cover image by @julianontheroute
As a Lisboner, I am obliged to inform you first hand that Lisbon is 10 times better than Porto, nowhere near as beautiful and our food is clearly superior. However, as a human being with eyes, heart and taste buds I will let you know the two are head to head in every single way. I can’t say I love them both equally, as my parents would die of heartbreak but more and more I am taken to the Invicta.
Porto is more authentic. Tourism gives and tourism takes away, Lisbon has been a tourist favourite for longer, and more foreigners have chosen to swap their hometown for the capital, as such it is more diverse and multicultural, whilst Porto has stayed more Portuguese. That is in no way good or bad, it is just a different experience in the same country.
More than the usual sightseeing you can probably find with a simple Google search, there are some few eclectic places one must visit if indeed the true Portuense soul is what one is looking for. Porto could be said to be a more independent city, as you’ll notice in the consistent lack of anything associated with international chains – except for the most beautiful McDonalds in the world, make sure to check that too. Independent stores and an entrepreneurial spirit is what Porto is all about.
I’ll try to skip what the standard guides will try to feed you, literally, but sometimes the rascals are indeed right…
Names that will resonate with you after a few searches are probably rock star chef Avillez’s restaurant Cantinho do Avillez, weirdly paired Wish, gourmet DOP, staple Cafeína or if up for something extra special Casa de Chá da Boa Nova. All of these are some upscale dining experiences that I must abide to. There is no denying these gems have grown fame with due reason, but you might sneer at the extra zero at the end of your bill…
If you are not into such a fuss, there are options with much friendlier prices like Boa Bao for your asian fix, Fava Tonka for the vegetable lovers with a twist, Reitoria for a fun night of tapas and wine and Cruel if you want your eyes to dwell with your brain – while you eat an ‘electrical flower’. Another honourable mention I recently discovered is Cantina 32, where I grated an egg over lightly smoked salmon and mandarins – I approved.
Cremosi is definitely the place for a sweet treat, especially in the form of gelato, you can trust me on this one, I do not get close to any ice cream that is not as creamy as actual gelato, my favourite is intensely dark chocolate and I will ask for nothing short of indulgent. Although their fruity flavours are also very nice.
If talking about shops I am most probably still speaking about food, and drinks as well, most specifically wine, port wine and douro wine. No doubt the best place to get wine is at the actual wine cellar of each brand. If you have a favourite go for a tasting and tour, there’s nothing like it, at the end of your visit you’ll find the gift shop, make sure to get a lot of liquid gifts. You can also visit the store without having to endure the tour, no one puts boundaries on your wine pleasures.
If you want to explore instead, head over to one of the many wine shops in Porto to sample and buy bottles of your new finds. Touriga Vinhos de Portugal is a great place to find Port and non-port wines with a very special, often under the radar offer. You cannot really go wrong with a wine shop, just walk around Porto’s old streets and you’ll find many. Prices are often stipulated by the brands for resellers in the area and the market is competitive, so I doubt you’ll be fooled.
Do you know what goes amazingly with Port wine? Chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Chocolataria Equador is a local staple which only imports ethically sourced cocoa from the area of the Equator. The smell alone will entice you in, the decoration will make you want to stay and the chocolates will make you drool until you get one of them in your mouth. Port filled truffles are no joke.
On the less foodie side, what you should most definitely get are soaps, candles and scents. It’s always a nice gift, but the ones in Porto are special and century old famous. Claus, Castelbel and Ach Brito are the three must visit places, although they sell pretty much the same type of products each store is an experience and each Northern Portuguese is said to be loyal to just one. Choose wisely.
If you are anything like me, you’ll hear the word shopping and be disappointed to find anything but fashion at the other end of it. The Feeting room is the place to go! They showcase national design and store some of the best fashion finds in town.
Porto is a city of artists and craft makers. The gardens and the museum of Serralves is the dream of any art lover. “There once was a house with a park where a museum was born”, that’s what they say. I consider this to be the best museum of contemporary art in the country. You’ll find Portuguese talent as well as the work of international legends like Yoko Ono or Eliafur Eliasson next to each other. Make sure to check the agenda, as most exhibitions are temporary. The garden by itself is a museum, exhibiting several outdoor pieces.
Centro Português de Fotografia is a free museum with temporary exhibitions mostly based on photography. The themes come from all backgrounds and places, you never really know what you might find. Be sure to check the agenda, as you may be faced with a snapshot of old Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe or an experimental photography exhibit.
Whatever your taste, whatever your belief, Porto is sure to enchant you through its contagious spirit. If you want to say you know Portugal, the northern capital cannot be missing from your list, but visit Lisbon first, obviously, I still stand by my origins.