Porto. O Porto. What a special place. There’s something dreamy about Porto, and it’s not just the Instagram-friendly facades that have been flooding your feeds over the past few years. I think it has something to do with the history, how you feel like you’re at the edge of the world, sheltered from the rest of Europe in a way, but also so connected to the rest of the world.
Porto, like Lisbon, like many other cities, is defined by a body of water. The Duoro river that carves out the shape of the city, that gives it life, and connects it to the ocean and beyond. It also gives it bridges to connect Porto to Gaia, bridges that rise dramatically in the horizon, high above the water. It’s not difficult to imagine how these very waters inspired a spirit of exploration centuries ago, the ones that completely changed the world we know today.
Porto, like much of Portugal, is hilly. There are endless stairs winding through the narrow streets. But it’s the very height that makes for the breathtaking panoramic view.
Porto is undoubtedly a beautiful place, but not in that perfectly curated Parisian Haussman way. It’s not afraid to add a splash of color here and there, tiled facades coexisting with painted ones. Mismatched balconies that don’t quite align from building to building.It has more character, more life in this way, and reflects the culture just like how the perfect Haussman facades reflect Parisian culture.
Porto was the first stop in our foray into Portugal. A place that translated beautifully from social media to real life. It was everything I imagined and more. It felt at the same time smaller than I imagined, but also more expansive. It’s a strange experience, seeing what exists beyond ruthless Instagram crops. And then finding your own crops along the way. Good thing Porto is undeniably photogenic. It’s no wonder this city has been a muse for generations of creatives.
We had arrived late at night, after our flight from Barcelona got delayed several hours. It was dark, cold, and I could feel the fog settling in low even as we walked the short distance from the tram station to our bed and breakfast.
The next day (to my great dismay), the fog was still there. So my first impression of Porto was under a dense haze. It was in that unpleasant middle point between thick fog and a light drizzle. So you don’t really notice drops of water, you just suddenly realize you’re wet.
But anyways, it was a day for indoor activity for everyone in town. And by afternoon, the fog was so low we could barely see the other side of the street (and trust me, these streets aren’t wide). Not a great day for photos (or anything, really).
First stop in “let’s keep it indoors” – Livraria Lello of Harry Potter fame. The facade is gorgeous. Inside is pretty cute too. If you can see it. The centerpiece staircase feels perilous under the weight of the crowds that are packed in. I wonder if it actually can function as a bookstore at all? Or if it’s just an all-in-one tourist attraction and gift shop? Did JK Rowling do more good or harm to this institution by giving it global fame?
Next, a leisurely but also chaotic afternoon tea at the Majestic Cafe, also of JK Rowling fame. Again, absolutely beautiful, majestic shall we say… but not so cute with these crowds.
As each day went by, the weather got better. As clouds disappeared, the temperature also warmed up. And so did my mood. And so did the white balance of my photos.
Not gonna lie, I was pretty weirded out by the many peacocks hanging out at the park. Like some were pretty chill, but others were like…a little too friendly.
Nothing like a little peek of blue sky to brighten my mood on a travel day.
When in doubt, go up
General words I live by whenever I’m traveling. You gotta put in the work to get the views. But it was here in Porto that I learned there is an important caveat. When in doubt, go up. But only if visibility is good.
Long story short, visibility was fine. Not ideal, but given the itinerary, it was the best we could manage. So up Clérigos we climbed.
views from the top
it’s kind of funny… when you’re at the ground level, it feels like a small town atmosphere. And then you go up, and you realize it truly is a sizeable city.
lucky us, we landed in Porto the same weekend that some x-sports event took over the entirety of the ribiera. So not only were there insane crowd, but also a lot of street closures that made it near impossible to get to the other side once you were roped in. but even drunk crowds and loud motorbikes can’t overcast the beautiful colorful houses that pile atop one another down to the river bank.
Always run the other way
Another rule of thumb. Make your own escape. Most tourists stick to the easy access downtown area. But the Angeleno in me knows that downtowns and city centers are merely socially constructed ideas of where a city is anchored. So we move east, away from the crowds, on a little field trip to Serralves. And then find the beach, and hop on a (crowded but cute) tram back into the chaos.
sunny at last.
Good things come to those who chase the sun. And eventually, we caught up. And let me tell you. Porto is a pretty place on any given day, but the city truly stunning when the streets and facades are drenched in warm sun.
like, have you ever? can you even??
the other side
can’t seem to escape the birds…
not pictured: two sweaty and dehydrated americans, as excited about the sun as we were about dinner.
there it is.
The hard earned view we’ve been waiting for, and during peak golden hour no less. One evening with the city bathed in a golden glow can really cure everything. I mean, the tourism board really has it easy here. No need to translate. One look at this and we get it. We’re sold.
we love a good golden hour. shadows dancing along the facades. the sun teasing us as it goes down.
til next time, porto