Miguel David |||

Recommendations for Portugal

Carly and I are fortunate enough to know people from different parts of the World. Since Portugal and specifically Porto became famous in the tourist circuit we keep getting asked for recommendations, so we joined together a bunch of things we had written to different friends and make it a blog post so that it’s easily shareable. We hope it is useful for you. If you like it then (shameless plug), consider coming on one of our food tours in Porto to get to know the local culture through food and wine with amazing guides.

DISCLAIMER: This is Carly and Miguel’s research and opinion, not Taste Porto’s, nor any formal guidebooks. Different people think and prefer different things, so proceed as you will.

Portugal sea and surf

The sea/ocean off the western coast of Portugal is cold year round, the Atlantic has no warm currents here, and there is a frequent nortada (north wind) which makes swimming quite cold. The positive side of it is that it’s a great place for surf (in all its forms) and sail.

The southern coast is entirely different, as it is a mix of Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean sea. The Mediterranean is a big lake compared to the Atlantic. The sea is much flatter and considerably warmer.

Porto metropolitan area

Foz (Porto neighbourhood)

Foz is one of the poshest parts of Porto, and thus overpriced. It is a beautiful old neighbourhood, where most of the local rich people live. It has a beachside turned to the Atlantic ocean, and a riverside turned to Douro river. Not such a good place to surf.

Ribeira (Porto neighbourhood)

The riverside (ribeira), i.e. next to the Dom Luis bridge and along the river, is, by now, very touristy. Street performers, tours of all shapes and sizes, overpriced meals. This area was the first part of Porto to attract tourism because it is a Unesco World Heritage and has beautiful winding streets and lots of old houses. The problem with this part is that it is crowded! I mean you should visit it, but I suggest you don’t stay there.

Downtown (Porto neighbourhood)

Downtown (baixa), which falls between the river, São Bento station, the city hall (Aliados), and Clérigos tower is the proper tourist centre for the city. A lot is going on in this section of town with lots to see. It is also the epicentre of nightlife, with all the bars on and around Galerias de Paris street.

Other Porto neighbourhoods

Extending out from there are various neighbourhoods that are more targeted towards locals. Porto is generally safe, so there is no place I would say to stay away from. Though I do not recommend Campanhã neighbourhood, nor staying near the football stadium. Staying near the Casa da Música could be nice, as you have a good link to the city centre with the metro, but also be closer to the cultural institutions of Porto, i.e. Casa da Música and Serralves. Some areas that have more of a local feel, but are close to the centre are around the metro stations Marquês, Combatentes, and Campo 24 de Agosto.

Matosinhos (city)

Previously a fishermen’s town, Matosinhos (specifically Matosinhos Sul/South) is a city by the sea, which connects to Porto in the north side at Parque da Cidade (City Park). If you want delicious seafood and the ability to go surfing every day, this is the spot. Matosinhos Sul is a 40-minute metro ride to the Porto city centre or a 15 minute Uber ride. It doesn’t have as many tourists as downtown and is a more local experience if that’s what you want.

This area is also where the cruise ship terminal is.

For surfing check out Onda Pura or Surfing Life Club, either location will be happy to arrange private lessons or a class for the whole group.

If you go for the fish try Lusitano or Salt’o Muro, they aren’t the fanciest, but you will have a very local experience with great food. Ask for what is the catch of the day, and they will grill it for you. You won’t be disappointed!

Gaia (city)

Porto is the biggest city of the north and shares the river Douro and its bridges with Vila Nova de Gaia, aka Gaia. Gaia was the suburbs essentially until the 1990s when it became a living city in its own right. You can cross the lower part of D. Luis bridge and walk about 5 minutes, and you will reach an area where all the wine cellars are as well as bars and restaurants called Cais de Gaia (Gaia’s Pier). It is easy to recognise especially since they now have a cable car and a Ferris wheel (no comment…).

If you want the views, then cross on the top part of D. Luis bridge, watch for the metro trains that circulate there and don’t be afraid if the structure moves a little. Bridges are supposed to be somewhat flexible.

Porto Weather

Porto has all four seasons. Spring is beautiful and goes from around the end of March to June. Summer is super nice as it gets warm but not too hot due to being by the ocean (max 35º Celsius). Autumn is my favourite time of the year in the city as the colours change. But winter is cold (never below C), humid, rainy and grey. It lends a very London mysterious look to Porto’s winding streets, but unless you like the cold, not the most fun part of the year. Why? Because construction in Portugal is not made for the winter. central heating or air conditioning is still a luxury only found in new buildings and certainly not downtown. This means that clothes take days to dry up and there is often a wall humidity problem.

