"Any Portuguese town looks like bride's finery - something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue" - Mary McCarthy
I've always had a soft spot for Portugal, from family holidays in the Algarve when the children were tiny to a trip to Lisbon a few summers ago. Porto has been on my radar for a while so when we were trying to decide where to go for a few days at the beginning of the month, I knew where it should be.
Porto is positioned on the Douro river and is, of course, famed for being at the heart of the port industry with cavernous port cellars lining the river banks and the old wooden boats, once used for transporting casks of the stuff into the city, now taking tourists on hourly sightseeing tours.
It's a pretty city (prettier than Lisbon, I thought) with tiled frontages around every corner you turn. Winding cobbled alleyways open up onto pretty squares and the trams criss cross the traffic-choked streets. There are many spots where you can grab a view of the city, across the river and beyond.
It has a real sense of a city being on the cusp of becoming something more progressive and we were spoilt for choice when it came to cool restaurants and bars, great independent pop-up shops and art galleries.
Where we stayed
We booked an apartment on Rua Sá da Bandeira which is at the heart of the city, not far from the main shopping streets and within easy walking distance of most of the city and the river. As you would expect, being so central meant that the street below was fairly noisy at night but that really would be the only complaint.
The decor was beautiful and pared back with the comfiest bed, a powerful shower (always my mark of a good place to stay!) and a sunny balcony over-looking the roof-tops. There was a welcome tray on arrival and an honesty box for any beer or wine used during our stay.
What we did
Serralves - famous for the Instagram-friendly pink art deco building in its grounds, Serralves is an art foundation which is home to a gallery and exhibitions on a level that rivals those in any capital city. If you go before June 15th next year, you will be fortunate in seeing the incredible exhibition by danish-icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson.
On a sunny day, the grounds are a calm place to while away a couple of hours away from the hustle of the city.
Boat trip - on our second afternoon, after a morning of walking in the hot sunshine, we decided to have a little sit down and do one of the river cruises. We didn't pre-book, just paid at a booth on the riverside and queued for the next trip. It was a lovely way to see the city and the many bridges over the Douro.
Sao Bento Railway Station - this is definitely worth a visit even though it was teeming with tourists while we were there. The architecture and tiled friezes are stunning.
Livraria Lello - we so nearly didn't bother with this as the queues were so long but I'm glad we persevered. You queue in one building to buy your ticket (you can get them online too) and then go next door to wait to go into the book shop. It's such a stunning building with curved staircases of ornately carved wood and stained glass. J K Rowling spent a lot of time in Porto whilst finishing Harry Potter and rumour has it that she spent time writing here - you can certainly see the inspiration.
Just around the corner from Livraria Lello is Igrejo do Carmo where you'll find this beautiful tiled wall.
Jardim das Virtudes - this is such a beautiful spot that we discovered on our last day. Tucked away not far from the river, it is a terraced garden with beautiful views and a great restaurant overlooking it.
Where we ate
Muu Steakhouse - this restaurant has been rated number one on TripAdvisor for years now and I can see why. It's family owned, super-friendly with brilliant staff and serves the most amazing steaks (and that's coming from someone who rarely eats red meat these days). Don't worry if you're not a big meat eater though, there are fish and vegan options too and we had a delicious mushroom starter.
The puddings are also worth a mention - we had the tarte de maçã, a homemade apple crumble which was too good to share!
Flow - a beautiful setting in an old factory with low lights, huge plants and exposed brickwork. You can have a drink at the bar or book a table for dinner which is what we did and although the staff seem a little disinterested, the food was really good - I had the sea bass with asparagus risotto.
Boa Bao - the meal we had here was possibly one of the best I've had in my life. I loved everything about the place - from the inside/outside seating, the music, the cocktails (try the Hanami Spritz), the cool staff and of course, the food.
We had the assortment of dim sum to share as a starter and then I had the Peking duck gua bao - I'm hungry just thinking about it now! For pudding we shared the coconut creme brulee with basil and lemongrass - so good!
Zenith Brunch and Cocktails - a good (if a little over-rated) spot for brunch with seating on the pavement if it's warm enough. Be prepared to queue though, it's a popular place.
Do Norte Cafe - this is such a cool place to grab breakfast and was only a ten minute walk from our apartment. I loved the decor and the sense of space inside. If you're lucky you can grab a table in the sheltered courtyard garden at the back. I had the porridge which set me up nicely for a full on day of walking the city's streets.
Cafe a Brasileira - this cafe was very close to our apartment and although it gets very busy with tourists, it's definitely a place to visit. The art deco interiors are stunning and the tables outside are a good spot to sit and people watch.
Cafe Vitoria - a great little place to stop off at for a coffee or, as in our case, an Aperol spritz! Lovely decor and a nice outside space too.
Cafe Candelabro - a lovely spot on a busy corner to sip a white port and tonic, Cafe Candelabro used to be a bookshop and is still home to old books and vintage typewriters. It has a slightly dishevelled feel to it but that just adds to its charm.
Where we shopped
O Galeria - a beautifully presented art shop with stacks and stacks of prints and posters for sale.
Galerias Lumiere - housed in an old cinema, this is a collection of small eateries and cool pop up shops all under one roof. Every town should have one!
Porto Design Biennale Store - situated on the ground floor of a beautiful old building, this design store champions local artists, designers and makers. I bought some beautiful wooden bird wall hooks which had been made locally. Definitely worth checking out if you're in the area.
Coração Alecrim - 'Green, indie, vintage' is this shop's strap-line and they do it so well. It's one of the most beautifully curated stores I've ever been in with a mix of old treasures, sustainable fashion and pre-loved accessories. The emphasis is on local makers and handmade products.
Burel Factory - this place definitely needs to be added to my list of good shops done well. The shop layout is so clever and beautiful, showing off the woollen products all made at the rural factory of the same name. Once again, local craftsmanship and provenance are at the heart of this company's ethos - a recurring theme throughout the city.
Workshops Pop Up - another great collection of small pop-up shops under one roof plus a kitchen that serves bowls of homemade deliciousness. Add to that a calendar of inspiring workshops and you've got a pretty perfect concept.
As ever, thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment.
Check out our Portugal influenced collection of products in the shop here