A view over Porto rooftops. Photo: Frances Ambler
Travelers often neglect it in favor of Lisbon but Porto—Portugal’s second city—more than justifies its place on an itinerary. While it’s still very much an industrial, working city, it’s got more than enough riverside views, rambling streets and Portuguese charm to be worthy of a postcard home.
It’s also a great city for those travelling on a budget: it’s cheap, it’s welcoming and it has loads to explore. Strapped for time as well as cash? Well, it’s possible to get a good sense of Porto in a day.
Here’s how to tackle the city like a true Cheapo.
The stunning interior of Livraria Lello e Irmão. Photo: diegoperez74
Heading to a bookshop straight after breakfast may seem a bit eager even for the biggest bookworms, but it’s more than justified when that bookshop is Livraria Lello & Irmão (Rua das Carmelitas). It’s regularly included as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world and, with its ornate carved staircase and glass-fronted bookshelves, it’s easy to see why. J.K. Rowling started drafting Harry Potter while living in Porto, and there’s certainly more than a touch of Hogwarts about this bookshop.
However, it gets so busy that photography is forbidden except for an hour each morning before the shop officially opens. Hence the early start: you’ll need to get there for 9 AM if you want to take any snapshots.
Take a walk through the historic river district. Photo: Frances Ambler
Tour buses do wind their way around the city, but a much better—and cheaper way—to get to know the city is on a Wild Walking tour. The tours are completely free (although tips are welcome) and last an impressive 2.5 hours. The morning tour takes you through hundreds of years of history and ticks off many of the city’s must-sees, from the blue tiling of São Bento railway station to the Sé cathedral and through the twisty turning historic backstreets of Ribeira, a UNESCO World Heritage site, places where the buses simply cannot reach.
A traditional Francesinha. Photo: Frances Ambler
After all that walking, you’ll be hungry. What better time to sample Porto’s specialty, the Francesinha? Meaning ‘little French girl’, it’s a reinterpretation of a croque monsieur. And by reinterpretation, I mean adding layers of different kind of meats, and a slightly spicy alcohol-infused sauce. This is one place not to scrimp: a good Francesinha will cost around €8 to 12.
The Francesinha’s at Café Santiago (Rua Passos Manuel) come highly recommended (in fact, they are so popular, you’ll probably have to wait for a table) and are €9 a serving. One way of saving money is to share: half a portion (as pictured here) is more than enough for the average appetite.
However, when it comes to specialties, Porto is probably best known for its Port wines: fortified wines that started being exported in the 17th century. Made using grapes from the Douro valley, it is in Vila Nova de Gaia that the wine is stored and aged. Although technically a different city to Porto, Gaia is just a short walk over one of the impressive bridges over the river from Porto’s waterfront. The House of Taylor’s is one of the oldest and famous, and their introduction to their port is a definite bargain. For only €5, you can get a 20-minute tour of their cellars. Even better is that price also includes three different samples of Port that you can enjoy at your leisure in their English-style rose garden: the effect completed by their parading peacocks.
A sample flight of port at Taylor’s. Photo: CL DeLancey
Head back over to Porto to enjoy some of their laid-back drinking scene. The bars and restaurants by the riverfront are both overpriced and underwhelming and better bargains can be found elsewhere. Clérigos Vinhos e Petiscos (Rua das Carmelitas) is a great contemporary tapas bar, offering tasty takes on Portuguese classics. If you’ve not yet adapted to local eating and drinking times (i.e. late!), you can take advantage of their happy hour, with two for one on the house wine. You’re also handily situated for exploring the bars that line the Galeria de Paris and Rua Cândido dos Reis and that offer inexpensive cocktails, beers and, naturally, port to a cool, relaxed crowd.
Yes! Hostel is a great budget sleep in Porto. Photo: Courtesy of hostel
From there, it’s just a short stumble to a bed at Yes! Porto, an excellent value for money hostel. Yes! Porto is clean, safe and friendly: in fact, everything you’d want in a hostel. Needless to say, booking ahead is advised. And, if a night here isn’t enough to make you want to stay for at least another day in Porto, I’m not sure what is….