Porto Food

Things you must eat while in Porto:

  • Francesinha — Translation: little French woman. It is said to have come to Porto by the hands of a Portuguese who had been emigrated in France and decided to create a twist on the Croque Monsieur”. It starts with two thick slices of bread, surrounding multiple different types of meats and sausages and covered in a unique, tangy beer sauce (which is supposed to be the secret of the flavour) and often topped off by a fried egg. Be warned, it is estimated to have 2,500 calories, so maybe pass on dessert. We prefer to eat ours at Santiago F., but Golfinho and a couple of other locations are also great.
  • Rojões à moda do Porto — rojões are cubes of pork meat and à moda do Porto means cooked in the way specific to Porto, in this case referring to the addition of tripe to the meal. It is a beautiful dish made of meat and rice, so can’t go wrong.
  • Bacalhau — There are 1001 documented ways to cook bacalhau, which is dried and salted codfish. It’s known as the national dish, and any of it’s cooking ways is good. It is not fishy” as usual due to the drying and salting and boiling or frying of it. If you are still squeamish about the idea of it, I recommend starting with pataniscas de bacalhau, which is bacalhau in fried batter.

One this topic, you know we have our food tour, Taste Porto. Tours are offered Monday through Saturday with a ten person limit on the tour. I am not one to toot my own horn, so you can check out the TripAdvisor reviews for yourself, but I will say we are some of the top game in town, especially for food lovers. If you would want to arrange a private tour for you and your friends let us know. Otherwise, you can book as part of a regular tour.

Here are some of our favourite stops on the tours:

  • Loja dos Pastéis de Chaves — serves a traditional DOP pastry from the north of Portugal. They have both sweet and savoury versions, and I enjoy breakfast and lunch there.
  • Bolhão Wine House — is located in Bolhão (the fresh foods market, which is now temporarily housed in Shopping Centre La Vie). They have a good wine selection, and some bread, olives and sardines in a can to go along with the glass of wine.
  • Flor dos Congregados — an ancient restaurant, in the same family for generations and recently rebranded as a slow food place. It’s a bit hidden, so it’s a find. Go for lunch and ask for the pork sandwich or go for dinner and order anything — it is all delicious.
  • Guarany — one of the most beautiful coffee houses in Porto! Think Majestic (the most well-known one), but without the crowds and high prices.
  • Touriga wine shop — David is incredibly knowledgeable about wine. He should be after 20 years in the Port wine industry! The shop focuses on small producers, and also ships internationally!

Porto Wine Cellars

Now for the wine cellars. The one I know best is Taylors, which happens to have a fantastic view and where Carly and I did a tour and tasting before our wedding. There is also Ferreira, which is a favourite of locals because it is one of the few which is still owned by Portuguese. Most of the cellars were bought or built by British citizens. A favourite lesser known one is Real Companhia Velha. There is also Espaço Porto Cruz which has a beautiful rooftop deck for enjoying a glass of port wine with some cheese or chocolate and watching the sunset over the river. And to catch a bit of sun as well. All cellars will have a paid tour inside with a tasting of Vinho do Porto (Port wine) at the end.

Porto Places to Visit

Next, let’s make our way to some must-visit locales.

There are some things, no matter how touristy, you just need to do, luckily for you, Porto is not like London or Barcelona, so worry not.

  • Downtown — the small and winding streets downtown are the heart and soul of Porto. Each winding alleyway will bring you to a new courtyard, cafe or shop. So tuck your map in your pocket and start to wander.
  • Casa da Música (House of Music) — which looks like a giant meteor crash landed in one of the main roundabouts of the city. Nevertheless, it is architecturally superb and has incredible acoustics for music concerts. It was built for Porto’s year as a European Cultural Capital in 2001. You can do a tour inside in English about the structure, getting a look at all of the different rooms and learning about the acoustics of them. Or you can catch a concert there. In the summer they regularly move gigs outside to enjoy the warm weather. On the weekends, in the evening, the cafe downstairs hosts free concerts.
  • Serralves — a modern art museum that brings exciting art to the city. The museum is part of 18 hectares of land that make it an incredible value for the entry price as you can spend hours wandering around or enjoying a picnic. The museum also has a high-quality buffet restaurant that makes for a lovely lunch in the sun. Oh, and the first Sunday of the month is free entrance.
  • Torre dos Clérigos — I am sure you will easily spot this tall, skinny tower on all the postcards of the city. You should climb it and enjoy the view; it is one of my favourite ways to see the city. I will give you fair warning that there is only one way up and down the 75-meter tall structure and that is with your legs (200+ steps). Think of it as proper preparations for eating!
  • Ribeira — the area around the river Douro on the Porto side is a UNESCO World Heritage site — yes, it is that beautiful — and the best way to see it is to go to the opposite side of the river, the (city of) Gaia side.

