After all this time in Portugal, I’m finally getting to Oporto. Oporto is the second largest city and more importantly, home to the best Port wine in the world! I spent 2 1/2 days here and I could have easily spent an entire week or even more. There is a lot to experience and more time would have allowed a much more leisurely approach – something that by this time in the trip I really needed.
This will be a very long article as it summarizes those 2 1/2 days, so let’s get started. My flat in Oporto was also an AirBnB find and it was fairly nice. It was on the third floor with no elevators but by this time I was used to climbing and hills and stairs – I’d see a lot more of that here and later in Lisbon. The flat was a study in wise space utilization that really impressed me. I enjoyed my stay there and would certainly recommend it to others. It was very centrally located in the Clerigos district.
I arrived toward in the middle of the afternoon, dropped off my stuff, rested for a bit, got my bearings, and started to explore. I was going to spend three days in Oporto so there was no rush so I headed out and enjoyed a bit of night photography.
The following morning I awoke to rain. First time it had rained during the trip. I took out my rain gear and walked across the Ponte de Dom Luis I to Vila Nova de Gaia and the port houses. That was one of my main things I wanted to experience and I was not going to let the rain prevent me from doing so. Of course, being the off season and a Sunday, some of them were closed but I still got to indulge.
I stopped at three port houses, Calem, Sandeman, and Graham’s. The tour itself is pretty much the same at all of them – let’s face it, port is port is port (kind of). The tastings are good but it’s not the best they have to offer. Still, I had a chance to try some white port for the first time which I didn’t know existed.
By the time I walked up the hill to Graham’s, I was starting to get REALLY tired and was ready to just sit down, enjoy some GOOD port, and take a taxi back, so when I walked in, I asked for the “fancy” tour and was told they weren’t doing those any longer. I was a bit disappointed but things started to change quickly. They said I could still do the tasting but no tour – and that was just fine with me.
I was escorted to the “library” for a private tasting of the three ports I chose: a vintage 1982 tawny, a 30 year old tawny, and a 40 year old tawny. I have never taken so long to drink port. This was an amazing experience and the three ports were out of this world good. I wanted to buy a bottle of each but settled on the 40 year old!
If you are in Oporto, do the tours, do the tastings, but by all means, do one of the private library tastings. It is such a great experience.
After sitting for a bit – I think I took nearly an hour to enjoy the three glasses of ports in the tasting – it was time to head back out for the long walk back to my flat. When I stepped outside, the rain had stopped and the sky was beautiful – and I was in the perfect place to experience it. You see, Graham’s is at the top of a hill!
I started the long walk back but decided to do the “tourist thing” and take one of the river cruises. If nothing else, it’d give me a chance to rest a bit more and get some photos from a different angle.
The next morning, I started exploring again. I just wandered in the direction of some of the places I wanted to see. Along the way, I stopped by many places, including the Sao Bento Station. Beautiful artwork. The azulejos are incredible here. Leading up to is is the Avenida Dos Aliados with it’s broad center median, beautiful architecture, and city hall toward the higher end of the street.
Continuing a bit further I got to the Se. Truly awe inspiring – the grounds as well as the interior.
I then wound my way down staircases and narrow streets working my way toward the Palacio da Bolsa.
The Palacio da Bolsa offers tours which are well worth taking. As you walk through the beautiful rooms in this building, it is difficult to grasp that this was the “chamber of commerce” building. Wow!
Right around the corner is the Sao Francisco – an incredible church that is a feast to the visual senses and the spirit. You’ll have to take my word for it or research it as there is no photography allowed. While disappointed by that, I certainly understand it and appreciate it. I can tell you that it allowed me to really soak it in – something I do more and more of these days. You would not believe how many times lately I’ve had to retrace my steps to take a photograph because I was too busy just enjoying what I was experiencing.
Next up was the Ribeira district and back up the hills to the Igreja dos Clerigos. This, again, is a beautiful church with a tall tower that you can climb up to for some beautiful views of the city. Be warned, it is not an easy climb – 249 feet in a narrow spiral staircase. The view is worth it!
Continuing exploring some more, you move further from the old town into the more modern area of the city. Along the way, you’ll walk by Igreja da Misericordia, Palacio da Justica, Mosteri de Sao Bento da Vitoria, and the Igreja das Carmelitas which has some beautiful azulejo artwork outside.
A bit down the street from there, there is one stop of note. That is a visit to the Livraria Lello & Irmão – a bookstore rumored to be an inspiration for JK Rowling while she was writing “Harry Potter” as she visited it frequently while she taught English in Oporto. You do have to pay an entrance fee, but it can be used as credit toward any item purchased (I purchased a local cookbook). This place is amazing.
After all that walking, it was time to head back and get some rest. Of course, I was able to enjoy some street art on the way back to my flat.
After a bit of rest, it was time to get some food. During my stay in Oporto, I had a chance to sample some local specialties and still stay on a good budget. The first of these was a “francesinha” and I was told I had to try it at the Café Majestic. So I did. Hard to describe, but just think a lasagna sandwich. Beef, ham, sausage, melted cheese, sort of floating in a “secret” tomato/beer sauce, severed with fries. It was actually quite good.
Another place that was recommended was A Casa Guedes where I indulged in a Caldo Verde to warm up (it was about 45 degrees and a 20 minute walk), a sandes de pernil sandwich (thinly sliced roasted pork with melted mountain cheese) that was great, served with fries, and a beer. All that for 10 euro!
The last place I enjoyed was Restaurante Duoro Sentido where I had a repeat encounter with the grilled polvo (octopus) and it was delicious again! I also enjoyed some creme brulee for dessert!
I found Oporto to be a very enjoyable city and plan to return. Among the things I wish I would have done was a Duoro wine region tour – but this was probably not the best season to do so.
On to Lisbon!