The second stop of twenty on our European tour took us to Porto, Portugal. We flew from Lisbon early on Friday afternoon with our beloved Ryanair for only eight pounds on a 35 minute flight. From the airport, we jumped on the metro straight to our hotel, Hotel Lusitana, which cost us a mid-range €42 euros per night, city tax inclusive. It was pretty small and dated, but exceptionally well kept which made it a really pleasant place to stay. We were around a 10 minute walk from the city’s main streets and around twenty from the river. The staff were exceptionally friendly, and although our Portuguese and their English weren’t the best they really did try – and succeed – to make us feel at home.
Much like Lisbon, I don’t think the all-day metro pass is necessary for Porto due to most of the main sightseeing spots being in such close proximity to one another, but of course it is entirely objective. Our first encounter with a Porto landmark was the Clérigos Church, a towering baroque chapel with panoramic views of the city and river. It stands atop one of the busiest streets, and is surrounded by a host of decadent baroque churches. Their exteriors covered in Porto’s unique white and blue tiling and vast expanses of stone, an exceptionally soft femininity contrasting with the harsh and austere bricks. Their interiors, some more so than others, are so very decorative that it takes some time to take it all in. Everything about the Igreja do Carmo, for example, is decadent and extremely ostentatious, from the towering composite pilasters to the ceiling high gold leaf decor.
Heading further into the city centre, we were able to visit the Castle, the grounds of which boasted stunning views of the city, a Neo-Gothic Cathedral and glimpses of the river, which we headed to next.
Just minutes away from the Cathedral stands the Dom Luis I Bridge, one of Porto’s six vast bridges crossing the River Douro. The bridge was designed by a collaborative architect of the Eiffel Tower, and the similarities between the two landmarks are easy to identify in the way they both lay bare their functionality and purpose. The bridge stands 146 feet above the river and there are metros passing in each direction, so for Paul and I who are both pretty terrified of heights, walking over was so much fun! Despite being a bit of a white knuckle ride, the views from the bridge really were outstanding. We crossed over both days; the first around 6 o’clock and the second around two hours later. The sun on the first day was still over the river at the time we crossed, so the terracotta roofs and stone walls were flooded in a glorious golden light, whilst the second day the sun had began to set behind them, making things a lot more difficult to see. On the other side of the bridge, now in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, we began our descent to the riverside (more hills!). The first restaurant/ bar we came across was the Dourum – a super fairly priced wine, tapas and local seafood gem with a view of the opposite port, including the castle, right on the river. We visited here both nights – the first just for a drink and the second for food (their cheese and meat boards were unbelievable, and came with a host of other complimentary nibbles). After walking along the water we crossed the lower section of the same bridge as before and climbed for what felt like an eternity back up the steep slopes facing onto the river to head back for dinner. We chose a little Italian restaurant close to our hotel, Pasta, where we shared pizza and pasta and watched the Euro quarter finals.
Day two, after getting some much needed sleep and a lovely long lie, we headed back into the heart of the city. There are tons of tourism shops and kiosks dotted around, so we bought tickets for an hour long cruise on the river which cost €12.50 each. We were able to see all six of the bridges, as well as going far enough down the river that we were able to see the main harbour and the estuary where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean. The cruise really was a great idea, it had glorious views and we were able to admire the architecture of the city whilst not having to endure the hills on which it stands.
Our late afternoon was spent napping in preparation for our 6am flight the following morning, and as a result of spending the warmest hours of the day underneath the sun. After recharging our batteries we headed back down to Duorumm, this time avoiding the main drag and meandering through the steep side streets.
Compared to Lisbon, my personal opinion is that Porto was a little run down and rough around the edges. Despite this, it really was a beautiful city. The sides facing on to the river are indescribably beautiful, as are the quaint side streets and scattering of beautiful churches throughout them. The multicoloured faces of houses so typical of the Mediterranean are present throughout the city; and as my photographs probably indicate I’m leaning towards the pale pinks as my favourites. Much more quaint, much more green, and much less in-your-face touristy as Lisbon, our 36 hours in Porto were perfect to see and do everything we wished to.