For this post, I’m continuing to share my Road Trip in Portugal: Porto and Braga. This is the second post in this travel series about my visit to Portugal.
I mentioned this in my first post, but I’ll share again in case you’re new to following along. Portugal is a country that I have talked about visiting for a long time. I have some interesting family roots there. My Mom and Aunt visited Portugal about 20 years ago, and did a lot of research on our extended family. They had been encouraging me, my sister and cousins to plan a trip, and we finally did. We traveled to Portugal at the very end of March. It was a good time of year to do so– very few tourists were in most of the places we visited, and the weather was perfect. Many of the photos shared here were taken by my cousin Paula, who shares her travel experiences on her Instagram account: Sweet Spot Travels.
We began our journey in Lisbon, rented a car, and then we drove immediately to Óbidos and Aveiro. We continued on to the larger city of Porto, where we stayed for three nights in an apartment in the Porto Ribeira area (just up the hill a few blocks from the waterfront). The name of the apartments we stayed in: Casas do Porto Ribeira Apartments (booked on Booking.com). They were comfortable and fairly quiet. We really loved the location- close to walking to everything. While we were in Porto, we also took a day trip to Braga.
Porto (also known as Oporto) is the capital of Northern Portugal, and it’s the country’s second largest city. There’s an often-repeated saying: “Coimbra studies, Braga prays, Lisbon parties and Porto works.” There are many draws for sightseeing in Porto– the first is the riverfront Ribeira district and learning more about port wine. Porto also has Baroque churches and civic buildings, quirky museums and plenty of interesting sights. We logged about 20,000 steps per day walking all over Porto!
This is Majestic Cafe in Porto. It’s a historical, beautiful coffee shop. Stop in to have a coffee, enjoy breakfast or lunch, or experience their afternoon tea offerings. It’s a pretty popular destination, so plan ahead for possible wait-time.
Popular, traditional foods to try while visiting Portugal:
- dried and salted cod (bacalhau), deep-fried cod pastries (pastéis de bacalhau) and fried codfish cakes (pastel de bacalhau)
- diced pork and clams (carne de porco a Alentejana), pork and beans (feijoada), grilled ham and cheese sandwich (tosta mista)
- roast chicken with piri piri sauce (frango assado)
- fresh sardines, grilled or barbecued (sandinhas grelhadas)
- rice and mixed seafood stew (arroz de mariscos) or seafood and potatoes (cataplana)
- green soup with kale and potato (caldo verde), garlic soup with poached egg, cilantro & breadcrumbs (sopa Alentejana), fish soup (sopa de peixe) or thick seafood soup (sopa de mariscos)
- rice pudding with cinnamon (arroze doce), custard tart (pastel de nata), and flan (pudim)
This is just one of many churches in Porto (beautiful facade): Church of Santo Ildefonso. We just happened to see this one while walking through the city.
One of the neatest things about Porto is just cruising through the hilly, narrow alleys and looking at all of the unique apartments and colorful buildings.
It was a bit of a hike to get up to the top here to see the Porto Sé (Roman Catholic church) and the view beyond, but it was worth it. Porto Sé is one of the city’s oldest monuments. Absolutely gorgeous views toward the Douro River and looking over the city.
There is so much beauty everywhere. Colorful buildings, old churches (another view of Porto Sé) plopped in the middle of the city, and lots of hills. It’s just a cool city.
This is in the city center. There are plenty of statues and more cool buildings. We were able to walk here from our apartment.
Loved walking through this little park near the city center: Campo dos Mártires da Pátria. It’s lined with plenty of weeping willow and jacaranda trees.
This is the inside of Livraria Lello (one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and frequently rated among the top bookstores in the world). I thought it was just okay. You have to pay an admission price to enter the bookstore, it’s very crowded, and the prices for souvenirs are high.
More sights. Just a hangout on those steps for the locals.
We walked everywhere in Porto, but you can certainly take trams or cable cars. Uber and taxis are an easy option too.
Food and drink highlights in Porto:
- The Wine Box in the Ribeira District (great tapas and wine– quite a variety)
- Cafe Santiago (you must try the very famous francesinha – a thick, open-faced sandwich piled with cheese, sausage, egg and/or assorted meats, plus a tasty, rich beer sauce)
- Luxury option: Dinner or drinks at Yeatman (best place to be to watch sunset)
- Go to Taylor’s for port wine tasting (and order a cheese plate to accompany your tasting)
- Try Vinho Verde (green wine– also known as “young wine”).
