I like to think of myself as the queen of budget traveling. Finding good quality, artisinal places to eat can be hard, especially when one is on a budget as low as mine. But it’s not all ketchup packets and crackers! I do still eat out and enjoy a meal on the town every once in a while.
Looking for a delicious meal out in Porto? Here are my favourite five places to dine:
1) O Diplomata for a big, pancake breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so kickstart your metabolism with a huge stack of homemade pancakes from O Diplomata. Here, one can decorate their pancakes with various toppings, fruits, sauces, and even ice creams! You can’t go wrong with the perfect pancake and whatever topping you choose!
2) Base for cocktails and beanbag chairs
The best time for a cocktail is anytime. We were tired from walking up and down the many hills in Porto, and needed a place to rest our weary legs and enjoy an ice cold beverage. Base is a super hip cocktail bar, nestled in a park in the middle of the city. Here, you will find grassy knolls, bean bag chairs, and homemade crate furniture. Sit under an olive tree and order a cold one!
3) Tapabento for an unforgettable twist on Portuguese classics
Tapabento is the perfect place for a delicious dinner. It is definitely not the cheapest meal I’ve had in Porto, but it is absolutely the most unforgettable while still being reasonable. The fois gras toastie changed my life, and I will be chasing that cucumber ice cream forever.
4) Brick for the perfect shareable meal
It’s fun to eat rich and decadent food while on holidays, but sometimes your bod needs a break! Brick is the perfect place for a healthy, shareable meal. The toasties are to die for. Order a few rounds of each and you’ll walk out satiated and jubilated! Try the pork cheek toastie!
5) Ro for Ramen something different.
Portugal has some delicious classic dishes, yes, the Francesinha changed my life, but sometimes when you are traveling you want to taste something a little different. Right in the middle of the coolest area in Porto, is Ro, a ramen place! Enjoy a delicious bowl of steamy, hot ramen, and wash it down with their signature red sake sangria!
6) Zenith for a bonus breakfast!
If you’re like me, you enjoy breakfast so much, you list two breakfast places in your “Five Things” article about where to eat. I couldn’t go without mentioning Zenith’s incredible twist on eggs benedict. They bread their poached eggs, serve it with avocado and crispy serrano ham. Paired with a breakfast cocktail, you can’t go wrong!
Porto is a totally beautiful city in the north of Portugal. Built alongside the huge Douro river, with views of the ocean, Porto is a perfectly picturesque place in Portugal you won’t want to miss (pardon the alliteration, but I couldn’t resist).
Here are SIX things you can do in Porto:
1) Learn too much on a free walking tour
As always, I am a huge advocate for free walking tours (Madrid, Valencia, Florence…). The best way to see a city is to walk around it, and on a free walking tour, you get stories and fun historical facts to accompany the views. Your tour guide works on tips, so you decide how much they deserve at the end of the tour. I tend to tip €5-10 (because I am traveling for an extensive period of time and have a SUPER tight budget), but it’s up to the attendees what they pay. I like that.
We did our tour with Porto Walkers, check their website here!
2) Indulge in a Francesinha sandwich
How could you go to Portugal and not eat the Portuguese food? About 50 years ago the Francesinha sandwich was invented at a cafe in Porto, and now, has become a staple dish in the city. Vegetarians and vegans look away! This is a sandwich of bread, meat, sausage, bread, meat, and sausage, wrapped in melted cheese, topped with a fried egg, served floating in beer sauce, with fries on the side. Oh. My. Gosh. It is amazing! Trust me you are probably going to want to share this sandwich. I ordered sauce on the side so I could decide how submerged I wanted my sandwich.
Cafe Santiago on R. de Passos Manuel serves an authentic Francesinha for €9.
3) See Porto from a different angle
Porto is a beautiful and super colourful city. They say the buildings along the river were painted bright colours as an attempt to cheer up the women whose lovers and husbands left on the fishing boats for weeks and months at a time. My favourite view of Porto is actually from Gaia, the city across the river. It is said that the best thing about Gaia is the view of Porto from the Serra do Pilar. You can either walk across the top level of the Luis I Bridge, which is dazzling, OR walk along the bottom level and make the trek up the hill on the other side. For a view of Porto you won’t forget, head here.
4) Go to the beach!
Porto is right on the Douro river, and very close to the Atlantic coast. Matosinhos is a beautiful little beachy neighbourhood that is only a 15-20 minute metro ride away from Porto. Here, you can try your hand at surfing some perfect beginner waves, have a beer on the patio of Lais de Guia, or just buy a bottle of wine and some olives at the nearby Pingo Doce, and bring it to the sand to watch the sunset!
