Living large in Porto, Portugal

There are plenty of reasons why sunny Porto is on the radar of so many digital nomads these days. It has a lot to offer, whether you want to use it as a base for writing work or as a chill-out spot while you take a break.

 

I visited Porto during a four-week jaunt through Spain and Portugal in 2016 – and it was definitely one of the highlights (Sintra and Carvoeira are also must-sees if you visit this beautiful country). Some of my first blog posts for this website were actually written as I made my way down from Porto to the beautiful Algarve coast. I never had a single problem with Wi-Fi access anywhere in Portugal – it was super-reliable wherever I went.

 

Porto 6
If you want to do some writing in Porto, you needn’t be stuck indoors. There are lots of pleasant outdoor spots where you can find a quiet bench, power up the laptop and do your thing.

The weather in June was warm but not stifling. Although there were quite a few tourists in the more popular areas, it was much quieter than what’s normal for the peak time of August. Don’t expect warm seas for swimming in June, though. I was pretty shocked at how cold the ocean was: it was even chillier than my dip in Tasmanian waters earlier in the year!

Porto bridge 3
Porto is a large, scenic river city of hills, bridges, gardens, sidewalk cafes and stunning views. The best way to explore the narrow cobblestone streets is on foot – Porto is perfect for long afternoon walks.

The nightlife in Porto is very family-oriented, despite the late (and typically European) start to things. Some of the restaurants didn’t even open until 8:30 pm. It’s not unusual to see couples out with all their kids (including prams) at close to midnight. I found Portugal a very safe place to travel. Despite the incredibly cheap wines and beers (often less than half what you’d pay in Australia), I only saw one drunk person on the streets during all the dozens of late night strolls I enjoyed there. I can’t vouch for the safety situation in Lisbon since all I saw of it was the train station, but everywhere else I went, the people were friendly and welcoming and the vibe was relaxed.

Porto 1
Although many of Porto’s streets are narrow, the city’s overall ‘feel’ is one of immense space and openness. There are several large parks and green spaces. Quite often you’ll be navigating through a maze of cobblestone lanes and suddenly come upon a huge expanse surrounding one of the city’s impressive statues.

This was my first trip to Portugal and the language surprised me a bit. I have a reasonable grasp of Spanish but no Portuguese at all. I’ve been told that the two are similar (and of course, many Portuguese people also speak Spanish), but I could only understand about five percent of the words I heard in Portuguese. The general ‘tone’ of the language sounded very little like Spanish at all. Fortunately, many Portuguese people speak some English, especially in the touristy areas. After all, this is a favourite holiday destination for sun-seeking Brits during the warmer months.

Porto old style boats 3
Many of the best restaurants, pubs and scenic walks can be found along Porto’s picturesque river districts. Taxis are fairly cheap (and metered) and are a handy way to quickly get around the city.

Compared to the rest of Europe, Porto (and the rest of Portugal) is an economical place to spend some time. A 2-litre bottle of water will only cost you half a Euro. A beer or glass of wine can be had for around 2 Euros or even less. Depending on what sort of food you like, you’ll find most of it affordable (make sure you sample the Iberian grilled pork and a delicious fish called dourada). Accommodation-wise, there are choices for every budget. I was in a centrally located AirBnB apartment right above a quiet square, with a nice tree-lined park 300 metres away.

Porto soccer night
During the Euro 2016 soccer matches, restaurants in Porto were dragging their flat-screen TVs outside to attract more customers in the evenings. When there’s no soccer on, the people-watching is entertaining enough.

Jaw-dropping historical sites are everywhere in Porto – you’ll find more than enough forts, cathedrals, museums, palaces, bridges and ancient churches to keep you occupied for weeks, if that’s your thing. You can also take a cruise up the spectacular Douro river (wine tasting included) which has its headwaters in Spain but its mouth at Porto. Another great way to see the Douro River Valley is to take the train out to Pinhao – the views are impressive along this route, which closely follows the river for the first hour of the journey. Braga and Guimaraes are also very day-trip-worthy excursions if you want to see some of the other areas near Porto.

Sintra octopus dinner
You can enjoy all sorts of culinary adventures in Porto. Try local octopus cooked in the traditional Portuguese style. It’s absolutely yummy and surprisingly tender. If a plateful of tentacles don’t work for you, Portuguese pizzas are excellent too!

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