More cats! I love that you can just walk down the street in Porto and there is a giant wall mural in an alley. The Portuguese love their cats!
This is what a typical storefront looks like when walking down the alleys in the shopping district.
We loved that artisans would set up shop in between storefronts displaying their things for sale. We bought some beautiful watercolor prints.
When in Portugal, you must have gelato every day. You’re walking so much that the calories really don’t matter at all!
Here the Dom Luís I Bridge, which has a lower and upper crossing. You can walk across the bottom or top levels of the bridge, but it’s best to walk across the top since it’s reserved only for trams and people. The lower level allows cars to cross. We used this bridge to walk over to the other side of the river where most of the port wine tasting rooms are located. It took us a while… and we had to walk up some very large, steep hills… but we finally found Taylor’s, which is where we wanted to do our tasting. It’s a beautiful setting in an outdoor garden with peacocks and roosters milling about.
The tastings can get a little expensive at Taylor’s, but it’s recommended as one of the best places to try. There were four of us, so we were able to split the cost. A range of options allow you to choose a more affordable tasting though, so don’t worry too much. I am definitely not a port wine drinker, but I did enjoy the experience of tasting and learning about port wine. This was a highlight of our trip!
After our visit to Taylor’s, we walked down the steep hill toward the riverfront to find the bunny. We had heard about this bunny art, and we wanted to see it in person. Artist Bordalo II created “Half Rabbit” on the corner of a city street building. He has done similar art in other cities. The piece was created using found materials and trash gathered around the city. Half of the piece is left unpainted.
We found ourselves on the other side of the waterfront and needed to get back. There are a couple of options. If it’s before sunset, you can take a river boat to the other side. We opted to walk along the river and go back to the bridge to walk to the other side. More steps!
Here’s a night view of the Dom Luís I Bridge. The waterfront area is a happening place in the evening. Lots of musicians and people just hanging out. There are plenty of restaurants and bars, but I would assume that most of them are pretty touristy.
Day trip to Braga:
If you have enough time while staying in Porto, I recommend that you take a day trip to Braga on the train (about one hour). It’s a comfortable train ride. The São Bento train station in Porto is worth seeing (even if you don’t take the trip). The train station wasn’t very far from our apartment (walkable).
The walls of the train station are, of course, covered with colorful tile. You’ll find a lot of people in the train station taking photos!
There are churches everywhere- some dating back to the dark ages. Braga is known for being a center of Christianity in Portugal. It’s a walled city with cobbled alleys, bright granite houses, old cafés, boutiques and a soccer stadium carved into a mountainside. Braga is easy to explore by foot– you can walk to the town center from the train station. You’ll want to grab an Uber to go up and see Bom Jesus do Monte, which is not walkable from town.
Santuário Bom Jesús do Monte:
Bom Jesús do Monte is Braga’s best known landmark, a sanctuary outside the city of Braga. It’s 983 feet above the city. At the top there is a twin towered neoclassical church (built in 1629) with amazing views down to the valley.
There are some very pretty ceilings and architecture to look at inside the church.
A double granite Baroque stairway climbs 381 feet to the church. It’s such a pretty sight, and it’s well worth the trip to see this place.
Baroque sculptures, chapels and grottoes are sights to see as you’re climbing up or down the stairs. We chose to take an Uber to the top and start there… then we worked our way down the stairs and caught an Uber back to town in the lower location. No problem at all!
Just before you enter Braga, there is a coffee shop on the left: Tibias de Braga. We stopped to have a coffee and pastries there. It was a cute little shop, and everything was delicious.
This is the grande entrance to Braga.
Lots of shopping and cafés ahead!
Here’s the center of the city (and that’s another church you see there). It looks so much like Disneyland to me!
Just off the main street, you can find the Santa Barbara Gardens of Braga. The arches are Roman ruins from an old Roman villa. Behind the arches are the ruins of the Dumio monastery.
We tried our first Vinho Verde in Braga! It can be red, white or rosé, and it might be a little bit sparkling. It’s more of a wine to have with your seafood dinner, rather than drinking alone. We loved it! We ate lunch at Twine Wine and Tapas in Braga. It was a simple seafood and potatoes lunch. Perfect Portuguese food!
After our day visit to Braga, we headed back to Porto on the train. And the next day we were off on our road trip again… Goodbye Porto! Next stop: Lamego, Guarda and Sortelha!
You may also enjoy reading about the first part of our trip: Road Trip in Portugal: Óbidos and Aveiro.