On a recent trip to celebrate my mother’s birthday we discovered the charm and allure of Porto, Portugal.
We arrived on a humid Sunday afternoon and quickly found ourselves dragging luggage up sloping cobblestone streets to our Airbnb. Wasting no time, we headed out for the day to explore the city and grab some food.
After wandering through the city streets, we found that Porto is not only home to many active street musicians (we heard multiple renditions of “Pretty Woman” within the span of 10 minutes), but it’s also known as “the city of bridges.” Down by the Douro River, which spills into the Atlantic Ocean, it was easy to see why. From the waterfront, three to four bridges were visible.
We decided to cross the nearest bridge, the Ponte Dom Luís, a towering metal bridge painted a light blue. We crossed over the lower level amongst crowds of tourists and families. Children in swimsuits were climbing over the edge to jump into the water below.
Walking along the waterfront we came upon booths promoting boat tours and decided to hop on the next available tour. The hour-long boat ride took us up and down the river to see all the six bridges along the river.
Disembarking somewhat shaky legged from the boat, we realized that sunset hour was approaching. We looked up the hill to a lookout spot where people seemed to be waiting for sundown. We wagered whether or not we had enough energy to climb the steep slope. We went for it, and took breaks every few minutes to catch our breaths. Once we reached the top, we came upon a big patch of grass where hundreds of young people and tourists were sitting around a DJ, all looking out at the sky.
Thirsty from our climb we grabbed a water bottle and a bag of popcorn from a street vendor and climbed a few minutes further to a cathedral at the very top of the hill. As we reached the top, the cathedral glowed yellow as the sun began to set.
We walked back across the Ponte Dom Luís on the upper level and could see the sky turn from a pale blue to a deep reddish orange, just as our stomachs began to growl with hunger.
We ended the night at at Don Pepe, where we enjoyed inexpensive tacos made with the tastiest mole, guacamole, and perfectly tender meat on homemade tortillas. Back at the Airbnb we fell asleep happy and with bellies full.
The next morning we slept in and got a buffet breakfast on the rooftop of the Oca Flores Hotel Boutique with views of the city. Over cured meats, eggs, and sweet pastries we discussed our plans for the day and decided to continue exploring the city by foot and Uber.
Just down the street from our Airbnb was the Sao Bento train station. Porto’s old main railway station that is famous for its artistic tiled walls, painted in china blue. Images tell the stories of Portugal’s history through war and daily life. Trains from this station still take passengers to and from destinations all over Portugal and Europe and inside you can find both tour groups and Portuguese locals commuting by train to work or coming back from a weekend away.
Emerging from the station we scaled more steep hills to the Sé Cathedral and the old narrow uneven streets of the historic city center. Afterward we Ubered to the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. The garden offered aerial views of the city and Douro River, rows of well-groomed shrubbery and florals, and a strangely large amount of roosters, swans, and peacocks walking around at leisure.
After a few hours’ rest at the Airbnb, we headed back to the bridge for another beautiful sunset, which again turned the city a romantic pale pink color.
We ended our evening in Portuguese tradition with a Fado show. Fado is a style of operatic music that has existed for hundreds of years in Portugal. Our show was at Casa da Guitarra just by the bridge. Two singers with incredible vocal ability sang with a three-piece string band for an hour. During intermission, we sampled complementary port wine, raising our glasses in a toast to this beautiful and enchanting city.