Every bit as rustic and romantic as I hoped, I was smitten with Lisbon the moment I laid eyes on it so I couldn’t wait to get back to Portugal. Over our long weekend in the Portuguese capital, we whittled away the hours just wandering the cobbled, tiled covered streets and eating gloriously delicious food; essentially my dream situation. I had imagined that a weekend in Porto would be much the same but that’s probably doing Portugal’s second city a bit of a disservice.
The cobbles and tiles are similar, as is the casual vibe and comfortable pace of life, but this compact riverside city has an endearing charm of its own. We were lucky enough to have the sun shining throughout our visit, making the whole city shine and giving us the perfect weather for our own food tour, because as we discovered, the one thing these two cities definitely have in common is great food!
Breakfast at Majestic Cafe
The Majestic Cafe on Rua Santa Catarina has been a Porto establishment serving coffee and cakes to their chic clientele for decades. It’s still well worth a visit, even if just to take in the plush decor – we popped in for breakfast but it works equally well for an afternoon tea break!
Francesinha from Bufete Fase
Every food tour of Porto must include a taste of this pimped up ham and cheese toastie with extra beef, cheese, and sausage, all drenched in a spicy sauce, and served with a side of chips. Rumoured to be around 2000 calories, we decided it was sensible to share one but the locals have no problems eating a whole one on their own! Bufete Fase is one of the oldest and best spots for your francesinha but if you can’t be bothered with the small hike to get there, almost every cafe or restaurant in town serves their own version of this famous dish.
Bifana from Flor dos Congregados
With fewer bells and whistles than a francesinha, the bifana is a simple pork sandwich where all eyes and tastebuds are on the pork. You’ll also find these all over town but we were drawn to Flor dos Congregados where they marinade their pork loin for twenty hours then slow cook it for three… it wasn’t even ready when we first arrived, but it was worth the wait!
Traditional Dining at Taberna Santo Antonio
This cosy family run restaurant is popular with the locals so you may have to wait a bit with a cerveja or vinho verde in hand, but once you’re seated the handful of menu options mean you’ll be served swiftly. Come here for hearty Portuguese comfort foods like the empanada entrees followed by codfish fritters or a pork stew, and end with their famous chocolate mousse accompanied by a shot of aguardiente. The food at Taberna Santo Antonio is tasty, the portions are huge, and the prices are ridiculously low – we spent less than €30 for our whole meal!
Trendy Dining at Tapabento
Located down a questionable looking street behind the main train station, and sandwiched between some rough looking bars, we didn’t think much of Tapabento when we first stumbled across it while taking the shortcut back to our hotel. However once inside, we found the place was bustling with trendy young things and the food was fantastic. We only managed to get there for a late lunch so regrettably scaled back on the ordering but still had some cracking dishes – highlights were the vibrant tomato salad and the garlic razor clams!
Riverside Dining at Bacalhau
You will of course be spending some time strolling along the riverfront because the views are pretty and when the sun is shining, it’s the perfect spot for mid afternoon drinks and people watching. However, when all that’s done you’ll need to eat… Restaurants are a dime a dozen in this part of town but most of them very touristy and probably not that good so head slightly away from the main drag and you’ll find Bacalhau, a casual restaurant serving simple but fresh Portuguese dishes – the octopus toast was fantastic!
Port Tasting at Graham’s Lodge
All this eating is also a sensible way of ensuring your stomach is well lined for all the port you’ll just have to drink during your visit – a port tasting tour is a must do activity on any Porto itinerary! Head to the other side of the river and follow the signs; almost all of the port wine lodges are open for tours and tastings, so go to one you’ve heard of or just chance it, I’m sure they’re all much of a muchness. We decided to really work for our port and took the brisk walk up to Graham’s Lodge, the furthest and perhaps the quietest but the tour was really interesting and the pours were generous!
When You’re Not Eating
Our visit was obviously focused on the food but we did catch some sights in between meals… here’s what you should see in Porto between bites:
- Pay a visit to Sao Francisco Church and marvel at the lavish gold interior, then head underground and wander through their catacombs – don’t worry, they’re not too spooky!
- Climb the Clerigos Tower and make sure you take the tour of the church too – it leads you around the back of the church so you get a behind the scenes view.
- Stroll along the Ribeira district of the riverfront before heading over the Dom Luis Bridge – the view from midway is stunning.
- Visit the Livaria Lello & Irma which is often described as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world – it’s worth the €3 entry fee which can then be deducted from any purchases.
- Visit A Vida Portuguese which is on the same street at the Vivaria Lello & Irma, this a one of Porto’s oldest stores, it stocks beautiful homewares which are distinctly Portuguese – I wanted to buy all the incredible platters and stock up on tinned fish!
Have you been to Porto? Did you enjoy the food as much as we did?