porto city guide

City High: Porto

We’d been to Porto very briefly before. I mentioned in the post about San Sebastian that we drove down to Lisbon from the UK, and Porto was one of the stops on the way. It rained almost constantly, and we were both shattered from three days of travelling. It didn’t stop us having a really good meal at Cafeína, but we told ourselves that we’d have to come back and sample the city properly. Finally, we’ve done that.

While Lisbon gets all the press at the moment, Porto is going about making a name for itself in the world of fashion. La Paz and Daily Day both originate from the city, and Portuguese Flannel comes from just up the road in Guimarães. The Daily Day flagship store holds not just their own brand but each of the others too. Elsewhere, up in Boavista, you’ll find Wrong Weather. The high end shop holds A.P.C. (although they had none in when we were there, much to my chagrin), Comme des Garçons, Raf Simons, Aimé Leon Dore and plenty more. Well worth a visit.

As well as clothing, you’ll find Porto incarnations of A Vida Portuguesa and Empatias, two of our Lisbon interiors favourites. If you’re after some food, make a trip to Mercearia das Flores, which as well as a cafe has an excellent little deli inside.

You can’t visit Porto without checking out Livraria Lello as well. Actually, scrap that. You absolutely can, and you probably should. It’s the bookshop that is said to have inspired JK Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter. It’s beautiful and you can easily see it doubling as a wand emporium, but I really wouldn’t bother. Due to its popularity they charge you €4 to enter, which is fair enough and can be used against any purchase, but it is this popularity that kills it. It is so busy. We went on a Friday, but when we passed on the Saturday the queue was obscene. You’re then crammed in, with everybody getting in each other’s way in a quest for the perfect photo. And the selection of books isn’t even that good.

The blurry setting of Casa de Cha da Boa Nova
The blurry setting of Casa de Cha da Boa Nova

As always, food was a big part of our trip. Caitlin had read about Casa de Cha da Boa Nova and booked us up for a meal there. The setting, in an old tea house, is spectacular. The waves crash against the coast that it overlooks, and the floor to ceiling windows that you face as you eat make the most of the view. All of this is overshadowed by the food though.

It hasn’t yet got a Michelin star, and I emphasise the ‘yet’. Everything about the food, the service and the set up scream Michelin star. We had the tasting menu, and accompanied it with the wine pairing. The sommelier was perfect, and chose the wines based not just on the match to the food, but to our taste preferences as well. It did however mean that all of our photos are a bit blurry, to say the least. It’s a 20-minute cab ride out of Porto, but if you’re looking for a very memorable meal it’s worth the trip. And if you really want it to be memorable, probably don’t do the wine flight.

BOP Burger do great burgers and a fine selection of craft beers, and for something more traditional Cantinha 32 offer massive plates of cod, steak, potatoes and lots more Portuguese classics. I warn you though, the plates that they say are good for one person are more than enough for two.

A great surprise was Em Carne Viva. The name literally translates as In Live Meat (I think), but it’s a vegetarian restaurant. We went for lunch, but next time will probably head there for dinner. I had a vegetable Mille-feuille, the most colourful thing you’ve ever seen, and Caitlin went for something with truffles, mushrooms and a poached egg. As somebody who has always eaten a lot of meat, and still loves a good burger, I am still in my phase of being amazed at the flavours you can get out of vegetables. This place uses them to their full potential.

em carne viva
Lunch at Em Carne Viva

As with most of Portugal, you can buy a beer or a wine just about anywhere. There are a few specialist places though, and both that we tried were excellent. Páteo das Flores is a wine bar, where you can stay for a meal if you want, or do as we did and just have a glass of wine. With plenty of Portuguese brands to choose from, there were some we knew and some we didn’t. It was all very civilised and worth having a pre-dinner drink in. On the beer side of things, Catraio is a craft beer shop and bar. There are a dozen available on draft, and then there must be more than 100 others available in bottles. They include Portuguese (arranged by region) and the rest of the world.

Casa da Música porto
Casa da Música’s stunning design

The architecture throughout the city is a mish-mash of renovated and abandoned buildings. With plenty of apartment buildings in lots of different colours. This variation spreads to public buildings too. From the classic churches and government buildings to new and inventive designs on more modern builds. A prime example of this is Casa da Música. It’s a concert venue, and regarded as one of the most advanced in the world. Everything on the inside can be adjusted to suit the performance, from the set up of the seating, to the position of the stage, to the location of the sound and lighting equipment. The outside is just as spectacular, with sharp edges and asymmetrical sides. It was designed by Rem Koolhaas, and even if you’re not seeing a gig there, you’ll definitely want to take photos of the building itself.

The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art consists of two main buildings. The main museum is a modernist affair, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira. All white and sweeping across the park it holds the main collection and the roof top restaurant. The art deco house at the other end of the gardens hold the temporary collections, and is a pink vision of beauty. We were lucky enough to visit while there was a Joan Miró exhibition running. There were 76 pieces by him, spanning most of his career. We did however make the mistake of visiting on the first Sunday of the month. That’s free Sunday. While this is a great thing to offer so that more people can view the works, there were so many people there that it did make moving around inside the house a little difficult. Go to Serralves, visit both buildings and take some food and drink to eat in the grounds. Pay the €16 though and don’t go on the first Sunday of the month.

contemporary art museum porto serralves
cycle shop porto
a vida portuguese shopping porto