This seems to be the summer of Portugal. A small country hugging the west coast of Europe, Portugal always fell well below France, Spain, and Italy on my European adventure list. But in the past six months, I’ve heard its name many times over; so, when the opportunity for a quick trip came my way, I was excited to experience this much-buzzed-about country for myself.
I always prefer to travel to a spot that's a little off-the-beaten-path, so I was excited to visit the city of Porto. What I discovered upon arrival was a port town full of natural beauty, strong and delicious wine, and kind people. It turned out that my favourite parts of Porto were accessible to those on a budget, too.
Hands down my favourite experience in Porto was a visit to the Serralves Gardens. The gardens cover almost 45 acres of land and range from Alice in Wonderland-esque manicured hedges and fountains, to natural ponds and lush foliage, to meticulous fields of vegetables. The park is home to rotating artist installations and has featured sculptures by Claes Oldenburg, Dan Graham, Fernanda Gomes, Richard Serra, and Veit Stratmann.
If wandering this epic green space isn’t enough, the Contemporary Art Museum in the grounds is one of the most visited in all of Europe, with epic exhibitions featuring both Portuguese and international artists.
Also within the park, the Villa (Casa de Serralves) is an incredible pink Art Deco building often used as an extension of the museum for temporary exhibitions, and it's a spectacle from the outside as well.
The grand buildings lining the streets of Porto are frequently tiled in bright blues, yellows and pinks. Just off the main shopping strip, the Sao Bento Train Station is one of the most impressive examples of this tile work. The lobby is fully tiled in blue and white and is the perfect backdrop for an epic selfie.
Walk across Dom Luis Bridge to the Serra do Pilar church for amazing views of the old city. With the ceramic-tiled rooftops lining the hills and the winding river — this view is pure gold. (In fact, the river is called Douro which means “pure gold.”) The 17th-century church is also worth a tour. It's laid out in a unique circular design, and the inside features gold-leaf carvings and impressive columns.
If you like a little refreshment with your view, head to Miradouro Ignez. This small outdoor watering hole serves up coffee, wine and spectacular views of the Douro. Wine in Porto is not only cheap, it’s incredibly strong. Some bottles have an alcohol content as high as 20%!
Shopping in Porto is great for those unique, one-of-a-kind finds. Pop into any number of the vintage jewellery, clothing, mid-century furniture, and specialty shops in the old town. The infamous Livraria Lello is worth a stop, too. Rumoured to have inspired J.K. Rowling, the bookstore should be on your list whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not. Climb the crooked staircase, or peruse the excellent selection of books the store has to offer.
The newly opened Claus Porto store is a beautifully designed shop complete with a small museum on the second floor. If you're searching for great gifts, look no further. The brand has taken great care to create the most beautiful Art Deco-inspired packaging, which makes these little presents that much more special.
In just three short days, I was able to experience so much of this big little city. Before it becomes the next tourist hotspot, I highly recommend taking a quick flight from Lisbon to visit this magical city on the river of gold.
Travel and accommodation for the author were provided by Claus Porto for the purpose of writing this story.