Why is everyone going to Portugal?

Portugal has been thinking big picture since 2020. It was was one of the first country’s to vaccinate their population and open their doors. It also has a remote worker visa currently to attract people who’s jobs are now not tied to their city. TAP, the Portuguese airline even runs crazy deals if you make a layover in Portugal before heading to America. If you build it, they will come.

This is how I found myself in Porto, Portugal July 2022. The flight to New York was affordable and short compared to most European cities. With a 4 day layover ahead of me I choose the top attractions. If you are looking to explore Portugal and see why everyone is visiting continue on.

  • Stay

We found an airbnb between Miragaia and Bolhão. The first has more night life, the second more restaurants. All are a close walk to the river where endless shops, restaurants, and bars await. You can take the train easily from the airport right into the city center. The hills are endless so get ready to do calf stretches.

  • Explore

São Nicolau, Fontaínhas, Jardim do Morro are all other neighborhoods located nearby. The streets zig and zag through pedestrian only pathways. The narrow streets make each corner or street feel like a new discovery. São Nicolau has restaurants with underground vaults singers use to their advantage. Fontaínhas covers cliff sides with bridges crossing from skyscraper heights above you. The people below looking like ants walking across the water.

Jardim do Morro is the park on top of the south cliff. It is also the starting point to access the port wineries. Historically port wine was bottled up the hill and brought to the river to be sold and distributed. Today the processes is very much the same except the river has changed from port workers to tourists. The sunsets from the south side with the river and the city scaling the cliffs across is not a view to miss.

  • Roam

July 2022 temperatures soared into the high 90s. Walking the crowded streets of downtown Porto was miserable. I was desperate for a breeze and a dip into some body of water. We decided to take a tour out of the city to the Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês with Oporto Adventures. In a 4 wheel drive converted Jeep we flew down the highway out of the city and followed the river to the mountain. Here our guide took us through the forrest to find waterfalls, clear rock pools, and relief in the quiet shaded trees. The tour ended in the nearby town of Fafião which hosts a festival every year. We ate local food and enjoyed the break from the city energy.

The second escape trip was to the region Port wine is grown, Pinhão. The Duoro River runs through this hilly region. Our guides explained how the wine is grown, some history and challenges, and took us on a boat cruise. We got drunk and ended the tour at a nearby winery for lunch. Back over 100 years ago, an American brought some vines over. The vines contained a virus which decimated all the local vines except his. Even to this day every vine grown needs to be spliced and merged with this American vine that holds the protection against the virus. Oh Americans.

  • Eat

From a list of over 100 recommendations, my friend and I tried to select where to eat. I will highlight some of the best places we enjoyed here. You really can’t go wrong though.

Majestic Café – for the classic sandwich, francesinha, which is expensive and 1000 calories. Many places sell the sandwich but this cafe is ornate and gorgeous. Go with a friend and split the calories.

Manteigaria – every morning we went across the street, ordered a coffee, and two little cakes. These cheesy pastries were incredible.

Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau – right in the front window, a guy works to make all the pastel de bacalhau. he started flirted with me in Portuguese asking where I was from. Thankfully Spanish is close enough so I knew what he was trying to do. He guessed countries as I coyly shook my head no to each guess. No one ever believes I am American until I speak. The food was good too.

Mal Cozinhado – this underground restaurant offered Fado music. To me it seems like a cross between flamanco singing and maybe something Portuguese. We had a 4 course meal, wine, and the show all at one price. 3 performances with 3 singers, the last truly sending her voice reverberating throughout every stone.

  • Drink

There are literally endless bars and clubs, endless places to drink port. Here are two we really enjoyed.

THE ROYAL COCKTAIL CLUB – cocktail masters, super cool vibe, right at the top or bottom of a busy drinking street

Taylor’s Port – worth a walk up the towering inclines for a taste of 50 year old port, and a gorgeous peacock

  • See

Chapel of Souls – the tiles are painted with figures, it is stunning. Designed tiles are actually a staple in Porto. The buildings are covered with unique painted pieces repeating designs or joining to create something much bigger.

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal – stroll around the gardens and enjoy the shade from the trees. While we walked someone played the saxophone badly. Hopefully practice gets them there.

Livraria Lello – this famous bookstore was made popular by JK Rowling. Ditch the line and pay 5 euros for a time slot. When it is your hour they will scan you in and let you fight the throngs of people trying to take a picture of the staircase that is supposed to have inspired her when she wrote about how the Hogwarts staircase moves. Architecture gorgeous, experience Disneyworld.

Clerigos Tower – I scaled this on a cloudy humid day threatening rain. The orange tile rooftops were barely seen through the clouds. The bridge and river filtered in and out of vision. The hidden city below me quietly managing the summer heat.

Luís I Bridge – cross from above, cross from below, every view is cool and on each side some wild incline will make you gasp for air.

There is clearly much more to Portugal than just Porto. Most people speak about the southern beaches, the street parties in Lisbon, or the castles in Sintra. The last time I was in Lisboa I was 20 studying abroad in Spain on a weekend trip. Check out the posts for a window into my younger self. Both versions of me would say the same thing 13 years apart. You can fit so much of the world into the day, if you just get out there and see it.

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