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ekscrunchy Nov 21st, 2016 11:54 AM

PORTO (???) combine with Galicia??
I've just returned from my first visit to Lisbon and am already thinking of returning to explore more of the country. I'm curious about Porto, and wonder if those who have been there could post their opinions of the city, and how it compares to Lisbon. (I'm thinking of that thread about Lisbon from the poster who asked how it compares to other "major" european cities).

Has anyone combined a visit to northern Portugal with time in Galicia or Galicia and Asturias? What would be the best way to travel from Porto to destinations in those provinces?

I plan to do lots of reading, but just wanted to hear some opinions to stoke my enthusiasm. (or, to quell it, although I'm pretty certain that that will not occur!)

phillyboy Nov 21st, 2016 12:20 PM

Hi eks. Just did this exact trip in September - 4 nights in Porto, 4 nights in Galicia (just outside of Santiago de Compostela), followed by a full week in Lisbon.

Porto was hands down our favorite portion of the trip, just a beautiful small city with lots to offer - great architecture, wonderful food and wine, fabulous riverfront area with some of the best people-watching anywhere. We did tear ourselves away from the city for a full day tour of the Douro valley and wineries - we were two couples with a private guide, and it was a wonderful day, eating and tasting both Port and table wines. We stopped in the very lovely town of Amarante on the way, a worthwhile visit.

We rented a car for the trip to Galicia, an easy two-hour drive. While we enjoyed our time there, it is not the Spain of Seville, Granada, or Barcelona. Santiago is a charming city, but we didn't find much of interest outside of the cathedral and the area immediately surrounding it. One full day is about all that is necessary to see the city, in my opinion. There are some very good traditional restaurants and Tapas places in two or three pedestrianized streets in the vicinity. We took some lovely drives along the coast, and the Rias are lovely, but the pace is a bit too slow for my liking. If we had it to do over again, we would have added an extra day or two to Porto and cut it from Galicia.

We loved our week in Lisbon, but Porto was definitely the great surprise of this trip for us.

If you want more detail, let me know.

PalenQ Nov 21st, 2016 12:30 PM

Porto to me is an exceptionally old-looking city redolent of Europe years ago - port wine tours and churches galore stuffed with colorful azjuelo tiles.

Great base for day trips to Guimares and Braga- research those gems or the Duroro River Valley.

I took the train from Porto north to Santiago de Compestella- staying in some nice Portuguese town near the border and then took trains to San Sebastian, making several stops.

For lots on trains check; and (check their online European Planning & Rail Guide for lots of rail itineraries in that section).

Again simply loved Porto - different than Lisbon by a lot (also liked Lisbon - but loved Porto.

thursdaysd Nov 21st, 2016 02:30 PM

I last visited Porto in 2004 and was not impressed. Maybe it has improved since then. I wrote at the time:

"When I first visited Spain and Portugal, back in 1970, with my then boyfriend, we flew into Porto, and it has always retained for me an aura of the exciting and exotic. Alas, returning was a mistake, as I found a reality that held few charms. The streets of steeply stacked houses climbing the cliff above the river proved not only hard work going up or down, but seedy as well. I wasn't sure whether to worry more about losing my footing or my purse.

Taking a violently swerving bus across one of the five bridges spanning the Douro, I saw the city differently - distance lent enchantment, or perhaps it was sunshine, or could it have been too much port? In any case, I enjoyed the pastel colors of the buildings (now mostly cafes and hotels) fronting the river and could forget the 211 steps plus unmeasured pavement it would take to reach the cathedral and train station from water level."

However, if you are a port lover (you are, aren't you?) you should definitely visit for the port caves (especially Taylor's). Even if you are not a port lover you should still visit the caves, as they may convert you. But visiting the Douro valley is also worthwhile.

I prefer Coimbra, but you can fly into Porto. On the other hand, you could then stay here:

And you do know about the pousadas, right?

I preferred Leon to Santiago, but it's a bit further.

PalenQ Nov 21st, 2016 02:35 PM

I stayed in Leon too and found it really neat. Santiago is a show - all the pilgrims give it a certain appeal for me but as a town not that great. Still it is so famous to go thru the area and not at least stop for a day would be a mistake for me at least.

yestravel Nov 21st, 2016 03:02 PM

We were in Porto in 2015 and enjoyed it very much. I would agree with the comments phillyboy wrote. Lisbon is more attractive and has more attractions & better restaurants. I don't recall any outstanding meals in Porto, but we may have missed some exceptional restaurants.

