How to spend a day in Porto

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveler (UK).

8 a.m.: Homestay coffee

Do as most locals do and start the day with an espresso, often taken on one of the city’s many terraces. Older generations call it a cimbalino – after the high-pressure Italian La Cimbali coffee machines used to make it. Alternatively, try a meia de leite (coffee with milk) with arrufada, a puffy cake that looks a bit like a bun. The staff at Ribermel, a venerable cafe near Porto’s cathedral, recommend eating it with butter in the middle.

10 a.m.: Search for paperbacks

Join the queue for one of the most famous and beautiful bookshops in the world, Livraria Lello. A mixture of neo-gothic, art deco and art nouveau, the facade and the glorious interior have been renovated. The big draw here is the majestic staircase, which appears to have been carved out of wood, but is actually painted in concrete and plaster. For many years, Harry Potter fans believed it was the inspiration for the Hogwarts castle staircase, but the school of wizardry’s creator, author JK Rowling, claims that she never went to the store, despite being in town. Entry costs €5 (£4.25), deducted from any book purchase.

12 p.m.: Go to the market

Porto’s small, high-end grocery stores centered around the old Bolhão Market (currently being renovated) are a delight to behold. They are worth a visit not only for their often stunning window displays, but also for their timeless interiors and range of products from all over Portugal (and the countries it conquered during the Discoveries). Look for A Pérola do Bolhão and Casa Chinesa; the latter dates from 1938 and has an old marble counter and shelves full of products.

1 p.m.: Head to the tower

Take a tour of the Baroque-inspired Clérigos Church (formerly home to the charitable Brotherhood of Clerics) and Casa da Irmandade museum, then climb the 225 steps of Clérigos Tower for panoramic views of Porto and the river to Vila Nova de Gaia. Once the tallest structure in Portugal, the 250ft tower is the perfect place to get your bearings, whether from its top or when looking for a landmark to guide you as you explore on foot.

2 p.m.: Go in search of the best hot dog in town

The town may be famous for its francesinha – an extravagant sandwich stuffed with meats and covered in a hot tomato and beer sauce – but it’s not for everyone. A highly recommended alternative is the cachorrinho, an award-winning hot dog that has been served at Gazela Snack Bar for over 50 years. The sausage is grilled and stuffed into a baguette with butter, flamengo cheese (similar to edam) and a “secret” spicy sauce before being flattened on a griddle and then cut into small pieces. The fries are also exquisite: hand cut and crispy. Do as the locals do and order a small Super Bock (a lager from Porto) – it may seem like a false economy but you’ll soon realize that you prefer your beer cold, so one small glass after another is better than one pint which will quickly become hot. There are two Gazelas, but the original, on Travessa Cima de Vila, is the one you want. See if you can grab a stool at the marble counter and watch your hot dog being made.

3 p.m.: Visit of a gallery

Admire art at the Museu da Misericórdia do Porto in Ribeira, the historic center. Alternatively, head to the magnificent Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art. Until July 9, 2022, an exhibition by Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei reflects his concerns about deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It includes a work called Pequi Tree, a 105-foot tall iron tree created in Brazil and installed in Serralves Park. According to the curators, it bears witness to “the disappearance of the harmonious coexistence between man and nature”.

6 p.m.: Brush up on your cooking skills

Take a cooking class with Vitor Candido, at Cook in Ribeira. You will be greeted with a flambé chouriço sausage, broa de Avintes (malt bread) and a glass of ice cold white port with tonic and mint. A former economist who learned to cook from his father, Vitor says, “It’s not teaching, it’s helping you cook with instruction.” Its seasonal menus include starters, soups, main course, dessert, appetizer and wine. A ‘traditional cooking class experience’ costs €70 (£60) per person, while a market tour and cooking class costs €115 (£98).

7 p.m.: Aperitif with a view

Cross the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia for a late Port tasting at one of the cellars where barrels were once aged after being sailed downstream from the vineyards of the Douro Valley. Then, head to the nearby Jardim do Morro viewpoint to catch the last light of day as it bounces off the rooftops and facades of Porto’s historic buildings. Alternatively, head to the Yeatman Hotel, with its spectacularly located riverside bar.

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