am. It may be Baixa Bar but I’m not sure. Besides that, it’s the main bar street so you’ll have luck with anywhere you find.


Time for a Controversial Opinion!

While Porto was nice, I didn’t find it particularly memorable, to be completely honest. A weekend in Porto is more than enough; we found ourselves running out of things to do after the second day. Despite this, coming to Porto was a massively welcome relief from the unforgiving conditions of Scottish Winter. However, when I left, I didn’t have this need to come back. This is a new feeling for me, as I’ve loved every place I’ve visited. I liked Porto! But, it just didn’t strike a chord like most places. However, it’s absolutely worth visiting if you’re looking to escape the winter with super colourful architecture, incredible food, and much-needed Vitamin D.

Where do you guys go to escape the winter? Let me know in the comments below!

Cheers,

Elijah

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