My favorite spot in Portugal was the Duoro Valley - it was lovely. We enjoyed a visit to a port house and had a fabulous lunch there. the train from Pinhao was a scenic, fun trip. We stayed a couple days in the DV and I coudl have stayed longer. Lots of great towns in Portugal including all the ones mentioned above.

We drove into Spain and spent a few days there. Again I would second phillyboy's comments.

lreynold1 Nov 21st, 2016 03:59 PM

Hi, ekscrunchy,

Porto is probably at about the level of "gritty" and "scruffy" that Lisbon was twenty years ago. And I think that for many people that's a lot of its charm. I think it was the NYT, but some major publication ranked the view across to Porto from up high in Gaia across the Douro as one of the best "built environment" views in the world. I agree it is really something. (as does thursdaysd)

Porto doesn't have a whole lot of sites to visit, at least not on the level of Lisbon, but there are many churches with beautiful tiles, one modern art museum, tiles in the train station, an old charming bookstore, etc. But for me the best part is just the walking around, poking your head in the little stores, catching snippets of life. If you are like my husband and go for museums above all else, you won't find a whole lot here (though my husband does like Porto!).

I strongly second PalenQ's recommendations of Guimaraes and Braga. Amarante is in the area and nice, too, though not as monumental as the other two. If you like prehistoric sites, there is an old Iron Age settlement excavated near Guimaraes that I thought was fascinating, Citania dos Breteiros (I may have the spelling off a bit). If you stay in Guimaraes, there is a very nice pousada a few kms outside of town in an old convent (NOT the in-town one which is much less special). And I would not go to Porto without spending at least two full days in the Douro Valley. Many nice places to stay (and some good restaurants for a foodie like you!).

Whether Galicia has enough to hold your attention depends on what you are interested in. Santiago and Lugo are two must-see places, IMO. If you want beaches, they have beautiful beaches (Playa de los CAtedrales is so popular they limit access in summer), pretty seaside towns like Betanzos and Pontedeume. La Coruna, probably the biggest city, is not my favorite place, but has a nice old core as does any Spanish city.

I have spent a lot of time in Asturias, so I'm probably biased, but I could easily plan a trip here for several weeks. Oviedo, the many (and I do mean many) beautiful coastal towns, and the beautiful Picos de Europa with mountain villages and wonderful views/hiking. I'm not sure how long your trip will be, but if it's two weeks, I would limit it to Galicia and Porto/northern Portugal. Then another two or three weeks for Asturias and Cantabria. :-).

If you can, get ahold of a copy of Penelope Casas' Discovering Spain (now out of print and out of date, but very extensive information on every region and almost every little town).

I would definitely want a car to do this trip, though not in Porto itself. And make sure your car rental company knows you are going into Spain from Portugal -- I have done that many times, but learned a couple of years ago that I would have had some coverage problems if anything had happened. So now I make sure to let the company know, and luckily I have not had a problem yet.

yestravel Nov 21st, 2016 04:28 PM

My mouth dropped open when the above poster described Porto as "gritty" and "scruffy." Not at all how I viewed Porto.

thursdaysd Nov 21st, 2016 04:46 PM

@yestravel - but it is how I found it, which is why I wondered if it had changed.

lreynold1 Nov 21st, 2016 05:30 PM

I was the one who used those terms, and they probably sound pretty condescending. I'm sorry about that. What I meant was that Porto doesn't have those "prettified" areas we see in so many European and US cities. Gentrification has not pushed out the "real people" (again, not sure how to say that without sounding condescending) from their old and in many cases substandard homes. BTW, I have seen a demographic map of central old town Porto, and a shocking percentage of the living quarters does not have the amenities most of us on this forum would expect in our own homes.

I stayed a year or so ago in the in-town Hotel da Bolsa. I think it is accurate to describe the street leading off to one side as "gritty." I never felt threatened or uneasy, which may differentiate "U.S. gritty" from "Porto gritty" but the level of upkeep of the buildings and the "vibe" of the street was what I would call gritty.

As an aside, I have just returned from a great trip to Sicily, and there are many sections of Palermo that remind me of Porto, come to think of it. We hoofed it all over that city, at least the old part. Just like in Porto, I never felt threatened, but the term "gritty" seems appropriate. I am not talking here about the main tourist or in-town sections, but the little pockets off the main streets where people live and the tourist trade has not yet arrived.