Porto Shopping

Regarding shopping, if you want well-made products produced in Portugal by Portuguese designers, I highly recommend The Feeting Room. Portugal has always been known in Europe for its high-quality shoes, but its a lesser known producer outside of Europe. The Feeting Room started out focusing on high-quality shoes by Portuguese designers and has since expanded to include clothes and accessories. There is also a hidden coffee shop upstairs with a great brew.

Porto (and Gaia and Matosinhos) Beaches

If you want beaches, you have three different options from which to choose. You can take the electric tram along the river on the Porto side towards Foz (meaning mouth of the river”). This is a beautiful area but not the best to swim. There’s the lighthouse (don’t go all the way there if the sea is rough, people have been taken out to sea by waves there) and a promenade along the sea which goes on for 4 km. The walk is lined with good, though a bit more expensive, restaurants.

The second option is to take a car to the Gaia side where you have 15km of beautiful blue flag beaches (clean and monitored by the international blue flag organisation) with a few cafe/bars and a great boardwalk to bike, walk or run on.

Finally, you can catch the metro to Matosinhos for its beaches.

Lisbon

Lisbon Food

  • Manteigaria - the second best pastéis de nata (what people wrongly call custard tarts) in the country. The first one is in the Belém area and is called Pastéis de Belém
  • Restaurant Barca Bela - Rua Palma, 285 - Sopa do dia & prego da casa
  • Kaffehaus - Breakfast/Brunch
  • Taberna Portuguesa - Calçada do Combro, 115
  • Cantina do Avillez - this is a low key place of one of Portugal’s star chef’s
  • Cantinho do Aziz - my favourite Mozambican place in the city! It isn’t fancy, but it is delicious!
  • Lisbon gastro introduction

Graça (Lisbon neighbourhood)

Sitting on the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills, Graça is one of Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods. Just outside of the tourist’s radar, Graça mixes long-time residents, immigrants from all over, and young millennials seeking lower rent. Often people like to call Graça home because it feels authentically Portuguese while offering a diverse cultural experience.

Graça Transportation

There is only one way to get to Graça, and that is up. The E28 tram passes through the heart of the neighbourhood, though a walk up the various staircases will give you the chance to see plenty of street art along the way. The closest metro is Martim Moniz, and depending on your destination there is another 10 to 20 minutes to walk from there. Several buses also pass through Graça, including the 712 and 735.

Graça Highlights

  • Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte: Revel in the beauty that is this view over all of Lisbon, those stairs do come with a prize
  • Igreja e Convento da Graça: Appreciate one of the most visited churches in Lisbon and admire the Baroque style with its tile panels and gilded woodwork
  • The street art: Shepard Fairey’s piece of a woman holding a gun, Fairey’s collaboration with Vhils, the colourful work by akaCorleone and more, all call Graça home
  • Cafes: Sip your coffee in the Portuguese sun like a local in this traditional neighbourhood
  • Jardim da Cerca: Picnic among the locals while taking in the view of the Castelo de São Jorge, the river, and downtown Lisbon
  • Feira da Ladra: Hunt for antiques, vinyl records, leather purses and so much more in this maze of a flea market held every Tuesday and Saturday

Bairro Alto (Lisbon neighbourhood)

Known predominantly for its nightlife, by day this is a typically Portuguese neighbourhood with laundry drying outside the windows. Alternative in its style, Bairro Alto is home to funky bars, bohemian shops, tattoo studios, and hostels.

Bairro Alto Transportation

Winding and hilly streets and the lack of a metro mean you have to work to get here. The closest metro stops are Baixa-Chiado and Rossio. From there you can walk it or grab the E28 tram or the 758 bus, but those will only get you part of the way. You need to walk or take a taxi to get into the heart of Bairro Alto.

