Greetings, Internet Stranger! If you spend any time traveling around Portugal, the first question any Portuguese person will ask you after your trip is, “Did you prefer Porto or Lisbon?” Lisbon is Portugal’s capital and largest city, but you’ll have an amazing 24 hours in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city.
Porto is full of amazing cheap food, stunning blue and white tiles, bathroom signs made of books, gold covered churches, and of course the deliciously eponymous Port wine. Spend just 24 hours in Porto and you’ll have a hard time saying it’s not your favorite city in any country, not just Portugal.
24 Hours in Porto
Where to Stay?
Porto is not the biggest city in the world, but you still want to stay in a convenient neighborhood. I suggest the Jualis Guest House. There’s a good breakfast included, the rooms are pretty and charming, and it’s very affordable. Besides, you don’t want to spend your entire 24 hours in Porto in your room! Get out and live a little, Internet Stranger!
24 Hours in Porto
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today around Porto. It’s very frequently hot here, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around Porto. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so you’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Porto
Morning: Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love museums and those who have not yet learned to love museums. I love museums because I love learning. In my opinion the two best ways to learn about a new place are in on a walking tour or in a museum. As I had a walking tour scheduled for the next day, I thought it would be perfect to kick off my 24 hours in Porto with a morning in a museum dedicated to the art of Portugal. Allow me to share with you some of what I learned with:
Approximately top 5: museu nacional edition
1) the weight of history
The Museu is housed in what used to be a palace, so how fitting that the first thing you see when you enter is what looks like a metal statue knight on horseback. But looks can be deceiving! This work by Pedro Valdez Cardoso, entitled “The Weight of History”, is entirely made out of tape and not metal at all. I assume that it’s meant as a commentary about how just because someone wears shiny armor doesn’t mean they’re a good person. Or Cardoso just got a roll of tape really tangled up accidentally and couldn’t get it unstuck. You decide!
2) Sweet interior design
Problematizing contemporary art aside, do remember that you’re in a palace, so don’t forget to enjoy the interior! Check out those insane porcelain walls! I can’t even imagine how many peasants needed to slave away to pay for those suckers.
3) Palace gardens
From the second floor, you can also get lovely views of the palace gardens. Don’t miss the blue and white tiles on those red walls. Blue and white + red are definitely the colors I most associate with Porto.
4) portuguese pottery
One of the industries most associated with Porto was the manufacture of pottery. Some pottery was made right in the Miragaia neighborhood of Porto, and other pottery in the museum is from different parts of the country. But my favorite pottery is the pieces shaped to look like real fruits or animals. I think that grasshopper made out of pottery could be an excellent, if expensive, prank someday!
5) castelo da fox
The museum has an outstanding collection of local painters. I especially liked the Impressionist style paintings of Porto because they all were full of blue skies and red walls and roofs. This painting is of the Castelo da Foz by Portuguese painter Artur Loureiro.
But there are also many more modern looking paintings, like this Cubist-ish “Tambores” by Fernando Lanhas. I haven’t seen many Portuguese painters outside of Portugal, so I was interested in the fact that they were clearly influenced by foreign movements like Impressionism and Cubism.
7) meet the museum’s namesake
The one thing in the museum you truly can’t miss are the sculptures by Antonio Soares dos Reis, the artist for whom the museum is named. (Well, you also can’t miss the Tape Horse at the entrance but for different reasons.) This sculpture above is of the imposing Conde de Ferreira, a 19th-century nobleman from Porto. I love how alive he looks like you could just reach out and touch him. But don’t get fooled! They kick you out of museums if you try to touch the statues.
24 Hours in Porto
Afternoon: Explore Porto
Porto is hands down one of the most fun cities I’ve ever been to for just exploring. Now that you’ve gotten the big stuff out of the way: museums and port wine, take the rest of the 24 hours in Porto to wander around the city and get to know it. I can get you started with:
Approximately top 5: 24 hours in Porto
1) lunch at a sandeira
For lunch, we shall feast in a cozy sandwich shop called A Sandeira, which I’m pretty sure is Portuguese for The Sandwich. Way to get straight to the point, A Sandeira! I shall do likewise.
A Sandeira has one of the best lunch deals I have ever seen. For five euros you get fresh lemonade, potato soup, and a sandwich. I chose the Clerigos sandwich. BEHOLD ITS MAJESTY!