But in any case, whether we agree on the terms to use to describe it, I think we agree that Porto is a very wonderful place to visit.

yestravel Nov 21st, 2016 05:50 PM

Interesting comparison to Palermo. And yes, we agree, Porto is indeed a wonderful place to visit.

Thursday, from your description of Porto in 2004 from my perspective it has changed.

sundriedtopepo Nov 21st, 2016 07:42 PM

Ekscrunchy one of my favourite memories of Santiago de Compostela is having polpo (octopus) in the market. It's freshly boiled, cut into chunks, onto a plate with a good slurp of olive oil and a sprinkle of pimento picante. Served with a plastic glass of the local white. You can't get better than that.

We enjoyed the slow pace and fabulous fresh seafood in Galicia and Asturias. We felt the towns had a wonderful authentic feel and the beaches are gorgeous. Although the landscape is different it felt a bit like Puglia to me, good food, slower pace, beautiful drives.

So I think it depends what a person is looking for. There is no concentration of museums etc, but the culture is interesting.

Unfortunately never got to Portugal, but we travelled on to San Seb, which we loved.

ribeirasacra Nov 22nd, 2016 12:00 AM

My advice is smply keep to one area. Stay in North Portugal. Loads to see and do. Save Galicia and northern Spain for another time.

lreynold1 Nov 22nd, 2016 04:33 AM

I was in Lisbon first in 1994, and I remember a lot of this discussion we're having about Porto being said about Lisbon then. Lisbon was not much of a tourist destination at that time, and I remember walking up to the castle wondering what I was doing there. There are parts of Lisbon that I would describe today as "gritty." Walk from the Praca do Comercio to the Santa Apolonia train station, or in the other direction to Cais de Sodre, or in the areas off Liberdade near Martim Moniz and weave in and out a bit and you will see what I mean. There is still a lot of substandard rundown housing, many abandoned buildings, but Lisbon is the darling of European weekend travelers. Porto has less of the tourism, and less of the prettification, but is also getting on the list of favored destinations. As more tourism comes, the revenues fund upgrades -- just compare the riverfront on the Porto side twenty years ago with what it looks like today, loaded with restaurants, hotels and cafes. I think everyone has to come up with their own adjectives to describe Porto, but the bottom line is that there are things to see and do and it is perfectly safe, at least IMO. Not even the pickpockets seem to have made it north from Lisbon to Porto yet.

jamikins Nov 22nd, 2016 05:15 AM

We loved the long weekend we spent in Porto in March 2015. Lovely small city, great food, and friendly people.

You can see our pics here:[email protected]

ekscrunchy Nov 22nd, 2016 06:15 AM

I'm bowled over by the great responses here. I will return later (have to pick up my Japanese knives that I had sharpened; bought them at a yard sale!!) but want to mention that I have been to Santiago before so would not necessarily have to include that city in the Galicia portion. (Spent only one day/two nights there but did not see much else of Galicia; rented car in Santiago and drove along the north coast to Cudillero and then Cangas de Onis. The whole trip was just one week so did not do anything in depth. I've never been to Leon. (We did spent three nights in Burgos on this most rrecent trip, before Lisbon, and I was so surprised by how much I liked that city!)

I'll come back lateer with my map in front of me. Thanks a million for all the meaty reponses here so far..

thursdaysd Nov 22nd, 2016 06:34 AM

For my second visit to Leon, see:

rialtogrl Nov 22nd, 2016 08:42 AM

ekscrunchy, maybe you will find this blog interesting:

The author always goes to one place for 336 hours. I have read his blog through many cities. The last one was Porto.

If you decide to stay in northern Portugal there is a lot to see. Besides the tips above, you could consider a visit to Ponte do Lima and the area around there. One of the most amazing markets I have ever been to is the Thursday market in Barcelos.

Robert2016 Nov 22nd, 2016 12:01 PM

Ekscrunchy, don't forget about reserving a place for lunch at Bodega El Capricho, where Grill Master José Gordón hangs out (, if you're going to Leon.

PalenQ Nov 22nd, 2016 12:47 PM

(We did spent three nights in Burgos on this most rrecent trip, before Lisbon, and I was so surprised by how much I liked that city!)>

Well we just spent two nights there and could have been more - Burgos with its old wooden facades is so neat - went to some abbey or monastery there and loved it (and the stuffed they brewed up and sold on the sight).

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