Bairro Alto Highlights

  • Igreja de São Roque: Be surprised by the contrast between its minimalist exterior and the luxurious, Baroque interior, including the altar, which is one of the most expensive ever built - it even travelled to Rome and back just to receive the Pope’s blessing
  • Miradouro de Santa Catarina: Experience the sunset from this lookout point where Lisbon stretches out in front of you
  • Convento do Carmo: Wonder at this 14th century, a gothic relic of a convent that was never restored after the 1755 earthquake, but today remains standing
  • Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara: Take in the view from this two-levelled, small garden where you can sip while keeping watch over the city
  • Elevador da Bica: Ride the iconic, yellow funicular up to land right in the heart of Bairro Alto
  • Park Bar: Sip cocktails while enjoying the city all lit up from this bar atop a parking garage
  • Rua do Norte: Shop new styles and funky trends on Rua do Norte and its neighbouring streets
  • Friday and Saturday nights: Relish Bairro Alto in all its glory by spending your night drinking in the streets with friends, don’t arrive before 23:00!

Baixa-Chiado (Lisbon neighbourhood)

The heart of Lisbon’s downtown is the most tourist-friendly part of the city. Entirely rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, this neighbourhood is full of the grandeur of the former Portuguese empire.

Baixa-Chiado Transportation

Baixa is incredibly well connected to the rest of the city. Baixa-Chiado metro station connects to the rest of Lisbon with the green and blue metro lines. Take the blue line two stops to Santa Apolónia to catch trains heading to other cities, like Porto or Évora. Grab the green line for one stop to Cais do Sodré to take the trains to Cascais. The famous E28 Tram also passes through Baixa-Chiado, in addition to numerous buses that will connect you to elsewhere in the city.

Baixa-Chiado Highlights

  • Praça do Comércio: Check out the heart of Lisbon in this impressive square along the Tagus river
  • Arco da Rua Augusta: Appreciate the view over Praça do Comércio and the rest of Lisbon from this high up perch
  • Praça Luís de Camões: Come for the people watching, from friends meetings to protests, it all starts here
  • Elevador de Santa Justa: Hop on this cast-iron elevator from 1902 to avoid breaking a sweat getting to Bairro Alto
  • Livraria Bertrand: Visit the world’s oldest bookstore (according to the Guinness Book of Records) opened in 1753
  • Museu do Design e da Moda: Explore one of the best collections of 20th Century European fashion at this free museum
  • Café Brasileira: Sip coffee in one of the oldest and most famous cafes in the city, a spot where writers, artists, and intellectuals began gathering when it opened in 1905
  • Avenida da Liberdade: Stroll along the tree and store-lined avenue in the heart of the city
  • Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea: Experience Portuguese art from the mid-19th century to today

Alcântara (Lisbon neighbourhood)

Previously known only for housing the port, the Alcântara neighbourhood has undergone a recent renovation that is attracting digital nomads and artists alike. Home to the first coworking space in Portugal, a factory complex turned into hipster mecca, and an active after-hours scene means Alcântara meets all your needs.

Alcântara Transportation

Serviced by one metro station, Alcântara-Terra (red line), and one train line, Alcântara-Mar (Cascais line), means that being nearly four kilometres from the centre of Lisbon isn’t a problem. Also, the 18 Tram and the 760, 738, and 742 buses all pass through the heart of Alcântara.

Alcântara Highlights

  • Ponte 25 de Abril — Admire the impressive expanse of the 2.2 kilometre-long suspension bridge that connects Lisbon with Almada
  • Street art — Wander the streets in search of some stunning art by the likes of Add Fuel, Vhils, How&Nosm, and more
  • LX Factory — Relish in the hipster mix of boutique shops, niche cafes, and alternative spaces that reside in this former factory complex
  • Clubs — Dance the night away at one of the many nightclubs along the rive
  • Carris Museum — Release your inner transport nerd at this museum solely dedicated the history of public transportation in Portugal
  • Docas de Santo Amaro — Drink or dine amongst these former warehouses transformed into restaurants and café next to the river Tagus

Areeiro (Lisbon neighbourhood)

Areeiro is known for providing an excellent quality of life, near the centre of Lisbon, but just slightly apart from the well-known, tourist hot spots. Situated near the Instituto Superior Técnico means university students give life to this area that also attracts young couples and families. People who are looking for a more local experience, green spaces, and a relaxed pace call Areeiro home.

