Oporto, or Porto, Portugal, is one of my favourite cities. It has all types of architecture including Baroque, Neo-Classical and Renaissance and it has two of the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage sites.
One of the best places to stay is the Vera Cruz Hotel which is right next to the city hall. It’s cheap, very friendly and in the middle of things. It has a breakfast room which has a great view of that part of the city and I can whole-heartedly recommend it! If you cross the main road and take the second left and follow your nose, you are walking in the city’s restaurant area and will find cheap dishes which are very well cooked. The traditional Portuguese eateries have long benches to sit on, so you never know who you might meet in one – but they will probably be interesting.
The railway station with its blue and white tiles, is worth a visit whether or not you are going for a trip up the Douro Valley, which is also recommended.
Behind the station is the red light district and if you wander through it down to the River Douro you will find some colourful places to eat. I had the best octopus I have ever had in my life there – and I have eaten many of these creatures. The tentacles tasted superb and the texture was like butter – the elderly lady whose establishment it was and who was doing the cooking, denied that the wonderful octopus had anything to do with it – she said, simply “It is the King of the Octopuses” My friend and I started with a tentacle each but we finished off all eight after that first taste!
Across the Douro are the port lodges, and it is well-worth visiting them! I bought some cheap stuff that turned out to be wonderful, on the recommendation of the lodge manager. I suppose they can gauge how much you can or will pay and give you their best deal in the hope you will return.
There are some good fish to be had in the restaurants that line the banks of the Douro on the Villa de Gaia Nova side too.
The atmosphere in Oporto is different to that of Lisbon, and I love wandering through its streets. It has been a port since Roman times – they called it Portus and has been inhabited since the 8th century BC. It still has its imposing buildings as, unlike Lisbon it did not suffer the earthquake and tsunami back in the 18th century. There are patisseries which sell amazing cream cakes, so not too good if you are on a diet.
I actually lived close to Oporto for about a year, so had many opportunities to go to the city. I had stayed in the Vera Cruz Hotel on two previous visits to the city. It is well worth a visit especially if you are in to port.
I have to add that I found the Portuguese particularly friendly, and they were especially so when they discovered I am Welsh. It wasn’t, and probably still isn’t, taught in our history books that Captain Morgan, the Welsh buccaneer (let’s be kind and not call him a pirate), destroyed the English fleet when they left the Douro having sacked the port lodges and taken the post form them. So if you are Welsh, you will be sure of a warm welcome from the Portuguese!