This sandwich was made with feta, tomato, and olive paste. As you can imagine with that combo, it was super salty and hella flavorful. Also, the bread was flawless: crusty on the outside and light as air on the inside. The restaurant was really crowded, but with these prices and quality, I don’t know why it wasn’t even more crowded. There should have been lines snaking around the block.
2) Taylor’s Port Wine Tasting
Of course, you cannot go to Porto without drinking Port wine. It is like going to New York and not eating Yorkshire pudding. Port is a fortified wine, which means that brandy is added to the wine at some point during production. I’m sure anyone erudite enough to read this blog knows that port is often served as a dessert wine.
I went on a port wine tasting with a retired couple from South Bend, Indiana. Never pass up the opportunity to get drunk with people old enough to be your grandparents, says I. Taylor’s is an English port company located in Porto, which makes sense as Port has always been super popular in England. But Port isn’t just for old English barristers and their wigs anymore! All of us can enjoy its sweet majesty.
Join me for a tour of Taylor’s Port Cellars and we will learn…
THREE FUN FACTS ABOUT PORT WINE
A) what is port wine?
The most important fact about Port wine is that it has to be produced in the Douro Valley, the area around Porto in northern Portugal. Otherwise you’re not allowed to call it port. You have to call it wort or mort instead, and I don’t think those drinks sound appealing.
They grow the grapes for Port wine in these beautiful terraced fields pictured above. It isn’t fair that the grapes get to grow up in such a beautiful place, and I have to live in a studio apartment with holes in the walls and upstairs neighbors who smoke pot all the time.
B) are there types of port?
There are three types of Port: red ports, which age for a short time in oak vats, tawny ports, which age for longer in oak casks, and white ports, which are white. I don’t think you need me to explain the difference between white and red, do you Internet Stranger? White ports can come in dry or sweet, but I prefer sweet Port. I’m basically a kid at heart, if a kid were allowed to drink booze.
C) How old is taylor’s?
Taylor’s has been in the Port business since 1692, though the business has changed hands many times due to death, financial misfortune, and Napoleon. The symbol of Taylor’s is 4 with two Xs underneath, though no one is exactly sure why that is. I assume it’s because of pirates because I prefer to think everything is because of pirates. ARRRRRR!
24 Hour Tip
Don’t expect you’ll be able to choose your Port at the end of the tour. We were given tastes of the Chip Dry white Port and a sweet red Port. The red tasted exactly like what I expect Port to taste like, but the Chip Dry almost tasted just like a thicker dry white wine. It would be good for people who want a fortified wine but don’t like sweet things.
24 Hour Treasure
Don’t miss out on touring the lovely garden behind Taylor’s Cellars. There are some amazing rose bushes…
and some adorable birds for you to make friends with.
I hope they’re not giving Port to those chicks and roosters. That would be bird abuse.
3) Walk across the Ponte de Dom Luis I
For reasons that completely mystify me, this bridge is currently ranked No 1 of things to do in Porto on TripAdvisor. How can this be? It’s a beautiful bridge, but it’s just a bridge. It’s fun to walk across, but it’s no Brooklyn Bridge or Golden Gate. Can you help me out here, Internet Stranger? Anyway, though the bridge may not be number one in my heart, it is still very lovely and you should definitely walk across it.
4) Stroll along the Douro River
The graceful Douro is one of the major charms of Porto, and one of my main regrets is that I didn’t spend four nights in Porto, so I would have enough time to take a day trip up the river. But you will certainly have enough time to meander down the Douro’s edges, get some more glimpses of the little red Portuguese roofs, and dream of returning to Portugal.
5) Visit the Porto Cathedral
It costs three Euros to enter the cloisters of the Cathedral, but I think it’s worth it. If there’s one thing the Portuguese know how to do…scratch that, one is not enough for the Portuguese. If there’s three things the Portuguese know how to do, it’s make sandwiches, navigate, and build churches. If you are not a church-person, I bet you will still enjoy exploring Portugal’s sacred wonders. Just keep an eye out for these three things, gold-covered statues:
blue and white tiles
and stone sculptures.
I said, gold-covered statues
blue and white tiles
and stone sculptures.
Sometimes if you’re lucky, you can even get two at the same time.
Also you might find this black cat lurking on the Cathedral grounds, who is very clearly the devil in disguise.
GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN CAT!
6) Visit the Igreja de Sao Francisco
It is located at Praça Infante Dom Henrique and costs 4 Euros for admission, but it is well worth it. Sadly I can’t convince you of this with my photos because photos are completely forbidden inside the church. Suffice it to say that the walls are entirely coated in gold, so much gold that they would make King Midas blush. Do I think this is the greatest way to honor a saint as famously austere as St. Francis? Not necessarily. Is it beautiful to look at? Absolutely.