Areeiro Transportation

Getting to and from Areeiro is easy since the metro stops border the neighbourhood. Catch the red line at the Alameda stop and jump on the green line at either Areeiro or Roma-Areeiro stop. If it happens you can’t get to where you need to go by metro; there are plenty of buses. The 206, 722, 735, 756, and more, all run through the heart of Areeiro.

Areeiro Highlights

  • Fonte Luminosa: Relax in front of Lisbon’s famed, luminous fountain, which is the highlight of the surrounding green area where locals come to relax
  • Crossroads: Be in awe at Lisbon’s tallest piece of street art, this work by the Polish artist Sainer covers the side of an eleven-story building and depicts an older woman smoking with a duck and dog
  • Jardim Fernando Pessoa: Sip a caipirinha in this little oasis of green or utilise the exercise equipment to work up a sweat before your drink
  • Livraria Barata: Soak up the atmosphere at one of Lisbon’s oldest bookstores, where you can find a selection of local and international authors
  • A Diplomata: Shop like a local is this beloved mercearia, that contains some of the best cured meats, cheese, wines, and chocolates in the city
  • Cabine de Leitura: Donate, take, read, and return — that is the motto of this old phone booth turned mini-library in Praça de Londres

Alfama (Lisbon neighbourhood)

Alfama is the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon. Though it is home to the most visited attraction in Lisbon, the Castle of São Jorge, this neighbourhood feels more like a village. People love to call Alfama home because of its winding streets, high probability of getting lost in those streets, and its authentic Lisbon experience.

Alfama Transportation

The famous 28 Tram goes through the heart of Alfama on its way to the castle. The neighbourhood also sits between the blue metro line stations of Terreiro do Paço and Santa Apolónia, from where you can also grab trains to other cities in the country. The 12 Tram and the 734 and 737 buses also make their way to and from Alfama.

Alfama Highlights

  • Castelo de São Jorge: Enjoy the 360-degree view from the iconic, 11th-century castle that towers over Lisbon’s skyline
  • Miradouro das Portas do Sol: Take in the stunning view from the highest point in downtown Lisbon
  • Panteão Nacional: Appreciate the view of the interior, as well as the exterior, of this 17th-century church, turned national Pantheon
  • Sé de Lisboa: Visit the oldest church in the city, Lisbon’s cathedral, to admire its impressive ceiling and stained glass windows
  • Museu do Fado: Learn about the origins of Lisbon’s most famous form of musical expression
  • Museu Nacional do Azulejo: Explore the history, and the present, of the iconic Portuguese tiles (azulejos)
  • Santo António festivities: On June 12th and 13th the city of Lisbon celebrates its patron saint, and no place celebrates harder and more authentically than Alfama

Cais do Sodré (Lisbon neighbourhood)

Formerly home to brothels, Cais do Sodré mainly attracted sailors coming off the boats looking for some action. Gone are the brothels and in their stead are hip clubs, trendy cafes, and some of the newest restaurants in town. People that call Cais do Sodré home are attracted to its nightlife, good food, and riverside spots to relax in the sun.

Cais do Sodré Transportation

Cais do Sodré is a transport hub where you can catch easily catch metro, bus or train. The Cais do Sodré metro stop is the starting point of the green line, which intersects with the other three Lisbon metro lines. From Cais do Sodré you can also catch the Cascais line along the river to the city of Cascais and its beautiful beaches. If those can’t get you where you need to be, there are the 201, 206, 207, 208, 210, 706, 728, 735, 736, 760, 781, and 782 buses ensuring a good connection with the rest of the city.

Cais do Sodré Highlights

  • Tejo river — Relax in front of the Roque Gameiro garden; this urban riverside beach, great for watching the ferries, taking selfies with the 25th of April bridge, and recovering from your hangover
  • Dom Luis garden — Watch the travellers and locals, alike, coming and going from the market while relaxing in the sun
  • The people — Strategically place yourself on one of the balconies above the Pink Street to have the best view of the night’s action
  • Time Out Market — Eat to your heart’s content at this fashionable food court, which contains outposts of some of the best restaurants in town — the hardest part is choosing!
  • Mercado da Ribeira — right next to the Time Out Market is one of the oldest, traditional markets in town — stroll past the food stalls and stock up on local fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat, and, of course, fish
  • Rua Cor-de-Rosa — Party your night away on Pink Street in a variety of clubs and bars — at least one drink at Pensão Amor, a former brothel with a few memories left behind, is mandatory
  • MusicBox — Follow the music to this club tucked under the bridge of the Pink Street for great DJ sets and live music
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