Porto is not exactly what you call enormous or spectacularly modern. It’s not London or New York. But the city totally counterbalances that with its charm and atmosphere. The winding streets are lined with the most picturesque houses and seem to endlessly go up and down. The food is marvelous and the port doesn’t need any explanation.
We made a selection of the 12 most hidden gems in Porto. Our Spotters will guide you through their beloved city where people still great and know each other. Be prepared for some serious travel wanderlust.
Soccer, beer, and spectacular views
The recent tourism flow to Porto has given the opportunity to places like these to be more appreciated by all. Places that once were frequented only by a small percentage of a specific neighborhood soon opened their doors and atmospheres to a wider public.
“Guindalense Futebol Clube” is a spot which consists of a snack-bar which is also the head office of a sportive and recreational association. Due to its location, on a typical staircase which connects the upper “Batalha” square to “Ribeira” riverbank, it is still considered by many as a little secret, as it still escapes the experience of many locals. Through this article, I plan to invite you to discover it by yourself, together with the typical staircase which offers an almost unique perception of what Porto used to be.
Sitting next to the “Fernandina Wall” (which established a limit of the town in the 14th century), this place offers a special close view of the “D. Luis I” bridge. It is a place where you can contemplate the movement on the bridge, catching some late sun, while enjoying a coffee or a quick meal.
This place breathes Porto, especially on summer days when locals come to sunbathe and drink some fresh “finos” (beer). If you are around town during “São João”, the main popular party of Porto in the night from the 23rd to 24th of June, you will see this place full of life and party like almost nowhere else. — Fernando Ribeiro
What social residencies should look like
Every day hundreds of people take the metro and pass by Lapa metro station. There, all you can see is a big grey wall, hiding one of Porto’s best modern secrets: Bairro da Bouça, a social residence complex, in Cedofeita, crafted by the genius mind of Siza Vieira.
In grey and white, with strokes of burgundy, this social intervention dates from the 70’s, when young new architects were challenged to elaborate a handful of buildings destined to harbor the poor through the SAAL project. This residential block is one of the finest works of that project, and it receives some daily attention due to its author: Siza Vieira, one of the great Portuguese culture ambassadors. Because of that, it became routine for the inhabitants of the neighborhood to see people visiting and photographing its walls and facades, something that is quite odd for this kind of infrastructure.
Speaking of the inhabitants, not only the neediest occupy these blocks. Actually, nowadays, all kinds of people live there, from art teachers to students, and there are some actual pride and community sense among the residents. The festivities of S. João, the city’s biggest holiday, is cheerfully celebrated among the Bouça people, so if you happen to be in Porto during that holiday, you might want to check it out.
Planted just across the metro station of Lapa, Bouça is a must-see for every architecture curious, especially if you’re interested in discovering the vast spoil of Siza’s work all around Porto. — Tiago Magalhães
Where day turns into night
Let me give it to you straight: the thing about Maus Hábitos is that you can pretty much spend an entire day there. Now, I’m not saying you should do it because there’s plenty to see in Porto. But you could. And you’d probably like it. It’s a place that encourages and promotes all forms of cultural expression. It’s urban. Contemporary. Hip and happening. Its entirety is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s hard to define but easy to love. It’s a bar, a restaurant, a concert venue, a club, a gallery…
The restaurant goes by the name of Vícios de Mesa. With an Italian based menu, it serves daily menus during lunch hours and it’s a great choice for a cool, casual dinner. The food is homemade and the ingredients are top-notch. The brunch is… To. Die. For. I mean, really, the brunch is where it’s at. Served on Sundays, from 12:00 to 17:00. Delicious food and lots of variety. It’s beyond good!
But Maus Hábitos is also a place to enjoy great music and party all night. With a carefully curated programme, highlighting both Portuguese talents and international artists, Maus Hábitos is, at the moment, my number one choice for a night out. Go for a glass of wine in the afternoon, go for the marvelous brunch, go for a concert and a night out. Go whenever, do whatever. But go. — Marta Macedo
Sea you at the lighthouse
I’m from a city by the sea and river (what a privilege) which has made me appreciate a lot of details connected to water, like the lighthouses in Foz. This place is naturally beautiful as it is the meeting point of the Douro river with the Atlantic sea, making this site special and worth visiting.
As I live not so far from this place, on my weekend morning or afternoon powerwalks I usually walk towards this area for some energy replenishment. One of my favorite places to be is the lighthouse, and yes, from there you can actually see 3 lighthouses, a green one on the opposite side of the river (in the city of Gaia) an older one, deactivated a few years ago, and the other one (very modern) is my spot! I love to take a seat on the edge of it and just hear the sea and the fishermen while feeling the wind and the sea breeze, absolutely peaceful.
