TRAVEL ON A BUDGET: PORTO | TRAVEL FEATURE
In keeping with this issue’s theme of frugality, Elouise Hobbs looks into how you can enjoy a cultured holiday on a budget in Porto.
There are not many places left in Europe where you can still get value for money and have an amazing time but Portugal is certainly one of them. The country is currently having a surprise resurgence in popularity, with tourists moving away from the traditional haunts of the Algarve to the cosmopolitan hubs of Lisbon and Porto.
Pitched as the perfect destination for cash-strapped millennials looking for a cheap, but a cultural holiday, Instagram feeds are filling up with pictures of 20-somethings who fly to the country for less than a train journey to London and stay for less than a fancy meal.
Lisbon is the destination of choice for many; the capital of Portugal does have a lot to offer, from the sunny beaches to trendy bars, but the real treat of the country is Porto. Home to Port wine, Harry Potter’s library and a fabulous array of historical sites, Porto is the largely undiscovered gem of the country.
Located to the west of Spain, Porto which sits in northern Portugal, has weather that is a little less predictable than in the south of the country. However, temperatures still reach the high 20s in the summer.
One of the highest costs of a holiday is usually the accommodation, but Porto has recently seen a massive increase in cheap city centre apartments and AirBnBs. The competition between the few hotels in the city with the new emerging market has driven prices down. As many apartments are located within walking distance of the various sites and nightlife, it also means that very little has to be spent on travel.
Getting around the city is actually incredibly easy; walking is a great option but if you want to travel further afield – the beach is around 20 minutes from the city centre, then you can catch a bus for €1, or one of the old-fashioned trams that idly wander around the city for only a little more. If you wanted to get to the capital, the train, despite the journey time of around three hours, costs only €6 and it is worth the journey time and even an overnight stay so you can properly explore everything that that Lisbon has to offer.
If you’re looking for something a bit more pulse raising, you can cross the Ponte de Dom Luis bridge which at nearly 50 metres high provides breath-taking views over the Cais da Ribeira area of the city.
From there it is possible to catch a cable car from the main side of the city to the Port houses; a must see in Porto whose name comes from the fortified wine. The journey is €6 but with the journey, you also get a voucher to visit one of the Port houses for free. At the Port houses, you will not only learn about the history of the area but will also get to sample three of the wines – a red, ruby and white Port, which is unique to the area.
Usually, the price of alcohol can really push up the price of a holiday, but if you stick to local wines, drinking in Porto can work out extremely cheaper than in other parts of the continent. If you try the region’s Verde (green) wine – a sparkling wine made from grapes that are grown on the north side of a vineyard so are typically less sweet, then you can pick up a bottle for around €2 in the supermarket or around €7 in one of the many rooftop bars around the city.
When it comes to food, the Portuguese really do know how to feed you. Although you are unlikely to see many vegetables, the food is both indulgent and wholesome whilst remaining ridiculously cheap.
A typical breakfast in the city consists of an espresso and a Pastel de Nata – a traditional custard tart that is made daily by grandmothers in home bakeries and then sold for tuppence; you can usually pick up both a coffee and a cake for around €1.
A typical evening meal for two with wine will easily cost less than €20, but this doesn’t mean that they skimp on the portions. It is usual to have a meal served with both rice and chips as well as meat or fish and these dishes will leave you full to bursting.
This is especially true for the region’s most famous dish – the Franchescina. This sandwich, affectionally known as ‘Little Frenchie’, is filled with cooked meats and cheese, topped with eggs, covered in a gravy-like sauce made from a secret recipe, and is served with French fries on the side. One of the best places to get this delight is the Santiago restaurant, whose dish received a 5-star rating from Time Out Portugal and is a favourite among locals.
It is also worth trying the region’s salted cod, Bacalhau, and Caldo Verde (kale soup) which is presented proudly with many family recipes boasting superiority.
Once you have finished eating and drinking, you will want to explore the city. Steeped in history, the streets are littered with Catholic churches decorated with the typical blue azulejo tiles that are famous in the region and at night are lit up like beautiful paintings across the city.
Igreja de São Francisco is one of the standout churches in the area. From the outside, it looks like any other Gothic church but it hides one of Portugal’s most stunning displays of a baroque design with the walls covered in over 100 kilograms of gold leaf.
For a few euros, you can visit the tallest tower in Porto, the Clerigos tower. Built in the 16th century by the Brotherhood of Clerics, the tower which is 75 metres high, or 225 steps, gives 360-degree views of Porto, from the narrow streets that snake across the city to the buzzing riverside promenade.
Another cultural highpoint of the city is the bookshop that is said to have inspired JK Rowling’s library in Hogwarts. First opened in 1906, Livraria Lello has become a focal point for literary lovers and is worth a visit even if you’re not fascinated by the Harry Potter series. The red stairs wind from the bottom to top floor and the antique shelves are lined with the very best books. Be warned, it can get busy so try to avoid peak times.
Whilst in Porto, visiting the national park is an activity that shouldn’t be overlooked. Serralves is an 18-hectare mansion with gardens that house over 8,000 varieties of plants and many examples of local wildlife as well as different environments including a forest and landscaped gardens.
In the summer, they hold seasonal farmers markets perfect for picking up local produce. As well as the natural, it’s also a place for the cultural as it houses a Museum of Contemporary Art and has many larger pieces scattered throughout the park.
Overall, it’s clear that Porto is a small city with a lot to offer – not only does it offer cultural, scenic and adventurous options but this can all be achieved on a shoestring budget.