Soccer stars are not Portugal’s only treasures. There are countless reasons to visit Europe’s peaceful, westernmost country…like port, for example. This heavenly, ridiculously-easy-to-drink fortified wine is produced exclusively in Porto’s Douro Valley. Portugal was also the first country to fully decriminalize the use of all drugs, as well as, the eighth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
Here are travel tips, restaurant recommendations and activity ideas, for Porto, Portgual.
Where to Eat and Drink in Porto, Portugal
It’s almost a shame this absolute gem of a restaurant was recently added to Lonely Planet’s list for Porto. With chalk-smeared concrete walls, an eclectic collection of wooden antique furniture and equally charming staff, Miss’Opo oozes coolness. The menu changes daily and is read to diners individually by the server. Open for Sunday brunch.
The only Michelin Star joint in town (also a Relais & Châteaux property) whose view and molecular gastronomy from top Portuguese chef Ricardo Costaworth is well worth the €140 per person price tag. The chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings (all local) is a must.
A brightly-lit, cafeteria-style locals’ spot specializing in Francesinha sandwiches. Sit at the bar to watch the all-male bar team build a shocking amount of them while pouring draught beers all night long. No English menu.
Head here for an afternoon espresso, an evening drink or a nightcap. This cool, inexpensive, counter-service bar is dark, moody and offers excellent people watching. Try a port tonic on ice.
The Traveller Cafe
If you’re craving a big healthy breakfast, ignore the guilt associated with dining somewhere so touristy-sounding and head here for acai berry bowls and granola, omelettes, vegetable juices (garlic is an option) and lots more.
One of Porto’s few modern cafes with non-dairy milk options, a slew of North American pastry options (donuts, muffins), lots of seating and wifi. Head here if you desperately miss home.
Listed in every guide book you’ll read, Magestic is known as one of Europe’s most historic, beautiful cafes once frequented by historians and famous authors. Though it’s way over-priced and overrun with tourists, the design and decor is worth a peak. Food-wise, their offerings are very standard.
Dating back to 1933, Guarany falls under the same category as Magestic with its ornate design and grandiose style. Get here for breakfast to experience ‘old Portugal’, to observe the friendly local crowd reading their papers and to enjoy impeccable service from a white-uniformed water.
You’ll automatically peg this Italian restaurant as a tourist trap due to its epic location, which is on the seawall, picturesquely overhanging the Douro River. Sunsets are epic here and they probably are the main attraction, but the Italian finance minister did once say it was this was his favourite pizza in town. Apparently the better food is at the downstairs restaurant.
Vegetarian cuisine in Portugal is about ten years behind that of North America’s (think rice with tomato sauce, fried tofu, pureed vegetable soup) but if you’re in need, this destination restaurant (just a bit outside the center) offers friendly service, a nice modern dining room and a patio. Open for lunch and dinner.
Em Carne Viva
Someone clearly put their heart and soul into designing this beautiful restaurant. If only the food was as lovely as the space. Again, it’s an option for vegans and vegetarians, but the food doesn’t exactly blow minds. Try the plant-based version of the iconic Francesinha sandwich.
Widely nown as Porto’s best chocolate shop.
Rua Herois de Franca
Take a 30 minute ride on the metro to Matosinhos, a nearby harbour town, for side-walk grilled sardines and many other types of seafood. Rua Herois de Franca is a street lined with these types of restaurants. S. Valentim is known to be one of the best.
More Eating Tips for Porto
- Tips are generally not included in the bill. Leave 10% for good service.
- Head to Bonitos for Portuguese specialties including Ginja (incredibly delicious sour cherry liqueur), specialty chocolates and shortbread made by an 80-year-old local baker.
- Most restaurants don’t open until 7:30 or 8pm for dinner.
- Breakfast isn’t a popular meal here; you’ll see lots of bread and omelettes (which are often just eggs, no filling).
- Don’t expect to find great coffee; the industry is still dominated by big companies like Segafredo and Buondi; apparently there is not a single artisanal roaster in town.
- The Francesinha is their most iconic dish culinary that originated in the 60s (and could easily star in a YouTube episode of Epic Meal Time); it’s built with bread, wet-cured ham, two types of sausages, steak, an egg and tons of cheese (apparently locals eat one a week).
- Bacalhau (salt cod) is a local specialty that’s said to be used in over 1000 Portuguese recipes; if you spot trays of dried fish that look like they belong in a museum, that’s it.
- Everyone will tell you to try Pastel de Nata, a local pastry that’s sold at every bakery. I must not have found the right baker, as I found them quite average.
- If you find a great restaurant, ask your server for tips on other great restaurants (a great way to hop from great spot to great spot).
Where to Stay in Porto, Portugal
Miss’Opo Guest House
Located above Miss’Opo restaurant, this rustically designed space is ‘the cool, off-the-beaten-path choice’. Vintage lovers will be particularly swept off their feet by the owner’s collection of antique, funky things. This could be your best bet to living like a local in Porto.
A hotel so rich with luxury and character you’ll tingle at the sight of it. Set high above the town, and just minutes from one of the world’s most iconic port cellars (Taylor’s), each room offers a view of the Douro River. With a Michelin starred restaurant under the same roof, The Yeatman is certainly a dream destination for gourmets and wine lovers.
A new (and therefore pretty clean), inexpensive hotel located in the shopping district at the top of Porto’s hilly terrain (be prepared for a work-out on your walk home from mostly anywhere in town). Location is nice and central and staff is helpful, but don’t expect character, charm or comfortable beds here.
- From the airport, take the metro in to town for a few euros.
- Taxis are cheap and a good option for getting around this hilly town.
- Use the metro instead of the tourist-packed city tram.
- The Portuguese speak Portuguese, not Spanish.
- Begin conversations with “voce fala ingles” (vo-chay fala een-glays), which means “do you speak English” (attempting to speak their language is a huge sign of respect that could win you lots of points).
Your Uber-Quick Guide to Speaking Portuguese
Hello – Hola
Goodbye – Adios
Where – Onde
Yes – Sim
Plz – Por favor
Thank you – Obrigado
How much – Kwantos
Meat – Carne
Fried – Fritos
Delicious – Delicioso
Without – Sem
With – Com
What To Do In Porto
- Spend a day exploring nearby harbour towns Foz and Matosinhos (a two hours walk or 30 minute Metro trip).
- Stop at one of the many laid-back beach bars on the Matosinhos to Foz seawall (Praia de Gondarem was nice) for comfy seating and €1 beers.
- Shop for shoes at Eureka (very cool shop!).
- Shop for vintage and antique items at Coração alecrim, a most charming shop full of treasures.
- Sign up for a tour and port tasting at Sandeman (about €15), a 200-year old port producers.
- Try a Porto Tonico instead of your usual cocktail before dinner.
- Spend a day on the water touring the Douro River (we didn’t do this but were told it was a great way to see the surrounding area; book through your hotel).
- Take a walk through the Crystal Palace Gardens, overlooking the Douro River.
- Visit the fishwives at Porto’s oldest market, Bolhao, for fresh seafood and produce.
- A cool non-touristy neighborhood to explore: Casa da Musica (a must visit for you architect buffs) and its surrounding area.
- Get up early for a bridge and seawall run; sunrises can be epic.
More on Porto
Anthony Bourdain explores Porto and Lisbon
GQ Names Porto as one of Europe’s Most Under-rated Cities