Meet Porto, the city that should be on everyone’s travel wishlist. It’s got all the ingredients for the perfect weekend away: amazing wine, delicious food, picture-perfect architecture, and some of the most passionate tour guides around. We sat down with Ricardo Lopes of Cooltour Oporto to chat about what makes his home city so special.
For the last seven years, the Porto native has shown travelers from around the world the best of Porto and the Douro Valley. Read on for insider tips in Ricardo’s own words.
1. Get lost in Porto’s streets
My favorite part of Porto? Everything. We have a saying in Porto: “You may not be from here, but as soon as you visit, you’ll feel like you are.” Walking Porto’s streets is always a surprise — you’ll be surrounded by people in the cosmopolitan Ribeira Quai one minute and lost in a maze of medieval streets the next.
2. Find some good fado music
I love Barris do Douro. It’s right in the middle of everything in the Gaia riverside area. The food is excellent, and there’s occasionally live fado music. Also, you can’t miss going to Afurada and enjoying some fresh fish or seafood in one of the small restaurants in the area.
3. Try local dishes (it’s worth it)
If you’re going to try one thing, order francesinha. It’s a typical sandwich made of several layers of meat and cheese and covered with a spicy sauce. It’s fantastic! Other tasty dishes include the “tripas,” which is made with beans and tripe. It’s our most traditional dish, and it tells the story of the sacrifice made by the people of Porto. And of course, the grilled fish in the neighboring areas of Afurada and Matosinhos is really tasty.
4. It’s always a good time to visit
I’m biased, but Porto is great year-round. If I had to pick a month? June, for sure. The weather is perfect at this time of year — not too hot and not too cold. If you visit at the end of June, you’ll be just in time for the St. John celebrations, Porto’s biggest annual event. September is another great time to visit as you’ll be able to tour the Douro Valley vineyards during the harvest.
5. End the day in Afurada
Afurada is my favorite little fishing village just outside of Porto. It’s where I like to wind down, and where I recommend travelers visit as well. You can still find traditional fisherman leaving for the sea or, on stormy days, fixing their nets on the pier. At the end of the day, I like to sit on the terrace of a small restaurant in Afurada and enjoy a nice grilled fish or squid.
6. Don’t leave without some port wine
You can’t leave Porto without a bottle of port wine, especially if you’ve joined our Douro tour. On this tour, you’ll visit small family producers, so you’re not just taking a bottle of wine home, but also a piece of family history. The old tawny ports on offer can take several generations to make, so the bottle has seen births, marriages, and deaths. It tells the story of the land and the family.
7. Visit the São Bento train station
I love the São Bento train station. It’s covered with blue and white tiles that represent scenes from Portuguese history, including daily life in northern Portugal at the beginning of the 20th century. Also, getting lost in the small streets of Ribeira, Sé, and Miragaia always amazes travelers.
8. Swing by Porto’s biggest party
Porto’s biggest event is the São João, or St. John’s, celebration on the evening of June 23. It’s a huge party with lots of celebrating in the streets. If you visit us at this time of year, you’ll find music-filled streets, people grilling sardines, and lots of red wine. We’re also pretty wild when it comes to how we wish others good luck. If someone bops you on the head with a tiny plastic hammer, they’re not angry — they’re giving you a little bit of luck.