It’s always endearing when the locals love their city, as do the friendly inhabitants of Porto. From the affable guy who greeted us at our apartment with lots of handy tips - such as “use Uber when you’re sick of walking up hills, as it’s so cheap here” (it is) to “make sure you go to the market opposite as it’s closing for refurbishment soon” (killer cork product salesman there!), and “make sure you don’t miss this sight, and that sight, as they are just too, too beautiful” (they were) or “go to this too beautiful historic café and enjoy it, but only have coffee, as it is so expensive” (not really) or “you must eat at that restaurant as the food is sooo good” and “visit this port house because it is still in Portuguese hands”, This same level of enthusiasm also came with the young Uber driver who had spent a year in London, which he had enjoyed. He told us “I was so lucky to have a good job, and live with my cousin”, but he’d come home to Porto because he missed “my mother, my girlfriend and my city” (in that order!) he also advised “you will be completely safe here, not like Lisbon, which is much bigger” and he was right, we were.
We had three days in Porto, so we walked a little, ‘Ubered’ a lot (about €2.50 to go to most places), tried many of the local specialties, both sweet and savoury: the famous little custard tarts, pastel de Nata, are available everywhere; and generally, we ate seafood – great cod and prawns, in preference to meat, as such a fresh and wide variety was offered.
We found we preferred the local white wine to the red, and also enjoyed tasting white port. Two restaurants we tried, both offering very different local experiences were Intrigo, with a great view, less than one-year-old run by an enthusiastic young team, and Tapabento, a cult establishment extremely well-run by a woman veteran of the hospitality industry. We did a useful Hop-on, Hop-off city bus tour – which was an easy, efficient way to get our bearings and orientate. We visited two port houses, both of which were beautiful places, the Portuguese-owned Ferreira offered an excellent guided tour, while Taylor’s guiding was done by multi-lingual handset.
Our three days just zoomed by and we were soon on board a train, off to explore Lisbon, where both the train station and airport are conveniently sited close to town, so it does not cost a king’s ransom to get to either. Larger, and more expensive though it is, we enjoyed Lisbon as well. Buy your cork products in Porto though, as the prices are much lower. In a busy square, we came across the most novel way to sell sardines we have ever seen; a very festive carnival-style shop with rows and stacks of tins printed with birth years. Cleverly, when you got up to the counter, the staff then upsold you a tin of the current year as well!
We added our names to the waiting list and stood outside in the cold at the incredibly popular A Cervicheria, recommended by fellow tourist port tasters. We waited for about 40 minutes and drank Pisco Sours, made to order from own-branded ingredients and served at speed through a purpose-built double window. What a slick place with great staff, serving great ceviche.
The following day we joined the too-large crowds at the cult Time Out Market where many of the great chefs sensibly have a side operation. Here, you queue at whichever one you choose, order your food, then hope to find a couple of seats together. By way of contrast, following a tip from an Uber driver, we enjoyed the calm, more elegant venue and style of food offered at Bairro do Avellez, the brainchild of one of the most well regarded local chefs, José Avillez. The previous night we’d sought out the octopus recommended at A Tasquinha do Lagarto, a fun, noisy, cheap place, with good local cuisine and walls lined with soccer jerseys and two televisions, in a seedier part of town. Nearby, we happened upon a pristine, clean shop, the size of a small supermarket, it was busy selling all sizes of fresh snails. Choose you own snails to cook at home, or have them cooked while you wait to take away, with white or red sangria available whilst you waited.
After three days of restaurant hopping, with a major gallery tour and a few monuments seen along the way, we had barely scratched the surface, and can certainly see why Portugal has become a popular holiday destination as generally its inhabitants are welcoming of tourists, a large number speak extremely good English, it has much to offer in terms of sightseeing, and it is very easy to eat well without too much effort.