The following blog post was written with the assistance of ChatGPT
The drive to Porto took three hours, and for the entire time, we struggled to sleep off the fever from the food poisoning. I slept literally the entire ride. Our friend who felt the least worst ended up driving the whole way. Poor guy.
Porto is a historic city located in the north of Portugal, on the banks of the Douro River. It is the second-largest city in the country after Lisbon and is known for its port wine.
Church of Saint Francis (Igreja de São Francisco)
We started our walking tour along the riverbank, and then headed to the Church of Saint Francis (Igreja de São Francisco).
Construction of the church began in the 14th century, and it was completed in the 15th century. The exterior of the church is notable for its Gothic design, with intricate stone carvings and a rose window above the main entrance. The interior is even more impressive, with an ornate Baroque decoration that covers almost every inch of the walls, pillars, and ceilings.
The interior of the church hosts a display of gilded woodcarvings and intricate plasterwork. The nave of the church is divided into three sections by rows of pillars, each of which is decorated with an array of sculptures and reliefs depicting biblical scenes and saints.
The catacombs, which can be found in the lower level of the church, are known as the Crypt of the Franciscan Order, and contains chambers that were used to bury the monks who lived and worked in the church.
Ribeira Square (Praça da Ribeira)
Ribeira Square is a picturesque area with colorful houses, narrow streets, and lively cafes and restaurants, and is a great place to walk. The square is also home to a number of restaurants and cafes, serving traditional Portuguese cuisine and drinks.
Cathedral of Porto (Sé do Porto)
Getting to the cathedral from the waterfront required navigating a series of stairs. A walking tour around Porto is no easy task for people getting over food poisoning.
Construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century. The exterior of the cathedral is characterized by its fortress-like appearance, with a large square tower and battlements along the roofline.
The interior features Portuguese tiles, also known as azulejos, a distinctive form of decorative tilework. The designs are known for their intricate patterns, vibrant colors, and the use of repeating motifs such as flowers, birds, and geometric shapes.
The inner cloisters consist of a square courtyard, surrounded by a covered walkway with arches supported by slender columns. The columns are decorated with intricate carvings.
The altar is surrounded by a profusion of ornate decoration, including twisted columns, garlands of flowers, and cherubs.
The roof offers a panoramic view of Porto and the surrounding landscape, including the Douro River.
São Bento Station
São Bento Station is a train station and is famous for its facade decorated with azulejo tiles. The 20,000 plus hand-painted tiles depict scenes from Portuguese history and everyday life. It’s still a fully functioning train station. As someone not really educated in the history of Portugal, I couldn’t really follow the story.
The McDonald’s Imperial is still a McDonald’s but its uniqueness comes from the beautiful Art Deco building it’s housed in, which was originally built a coffeeshop.
In the 1990s, McDonald’s acquired the building, but retained some of its existing features. The inside mostly looks like a regular McDonald’s though.
In a weird way, eating McDonald’s was actually a break from the seafood that made us sick and while the food is not considered healthy, we felt safer eating it.
Livraria Lello is considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. It’s gotten so popular that entry into the bookstore costs money.
Though for the 5€ it costs, there’s not much to see except for the main atrium and the upper floor. However, the ticket price can be redeemed against any purchase.
Mercado do Bolhão (Bolhão Market)
Bolhão Market allows visitors the opportunity to see and purchase a wide variety of fresh and seasonal produce, including locally grown fruit and vegetables, fish caught locally, and various cuts of meat. In addition, there are also artisanal products, such as cheese, bread, and wine.
It’s really clean compared to other food markets (like the ones in Asia) despite them also handling produce and raw meat. We ended up buying some cans of sardines here too just to give them a try. We also got a complimentary sardine pate too. Though like I mentioned in the other post, I later found out that the sardines here weren’t as good as I expected.
Fado is a traditional form of Portuguese music that is characterized by its melancholic tone. The word “fado” comes from the Latin word “fatum,” which means fate, and the music is often associated with feelings of longing, saudade (a Portuguese word for a deep sense of yearning), and a sense of resigned acceptance of life’s ups and downs.
Fado music is typically performed by a solo singer accompanied by a Portuguese guitar and a classical guitar. The singer sings songs that often tell stories of love, loss, and the struggles of everyday life. Fado music is usually performed in small venues, such as restaurants and cafes, and the intimate setting adds to the emotional impact of the music. I can’t say I enjoyed a lot, but I could definitely feel the emotion in the singing and it’s pretty consistent with the style.
Port Wine Tasting at the Vila Nova de Gaia
Across the Dom Luís I Bridge that spans the Douro River is the neighbouring district of the Vila Nova de Gaia, which hosts a number of port wine houses.
Kopke is one of the oldest Port wine houses in Portugal, and located in the district of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro River from Porto. The Kopke family has been producing wine for over 400 years, and the winery is known for its exceptional vintage Ports and aged tawny Ports.
We got to take a tour of the Graham’s Winery. The guide explained to us the difference between tawny, ruby, white, and vintage Ports. Tawny Ports are aged in oak barrels and have a smooth, nutty flavor, while ruby Ports are younger and have a fruity, sweet taste. White Ports are less common but offer a refreshing, citrusy flavor. Vintage Ports are made from the best grapes from a single year and are aged for a long time, resulting in a rich, complex flavor.
As a part of the tour, we purchased three different tastings of port, a combination of tawny, vintage and ruby ports. My preference is definitely the aged tawnys, though I found it tough to distinguish between a 20 year, 30 year and a 40 year tawny – so I guess that means spending more on the extra years of age isn’t worth it for me. But at least I could tell between the tawny and the other ones and now I know what I like.
Bota & Bira
This definitely one of the best meals we had in Portugal. We ordered a 1.2 kg aged T-bone steak to share. Combined with the aging process and the seasonings they added, the meat had a rich, beefy, earthy flavour.
We felt bad that we made our friend drive the whole way from Lisbon to Porto while we just slept so we treated him to this meal.
Porto compared to Lisbon
Compared to Lisbon, Porto was a lot hillier. The whole city is built on hills, which made it challenging when recovering from being sick. Though the city itself was much more well maintained than Lisbon
It was a lot less grungier too, but there were still people in the street hustling their fake purses or selling marijuana (though to a lesser extent).
At one restaurant in particular, when the host led us to the table, mentioned that we were lucky to get a table as there was a reservation no-show, even though while we ate, there were several tables that never got filled. It just made them look dishonest.
Though on the whole, we definitely enjoyed Porto a lot more than Lisbon. The food was better, the sights were more interesting, and we felt safer.
See more photos of Porto here