When I discovered Porto earlier this year, I fell in love. So naturally, I talked my girlfriend into moving there. Now that I’ve spent some time visiting her there, my dreamy impression of the city held up. It’s easily one of the most romantic destinations in Europe without even trying. Here are some of the nicest ways to enjoy it.
1. Take a walk through the Palacio de Cristal
One of the defining features of Porto is how elevated it is. The city is built in layers, and almost all of them have beautiful views. One of the best places to enjoy the view over the river is from the gardens at the Palacio de Cristal. The walking paths take you up and down the neatly pruned gardens through fountains, rock caves, mini waterfalls, and plenty of lookout spots that offer a nice view of the Douro River.
2. Go to a wine cellar
Right across the bridge in Vila Nova de Gaia is a whole world of wine. This is the central hub of port wine production. You’ll find at least a dozen dark cool cellars, smelling of rich cask wood and fermented grapes. There’s almost no place more romantic to have a date than that. At these independent port houses, you can taste different varieties of the famed sweet wine.
3. Have a picnic at Hill Garden in Gaia
If you’re not in the mood for a strong dessert wine, you can take your favorite red to Hill Garden which is directly over the Dom Luis I Bridge in Nova de Gaia. Hill Garden is sloped so you can sit back and relax with a beautiful view of Porto on the other side of the river. Just remember not to leave a mess behind if you do bring snacks or drinks to the park.
4. Check out the sunset at Matosinhos Beach
Portugal weather is mild enough that you can enjoy the beach all year round. The fluffy sand stretches as far as the eye can see in either direction, making it a great place to frolic with a lover along the water’s edge. Even if you’re not going for a swim, you can always sit down for a cocktail or coffee at one of the beachfront cafes while the sun sets.
5. Have an adventurous meal at Cruel
Not gonna lie, I’m writing this entire list as an excuse to rave about Cruel. This is the kind of place where you can only identify about a third of the food photos you see on TripAdvisor. The menu is divided into three sections: Cruel, Cautious and Fearful. Each of these feature dishes of varying degrees of culinary intensity from salmon mousse and chicken hearts to the standard grilled steak and potatoes. It’s a meal to remember and it’s not even terribly pricey. The classy eatery is located on the trendy Rua da Picaria, where you can also enjoy after-dinner drinks.
6. Stroll through the Parque da Cidade
Porto’s City Park is a huge green park reminiscent of St. James’s Park in London or the English Garden in Munich. The massive area makes a great place for an easy bike ride or hike along the trails. There are also a few large ponds where you can feed the ducks. At the Parque da Cidade, you’ll also find the Water Pavilion, a structure designed for the 1998 Expo in Lisbon. More than anything else, this is a great date spot if you just want to get away from the cramped streets of Porto and just enjoy the openness.
7. Enjoy an afternoon at Praia da Luz
South of Matosihos, but north of the Douro, you’ll find the beach of Praia da Luz. Though not as sprawling as Matishinos Beach, it still has plenty of sand space to lay a towel among the rocks that break up the landscape. You can eat at the seaside restaurant that shares its name. Or if you’re up for a nice walk, you can see the Felguerias Lighthouse by walking south along the ocean.
8. Have a drink at Base
It’s not often that I’m impressed by a bar, but one of the coziest most ingenious bars I’ve been to recently is Base. It sits on a garden which actually forms the roof of the shopping strip Passeio Dos Clerigos. The vibe up on the garden is relaxed and comfy. You can sit on wooden benches or on the lawn surrounded by string lights and olive trees. It’s like having a picnic but with a bartender at your service.
9. Take a walk along the Douro River
Sure, this is like the Times Square of Porto. It’s full of overpriced bars and restaurants and loads of tourists. But that doesn’t take away from how beautiful it is to sit on the dock and see the lights from the port houses reflected in the river. It’s lovely day or night. And if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the waterfront, sneak into the back alleys beneath the stone archways for cute spots to hide away from the crowds.
10. Have a casual bite at Casa Guedes
Romance isn’t always going to a fancy restaurant or a seeing a breathtaking view. Sometimes it’s getting out of bed at 3 pm and going to the cheapest place to have a late lunch. And that’s Casa Guedes. This hole-in-the-wall has the juicy mouth-watering pork you usually only see during the holidays. And their menu is simple: pork sandwiches, fries, and beer. There’s no nonsense, nothing gourmet. Just the best pork sandwich you could ever imagine and a cold beer that you can enjoy on a couple of rickety tables outside. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s amore.