Exploring Porto

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June 9th 2013
Published: June 15th 2013
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Having never been to Portugal before I decided it was time for a long weekend there. And somehow I came up with Porto as my destination. It was a good trip complete with sore feet from so much cobblestone walking. I stayed all three nights in Porto and took the train to Guimaraes for one day.

I bought a three-day public transportation pass for 15 Euros at the airport and that got me to my hotel downtown and around on the metro and buses all weekend. I would recommend a quick stop at the tourist info place in the Porto airport as they are very friendly and can provide lots of information (and a public transportation ticket). The relatively new metro is clean, efficient, and easy to navigate so consider it as an option for getting around.

Old town in Porto is impressive as it dives down into the Douro River. It can be covered on foot but is very hilly. Walking across the bridge is a must for the view of the city. Most people will also head across the river to visit the companies that produce the local port. Some of the other tourist stops that I found interesting were the Livraria Lello (a fascinating bookstore that was featured in the first Harry Potter movie - don't miss this), climbing the tower of the Igreja e Torre dos Clerigos church for the view, and walking through the Mercado do Bolhao to see fresh fish, fruit, and flowers being sold.

In general, just wandering around is worthwhile in Porto. There are a number of great places to spot the blue-tiled buildings in the old town. Unfortunately I found the majority of the roads and sidewalks to be in very poor repair (or undergoing major repairs) in much of the old town and also to the north where I stayed. The large park northwest of the downtown (Parque de Cidade) was very nice, especially for runners. I would probably stay closer to Cidade if I were to return. Plus, it backs up to the beaches on the ocean. It's unfortunate that there isn't a metro stop closer to this part of the city.

What I probably enjoyed most during my short stay was the food! My first meal was a francesinha at Santiago's cafe. It had about four different kinds of meat between a couple pieces of Texas toast and then was covered in cheese. It typically comes sitting in a bed of fries with a red sauce poured over the top, however I asked for mine on the side. No, this is probably not the healthiest thing you could eat but it is very tasty - especially at Santiago's! Even better was dinner at Restaurante Escondidinho on Rua Passos Manuel where I got the grilled sea bass. Wow, what a great meal with Portuguese-style potatoes, rice, and fresh bread! If you like sea bass you must stop here. I'm sure other things on the menu were good too. Mine cost about 25 euros with a couple cokes (no port unlike most patrons). I wasn’t crazy about the service but the food was good enough to get me back for a second night. Also very nice (and affordable) was a visit to Churrasqueira Infante for lunch where I got some tasty whitefish and potatoes (and coke again) for under 12 euros.

Guimaraes, the “birthplace of Portugal,” was a nice side trip and could probably be done in a half-day if need be. Unfortunately, it rained most of the day when I was there but the old town (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and Ducal Palace kept my attention. I was really hoping to get out to the stone house that is apparently outside of the nearby town of Fafe. But, apparently it is best reached if you have your own car. If you are heading in this direction I encourage you to Google “stone house” and “Fafe” and have a look to see if it piques your interest enough to go search it out.

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