How to spend a day in Porto
With a galaxy of top-quality restaurants adding a new dimension to the hearty local food scene, Portugal's second city is sending out a siren call to culinary enthusiasts. Here's the perfect itinerary, taking in markets, a cooking class and cocktails.
8am: Coffee with the locals
Do as most locals do, and start the day with an espresso — often taken on one of the city’s many terraces. Older generations call this a cimbalino — after the high-pressure Italian La Cimbali coffee machines used to make it. Alternatively, try a meia de leite (milky coffee) with arrufada, a puffy cake that looks a bit like a bread roll. The staff at Ribermel, a venerable cafe near Porto Cathedral, recommend you eat it with butter in the middle.
10am: Browse for paperbacks
Join the queue for one of the world’s most famous and beautiful bookshops, Livraria Lello. A mixture of neo-gothic, art deco and art nouveau, the glorious facade and interior have been refurbished. The big draw here is the majestic staircase, which looks like it’d been carved from wood but is actually painted concrete and plaster. For many years, fans of Harry Potter believed it to be the inspiration for the stairway in Hogwarts Castle, but the school of wizardry’s creator, author J K Rowling, claims she’s never been to the shop, despite a stint living in the city. Entry costs €5 (£4.25), which is deducted from any book purchase.
12pm: Go to market
Porto’s diminutive upmarket grocery shops centred around the old Bolhão Market (currently being refurbished) are a joy to behold. They’re worth a visit not just for their often-stunning shopfronts but for their time-warp interiors and array of produce from across Portugal (and the countries it conquered during the Discoveries). Look out for A Pérola do Bolhão and Casa Chinesa; the latter dates back to 1938 and has an old marble counter and shelves stacked high with produce.
1pm: Head to the tower
Take a tour of the baroque-inspired Clérigos Church (once home to the charitable Brotherhood of Clerics) and Casa da Irmandade museum, then climb the 225 steps of Clérigos Tower for panoramic views of Porto and across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia. Once the highest structure in Portugal, the 250ft tower is the perfect place to get your bearings, either from its top or when you’re looking for a landmark to help guide you as you explore on foot.
2pm: Track down the city’s best hot dog
The city may be famous for its francesinha — an extravagant sandwich stuffed with meats and slathered in a hot tomato-and-beer sauce — but it’s not for everyone. A highly recommended alternative is a cachorrinho, an award-winning hot dog that’s been served at snack bar Gazela for over 50 years. The sausage is grilled and stuffed into a baguette with butter, flamengo cheese (similar to edam) and a ‘secret’ spicy sauce before being flattened on a griddle, then cut into small pieces. The chips are exquisite, too: hand-cut and crispy. Do as the locals do, and order a small Super Bock (a Porto lager) — it may seem a false economy but you’ll soon realise you prefer your beer cold, so one little glass after another is better than a pint that will quickly become warm. There are two Gazelas, but the original, on Travessa Cima de Vila, is the one you want. See if you can grab a stool at the marble counter and watch your hotdog being made.
3pm: Take in a gallery
Browse some art at the Museu da Misericórdia do Porto in Ribeira, the historic centre. Alternatively, head to the beautiful Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art. Set to run here until 9 July 2022 is an exhibition by Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei that reflects his concerns regarding the deforestation of Brazil’s Amazon. It includes a work called Pequi Tree, a 105ft-high iron tree created in Brazil that’s been installed in Serralves Park. According to the curators, it stands witness to ‘the disappearance of the harmonious coexistence between human beings and nature’.
6pm: Brush up your cookery skills
Take a cooking class with Vitor Candido, at Cook in Ribeira. You’ll be welcomed with a flaming chouriço sausage, broa de Avintes (malt bread) and a glass of iced white port with tonic and mint. A former economist who learned to cook from his father, Vitor says, “It’s not teaching, it’s helping you to cook with instruction.” His seasonal menus include appetisers, soups, a main course, dessert, aperitif and wine. A ‘traditional cooking class experience’ costs €70 (£60) per person, while a market tour and cooking class is €115 (£98).
7pm: Drinks with a view
Cross the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia for a late port-wine-tasting at one of the cellars where barrels were once aged after being sailed downstream from the vineyards of the Douro Valley. Then make for the viewpoint at nearby Jardim do Morro to catch the last of the day’s light as it bounces across the rooftops and facades of Porto’s historic buildings. Alternatively, head to The Yeatman Hotel, with its spectacularly located riverside bar.