5) Find out how Port Wine is made (and then drink a bunch)!
Porto, and more specifically, the Douro valley, is the home of Port Wine. In fact, in order for wine to be classified as Port Wine, it must come from the Portuguese side of the Douro valley! The grapes are grown and processed at the vineyards, about 100km away from the city of Port (see next thing to do), and the wine is brought to the wine lodges in the city to age. Porto Walkers does a great Port Wine tour for €20 a person. You’ll see three wine lodges and taste seven wines. This is absolutely the best bang for your buck!
6) Go to the Douro Valley (where Port Wine grapes are grown)!
Now that you know where the Port Wine is aged and stored, it’s time to check out the vineyards where the grapes are grown! When looking at going to the Douro Valley from Porto, there are so many options online for tours you can book — a big bus takes you to the valley, you do a tour and a tasting, maybe hop on a boat and cruise down the Douro river — and the cheapest one goes for about €100 per person. The other option, is to hire a personal driver to take you and yours out to the valley for a private day. This is what we did. We booked through Maia Tours (their website here) and Ricardo gave us a personalized tour. We didn’t want to do another Port cave tour (we had done so many with Porto Walkers), and were more interested in lunch and multiple tastings, so he made that happen. He called a few wineries and made all the reservations for us. We were able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride! For the day with Ricardo, it was only €250 (€62.5 each for four people)!
Eat Port Wine ice cream at Porto Cruz!
In Gaia, amidst all the Port Lodges and wine tours, is Porto Cruz’ ice cream shop. Here, you can sample an incredible and delicious 10 year tawny Port mixed into a perfect sorbet. I promise you will not be disappointed!!
My first time in Spain, I travelled the south and the Mediterranean coast — Seville, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid. It was all so beautiful! I fell in love with the food, the weather, the beaches, the architecture, and the history. Spain is gorgeous! That being said, there is a lot more to Spain than the south. In fact, the north of Spain has some of the most breathtaking landscapes I have seen. The north is stunning, and I would argue wildly underrated (and under-visited).
In 2017 I spent two months driving along the north cost of Spain in a van named Vinnie. We drove into Spain along the west coast of France, and drove next to the ocean (almost) the entire way through to Portugal! Along the way, I discovered that the north of Spain is amazing; breathtaking landscapes, beautiful architecture, and rich cultures.
Here are ten things to do in the north of Spain:
1. Hike through the Picos de Europa
The Picos de Europa is a super stunning mountain range in the north of Spain. The mountains here are perfect for hiking, bicycling, climbing, and more! The roads are beautiful to drive, the scenery is out of this world, and what better way to see a country than from the top of a mountain? We did a few different hikes while we were in the Picos de Europa. We did an easy day along the Ruta del Cares, a quick hike up to Bulnes, and a bigger hike up to the summit of Torre de los Horcados Rojos near Fuente Dé. We also did a via ferrata, which was a totally killer experience.
For more information about hiking in the Picos, check this out! And read about my via ferrata experience here!
2. Wander the streets of old Bilbao
Bilbao is the capital of the Basque country. It is the home of beautiful architecture, great shopping, and delicious food. Home also, to the infamous Guggenheim museum. What? But I thought that was in New York? Yes! So did I! Turns out there is a Guggenheim in Bilbao too, and I might argue the architecture of the Spanish Guggenheim outshines that of New York (sorry to offend the beehive fans). There is much to do in Bilbao, wander around the shopping district of Indautxu, drink a tinto de verano while sitting along the too-cool street, Erronda Kalea, or just sit on any bench by the river and watch the people go by.
3. Eat Pintxos and drink wine in Logroño
Logroño is the capital of the La Rioja wine region in the north of Spain. La Rioja is home to wineries that export their wine so far and wide, that I can buy a bottle in the local wine shop in my hometown of Calgary, AB, Canada. There are some big wineries here. Which means, there are lots of people, and lots of good food. Take an evening to stroll down the street of Calle San Juan and try a pintxo (pronounced peen-cho) from each place. Pintxos are tapas in the Basque language. Start at Bar Angel with a tower of garlic mushrooms and a glass of red, and at each place order a pintxo and a wine, pintxo and a wine. Then you’re doing it like a local!
