I‘ve just got back from a fascinating three days in North Portugal, first stop–Porto. They say it’s a ghost town in the making, where the youngest and brightest have fled and left the city to the elders, and the sorry state of many of Porto’s beautiful tiled townhouses wouldn’t convince you otherwise. But squeezed in between the abandoned façades, the dog-eared shop fronts and the flickering art deco neons, there is a new hip scene emerging in Porto and it’s got serious heart. It’s not one of those cities where it’s hugely obvious which local and off-beat neighbourhoods are best to explore, or where to find the quirky shops and restaurants, but hey, I guess that’s my job, so follow me…
Get your bearings in the City
We arrived in the afternoon, eager to meet the city. Without worrying too much just yet about where we were headed, we dropped our bags at the hotel and set off on foot.
Okay so here’s 3 things you’ll start to realise while getting acquainted with Porto:
You spend most of your stay trying to get over the shock of how many stunning abandoned buildings there are.
Notice the unique contrast between traditional Portuguese architecture/ tile work and the Art Deco style that caught on from the 1920s onwards. The city is full of examples, in the shape of shop signs, private houses, garages, factories and cinemas.
Porto is a great place to wear down your shoe leather. Be prepared to do plenty of walking up and down the city’s hilly landscape.
Find the neighbourhoods that are flourishing
Like I said, in between the abandoned façades and dog-eared shop fronts, there’s an inviting door to be opened…
Head to Rua do Almada, a long uphill street with pop-up shops making their homes inside defunct ateliers and workshops, offering repurposed vintage furniture and fine arts and crafts.
The Casa Almada is one of these shops in a fantastic space with design finds at very tempting prices. We were curious about their garden at the back and the friendly assistant urged us to go poke around, which gave us a glimpse as to what lies behind the crumbling townhouse façades.
After picking up a few vintage gems that would have cost us three times the price back in Paris, we headed for an early evening drink at Café Vitoria and drank wine under the string lights in their back garden. Two glasses of wine and two pints of beer came to 8 euros.
Go Ghost Hunting
For travellers with a penchant for the abandoned but who also like to finish up a day of urban exploration with a big glass of wine and some good food in a trendy little bar, Porto is undeniably the city for you.
Just strolling the city, you can easily get your fix of surreal crumbling urban infrastructure, but to really get to the nitty gritty of “Ghost Town” Porto, head down to the River Douro…
You’ll find two sets of staircases on the road that runs along the river, leading you up to the remains of an abandoned village by the old train tracks. Here you’ll find one of the best, and most surreal views over riverside Porto.
If you’re happy to explore this area on your own (it’s perfectly safe), you can find the staircase access here.
Alternatively, if you’d rather have some Porto locals to accompany you, there’s a company called The Worst Tours. No seriously. That is what an actual tour guide company in the city of Porto named themselves. It’s the brainchild of three out-of-work architects who simply want to help tourists find the hidden history behind the city streets and have a real discussion about the city of Porto– “the big picture, good and bad: architecture, history, politics, urbanism, slow food, and hearsay.” This riverside spot happens to be one of their stops.
Spot the goat checking out the view under the bridge ↑
Think of it as a more rustic stroll along New York’s high line, or Paris’ abandoned inner city railway, the Petite Ceinture with a better view.
After Dark with the Cool Crowd
We found Miss Opo after sniffing out Porto’s hip neighbourhood in the maze of alleyways up from the Ribeira. Squeeze in a pre-sunset stroll around the area dotted with quirky shops and galleries before they close for the evening.
With a stylishly rough-around-the-edges look and delicious small plates churned out of the tiny kitchen, we felt right at home and promptly ordered nearly everything off the hand-written menu.
The Miss Opo staff was lovely. In fact we had noticed already that everywhere we went in Porto, despite their country being in the midst of a debt crises, the people are high in spirits with a great sense of humour. They also don’t have the greedy habit of up-selling to foreigners like so many other cities, and our waitress even tried to persuade us not to order too much.
Reserve ahead for dinner. Miss Opo is also a cool guest house with six apartments upstairs.
A Charming Lunch
Casa do Evaristo is very cosy little lunch spot with smiling faces greeting you at the door. The food is simple but tasty with the fresh ingredients and a homemade feel. Perfect for a nice, tasty and cheap lunch.
If you’ve got more than 24 hours, check out these too:
La Piada – Rua Dr. Barbosa de Castro, 64
O Anteigo Cartero – Rua Senhor da Boa Morte, 55 (+351 937 317 523)
Restaurante Boa Nova – Casa de Chá da Boa Nova Av. da Liberdade – Leça da Palmeira (+351 229 940 066 / 932 499 444)
Restaurante Em Carne Viva – Avenida da Boavista, 868 (+351 936 352 722)
Museu d’Avó – Travessa de Cedofeita 54/56, (+351 933 130 382)
Maison des Amies
We only had one night in Porto, which doesn’t make me an expert on hotels in the city, but I would recommend this guest house to just about everyone I know. I wanted to know what those elegant townhouses in Porto looked like behind closed doors and play a rich wine merchant for the night…
With just four guest rooms, it’s only been open for a year, run by the bubbly daughter of a Porto couple who previously used the house as a furniture showroom. We were shown to our huge bedroom, bigger than our own apartment at €110 for the night. The decor was light and airy, effortlessly chic, mixing the traditional details and antique furniture in the house with sleek modern design.
It turns out we were the only ones staying that night and had the whole house to ourselves.
In the morning, our host laid out a fabulous breakfast spread and left us to peacefully savour the last moments of our stay in Porto before we would be headed off to the Douro Valley.
We booked Maison des Amies through Booking.com.
Follow us into Portugal’s Douro Valley tomorrow…