Actually from this edge, if you look straight towards the sea, you can almost feel as if you’re in high-sea since your field of view won’t cover the city at all. No need to say that the sunset from here is also quite a must! Remember that when there are waves (small or big ones) you shouldn’t go beside the fence at all. Actually, the waves breaking on one of the lighthouses from far away can be an even more beautiful and mesmerizing moment to take from Porto! — Sofia Kendall
Your daily dose of caffeine
When I saw a person coming out from this place while it was still under construction, I couldn’t help myself but ask what it would be. It happened that this person was Mário, the owner, who immediately and kindly invited me to the official opening of Mesa 325.
Mário and Leonor got the clever idea of opening a café house under their own house so they could spend part of their day with family (with their baby and friendly doggy), friends and of course, neighbors and customers. If you are nearby “Campo 24 de Agosto” you cannot miss this place to warm up or refresh yourself! It just is the classiest and most relaxed stop-by place that you can find in this part of town.
Their selection of healthy and unique products is just amazingly tasteful. I dare you to choose something where you won’t be able to resist ordering another one. From the brunch options like daily soups, fresh salads, special toasts, passing to addictive homemade cakes, delicious muffins, traditional pastries, with the company of freshly made lemonade, a vast selection of teas, typical craft beers and outstanding craft coffee… The selection may change; the quality and taste are always at the high top.
Their kind and amicable demeanor is the “cherry on the top of the cake”, you can almost feel at home. Mesa 325 doesn’t need any extras, decorations or products. They have what they have, and it’s just perfect. — Fernando Ribeiro
Cross the river like a local
On weekend mornings I usually go for long walks in my neighborhood as this is the best time to get lost in the picturesque old streets of Foz Velha. I usually walk towards the river bank through the narrow streets of Foz Velha, and walk along the riverside from Farol do Molhe (lighthouse), one of my favorite places, until my strength starts to weaken, but never before we pass by ‘Flor do Gás’.
Flor do Gás is small boat taxi used only for the purpose of transporting people (and bikes) from one side of the Douro river to the other, since 1961. It crosses the Douro River every 15 minutes, enabling you to enjoy the Arrábida bridge and also where the river flows into the Atlantic sea from a different perspective. The boat has an outside deck, but as it can get quite windy, there is also space inside surrounded by windows, so that the sight is not missed. I use it every time I go for lunch on the Afurada side, the marina, or for concerts during summertime that take place close by.
Flor do Gás connects the Lordelo do Ouro (Porto) side to Afurada (Gaia) and on either of the riversides, there are several simple restaurants, with good options for local dishes, mainly fish related. I strongly recommend you use this 2-minute boat trip, especially on sunny days. — Sofia Kendall
Portuguese sandwich delight
Casa Guedes is a snack bar famous among Portuenses as they serve the best pork sandwiches there can be. Don’t expect a fancy place at all, this is a small, genuine and totally informal spot. It’s run by a family who found an amazing (and secret) recipe for pork roasted leg (pernil de porco), but also have great Portuguese cooking skills which show in their soups, ‘papas de sarrabulho’, ‘alheira’, cheese/ham plate with a selection of national cheeses and hams. All delicious together with house wine.
Honestly, the plain pork sandwich allows you to try the true amazing pork taste. I usually go for one pork sandwich with ‘Serra’ cheese (typical cheese) but I ask them to place the cheese on the side, as it’s one of my favorites, therefore I can taste both, separately.
As the place is small, there are always queues, don’t let them discourage you, but I do recommend avoiding Friday and Saturday for dinner as it will, for sure, be too much of a waiting time or just arrive before 20:00. Also a little after lunchtime should be perfect. For a bit more comfort get a table outside as it is nicer and less crowded, so during winter time, bring a warm jacket. You’ll notice all locals doing that.
Here is where I usually buy the ‘Serra’ cheese for Christmas, a must have Portuguese dessert at that time of the year and this one is one of my favorites. Perfect spot for a foodie! Enjoy! — Sofia Kendall
Not your typical student’s architecture
Grab some popcorn, sit comfortably and watch this (if you’re an architecture enthusiast, you’ll thank me later).
By now, you should know all there is to know about the building and surroundings in which the architecture students from the University of Porto have the pleasure of studying. You should also be eager to pay them a visit. FAUP (Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto) is not just for students. Though it may be overlooked by your average tourist guide it is one of those landmarks that you might want to include in your route.
First off, the panorama: A breathtaking (and often ignored) look over the city, with a stunning view of river Douro and Arrábida bridge – a real hidden treat. Secondly (but equally important), the building: Just in case you didn’t watch the video, it’s designed by the award-winning architect Álvaro Siza Viera. I’m far from an architecture expert, I just appreciate the beauty. I like things that hold stories in themselves, things that have hidden secrets, things that make you look beyond the obvious – and FAUP’s building has all those ingredients. The way it encompasses the surroundings, the way it’s interesting to look at from any angle, the way the windows, strategically placed, create a perfect canvas for the outside.
