At this point in the trip we have figured out what our basic Place to Stay rhythm looks like: hotels for short stays (mostly in cities), vacation rentals for longer ones (mostly outside of cities) and staying with friends (whenever and wherever we can!). Hotels have less space, but tend to be easier for short-term stays – stuff is just taken care of, and sometimes you need some one to take care of stuff for you. Plus, getting a central location in a city is most often the best bet; shorter-distance walking is key with a kiddo, and if you’re only in town for a few days, learning a new set of bus and tram routes is extra mental load.
When I was looking at places to stay in Porto, I was intrigued by the name of the Legendary Porto Hotel, but ultimately settled on the Grande Hotel de Porto, because… well, when is the next time we’ll be able to stay at an 18th century grande dame lodging, where queens and princes used to stay when queens and princes stayed in town? Maybe never.
So that’s how we ended up in the dead-center of everything in Porto, on a pedestrian mall down the street from Swarovski Crystals and H&M, in a hotel with all the scads of old-school charm, an incredible bar, and two huge tour groups. We’d planned our stay to overlap with my uncle Bob and aunt Michele (Auntie M!), who were knocking around Portugal for a couple of months and who, as luck would have it, were staying in a little rental apartment around the corner. We were so happy to see them – after the relative isolation and language barriers of the previous three weeks, it was amazing to have some conversations about things other than struggling to order lunch or is this bus late?
After weeks of being by ourselves in small towns, hanging out in a decent-sized city surrounded by people was a much-needed jolt to the brain. So we wandered around. Porto is a fantastic city to wander around in. It hugs either side of a precipitous river gorge, and the old Ribeira neighborhood plunges right down the hill, crating a wonderful near-vertical maze of ancient streets. We crossed a bridge from there to Gaia, the town on the other side of the river, and just made it to a tour of the Calem Port Caves, which was a lot of fun for everyone.
And then, lunch at a nearly perfect Portuguese bar. I’m still a sucker for places with hanging hams, and Bob and I each ordered a francescinha, which should be illegal. A group of local guys were eating near the front, and they had a strong bachelor party vibe about them, except way more wholesome. After eating, they walked up the street serenading people who were hanging out on balconies.
Porto has a cable car, which we rode up to a park with street-cart market going on, complete with beer cart, DJs, and (my favorite) a ham cart.
Every turn of a corner revealed something new or interesting. With all the hills, and the water, it reminded me somewhat of home… until we turned a corner and I really felt like I was at home.
Tourists were out in full force in Porto – if our experience is any indication, city tourism is as strong as it was pre-Covid in Europe; it’s the hinterlands that haven’t recovered yet. That said, Porto doesn’t have the inundated-by-stag-parties-and-cruise-ships vibe we saw in Barcelona. Maybe it’s because you physically can’t just drink Port all day; the sugar alone would kill you.
Yes, we quite liked Porto. We loved spending time with family (thanks, Bob and Michele! Your company meant so much to us after several weeks flying solo), loved eating ridiculous food, loved having a quiet drink in our super-classy hotel bar. We left full, happy, and footsore. That’s how city stops should be.