You might not expect a hamper of beaches to come as part of the package on a city break, but that’s exactly the hand that’s been dealt to Porto. Just outside the city limits, you’ll find almost every inch of coastline’s home to either a pocket of pebbles or a string of sand. There are some that are ideal for catching rays, and other’s come with old-school snippets of architecture for company.
For a tried-and-tested sunbathing spot close to the city, Praia dos Ingleses is the one. It’s about 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre, so you won’t have to venture far to get there. The seafront’s not the biggest around, but its soft sands and surrounding selection of restaurants makes it a decent pick for days by the water.
If you’re serious about finding a proper under-the-radar sunbathing sweep, Praia do Paco beach comes up with the goods. Hop in a car, and you can reach this little gem in about from Porto. It’s a no-frills sort of set-up, with scenery and simplicity doing most of the heavy lifting. Sand dunes and rolling green hills fill the viewfinder behind the shoreline, and the shallows are polka-dotted with rocky outcrops and big boulders. The result’s a spot that’s sure to make city living feel like a distant memory.
Shopping is stripped back to basics at Mercado de Bolhão – this market has done things the same way for more than 150 years, having first set up in the mid 1800s. You’ll see locals dot-to-dotting between the stalls and counters, which cover all of the grocery mainstays. There are fishmongers selling local catches, butchers’ counters, plus whopping stacks of fruit and veg. There are even a few sellers with souvenir stands, to keep visitors from going home empty handed.
The Mercado do Bom Sucesso is a bit of a hybrid shopping spot – it started out as a market space in the 1940s, and has had fresh life injected into it thanks a recent refurb. It’s gone from being a down-on-its-luck spot to one of the trendier retail areas in Porto, with a food court, fresh produce stalls and live music and entertainment sets.
The biggest high street names team up with independent boutiques along Rua Santa Catarina – the city’s shopping heartland. The street snakes right through the middle of Porto, and there’s even a whopper of a shopping mall that’s bolted on midway along. Cafés, bakeries and coffee shops fill in the gaps between the retail spots, so it’s easy to take five between buys.
Porto’s Ribeira neighbourhood is just the ticket when you want a night out that’s a little less intense. This waterfront area – particularly a promenade called Cais de Ribeira – is home to a host of wine cellars, authentic Portuguese restaurants and cocktail bars.
You might look twice at the Galerias Paris street by daytime, and not realise the part it plays in Porto’s nightlife scene. This narrow, tree-dotted avenue is swarming with partygoers after dark, who chop and change between the bars and clubs until the early hours. In fact, the whole thing often feels like a street party, because revellers prefer to mingle outside.
When you think sandwich, this Porto classic might not be the conventional pick-up-and-eat item you’re imagining. Francesinha sandwiches are more of a knife and fork job than its name suggests. Chunky slabs of bread are packed to bursting with loads of meat – usually bacon, beef steak and slices of smoked sausage. Then the whole shebang’s drenched in melted cheese, dolloped into a dish of tomato-and-beer sauce, with a fried egg playing a part of the cherry on top.
The bifana is case-in-point for the argument that basic is best. These classic sandwiches are a street food and café mainstay, because they’re such a quick and easy snack. Pork steak is loaded into a cooking pot with garlic and spices, and stewed until it’s reached the melt-in-the-mouth stage. The final step is loading it into a crusty roll, and sometimes slathering a layer of peri-peri sauce inside the lid.
Ordering a cold one in Porto is a must after a day’s exploring, but you need to keep your wits about you when it comes to your choice of beer. Portugal’s pretty territorial when it comes to which brand you back, with Porto favouring Super Bock and Lisbon putting its faith in rival Sagres. So if don’t want to turn any heads when you’re at the bar, make sure you go for Super Bock in these parts.
Literally translating as ‘green soup’, this dish does exactly what it says on the proverbial tin. Kale and potatoes form the basis of this hearty option, and there are thinly sliced strips of kale and slices of smoky chorizo thrown in for some extra texture.
This dish doesn’t quite fall in the fine-dining remit, but you need to try it if you want to earn your authenticity stripes. The dish is made using tripe, after Porto residents faced a lack of other options in the 15th century. Lashings of paprika, veg, smoked ham and onions give it a signature flavour, and it usually comes with rice. It’s such a staple, that locals are sometimes even referred to as ‘tripeiros’.
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