The warmth of Portuguese people prompted Lonely Planet Local Emily McAuliffe to plant roots in Porto in 2016. In search of culture and adventure, she found a city that wore its heart on its sleeve and casually showcased centuries’ worth of history and tradition along compact streets.
When I have friends in town… I give them a workout by climbing the narrow streets that lace around the Sé cathedral in Porto’s oldest neighbourhood. I think the washing flapping from balconies in this area, paired with the smell of barbecued sardines in summer, provides the ultimate insight into traditional Porto. Then, provided they’re OK with heights, I’ll take them over the top level of the Ponte de Dom Luís I for an amazing view. The carpet of wild morning glories that drapes across the crumbling buildings to the right of the bridge is one of my favourite sights in Porto. Come dinnertime we’ll go to Museu d’Avó for petiscos, as these small share plates are the perfect way to try a variety of typical Portuguese foods.
When I want to chill… I head to Jardim das Oliveiras and lie on the grass with a book. The park hovers over the trendy Passeio dos Clérigos shopping arcade and is next to my favourite building in the city – the Torre dos Clérigos (OK, and it also happens to be next to one of my favourite bars, Base). I like to time my visits with the tower’s 6pm bells because something about their melodic chime always makes me smile.
My favourite street… is Rua das Flores. There are so many cute cafés and shops and I love the constant energy. I have to actively stop myself from taking the same photo again and again of the floral-studded façade of Jóia da Coroa, which appropriately honours the ‘Street of Flowers’ title.
When I need to work… I head for The Coffee Room and fuel my soy-latte caffeine addiction. The café is inside the groovy shoe and clothing store The Feeting Room, and there’s always a cool buzz at the big share table on the upper floor. In summer I like to sit on the footpath terrace and intersperse my work with bouts of people-watching.
When I meet up with friends… we pick up a bottle of vinho verde and some choriço then head to Jardim do Morro for a picnic. The sunset views across the river and city are unreal.
When we feel like exploring… my friends and I will take a car or jump on the train to visit the surrounding areas. Some of my favourite places around Porto are Braga (a university town strewn with pretty cafés), Guimarães (the place considered Portugal’s birthplace), the Douro Valley (the world’s port wine hub, which also has some fab table wines) and the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês (one of Portugal’s best hiking spots).
When I get the nibbles… I can’t resist rissóis. These traditional baked or deep-fried pastries are typically filled with meat or prawns and can be spotted in the glass counters of cafés across the country. Rissóis are perhaps not the healthiest thing in the world, but they’ll only set you back €1 and make the perfect-sized snack. You can find them all around the city, but the homemade versions at Casa Leandro (Rua de Trás 12) and Restaurante Capa Negra II are particularly good.
One of the city’s prettiest aspects… is the azulejo tiles. I’m still awestruck by buildings like the Igreja do Carmo and Capela das Almas, even though I’ve walked past them hundreds of times. I also like strolling streets like Rua do Bonjardim and Rua Duque da Terceira and trying to choose which tiles I’d like to have on my house.
My favourite walk… is along the Douro River to the Farol de Felgueiras. It takes just over an hour from Cais da Ribeira but there are so many beautiful sights along the way it feels like no time at all. The huge white arch of the Ponte da Arrábida has a photogenic cross-cross pattern when you look up, and I love passing the little fishing boats that bob in the water as you approach Foz. It’s important to remember to look back every so often when doing this walk, as the views of the city behind and the river-mouth ahead are equally magical.
When I want to avoid the tourist crowds… I lose myself in the backstreets looking for street art. There are so many characters lurking in and around abandoned buildings, and for me they form a key part of the city’s personality. Some of the best-known artists are Costah, YouthOne, Chei Krew, Mesk, Hazul and Godmess. Once you get an eye for their individual styles, you’ll start to recognise their work all across the city.