Don’t let Porto’s architecture fool you. At face value its slender buildings appear to house little more than pokey apartments or hole-in-the-wall cafés, but many doors are rabbit holes leading to spacious living quarters (perhaps with a veggie patch and chickens out back) or modern dining spots harbouring chilled-out terraces.
So next time you’re in Porto make like Alice and discover the city’s wonderland of secret gardens.
O Pretinho do Japão
Don’t be thrown by the giant slabs of dried codfish hanging by the door of this boutique grocer, because there are many treasures to be discovered inside O Pretinho do Japão. Past the shelves lined with gourmet canned fish, tea blends and local wine is a door, which leads you down the garden path to a café and bar. Here you can drink your coffee or wine on the lawn or admire the garden from the glass-paneled patio. Be sure to take note of the artwork, including what looks to be a Cheshire cat perched on the fence, by one of Porto’s most celebrated graffiti artists, Nuno Costah.
Noémia da Costa Pinto
Noémia opened as a guesthouse in 2016 and a café split across two rooms was later added on the first floor. The café is not only adorably cute with a retro fitout reminiscent of Grandma’s house (think a 50s-style TV set and peppermint-green chairs), but it’s also a makeshift cat refuge. Staff collect loose change in a kitty (get it?) to help cover the cost of food and vet bills for the gang of felines that hang in the homely garden. It’s the perfect spot to pull up a chair in the sun, munch freshly made crepes and make friends with the furry locals.
Rota do Chá
Rota do Chá means tea route in Portuguese, and, true to its name, this boho tea house carves a path through the world’s tea plantations with a selection of 300+ teas from places like China, Laos and Kenya. The entryway has cute booth seating and a colourful dining area can be found upstairs, but the star of the show is the big shaded back garden. Here a crossed-legged Buddha sits tall in the centre while birds chirp in the trees, creating a calm inner-city paradise.
You can also find a few resident cats lounging on the terrace of this organic supermarket-cum-café. Enter Quintal Bioshop to find a selection of bio products and international foodstuffs like fresh vegetable juices, powdered cacao and miso paste, then continue through to the back dining room to enjoy vegan ice-cream, gluten free cake or a sandwich on the small wooden deck.
This groovy bar is the place to swing a wood-fired pizza and cocktail on the outdoor terrace while listening to the jam of a local band or DJ. Music at Terraplana usually starts around 11.30pm on Friday and Saturday nights in addition to the occasional afternoon set. The upstairs patio is also a pleasant place to kick back by day with a coffee or craft beer.
Casinha Boutique Café
The Casinha Boutique Café is conveniently located a five-minute walk from Casa da Música, Porto’s iconic concert hall. At first glance it looks like a small deli with limited seating, but head down the corridor past the counter and you’ll find another room leading to a leafy garden. Beat the summer heat by plonking yourself under a tree with an açai bowl or cone of homemade ice-cream.
Em Carne Viva
A few steps down from the Casinha Boutique Café is the vegetarian restaurant and tea house, Em Carne Viva. Despite its location on one of Porto’s main arteries, Avenida da Boavista, the first-storey dining room rises above the traffic buzz and stretches back into a romantic garden. Under the glow of a stand-alone streetlight, try the vegetarian version of Porto’s Francesinha – a multi-layered sandwich dripping with cheese, or for something lighter, settle for a plate of oven-warm scones and know that everything down to the jam is made in-house.
Breyner 85 is a top spot for music lovers with weekly DJs and jam sessions held in the upstairs concert hall, while ad hoc events take place in the big backyard during summer (check the venue’s Facebook page for event info). Regardless of the lineup, from around May until September you can chill on the lawn with a bevvie in hand or drop in for weekend brunch between noon and 3pm.
The tiny entrance to this coffee shop and bakery could almost be mistaken for a beauty salon reception, given the small counter and armchairs set against a black and white chequered floor. However if you follow the breadcrumb trail of patterned tiles down the stairs, a big Victorian-style cafés opens up. While the indoor dining area and lounge at Maria Bôla is cute and cosy, the back terrace lets you catch a gentle breeze as you tuck into thick slices of homemade cake and a cuppa.
This café/gallery/bar borders the park Jardim do Carregal and caters to late afternoon and evening crowds. Smooth tunes complement the modern interior at Espiga where colourful decorations and twisted lights contrast industrial grey walls. The long building leads to an upstairs terrace where you can sip a vinho and enjoy live performances during summer.
Letraria Craft Beer Garden Porto
Letraria is a new kid on the block in Porto and adds to the city’s burgeoning artisanal beer scene. The bar’s spacious back garden is already proving popular with locals and travellers alike, who swing by for late afternoon brews chosen from 20-odd taps. With big shady trees and a chilled out atmosphere, Letraria will be a sure hit this summer.