To get to the center of Porto, Portugal from our rental apartment at the Rua Campo Lindo, we had to follow the Rua de Antero de Quental into the Rua de Lapa and then to the Praça the República. At that point, we could just follow the signs that said ‘centro’. It was really easy as all we had to do was walk downhill to get to the historic center and the water.
And the more we walked, the more I fell in love with Porto.
I don't know what it was exactly, but everything about Porto seemed so lively and yet still cozy. There were lots of busy places, but you could always turn into a small alley and be all by yourself again (without feeling scared, of course). On our first full day in Porto we had a lunch meeting with Maria from the Porto Convention Board at Fish Fixe, a fish restaurant by the water. Now, you'd think the water would be easy to reach but think again.
Porto is really hilly and so a street that on your map seems to end right by the water, may actually lie several meters higher, being a dead end. On top of that we constantly saw new things we wanted to check out, while we probably should have paid more attention to where we were going – did I mention Porto’s historical center was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1996 and that Porto was listed in Lonely Planet's Top 10 European travel destinations for 2013? But hey, that's how we found these ‘Stairs of Truth':
Luckily, we did make it to lunch on time. It was still pretty early when we arrived, but we were kindly welcomed and got a seat by the window – out of the heat and still with a view on the people passing.
We were suggested to take a Portuguese seafood dish that that looks somewhat like the Spanish paella. It was delicious.
Boyfriend and I were especially amazed at how Maria managed to eat those shrimp by using just her knife and fork. We gave it ago as well but soon had to acknowledge that we didn't know what we were doing and just used our hands.
We took advantage of the lunch to ask Maria about something we'd noticed during our walk to Fish Fixe: we'd seen so many rundown houses everywhere and often when we thought nobody could be living there, a window or door opened.
Maria explained to us that the bad state of a lot of the houses has to do with Portuguese rental laws, more specifically with rent-control. Recently a law has been approved to give Portuguese landlords more freedom to increase their prices, but up until then, when someone closed a contract with a landlord, the landlord couldn't raise his price.
On top of that, the person who had closed the contract could hand it over to his/her children so they could benefit from the low prices as well. Because of this, a lot of people in Porto today still rent houses for about €150 a month. “Great for them!”, you may think, but it actually isn't because it doesn't allow the landlords to do renovation works to the houses. They simply don't have the money for it. It's a very complex matter, so I've looked up some articles for those of you who'd like to know more. Here's one.
As the article points out, there were positive and negative aspects of the old laws and there will be positive and negatives aspects about the new law.
One thing is certain: Porto might start looking differently pretty soon. Not only because of the landlords, but also because the city is renovating streets and making certain areas more pedestrian friendly (you can still find cars everywhere in Porto, even in streets where you would think no one would drive). We saw road works going on at different spots in Porto.
After our lunch, we decided to cross the Ponte de D. Luis I and have a look at the other side of the water. Right across the entrance of the bridge, we saw the funicular you can take if you don't feel like climbing all the way back up to go back to the center.
When you cross the river Douro you trade-in Porto for Vila Nova de Gaia. Just like on the Porto side there are plenty of bars and restaurants here and walking along the water you'll get a great view over Porto.
We actually went to Vila Nova de Gaia twice for dinner. We like a relaxed atmosphere for dinner and it was a bit calmer there than on the Porto side. There's also a big parking lot that's not too expensive. One night we paid €2,2 for two hours, the other we only paid €2,3 for three hours.
The first time we went to an Italian restaurant by the water – I forgot the name, but you can't miss it. It's really big and on the side of the water, not on the side of the road. The food was just okay. Nothing special. We'd tried it because I read some great reviews about this place on TripAdvisor, but I've had better Italian before.
It's also custom in Portugal that they bring you some tapas with your drinks. We normally declined those because you have to pay extra for them (but they don't tell you that), but because we were so hungry and the tapas looked good, we decided we'd have some this time. We got some olives, a bit of tomatoes and something cheesy. Oh and bread. It sounds great, but the portions were really tiny and we paid… about €6! You can get a meal in Portugal for €6. We decided that next time they'd bring us some appetizers, we'd politely say “No, thanks”.
Our second dinner at Vila Nova de Gaia was much better. We'd already walked by Rabelos when we went for dinner at the Italian place and thought it looked cool. The front is covered in wood and they have a cozy-looking balcony on the upper floor.
That's where we wanted to sit and, lucky us, they just had an open spot! We both ordered some paella and it was great (although Boyfriend's face might lead you to think otherwise). We paid €31,5 for two paellas, two colas and a caipirinha.
The food was great, but obviously couldn't be compared to the dinner we had at DOP restaurant;
I'd definitely recommend you cross the bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia at least one night. You get an amazing view on Porto by night, with all the lights on. Photographers, bring your gear!
We didn't just eat in Porto, though. Although it was blistering hot we still tried to see a large portion of the city. I was especially looking forward to seeing the Lello Bookstore. Unfortunately you can't take pictures inside, so you'll just have to do with this one:
Just kidding, I found this one for you guys:
We also stumbled accross some racing cars at the Rua Cais Ribeira:
And there were even race pilots handing out autographs:
What was going on? Well, we were in Porto during the WTCC World Touring Car Championship Championship, better known as the Circuito da Boavista, that took place from June 28 until June 30 around the City Park, near the beach, so of course we decided to go check it out the next day.
The Circuito da Boavista
Although the race isn’t a free event, there were enough places alongside the circuit where you could see the cars rrooaarr by without buying tickets.
Boyfriend, who is kind of a car freak, had hoped to see some real mean machines, but it seemed that the more spectacular races were programmed on another day.
For those interested in older cars: every other year the Porto Historic Grand Prix is being organized. I think this might be more interesting.
Downside to the Circuito da Boavista was that the organization took up a big part of the Parque da Cidade, the city park. We could still walk through quite a bit of it, though.
After we'd seen the park, we continued our walk along the coastline southwards. We passed the Forte de São Francisco Xavier (the Castelo do Queijo), but apparently it's only open in the afternoon and it was still morning.
Near the Forte we also found the VIP section of the Circuito da Boavista and a little market with people selling car related items (mostly toy cars) and an exhibition of some cool old cars.
I would LOVE to cruise around in one of these!
Boyfriend and I were unlucky in our search for a toy version of our cars (he drives a Suzuki Swift Sport; I'm the lucky owner of a Killer Twingo, the old model), so we continued our walk.
Walking along the Porto coast
What's nice about the Porto beachside is that there's a path that follows the beach and that lies a bit lower than the road and the main pedestrian lane.
That last pictures was taken near the lighthouse opposite to the Forte de São João da Foz. Guess what we did there before turning back?
To end I'd like to mention something that I think especially women will find interesting: Portugal has great public restrooms everywhere. And by “great” I mean clean, with toilet paper provided. Even at the beach. Hooray!
While we had four nights in Porto, we had also planned to explore the region around Porto. We went to Guimaraes, visited Bom Jesús do Monte and spent some time by the seaside. Although I’m really glad we did these things, it also meant that we didn’t have enough time for the city of Porto. We barely scratched the surface of what looked like such an interesting place. I would love to go back some time in spring or fall (when it’s less hot) to thoroughly climb its hilly streets and wander through the small streets and different neighborhoods.
Where to stay in Porto
Check Booking.com for an extensive list of options for all budgets and needs.
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We were invited to Lunch by Maria from the Porto Convention Board, but the decision to finish our meals was entirely our own.
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