The Charm of Porto
A Photo Essay About Portugal’s Gorgeous Second-largest City
On Bacalao, Hogwarts, Natas, Cathedrals, and Graffiti
Rick Steves, our local travel guru (his office is just down the street from us) loves Europe’s second-largest cities for their more manageable size, laid-back atmosphere, and the fact that they are often not as overrun with tourists as capitals.
Porto — A World Heritage Site
Porto is located along the Douro River estuary in northern Portugal and is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It is rich in history, beauty, charm, quirky graffiti, and public art. In 1996, UNESCO recognized Porto as a World Heritage Site.
Porto feels young and lively which is reflected in the overall atmosphere, modern architecture, and contemporary stimulating art and cuisine. At the same time Porto, also called Oporto, is steeped in tradition and reconstituted codfish which leads me to:
What to Eat in Porto
I don’t know if you ever had a chance to taste reconstituted dried salted codfish known as Bacalao, a staple of traditional Portuguese cuisine. There are over 300 ways of dubious deliciousness to prepare it. It’s a traditional dish but these days the fish is not caught locally but imported from Norway. Walking into a grocery store and seeing (and more importantly smelling) slabs of the dried fish right next to crates of strawberries is an acquired taste for sure. The local delicacies of Tripas à Moda do Porto (Tripes Porto style) and Francesinha sandwiches with several types of meat smothered with cheese and a super-rich sauce fall in the same category (acquired or possibly “un-acquirable” taste).
A lot more to our taste are the wonderfully flaky custard-filled little tarts called Natas. Porto has a beautiful Nata bakery where you can watch production and devour Natas fresh from the oven.
Plus you’ll find restaurants with creative contemporary cuisine and delicious wines, often from small wineries that don’t export internationally as their production is too small. Makes savoring these wines locally even more special.
The Myth of Harry Potter’s Origins
There’s a prevailing myth that J. K. Rowling wrote the first chapters of her first Harry Potter book on paper napkins at the beautiful Café Majestic. Many faithful Potter fan tourists have visited Porto in search of Harry’s origins over the years. However, we were told that even though Rowling lived in Porto for a couple of years, everything else is imagined. We can confirm that the elegant bell époque Café Majestic would scoff at the idea of paper napkins. For the proud price they charge for your coffee and Natas, you deserve and are rewarded with elegant linen napkins.
Rowling also dispelled the myth that she was inspired by the lovely Art Nouveau interior of the Livraria Lello bookstore. She tweeted: “…I never visited this bookshop in Oporto. Never even knew of its existence! It’s beautiful and I wish I *had* visited it, but it has nothing to do with Hogwarts!” Sorry, y’all.
Home of the Port Wine Cellars
Just south of the city of Porto and across the river Douro that divides the 2 municipalities is Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia. Here you can visit some of the famous Porto wine cellars like Sandeman and Taylor in the Ribeira district of Vila Nova de Gaia, take a self-guided tour, photograph the old wooden wine barrels stacked up all the way to the ceiling, and enjoy a port wine tasting.
Click here to learn more about the intricate process involved in creating this unique fortified dessert wine.
In the past, small boats called Rabelos used to transport the wine in wooden barrels from the terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley to the Gaia port cellars — a very treacherous journey due to the dangerous rapids on the mighty Douro.
Photographing the Stock Exchange Palace
The charm of Porto is on full display inside one of its most beautiful historic buildings, the Stock Exchange Palace, which was constructed in the 19th century in Neoclassical style.
Porto also claims the second-largest Portuguese educational institution, the state-managed University of Porto (Universidade do Porto) which definitely gives the city a youthful atmosphere.
Monsieur Eiffel Left His Mark
Porto is known as the City of Bridges and one of these bridges crossing the Douro river, the Dom Luís I Bridge, makes a great subject matter for Blue Hour photography.
The Luís I Bridge is a metal arch bridge that spans the River Douro between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Designed by Gustave Eiffel who also engineered the Eiffel Tower in Paris, its 564 ft span was the longest of its type in the world when it was constructed in 1881–85.
Sé do Porto Catedral
The Porto Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church located in the historical center of the city of Porto. It is one of the city’s oldest historic Romanesque monuments. We love photographing the beautiful cloister.
We Left Our (Dusty) Mark
In a small hotel in Porto, we found an amazing staircase that is illuminated with lights that continuously change colors. We got great shots but had to brush off a lot of dust after lying down on the job. ;-)
These are just a few aspects of the charm of Porto. Feel like exploring more yourself on our 2022 Portugal Photo Tour?
Don’t hesitate to call 425.672.9760 or email us with questions. We love talking about any of our tours.