I just returned from a very quick, 2-night trip to Porto and have to admit that I had zero expectations for this little city break. I did do a little bit of last minute planning (I’m not a spontaneous traveller), but on the whole I kind of hopped on the plane without any clue what was on the other end. Part of the reason for this is because Andrew booked the trip back in the summer because he wanted to watch Leicester City play Porto in the Champions League. So it was a football trip. BUT. He tacked on a couple extra days to sweeten the deal for me (what a good husband!).
This was my first ever trip to Portugal, and the first thing I noticed was just how friendly everyone is, and they really appreciate it when you attempt to speak their language. The first day or so Andrew kept saying “ah-brigado” instead of “oh-brigado” when saying thanks, which actually means “snug”… I think people found that endearing though!
So the first day was devoted to football, and it was a great atmosphere. I think there must have been around 4-5k fans there from Leicester, and they all seemed really well behaved (albeit fairly sozzled). The football itself was terrible – we used our “b team” and were annihilated 5-nil, but it was still a fun party. Anyway, on to the food!
Pizza in Porto
Our first day in Porto we were with our football friends so we popped into one of the many little pizza/Portuguese restaurants lining the Ribeira on the riverfront. Traditional Portuguese restaurants are heavy on the meat and cheese, but a lot of them do pizzas which can be veganized if you know how to ask. Luckily one of our Uber drivers told me how to say “without cheese” (sem queijo) so I was able to get a vegan vegetable pizza. It was pretty good but nothing spectacular.
The next day we headed to DaTerra for lunch, which is a vegetarian buffet in the centre of Porto. It’s a lovely restaurant – airy, bright, friendly with plenty of seating. While it is classed as vegetarian, they are happy to let you know which dishes are vegan, and the day we went all of the dishes apart from one were vegan.
What I liked about this restaurant were all the different food options. They keep bringing out new dishes throughout the day, so everything is fresh and vibrant. It’s all you can eat, and we definitely took advantage! My favourite dish was this tofu cake/patty thing with roasted veggies on top – so so good. I think there was only one dish I didn’t like and the others were perfection.
Em Carne Viva
For dinner our second night I made a reservation at Em Carne Viva (“In Living Flesh”) which is about a 15 min cab ride from where we were staying in Ribeira. The restaurant is located in an old house, and it feels like you’ve stepped back in time when you arrive. I love the charm and character of the rooms and furniture. We arrived at 7:15 to an empty restaurant, but it soon filled up after we sat down.
We were served an assortment of delicious fresh bread with olive tapenade and vegan meat wrapped in pastry to start while we looked over the menu. The menu is a mix of vegetarian and vegan dishes, but each dish is clearly marked, making it easy to choose.
To start, I ordered a traditional Portuguese mushroom dish while Andrew had the asparagus tempura. Both dishes were very ample and absolutely delicious.
For my main I had the “spineless tofu” – tofu triangles marinated with seaweed on a bed of spinach with a lemony crumb and roasted new potatoes. It was so good, but again, very large (I managed about half of it). I love that they were able to get the flavours of the sea into this dish without making it fishy (if that makes sense!). Andrew ordered the vegetarian Francesinha which is a traditional Portuguese dish consisting of a sandwich filled with meats (in this case, tofu and seitan), covered in melted cheese with a spicy sauce. He enjoyed it, but felt it was a bit heavy after all the other dishes we’d had. Oh, and we washed this all down with a glass of red Porto wine.
Cultura dos Sabores
The second day we didn’t really have a plan, which is quite unlike me. So we headed out to first find a coffee shop, which are not popular in Porto for some reason. After enjoying a really nice soy latte at Jeronymo, we stumbled across another vegetarian buffet – Cultura dos Sabores. Inside they have a buffet which is a mix of hot and cold dishes and – get this – swings! The seats by the window are wooden swings hanging from the ceiling by rope, so you can sway back and forth while you eat. I really, really enjoyed this. I probably could have stayed there all day.
The food itself was very tasty. They didn’t have as many options as Da Terra but the dishes I tried were delicious, flavourful and fresh. I particularly liked the tofu parcels (I had two!). They don’t clearly mark which dishes are vegan, but if you ask they will help you out.
I loved Porto’s grand, faded elegance. It’s definitely a city that begs to be explored. I would suggest spending a couple days just wandering around the different windy alleyways and climbing the steep roads to get views of the town below.
I have to start with football, as that was the main reason for our trip. As you may or may not know, as Premier League Champions Leicester qualified for the Champions League in Europe, and in this first group we were paired up with Copenhagen, Bruges and Porto. We had already qualified for the next round, so we brought our “b team” – as a result we were beaten pretty badly. It was fun anyway – the fans were great and besides some very drunk people (a couple of my friends included!), I think everyone behaved themselves.
For this trip we decided to book an apartment through Airbnb as it was incredibly cheap, and gave us the option to stay in a beautiful part of town – Ribeira. Ribeira is the picturesque, Unesco-listed, medieval part of town, and our flat looked out onto the Douro River, which was bustling with energy. It’s the perfect place to sit with a drink and people watch, especially as it gets the sun all day in the winter.
Colourful tiles adorning the buildings around Porto.
São Francisco church
The St Francis Church costs €4 to enter, and that includes entry to the church, museum and crypt. It’s a stunning gothic church with a beautiful baroque interior that’s worth a visit. The crypt is also quite spooky to walk around.
The Chapel is free to enter and has some fantastic views of the city.
Unfortunately the Tower was closed the day we went, but you can climb to the top which gives you great views of the city.
The Lello Bookstore is a beautiful gothic building built at the beginning of the 20th century and is a place that was frequented by JK Rowling when she lived in Porto. It costs €3 a person to enter, and that gives you a discount on the books. It’s certainly a beautiful shop, but because of the entry price and crowds I’d probably give it a miss.
Vila Nova de Gaia
Across the river from Porto is Gaia, which is where you will find all the port houses. You can get there by walking across the Dom Luís I Bridge, and along the river you will see all the large port sellers that you might be familiar with, as many of them export to the UK (Taylor’s, Sandeman, etc).
Andrew and I stepped away from the main strip and headed to Porto Augusto’s – a small, family run Portuguese port house; they only produce 30,000 bottles a year and don’t export their products. We had a tour of the cellar and learned how port is made, as well as the many different varieties. I must admit, I knew very little so was quite intrigued by the entire process. At the end they give you a port tasting session and the opportunity to purchase any products to take with you or ship back to the UK. In terms of the production of port, some houses use isinglass to filter the products. However, if you get an LBV (late bottled vintage) they are unfiltered and therefore fine for vegans.
We spent 2 nights in Porto in total, and left feeling completely in love with the place. The people, food, weather, architecture – there wasn’t a single thing that didn’t impress us.