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14 things I learnt about Porto

  1. The first thing that struck me when I arrived in the city was the number of abandoned buildings, uninhabited and ill-maintained. Even in the main streets, if you look upwards you will see there are a number of buildings that are being renovated (these are mainly in the centre), or otherwise being left to fall into ruin. Don't get me wrong - I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. Obviously it's not great for a growing city because it is a loss of space. But I see it as a peculiarity particular to Porto, which lends it an identity and a melancholy atmosphere, which is accentuated even more on a rainy day.




  2. At the same time it is full of "azulejos" (tiles) in a myriad of colours which stand out in stark contrast to the melancholy of the city. But it is a contrast that always makes one smile! The best azulejos are in the churches and represent scenes of a life gone by. There are also the classic textured tiles which adorn almost every house in the central streets of Porto.



  3. The centre of Porto's nightlife is on Galerias das Paris. This street is full of young people at night, and is lined with pubs, bars and some restaurants which stay open until late. You should go especially at the weekends; the atmosphere is unmissable! The bars are very small, but it is worth staying outside anyway to make new casual friends.
  4. The city's heart during the daytime is around Bolhao. I mention this because before visiting Porto in person, I thought the city centre was Rua Boavista. In reality, Rua Boavista is convenient because, if you are near the Casa da Música, the concert hall, you can take the metro to anywhere in the city in no time. But you can get confused because Google Maps marks Porto there, as if it were the centre, when in reality it is not! The real centre is around Rua Santa Caterina, in Bolhao.


  5. Public transport is not very efficient. There are a number of metro lines, but they all follow the same route around the city. There is only one, the yellow line, which crosses the city to the Ribeira and the river. There are buses, but they are often late and there aren't very many; with a more frequent service the city would actually be fairly well connected, but the reality is that it is often better to go on foot. By walking you get some exercise and it will often take around the same amount of time as the bus. If you live near the city centre you won't really need to use the bus much, as Porto is very small. For this reason I advise you to get a daily ticket for the metro as and when you need it, because you will probably be able to get around on foot the rest of the time!


  6. Porto is not bicycle-friendly. Like Lisbon, Porto is a city of ascents and descents, many of them very steep and long. This makes it quite unappealing for cycling, unless you are in training and fit. However, the area around the famous Baixa a Portuguesa is representative of Porto as a whole and great to visit day and

    night. It is also not very hilly, with the main exceptions being the climb to the Clérigos tower and to Santa Catarina. The steepest climbs I have seen are those leading to Ribeira, which is further down the river. So if you want to cycle in Porto, you have been warned!

  7. There are pigeons and seagulls everywhere. There are perhaps fewer pigeons than in Lisbon, but there are so many seagulls! They make their presence known whatever the weather, day and night! In the area around Bolhao and Santa Catarina you can see them gliding and soaring in large flocks at night. To get an impressive dose of seagull, head to the river at sunset where there will be thousands of birds. Just be aware of their needs - it's not uncommon for something to fall from the sky and hit you!
  8. The sea is close! The closest beach is at Matosinhos Sul, one of the stops on the blue metro line. From this stop it is a 5 minute walk to get to the sea. It seems crazy to me that people want to swim in that cold water, but the beach is always very full, especially at sunset. The view is incredible!




  9. Pingo Doce and Continente are the key words for the supermarkets. These two are the best-stocked (especially Continente). If you need something even bigger with the widest range possible, head to Norte Shopping in the shopping centre. The prices are fairly average, except for cleaning and hygiene products which are extortionate.
  10. Superbock is the queen of beer. It is the cheapest and best value for money. You can find it everywhere and bars stock a mini version costing only 50 cents.


  11. Smoking in bars is still allowed. This is great for smokers, but for everyone else it means returning home with clothes smelling of cigarette smoke, and when you have to wash your clothes more than once a week it will start to bother you!
  12. You will get addicted to cakes and pastries! The bakery windows will call out to you and once you have tasted one you too will fall into the abyss, always on the lookout for another fix of Portuguese pastry.


  13. Lomo. Cured pork loin the melts in your mouth. Beyond this, it doesn't need explanation. Lomo is a must.
  14. You can't leave Porto without trying the local port! Taste this sweet, red dessert wine in the cellars of Villa Nova de Gaia!


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