If you want a preview of the gold, the church museum next door does offer some tantalizing hints, and you are allowed to take photos inside. Take this altarpiece as a sign of things to come.
There. Just imagine that altar times infinity and you have imagined the interior of Igreja de Sao Francisco.
24 Hour Treasure
Even more than the gold, I liked exploring the creepy catacombs in the basement of the church. Apparently, before 1845, Portuguese people were buried in churches like this instead of cemeteries. What happened in 1845? Did people decide these catacombs and their skull decorations were just too creepy?
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest!
24 Hours in Porto
Evening: Dinner at DOP
DOP is a restaurant run by Chef Rui Paula, who is a native of Porto. DOP serves upscale versions of classic Portuguese foods. I found the place great way to experience fine dining on a somewhat limited budget. You can do the whole seven course tasting menu thing for around 60 Euros as opposed to the astronomic prices you would pay for a similar meal elsewhere. There’s nothing I love more than writing up a tasting menu except eating a tasting menu, so allow me to walk you through my feast.
This was a cute little smoked salmon salad on one side paired with a rich sausage ball on the other. The lightness of the salmon was a perfect contrast with the heavy sausage. I also liked that this was really two amuse bouches in one.
This was a paper-thin octopus carpaccio lightly accentuated with a drizzling of pesto sauce. I’ve never had octopus carpaccio before. It was very fresh tasting and had none of the rubberiness I sometimes associate with octopodes.
This is a francesinha, which is the traditional sandwich in Porto. It is normally made with many kinds of meat like steak, sausage, ham, what-have-you, etc. Then you top the sandwich with melted cheese. Finally you dump a reddish-brown sauce made with beer and probably tomatoes over the top. It is the most perfect bar food ever, which is why it was so exciting to see one in a classy restaurant like this. I could tell the chef really wanted to honor his heritage.
PS. The sandwich was delicious, and I especially enjoyed its use of chorizo.
This was a vigorous piece of trout served with summer vegetables and ham and topped with a salty fish sauce. I like how the salty ham and fish sauce stood up firmly to the delicate vegetables and mild flavor of the trout.
Because this is a tasting menu, we’re going to need courses within courses. So here’s a tiny cod ball to enjoy between the fish course and the meat course. I found this amusing because cod balls are such a traditional Portuguese working class food that it is surprising to see one all tarted up like this in a fancy restaurant. I just hope the cod ball doesn’t forget its old friends now that it’s become nouveau riche.
This was a rich piece of pork neck with celeriac puree and red cabbage. Because the pork was so rich and this was my sixth course of the night, it was nice to have the sweetness of the red cabbage and the umami flavor of the celeriac balancing out the pork.
This was a smooth and pure orange pannacotta. I really think the pre-dessert should catch on as a concept. The more desserts, the merrier!
This was a pine nut cake layered with custard and topped with olive oil and powdered sugar. I absolutely love pine nut and olive oil in desserts. It reminds me of eating in Little Italy growing up as a kid. The powdered sugar tasted good, but the way it is presented in this picture makes me worry a little that my cake has a cocaine addiction.
After you finish dinner, you won’t have room in your stomach to do anything but roll yourself into bed and dream of codfish balls and another 24 hours in Porto!
Further Reading: 24 Hours in Porto!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Porto now? Then let me help you with some suggestions for further reading. I like Lonely Planet’s guide to Porto. It’s divided into neighborhoods, which makes it easy to use for planning purposes.
Jose Saramago is one of the most famous Portuguese writers of all time. After all, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I recommend his novel Baltasar and Blimunda. It’s extremely entertaining and extremely bizarre.
It’s kind of hard to find a book that’s specifically set in Porto and not Lisbon or just Portugal in general. That’s why I recommend Sharpe’s Havoc. This novel in Bernard Cornwell’s fascinating historical fiction.mystery series is actually set in Porto. And the mystery involves wine! It doesn’t get more Porto than that!
Note: I would LOVE to help you create a personalized plan for your own dream trip to Japan. Email me at [email protected] to discuss rates and details. If you’re on more of a budget, try my exclusive travel planning tools at our shop. They’ll help you be your own travel agent.
If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Porto. If you want to add another 24 hours in Porto with the Clerigos Tower, just click here! And if you’d like to add 24 hours in Lisbon, just click here or here