I am absolutely in love with Porto.
It’s such a magical city: the architecture is breathtaking, the people are kind, the food is delicious, the wine is otherworldly. Okay, I must admit I’ve only been there once, but Porto is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal. I was truly amazed to see how different it is from Lisbon even though they are not that far from each other. That’s why this is your ideal getaway for one weekend even on a budget.
I am trying to be more mindful about the way I travel and actually starting to enjoy slow traveling. So, I didn’t hit all the tourist spots because that wasn’t my main goal.
I wanted to really experience the city – find all the tiny streets, the quirky spots – and support the local economy.
So, here’s my guide to spending 48 wonderful hours in Porto:
How to get to Porto
We went by car, but there are plenty of public transportation options. Actually, going by public transportation is way cheaper if you take into account how much you would have to pay in gas and tolls if you went by car. Once there, we walked everywhere so that we didn’t miss anything. I also realized that Porto is a very bike-friendly city, so that might be an option if you don’t want to walk too much.
The trip from Lisbon takes around three hours by car using the highway, and we paid around 40 euros to 45 euros both ways for tolls.
There are cheaper options by bus and train. For example, you can get a round trip with Flixbus from 10 euros to 20 euros that would take from three to four hours from Lisbon to Porto. We left Lisbon at 8:30am and arrived around midday. Since the way to drive only includes one highway, and there wasn’t any traffic, and we didn’t make any stops.
Where to stay in Porto
We stayed in the Zero Box Lodge which is a unique hotel close to really cool things to see. So, the thing about this hotel is that you literally sleep inside a wooden box. I must admit I was a bit skeptical because I can’t stand being in small closed spaces for too long, but my curiosity won, so we stayed there.
Their slogan is “more than a commodity, an experience” and they couldn’t have picked a more accurate one. I loved every second of my stay! From the windowless (but ventilated) wooden box to all the services they have, everything is just amazing. The building used to be a bank and opened as a hotel in 2018. The staff was absolutely amazing and attentive.
There’s a restaurant, a bar, a sauna, two lounge areas with books and even a water tank converted into a pool to enjoy during the summer. After checking in, we explored the whole hotel in awe. I could stay there forever.
Right in front of the hotel there’s a building with four different food projects: American, Italian, Mexican and Portuguese. It’s called Food Corner and since I’ve proclaimed myself the queen of Mexican food, I had to give it a try, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I ate a vegan burrito with nachos and was tempted to only eat there for the rest of the trip because everything was super tasty.
After that, we were eager and full of energy to go explore the city. We wandered around the hotel for a while and ended up in Avenida dos Aliados, which is a beautiful boulevard where you can see the city hall, and it’s surrounded by beautiful old buildings. From there we kept walking, this time our aim was to find Livraria Lello, which is very famous for being one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. We did find it, but the huge line to enter was just not worth it. So we just kept walking around and took our time to appreciate the Jardim da Cordoaria, Igreja do Carmo, University of Porto, Igreja dos Clérigos and all the old but well-conserved buildings.
We were quite hungry again because that’s just how we are, and we had heard about O Diplomata, which is a must-go in Porto for pancake-lovers. Honestly, we were very lucky because the waitress told us that there’s normally a huge line of people waiting and we were able to get a table as soon as we entered. I created my own pancake with vegan dough, kiwi, maple syrup and coconut.
It was to die for!
After that, I was on the hunt for a quirky library I saw on Google Maps called A Térmita. Although the entrance is quite hidden, we managed to find the library and some jewels of Portuguese and international literature for very low prices. We drank some delicious kombucha from a local start-up called Aquela Kombucha and went back to the hotel.
Life’s too short to wake up early and sleeping in the Box Lodge is one of the best things that has ever happened to me because it was so dark and quiet that I was able to rest deeply and wake up as a new person.
We went for brunch at Lazy Breakfast Club where I had a wonderful spinach omelette with tofu, mushrooms, some fruit and, of course, a mimosa. Since my couple is basically a fish and can’t be away from water for too long, we wanted to get as close to the river as possible to enjoy the view. On the way, we ended up on a beautiful street full of antique stores that kept us distracted from our original goal for a while.
Finally, after checking several churches that were on the way, we walked down to the water and enjoyed some Porto wine along the Cais da Ribeira, the riverfront promenade along the Douro.
Before saying goodbye to Porto, we went to a very special vegan place called O Porto dos Gatos, which is the first cat café in Portugal. I had some wonderful soup, chili-sin-carne, homemade juice, chocolate cake and drank some delicious coffee. Obviously, we also spent a lot of time playing with the kitties, which were extremely happy and well taken care of.
We drove back home with a couple of antiques in our bags and wonderful memories about Porto.
About the author:
Mónica da Silva comes from a small town near Caracas, Venezuela where she was born. Mónica was raised by her parents and grandparents who left Portugal in the 70s. After living in Germany for some time, she decided to move to Lisbon where she has been since 2018.
She studied Modern Languages and is currently pursuing a degree in European Studies. She speaks Spanish, Portuguese, English, French and a bit of German. She loves traveling, learning about different cultures and tasting new flavors. You can follow her on Instagram: @monique_df
Read more of Mónica’s posts for Dispatches here.
Read more about Lisbon and Portugal in our Dispatches archives.