4. Bicycle the wineries of Rioja
As I mentioned, La Rioja is home to some big, beautiful wineries. There are plenty of small wineries too! Sure, you can go winery hopping by car, but what fun could that be for your sad friend who has to drive? Bicycle is the only way to get around wineries. Now, a disclaimer: some of the wineries are on top of hills, some wineries are far away from each other, we planned our route accordingly — knowing that we would have a few glasses of wine at each place, and add weight to our backpacks with the bottles purchased. We rented bicycles from Navarent (their website here), and went to as many wineries as we could in half a day. Seven tasters and five bottles of wine later, we called it a successful day!
(More tips and tricks about Rioja and wineries here).
5. Take a nature walk by the Rio Urederra
As much as I love eating decadent food and drinking delicious wine, I feel like I can’t really get to know a place if this is my only activity. Just an hour outside of Logroño snakes one of the most beautiful places I think I have ever been, the Rio Urederra, or “The River of Beautiful Water.” This place is a magical getaway from the crowds, the bustling of the towns and villages, and the perfect place to spend a day. The walk is easy and takes about 3 hours, maybe more because if you’re like me, you will want to stop at every lookout point to take pictures.
(For more information about the Rio Urederra, read this!)
6. Challenge yourself with a surf
The north of Spain has some of the best surf in the world! Mundaka is home to a big, sandy, consistent wave, Bakio has multiple surf schools, and Loredo has a totally HUGE beach. Surfing may not be your strong point; it isn’t mine (though I did try river surfing in Canada and didn’t make a total fool of myself), but when mother nature presents you with some of the best beginner surf in the world, you kind of have to give it a go! Plus, I wanted a good picture of me wearing a wetsuit and holding a surfboard. In almost every village and town along the north and west coasts, you can find surf schools. Some, you can stay at for a week and take lessons, and some offer one day at a time. You will, most likely, stand up on your first day. Make sure someone has a camera ready, because you’ll be back down really quick.
7. Eat the octopus in Galicia
If there is one thing I know about Galicians, it’s that they know how to prepare octopus. Salt, pepper, paprika, and oil, grilled to perfection, and served with fresh bread. It is a definite must try! We shared a big plate in Razo, on the west coast, and the octopus was delicious. It is a really rich flavour, so I suggest ordering just one plate to share.
8. See a zebra at the Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno
This wildlife park and natural reserve is built in a reclaimed mine, and unlike an ordinary zoo, gives the animals SO much room to roam. It is really beautiful. For the entrance fee of €23 (which kind of broke our daily budget), you can enter the park, drive the entire way around to see the animals, and, if you choose, take the gondolas to have a bird’s eye view of the entire park! We saw so many animals. The day we went was a bit cloudy, definitely sweater weather, and it wasn’t nearly as busy as I imagine a beautiful summer day would be. We had the gondola to ourselves!
9. Wander through a prehistoric cave
The cave of El Castillo is a cave boasting prehistoric art. Man, these caves are cool. I love wandering through and imagining the human that painted the art we are looking at. El Castillo is a great cave to see. You can go through the actual cave! The tours are only in Spanish, but our guide was able to explain a bit in English. It only costs €3 to enter!
The other cave we went to is the Cave of Altamira. This also costs €3 to enter, but is just a replica of the real thing. It is still very cool to see the art and learn about the mysterious people who painted it. On Friday mornings at 10:30am, there is a lottery and the five winners get to go into the real cave! We tried our luck and didn’t win, but maybe you’ll be luckier!
10. Drink cider in Gijón
Spain isn’t all sangrias and tinto de verano. In the northern beach city of Gijón, cider is the drink of choice. All throughout downtown are siderias, special bars that serve only cider (and food of course). It is brewed naturally and so has no carbonation. Because of this, the cider is always poured in the glass from arms length to create bubbles, and is consumed immediately while the cider is still frothy. We had no idea this was the thing. We just thought the bartender at the first sideria we went was an absolute maniac. Until we went to the next sideria, and the server poured our cider the same way.
The Picos de Europa are a totally spectacular mountain range in the north of Spain. Famous for the hiking trails with ocean views, they are a must see for anyone traveling to the north of the country. The hiking trails vary in difficulty, and they are all beautiful. Here are three hikes you can do in the Picos de Europa, plus how to get there, and their difficulty.
