10 reasons to visit Porto, the European Best Destination 2017
1. A decadent sandwich called Francesinha
Why am I starting this list with food? Because if a francesinha isn’t the most intriguing comfort food in Porto, I don’t know what is.
Is it a snack? Is it a meal? Well, it’s what you want it to be, as long as you pair it with a cold fino (that’s how you call draft beer in Porto).
Let me walk you through the layers of this sandwich: one slice of wheat bread (lightly toasted), beef, one type of sausage (linguíça), mortadella, another kind of sausage (salsicha), cheese, and the final slice of toasted bread on top.
But we are not done here.
Cover all that with slices (yes, plural) of cheese, melted. And – oh boy, here comes the final touch – cover it all with the thick spicy sauce that people say is what makes or breaks the francesinha.
(We interrupt this text to have a Homer Simpson drooling moment)
2. A sweet, dessert-like wine called Port
Port wine goes down as smoothly as chocolate. In fact, its sweetness often makes one forget it’s wine they’re having.
For real? No, actually, you’ll still know it’s wine. Intense, full-bodied, with a Northern-style-kick wine.
It’s best to pair it with dessert because the wine is robust. But don’t take my word for it.
When in Porto (because after you’ve learned about the francesinha, you’re already searching for flights), walk across the Dom Luis bridge to the city on the other side of the river, Vila Nova de Gaia, and take one of the wine tours at any of the renowned wineries.
3. The bookstore they say inspired JK Rowling
Fans of Harry Potter, raise your hands. You know this piece of trivia, right? Back me up if I forget any detail.
Legend has it that the staircase at the 111-year-old Lello Bookstore was the inspiration for Hogwarts’ staircases.
If this isn’t enough to wow you, the small bookstore, filled with books from top to bottom, is a remarkable building, from the Neogothic façade to the amazing stained glass on the ceiling.
4. The contemporary Casa da Música
A spectacular piece of contemporary architecture, designed by Rem Koolhaas, the Casa da Música (house of music, in English) is the most important concert venue in Porto.
Built in 2001 when Porto was the European Capital of Culture, it’s one of the top examples of contemporary architecture in the city that you can visit and learn more about in one of their guided tours.
5. The majestic use of azulejo in the most unusual places
If azulejo (the blue-and-white glazed tile) is Portugal’s trademark image, Porto is one of its best ambassadors. From the São Bento train station’s breathtaking hall to the façade of churches, finding places with azulejo is not a challenge.
Expect to lose track of time every time you come across one of the tile-covered buildings because first, you’ll have the urge to snap multiple shots. Then you’ll be focusing on all the little details of the murals.
6. A film festival that taps into the darkest corners of your imagination
For the fans of fantasy and horror, the Fantasporto is right up your alley (and mine too, dear fellow horror enthusiasts).
It’s been going strong for 37 years, thanks to its founders’ passion and the dedication of loyal fans who will not let it die. Although, in the good old tradition of horror films, it would obviously come back as a growling zombie if it died.
In a nutshell, the festival shows independent short films and feature films from all over the world, mainly in the horror and fantasy genre. It’s also where film students get to screen their work and rub elbows with renowned film directors and producers.
The show has awarded film masters like David Lynch (he doesn’t know it yet, but he’s my creative mentor), David Cronenberg (the man responsible for making Jeff Goldblum look sexy even as he slowly becomes a fly…), Peter Jackson (a long time before the epic productions), Dario Argento, Guillermo del Toro, and John Hurt (we miss you, “Kane”…).
7. THE music festival you can't miss in the spring
Looking for a cool music festival in Portugal dedicated to different music genres? Hold that thought.
(fetching results for you)
Here. NOS Primavera Sound, 8 to 10 June 2017. Yes, this festival in Porto has everything you were looking for, starting with a killer line-up in every edition.
8. The golden sunsets at Ribeira
The best and most beautiful sunsets are the ones we see at exotic beaches, right? Maybe.
I think the ones at Ribeira do a pretty good job, no? How is this no-filtered Instagram shot as proof?
Let it sink in.
9. The no BS personality of the city's historic center
Can cities have a personality? Yes, yes, they can. Can we classify that personality as “no BS”? Yep, we most certainly can. In Porto, you should.
You see, once you reach the historical center, you’ll be engulfed by the heritage weight of the city. You feel the energy reverberating in your bones and all this in silent contemplation.
Porto happens to you, period. It doesn’t go to great lengths to prove it’s a must-see city. It’s there. It pulls you.
10. The wonderful people of Porto
There’s a reason why most of the people who voted Porto as the European best destination 2017 were foreigners (56.8%).
On my first trip to the city, I felt instantly at home, which is a very good and strange sensation.
How can an outsider feel at home in a city they’ve never been to? Mainly because people will treat you like a foreigner, but never as an outsider.