Portugal travel expert (and long-time resident) Emily McAuliffe gives a shout out to the ladies on how to spend a perfect day in Porto. Hint: It involves cafes, beautiful sunsets, and a healthy dose of fun.
On my first trip to Porto I remember dumping my bag on a hostel bed before making polite small talk with the girl I’d be sharing a bunk with. She hesitated when I asked how she liked the city. “Well, it doesn’t feel that safe here,” she replied. “At night?,” I asked. “No, even during the day,” she said. “The backstreets are creepy.”
As a solo female traveller myself, I wondered if those introductory comments were cause for concern as I looked out at a craggy, abandoned building across the street. Retrospectively, I realize how imprudent those first thoughts were, given a year later I would return to Porto to live. Porto felt so friendly and safe that I decided to move there. This feeling isn’t arbitrary, either, given Portugal was rated as the third-safest country in Europe in last year’s global peace index.
Ambling the city day after day, I quickly realized those “creepy streets” (which are rapidly diminishing with gentrification) are part of Porto’s fascinating story of riches, ruins and revival. The streets and the people are nothing but welcoming, and the city’s pace is pleasantly unhurried, making Porto the ideal destination for a girls’ trip abroad.
I know you’ll find the major sights on your own with the help of a guidebook, so here are my local suggestions for spending a girls’ day out in Porto.
Porto, like the rest of Portugal, is a little slow to get going in the morning. Breakfast isn’t a huge affair and many locals opt for a simple espresso and pastry from one of the many local cafés. If a bitter shot of caffeine doesn’t appeal, start your day at specialty coffee shop such as Mesa 325 (Avenida Camilo 325 R/C) and sit with a creamy cappuccino or smoothie and a bagel.
This cute café borders the neighborhood of Bonfim, which is a shy contender on the tourist trail, but is worth the wander for its leafy streets and Instagrammable azulejos tiles. If you’re itching to get Portugal’s iconic Insta-shot posing in front of a blue and white tiled mural, carry on to Capela das Almas on the main shopping street, Rua de Santa Catarina. Grab lunch at A Loja dos Pastéis de Chaves (Rua da Firmeza 476) to try traditional Portuguese pastries.
Porto is a magnet for creative types, so take some time to browse the wares of local artists and fashion designers. Your best bet is to head to the artsy hub of Miragaia and wander streets dotted with galleries and concept stores, such as Rua de Miguel Bombarda and Rua do Rosário.
Look to the streets themselves for outpourings of creativity too, as local artists freely use Porto’s cityscape as a canvas. This includes female artist Berriblue, a local Polish/Irish artist who uses bold, and often confronting, installments to publicly explore sexuality, religion and mental health issues. (Her work is regularly exhibited locally—and she’s created a luxury series of scarves using her artwork.)
If you’d rather spend the afternoon relaxing, hotfoot across town to the business district of Boavista and buy a guest pass to the underground spa hidden beneath the Porto Palácio Congress Hotel on Avenida Boavista 1269. Here you can drift in a big, inky pool by the flicker of tea lights and unwind with bubble jets, a sauna and hammam.
In my opinion, there’s only one way to see out a perfect day in Porto, and that’s by watching the sun slide into the Atlantic from Jardim do Morro. Portugal is blessed with magnificent light so sunsets are a daily attraction for locals and tourists alike. Pick up some local cheese and tremoços (lupini beans) from a traditional grocer like A Pérola do Bolhão (Rua Formosa 279) and grab a bottle of vinho verde (green wine) then roll out a picnic on the grass. The views of Porto’s staggered cityscape across the river are spectacular.
Come dinnertime, there’s no shortage of places to eat in Porto. Sample typical Portuguese cuisine at Museu d’Avó (Travessa de Cedofeita 54/56), the ideal spot to try a bit of everything, as the food is served as small share plates called petiscos. Another delicious option is Taberna Santo António (Rua das Virtudes 32), positioned near a popular viewpoint along Passeio das Virtudes (wander over for a peek at the river if it’s still daylight). This place packs out fast, so make a booking or get in early.
After dinner, let the girlie fun continue at local fado show or at the elegant chapel-turned-wine bar Capela Incomum (Travessa do Carregal, 79-83). This little hideaway is tucked down a side street and is run by ex-fashion designer Francisca Lobão. Passionate about Portuguese wines, Francisca and her team will help you differentiate your Dãos from your Douros.
Ready to spin your dancing shoes? (Ideally flats, as the cobblestones aren’t friendly.) Then follow the flock to the parallel streets of Rua da Galeria de Paris and Rua de Cândido dos Reis to party. Don’t be too eager, as peak energy doesn’t strike until after midnight.
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