When it comes to dreams of travel, there’s an outright war being waged within my soul.
While one side yearns to explore places unknown – inhale their strange air, indulge in their exotic cuisine, listen to the unfamiliar song of the languages the locals speak – the other side desperately longs for a grand return to so many I’ve been before. To retrace the footsteps of the woman I was back then, to see what she saw and maybe even point out a few of the things she missed; to sink my teeth into the delicacies I’ve never been able to find back home; to stake my claim for some sort of familiarity; but mostly just to be there again.
Portugal is one of the places I wish to return to most poignantly. Porto, in particular.
It is, of course, where my mom and I set off on our Camino in 2017 and where we returned from for our journey back home. It’s also the unlikely location where I got to reconnect with Rachael, one of my varsity besties when she popped over from London to hang out with me for a couple of days.
So yes, while our stay there was short, it’s drenched in sentimentality for me.
But more than that, there’s something about the city’s particular aesthetic that draws me back. The tall and thin old buildings with their colourful tiled facades, the cobbled streets, the mighty Douro River flowing through, the enticing nooks and crannies just inviting you to lose yourself in the maze of alleys a little longer.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you much of a guide to Porto. By the time we returned from the Camino and got to spend three days in the city, our budgets were at the end of their tethers. This meant we were left to wander at our own, almost broke discretion.
I can, however, tell you…
A few things I loved about Porto
All the pastries & coffee
In all honesty, my very favourite thing about Porto (Portugal in general, really) was never having to walk more than a few hundred metres before finding great coffee and the most melt-in-your-mouth pastries the world has ever seen.
My mom and I share a love for this sort of indulgence, so we were practically on cloud nine. It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t have too much more time there, otherwise, we both would have rolled right back home.
Despite the fact that Porto was the hamburger bun on either side of a 240km walk, we couldn’t help but walk some more during our stay.
Once Rachael arrived, she and I spent hours just wandering aimlessly, seeing where the alleys took us and making some truly wonderful discoveries while doing so.
At one point, we came to a sudden dead end with the most spectacular view of the city’s red rooftops way down below. Another meander led us into a park that was evidently a favourite hangout for University of Porto students. Along the way, we’d stop for coffees, smoothies, beers and sangrias, as well as pop into quaint little shops to stock up on gifts to take back home.
Sao Bento Station
Sao Bento station is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful old buildings you will find in old town Porto and is accessible completely free of charge. Still serving its original purpose, the station provides a lovely juxtaposition between the hustle-and-bustle of daily commutes and the breathtaking beauty of 20,000 blue-and-white azulejo tiles, dating from 1905–1916, composed by Jorge Colaço, an important painter of azulejo of the time.
When in Porto… you might as well taste some of the famous fortified wine named its origin city. On our second last day in the city, we crossed the Douro river and spent (almost) our last few Euros on a lovely port-tasting experience.
Most of the port cellars are located on the south side of the river in an area known as Vila Nova de Gaia. We visited Offley Cellars for a fascinating cellar tour and a thorough tasting session.
Like finding this street performer with his creepy dolls and pert little dancing bantam-esque chicken.
On the day I arrived in Porto, my mom met me at Sao Bento station (she’d arrived the night before) and walked me to our Airbnb just around the corner. After putting down my things, we set out for a coffee down the road and decided to just explore a little further before heading back to our place for a nap. Even though I was pretty tired from my overnight flight with its three-hour layover in Luanda, I’m so glad we decided to do this, otherwise, we might never have bumped into him.
Or these boys daring each other to jump off the Ponte de Dom Luís I into the Douro River, gathering a crowd of cheerers-on in the process and finally taking the leap!
Where we stayed
On our first night in the city (two nights for my mom), we stayed in a cozy little Airbnb, slap-bang in the middle of Porto’s magical old town. It was a tiny little spot, but very well located for our purposes.
On our return from Santiago de Compostela (the end of our Camino), we were still considered pilgrims and welcomed with open arms at the last albergue of our trip.
Due to high demand for beds along The Way, pilgrims are mostly only allowed to stay in albergues for one night. Since Porto is, however, the starting point for many, Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto has no maximum stay limit. This is mostly due to the kindness and hospitality of owner, Miguel Andrade.
My mom and I spent three nights there and soon felt like part of the furniture. We enjoyed golden Autumn evenings in the courtyard and even got to harvest some veggies for our meals. Of all the places I’d love to return to in Porto, it’s safe to say this unobtrusive little albergue on Rua Barão de Forrester is right on top of my list.
You should read my mom’s lovely piece about Miguel’s haven too.
Here are a few more pics of Porto: