Our first port o’ call on this Portugal trip was Porto, a short flight from Amsterdam, where we had been visiting with family. Porto is in the northern part of Portugal and is known to be cool and rainy in the fall and winter (we arrived near the end of November). The hilly, cobblestoned streets and sidewalks become slippery when wet so good footwear as well as rainwear are necessary at this time of year.
Porto city proper is walkable and, for sights farther afield, is well served by transit (metro, buses, and trains) and inexpensive ride share (Bolt or Uber). We began our wandering by splurging on what is probably the city’s most expensive coffee so we could sit down and ogle the interior of the Majestic Cafe.
From there, we plugged in our earphones and followed along with an audio walking tour from WalkBox. We spent the first day on the north side of the Douro River, checking out must-see locations and enjoying the Ribeira riverfront area.
Our second day in Porto was a change from touring. In the pouring rain, we walked to the metro station and made our way to Hospital Lusíadas. Our AirBnB host had helped us to arrange a retinal specialist appointment at the hospital for a newly prescribed monthly eye treatment Ken required. Our host’s brother-in-law is an ophthalmologist in Lisbon and was able to recommend a doctor in Porto. We met with Dr. Nuno Gomes, who took great care of Ken during the consultation and fit him in for his required treatment the same afternoon.
We spent another day wandering across the two-level Dom Luis 1 bridge to the other side of the river. Bridge construction was completed in 1886 and the upper deck was converted to a metro crossing in 2003. The bridge offers pedestrian access over the river and fabulous views. Because of its similar look, this bridge is often confused with another nearby Douro River crossing, Ponte Dona Maria Pia, which was designed by Gustav Eiffel, of the eponymous tower in Paris.
The south side of the river is home to many port cellars, where port has been stored, packaged, and shipped out for hundreds of years. We wandered by buildings labelled Calem, Kofke, Fonseca, Sandeman, and many other familiar port names, all offering various tours and tastings by reservation. The south side of the river is also the location of the Bordalo II rabbit art installation, our first Bordalo II sighting.
Rather than book a tour with one of the known brands, we chose to do a tasting back in the Ribeira area at Lado Wines. It turned out to be a great choice as we were able to taste ports and wines from small producers and learn about the challenges that these producers face. Everything we tried was delicious.
One meal that we had been looking forward to, based on innumerable recommendations (especially on the Travel Portugal Facebook group), was our lunch at Chama. They offer a fixed-price lunch or dinner tasting menu and you eat what the chef puts in front of you. They cook based on what is local and fresh. The only request you can make is for a pescatarian menu. Our meal did not disappoint and we probably paid for both of us what we would pay for a similar tasting menu in Canada. The meal included wine and a couple special liqueurs. I missed taking pictures of a couple of the courses.
Another enjoyable meal was a meetup of a few folks from a Facebook group we follow. The couple who set up the event are residents in Portugal now, and made a great choice for traditional Portuguese fare at Pedro dos Frangos.
Another food-related visit (though no food was consumed) was to see what must be one of the most beautiful Mcdonald’s restaurants around. Nearby is the imposing Porto City Hall.
We only fit in one day trip from Porto and had trouble deciding between Braga and Guimarães. (We could have done both with several hours of train travel or rented a car, but we chose to slow down and just visit one.) We put it out to the folks on the Travel Portugal Facebook group and ended up in Guimarães, considered the birthplace of Portugal. We have no way of knowing if it was a good choice, but we did enjoy our day.
As we ate lunch in a very quiet restaurant–our third try for finding one open (Ja Ça Estou), the owner let us know that the next day (November 29) would bring the opposite. Every restaurant was booked to capacity and the city would be overflowing and noisy with parading students banging drums all night to herald the beginning of Festas Nicolinas, which involves several days of student antics and activities.
- WalkBox audio tour apps: New for us, the WalkBox app includes GPS-enabled tours of various cities in Portugal. It worked well, though there are a few reasons that we prefer other apps if they have tours available in the same areas. It uses a lot of battery, you need to keep the screen on in order for it to pick up your location and start narrating, and as soon as you try to do anything other than listen (click on the map or move to another app like the camera to take a photo), the narration stops, there is no way to control the audio (fast forward, pause, etc.), and the audio is computer-generated from text. All that said, it helped to introduce us to much of Porto.
- Lado Wines port and Douro wine tasting: €25 each for a one-hour session with eight tastings.
- Train to Guimarães: Purchased at the station; schedules and pricing on the CP website (or app). About 75 minutes, €3.25 per person each way. If you have Andante cards for Porto transport you can load them with the train trips.