Ruta del Cares
This one was the easiest walk we did in the Picos. It typically begins in Poncebos and the end point is Cain, although if you want to do it the other way, I don’t see why not. The path snakes along the gorge of the river Cares, and the hike has been dubbed “the garganta divina” or “the divine gorge.” It truly is divine. The first two kilometres of the walk are uphill, but the rest is relatively flat. But, just because there isn’t much elevation gain, doesn’t mean it isn’t a hike. It’s a 22km round trip from Poncebos to Cain. A lot of folks end up doing the hike one way and then taking the shuttle bus back. We thought about it, but it’s a two hour bus ride and I do not know how much it costs. We drove right up to the trailhead in Poncebos and left our van there. We did the hike in October, and we weren’t alone. I imagine if you are here in July or August, it would be WAY busier.
Hike up to Bulnes
Bulnes is a small village perched high on a mountain top. In 2001, a funicular was built up to the village, to the delight of the locals. You can take the funicular up and go for a nice day hike around the top, which was our original plan, until we arrived at the funicular and discovered it is a €23 round trip (a bit out of our budget)! Next to the funicular is the original path that locals took to and from the village before 2001. We decided to hike it. We decided this path should be called The Cheapskate Path, for it is used only by cheapskates who can’t, or don’t want to, afford the funicular. The hike is about an hour. You will pass many other cheapskates on the way. Bulnes is a very quaint little village. Most of the bars and restaurants offer a menu del dia, which is typically an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, a coffee or tea, and water or wine. They normally cost about €8-12, depending where you are. From Bulnes there are more day hikes you can do, up to different summits or refugio huts. We had our lunch and hiked back down.
Torre de los Horcados Rojos
Out of Fuente Dé is an impressive gondola that takes you up 753m in 3 minutes. A round trip costs €17. The gondola spits you out at the top and from there, you will find many different hiking trails. We chose the summit of the Torre de los Horcados Rojos, mostly because it is a four hour round trip hike with a decent elevation gain, but also because it is very fun to say. This is definitely a bit more difficult than the other hikes we did. The two hours up to the end of the marked trail is entirely uphill, and of course, the last 20 minutes is a scramble to the summit. The summit is magnificent, boasting views of the ocean picture framed in between peaks. One of the most beautiful hikes I have done in Europe (and I’ve done a few! You can read about Switzerland, Austria, and Germany).
Hiked out? If you want to try something different, read about how to do a via ferrata in the Picos here!
The Picos de Europa are a totally spectacular mountain range in the north of Spain. Famous for the seemingly never-ending hiking trails, this natural park is a must-see when in the north of the country. If you are hiked out though, there are other activities to try! When we were tired of hiking, we did a via ferrata! A via ferrata is a mountain climb equipped with fixed ladders, cables, and bridges. It is kind of like rock climbing, but with steps and handles. It was my first time trying it, and we wanted to do an easy one. We called up Javier at Guiatrek, rented the equipment for a very reasonable €20, and were off!
Camaleño is a beginner/intermediate via ferrata, perfect for first timers. We parked the van at the trailhead, put on our harnesses, helmets, and gloves and began up the hill. When we reached the wall, I got nervous. I looked up the wall and saw the metal hooks and handles sticking out, until I couldn’t see them anymore because they were too high up. Phew. I began shaking in my boots a little bit.
There is really just one rule in a via ferrata. You have two carabiners on your harness. The one rule is to only clip and unclip one at a time. The cable that runs up along the side of the ladders and handles has breaks in it every few metres. Once you reach a joint, unclip one carabiner, clip it to the next bit of cable. Once it is clipped, only then can you unclip the next one and clip it again. The point is to always be attached to the cable, or as they call it in Spain, the lifeline.
Up and up and up we went. We climbed past two mountain goats, who were very confused as to why humans were up on a wall like this. We finished the first leg of the climb, and then the second. After the second, the trail diverges here, to an easy bit, and a more difficult bit. We decided to take the more difficult bit because it took us to a Tibetan bridge; a bridge that is made up of one cable for your feet, a cable on either side for each hand, and a cable above for your caribiners.
I hooked on to the cable above my head, grabbed the ropes on either side, and began my walk. “Don’t look down,” I told myself. My heart was pounding in my throat, my stomach was fluttering like a butterfly. I laughed and shrieked the entire way across. “I’m going to cry!” I laugh/yelled. I made it!
This was the perfect first try at a via ferrata. I am so proud of myself that I was able to finish such a crazy climb. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone! As always, commetn below with questions and comments about this or any other via ferrata experiences you have had!
And if a via ferrata doesn’t sound like your thing, stay tuned for more tips for travel in the Picos!