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I’ve been planning my Europe trip for the past year. Okay, I really only secured my ticket last year, and the plan is to be in Budapest for the first month and Lisbon the second month. And that was it. I thoroughly enjoyed my entire time in Budapest (and the few days in Vienna and Bratislava), and I really thought I was going to be hanging out in Lisbon for the whole time. But I am thrilled I ventured out of Lisbon and saw other parts of Portugal.
Porto was my first stop after arriving in Lisbon. This Northern Portuguese city came highly recommended by other fellow travellers. And I can see why. I immediately fell in love with the charming town and the laid-back atmosphere. As the second-largest city in Portugal, Porto is a relaxed city with hilly streets and picturesque viewpoints. The city has a small-town charm and friendly people everywhere. And food! Wow! I can go on and on about the food…
Why Porto is Great for a Solo Female Traveller
From the time I arrived in Porto to my last day, I met and talked to so many kind and friendly people. No wonder Porto is the best European destination in 2017 and they won the title two other times (2012, and 2014). I can understand why visitors from everywhere love Porto. The city is full of architecture, culture, gastronomy and history. And the people are just the friendliest.
If you want to meet other fellow travellers, join the free walking tour with the Porto Walkers. And if you’re going to wander on your own, it is straightforward to navigate the streets of Porto. The city is compact enough that you can walk around to all of the attractions. But do wear comfortable walking shoes for some hilly roads!
As for language, I only know the basics like olá (hello) and obrigada (thank you), and that is pretty much it. Ha! The host told me that most people would speak English, especially the younger generation because it is something they learn in school. And the older generation may or may not speak it, but they are also bilingual in Portuguese and French. How interesting! Too bad I had forgotten most of my French!
As a solo traveller, I usually have my guard up wherever I go. But for some reason, my guard was down in Porto. I walked around with my headphones (which I really shouldn’t because I should be 100% fully immersed in the city, but I was so into the podcast series I was listening to). The city just has a feel of friendliness and safety. I’m not sure how else to explain, but I’m sure other solo travellers will know what I mean. It is pretty great to feel completely safe in a new city.
Portugal has three network providers for cell phones and data. SIM cards do not require registration and topping up your card is easy. Since I was able to find wifi almost everywhere and the accommodation had reliable data, I didn’t get a SIM card for this trip. Porto has wifi (almost) everywhere!
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What to Do in Porto
Porto is a compact and hilly city where you can probably see everything within two days. But if you have an extra day, definitely stay longer!
One of Portugal’s trademark is azulejo which is the blue and white glazed tiles that decorate many churches in Portugal. As soon as you approach Capela das Almas (Chapel of Souls), you will notice the blue and white tiles wrap the entire facade of the church. Moving west, you will not miss Igreja do Carmo and Igreja das Carmelitas because the iconic churches have azulejo decorating the churches as well. Not only do you find azulejo in religious places, the inside of São Bento Railway Station has azulejo that draw many visitors daily just to take photos of the beautiful tiles. I do have to say that the azulejo are pretty mesmerizing because each ornamental tiles is different from one another and collectively, they tell a major historical and cultural story. Finding the best azulejo spots in Porto is definitely a must on your itinerary!
Porto has many fantastic viewpoints because the city is part of a valley. When you visit Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens), walk further down to the Jardim dos Sentimentos (Garden of Feelings) to get a glimpse of the Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia. There’s also a great viewpoint at Miradouro da Vitoria. And to experience one of the best viewpoints in Porto, hike up the 240 steps of Torre Dos Clérigos (Clérigos Tower) and take in the panoramic view of the city. Try to be there late afternoon to catch the orange glow from the sun – although it might get pretty busy as everyone else has the same idea.
Ribeira + Vila Nova de Gaia
Take in the energy and feel of Ribeira, the riverside quarter by Douro River. This is the oldest part of the city and one of the best places to watch the sunset. Soak in the atmosphere, the music and indulge in some people watching. Then cross over the Ponte Dom Luis I Bridge, the most famous bridge over Douro River, to visit some of the Port Houses in Vila Nova de Gaia. Visiting Porto isn’t the same if you haven’t tried the city’s best-known export, Port wine. You can tour the port wine cellars and participate in port tasting while you are there. Porto Cruz has a great selection of port. I didn’t know there’s a white port wine!
Art & Culture
And if art and culture is your thing, you have to pay the 5 EUR to see Livraria Lello. It is the world’s most beautiful bookstore. The 111-year-old bookstore was the inspiration for the staircases at Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies. Every bit of the interior is designed well and very detail oriented. And check out Serralves, one of the best contemporary art museum in Portugal. If you have time, get a glimpse of the architecture at Casa da Música (House of Music) designed by famous Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas.