On special occasions, the students host a barbecue outside. There’s usually live music and/or DJs, it’s free and open to the general public (further information here). You might be lucky enough to be in town to take part. — Marta Macedo
Photographs straight from jail
I just love photography! If you like it too, in Porto you go to Jail. Say what?
Well, the Portuguese Centre of Photography is located in an old prison in the city center, that’s why! It’s a huge dark stone building, a magnificent location for this “museum”, always with several very good simultaneous temporary exhibitions, as well as permanent ones, such as the history of cameras since “the beginning of time”.
Close to Clérigos Tower, the “Cadeia da Relação” is an 18th-century building, active as a prison until the 1974 revolution in Portugal that ended the dictatorship. After extensive restoration, it’s one of the most dynamic museums in Portugal, and one of the ones most worth visiting. In fact, Porto has a pioneering tradition in Portuguese photography, with at least two of the most important early photographers in Portugal, Emilio Biel and Domingos Alvão (whose family still runs a small photography business in Rua de Santa Catarina, close to Café Majestic, more than 100 years after his work).
Along the visits (guided or on your own), you will also have the chance to go across the main areas of the former prison, which jailed famous prisoners, like an important 19th-century writer, Camilo Castelo Branco. — Vasco Figueiredo Teles
Watch the sun go down
So, if you are enjoying the city center, but need a break to relax, here’s a great option! Downtown you have the ‘Jardim das Virtudes‘, a beautiful historical garden facing the Douro river and wine cellars. But in front of this garden, you have the ‘Passeio das Virtudes’, where I often go to appreciate one of the best sunsets in the city, as it faces the opposite direction when compared to the garden (the garden closes at 19:00).
Passeio das Virtudes is a really cool spot to hang out with a group of friends, read a book quietly or just to cuddle with your better half embracing one of the best city views!
It has become an after-work spot, where you can indulge the view from the river almost to the Atlantic sea, where the sun sets. Even though the sunset from here is amazing, during the day or at night this spot has a beautiful view, making it a must visit at any hour, as the experience is different according to the light. From here you can enjoy a privileged insight into the entire Jardim das Virtudes, but most of all the picturesque rooftops of Portuguese houses built down the hill. Just let yourself get lost in this view as there is so much to behold.
At the end of the street, there’s a very cheap café where I usually buy something to eat/drink and just go sit on the grass and appreciate the view. — Sofia Kendall
Casa da Música requires no introduction – you’ll find it in every city guide. This ‘House of Music’ (Casa da Música) is a democratic, non-discriminating place, dedicated primarily to music of all genres, from upcoming artists to world-renowned ones. It brings you music for all tastes, ages, and styles.
What you may not know is that Casa da Música has a (not so) secret identity. Every now and again, it turns into a club.
The building itself is an intricately geometric concrete block. Inside you’ll find clashing ambiances: traditional Portuguese tiles coexist with edgy, minimalist decorations where rough metals and neon lights are predominant. That contrast is the perfect analogy for the NOS Club experience: eclectic and memorable.
Casa da Música started hosting these sessions a couple of years ago and the event has become increasingly relevant in Porto’s nightlife. The line-up includes both trendy newcomers and established international artists for a night of concerts, DJ sets, and multimedia performances. Headliners have included Jeff Mills, Nouvelle Vague, Bombino, Tricky, Best Youth, just to name a few.
The event is scattered between different areas – from the bar to the basement, from the auditorium to the rehearsal studios. An itinerary that takes you from indie to electronic in no time. There’s a main concert which is paid, but other activities are usually free or pretty cheap. The experience is really cool and it feels like a new discovery every time. Dates are announced on the website so, if you’re sold, take a peek. — Marta Macedo
Peaceful Porto park
I love the innumerous green parks Porto has to offer, every time I have some free time I try to hang out at one. A few years ago, I found this one near my house, much smaller than the Parque da Cidade (City Park), but way less crowded, called Parque da Pasteleira. This park is a very charming place, with a beautiful lake, a kids’ playground and 3 lovely wooden bridges connecting the grass side to the side where the forest is denser.
The highest point of the cycle lane that goes by this park is my favorite point, as from there I can see on one side the Árrabida bridge, and on the other side a bit of the river and Gaia (city across the river). I usually walk by when I’m powerwalking towards the river, or go there for a picnic on the green steep side. Even though the coffee shop is perfectly fitted to the site making it a beautiful place to relax, it has never been open to the public, so there are also no bathrooms at the park.
This park is a call for peace, where I can enjoy nature and feel the fresh air among the trees, so if you’re staying around or passing by this area, have a nice walk around! — Sofia Kendall
For more hidden gems, check out Spotted by Locals Porto.