Interested in a tour around Porto? Try one of these tours below:
Day Trips From Porto
If you have extra time in Porto, join a tour to visit Braga or take the train on your own (it is only an hour train ride away) or join a wine tour in Douro Valley.
Braga is one of the oldest city in Portugal and has the oldest cathedral which was built in the 12th century. While you are there, visit the historical centre and see all the Gothic churches and Baroque buildings and enjoy the city’s young vibrant energy as Braga is home to one of Portugal’s largest universities.
One of the highlights in Northern Portugal is to spend a day in the Douro region and sample wine from Douro Valley. It has award-winning wineries and picturesque villages that will take your breath away. Sample table wine and Port wine is a must on your list! The best way to experience the Douro valley is through a guided tour.
Take out the hassle of navigating on your own and join one of these tours outside of Porto:
Where to Eat in Porto
Porto has all the traditional Portuguese cuisine along with its own regional food. And if you like sweets, well, there are tasty sweet pastries in pastelarias everywhere! And eating in Porto will not break the bank. From local coffee shops to restaurants, everything in Porto is very affordable.
Typical Portuguese Cuisine
These are some of the tasty Portuguese treats you will find in Porto:
Bacalhão – Portuguese salted cod
Caldo Verde – classic Portuguese soup made with potatoes, collard greens and olive oil
Presunto – dry-cured ham
Alheira – Portuguese smoked bread sausage
Doces Conventuais – confectionary treats traditionally made in the convents and is characterized by a large amount of sugar and egg yolk in the desserts
Pastéis de Nata – custard tart with a crispy crust
Tarte de Amêndoa – almond tart or Portuguese caramelized almond tart
Port – Portuguese dessert wine
Portuguese Sangria – a summer drink in Portugal made with Portuguese dry red wine and a carbonated juice and brandy
Porto has many different types of sandwiches. They are all very delicious and meaty. So if you like sandwiches, you are in luck!
Francesinha – Porto’s most unusual dish; it is a combination of ham, sausage, steak, covered with melted cheese, bread and beer sauce
Pernil com Queijo – Roast pork shoulder and Portuguese Serra da Estrela cheese on a rustic bun
Bifana – sandwich with marinated pork in a bread roll
Presunto e Ovo – sliced dry-cured ham and fried egg in a bread roll
Cachorrinhos – hot dogs with spicy sauce and cheese
When you are in Porto, eat petiscos (tapa), drink port wine and enjoy the meaty sandwiches! Some of these restaurants are highly recommended by other bloggers and local guides.
Lareira – Rua das Oliveiras 8; I randomly walked by this restaurant, but the photographs caught my eye. I tried the alheira plate, caldo verde and a sangria. A perfect lunch in my opinion.
Casa Guedes – Praça dos Poveiros 130; i had the best pernil com queijo! This place is super popular with the local and tourists alike. There might be lineup, but it is worth the wait. If you can get a seat at the counter, you can even watch how they carve the meat! Many, many blogs recommend this place!
Bufete Fase – Rua de Santa Catarina 1147; they only have francesinha on the menu (and there’s no actual menu). You can either get that with or without fries. I’m no expert on francesinha but it was rather tasty, and many blogs highly recommend this place.
Molete Bread & Breakfast Saint Lazarus – 418, Av. de Rodrigues de Freitas 256; good spot for breakfast. I got a coffee with milk and pastéis de nata. The coffee shop has a local feel, and it is super affordable.
Cremosi – 344, R. de Mouzinho da Silveira 342; they have a lot of original flavours include port wine! Delish!
Fábrica da Nata – Rua de Santa Catarina 331/335; the kitchen is at the front of the store so you can see how they make the custard tart. You can also get a glass of Sandeman port wine to wash down your custard tart.
Café Majestic – Rua Santa Catarina 112; a popular restaurant for afternoon tea. They also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Where to Stay in Porto
As a solo traveller, I always pick an accommodation base on a few things: location, price, cleanliness of the room and the bathroom. And the type of accommodation can vary between hotel, hostels and Airbnb room and apartment. During my research, I found hotel prices start at $50EUR, and hostel dorm beds start at $15EUR on Agoda website.
As for Porto, I was travelling by train so I wanted to be close to the train station and also to the city centre. So I booked a private room with Airbnb and stayed in a local apartment. The apartment is okay – it has everything I needed. A private room, clean bathroom and a helpful host. I love how it is walking distance to the city centre, literally just five minutes away. Sometimes you don’t need to spend a whole lot of money on accommodation, and something simple and lovely is sufficient. And it aligned with my budget! And if you are not part of Airbnb yet, please use this code to claim your $35 Airbnb discount.
I hope you liked this post and gave you many inspirations for your visit to Porto. Doesn’t matter if you only have one day or two days in Porto, you will thoroughly enjoy the city.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.
Solo Traveller’s Guides for Portugal
For more travel planning resources, check out my Amazon picks: