There’s something magical about Porto, Portugal. And I don’t mean it in a ham-fisted “woo woo” kind of way. I mean it in a Harry Potter magical spells kind of way.
Picture this. I’m sitting in a quaint little café beside the serene Douro river, biting into a flaky Pastel de Nata (Portuguese egg tart) with fluffy melt-in-your mouth egg center.
As I reach for my decadent cup of foamy cappuccino, I see a black cape out of the corner of my eye, and what I think is a group of wizards turn out to be Portuguese university students in their traditional school garments, complete with black suit, tie and cape.
I would later find out even though Edinburgh is often credited as the “city that birthed Harry Potter”, it actually all started in Porto, the magical city that inspired J.K. Rowling’s best selling children’s books of all time.
Back in 1993, J.K. Rowling was teaching English in Porto, married to a Portuguese dude, and pregnant with her daughter. She’d already come up with the concept of Harry Potter during a train delay from Manchester to London back in 1990, but it was in Porto that the pieces started to fit together, and as we walked around the city, we could see all the places, people, and stories that inspired it.
Livraria Lello (“Flourish and Blotts”)
Spiralling staircases, Art Nouveau splendour, and floor to ceiling shelves of books? Hell yes! This historical bookstore, which harkens all the way back to the 1800s, was J.K. Rowling’s favourite bookstore and inspired her to create “Flourish and Blotts” in Harry Potter.
While we were there we even noticed a roped off section containing “special and rare” books, which I’m sure had something to do with the “special and rare” books in the Hogwarts library that Hermione stumbled upon.
I have to admit, I wasn’t sold on this bookstore in the beginning. Not only did you have to pay an admission of 5 Euros (who charges admission for a store?!), there were frequently line ups around the block just to get in.
But luckily, since we’re retired, we simply decided to go at 2 PM on Tuesday and the line was much more manageable (though there was still a line). Apparently, 4 million people visit this bookstore each year, and even though they were originally giving free entry and relying on book sales, they eventually had to charge admission as less than 1% of the people actually bought books.
But given my bibliophile tendencies, the pull of the books was just too strong.
I didn’t regret it, even though it was a bit crowded. There’s just something intoxicating about being inside an ornate historical bookstore and being surrounded by books. Takes me back to my good old English class days. I may have started randomly opening books and smelling them until the staff started giving me weird looks.
Unless you’re a raging Harry Potter fan (or “Potterhead”), you’ll probably think it’s touristy and not worthy the entry fee, but as a writer who grew up with books as friends, Livraria Lello was cocaine to me. I loved every single moment of it.
Traditional Capes (“Hogwarts uniform”)
Thought wearing a cape to school was an original invention? As it turns out, the eye-catching ensemble of Hogwarts students were inspired by Portuguese university students who have been wearing these traditional outfits for centuries (they were originally made to resemble the clergy).
Majestic Café (J.K. Rowling’s writing spot)
One of the most beautiful cafés I’ve ever seen, Majestic café makes you feel like you’ve been transported to Paris with its gilded chandeliers and opulence.
Rowling used to come here to write her novel, though I don’t think jotting ideas down on napkins was allowed, considering they use pristine white linen.
António de Oliveira Salazar (“Salazar Slytherin”)
It doesn’t take much to see the connection between Portugal’s dictator from 1932 to 1968, and the founder of Hogwarts’ infamous House of Slytherin, Salazar Slytherin.
Ruthless and ambitious, Antonio was a big fan of taking down his opponents and assassinating his political enemies, and was able to stay in power long enough to keep the literacy level low throughout his regime. Gee, I wonder why J.K Rowling chose to make him the villain?
I was intrigued by all the Harry Potter references but if you’re not a Potterhead, there’s still tons for you to see in Porto.
From the handcrafted pastries to the art nouveau buildings to the manicured gardens, everything was filled with decadence (I’ve never eaten any pastries that good outside out of Paris) and extravagance, yet we never once experienced the aftermath of wallet regret.
After staying Portugal for a month, we fell in love with this laid-back yet extravagant city.
Even their McDonald’s was out of this world. If you don’t believe me, just look at this picture:
There’s a chandelier! In a fricking McDonald’s!
If you’ve never ordered a big Mac under a chandelier, surrounded by art nouveau splendour, you’re missing out.
You can’t leave Porto without trying their specialty, the “Francesinha”, a steak sandwich covered with cheese and a “special Francesinha sauce”—which tastes like someone dropped a croque-monsieur into a vat of cheese and gravy. Just make sure you wear your stretchy pants that day.
The best one we’ve had was at Café Santiago. If you go on the weekend, be prepared for a line up.
Another favourite place for us to grab a bite to eat is the Petunia café, near Case de la Musica (which conveniently is where our AirBnb was located). We kept getting a “prego,” which is basically a steak sandwich with mustard. Another simple yet satisfying Portuguese staple. Be sure to get it extra juicy and “mal passado,” or rare.
If you’re more into the international food scene you could also get sushi buffet:
The cost? A ridiculously low 7.50 Euros per person for all you can eat:
Fun fact: Did you know that tempura was introduced to Japan by early Portuguese missionaries?
Another fun fact: Apparently, the people of Porto are referred to as “Tripeiros”, or Tripe-eaters. Back in the 1400s, the citizens of Porto would give up higher quality cuts of meat for their sailors and merchants, who needed as much food as possible to sail great distances and bring back wealth via trading and exploration. The citizens would eat the leftover cuts like tripe and proudly call themselves “tripe eaters” to celebrate their heroic sacrifice. As a result, “Tripas à moda do Porto”, a soupy dish with tripe, white beans, and carrots is still widely enjoyed in Porto today.
We tried to find this dish, as it reminded me of the food I ate as a kid in China, but you’d have go to special restaurants and they only serve them on certain days.
We eventually did find it in a mom and pop restaurant (called “Churrasqueira Lameiras”, behind the Trindad subway station) that was full of locals and no one spoke English (just the way we like it) and everything was so ridiculously cheap I felt like they were being robbed.
Tripas à moda do Porto. Just 2.50 Euros per plate:
Roast garlic chicken and fries: 8 Euros for a massive portion that we ate over 2 days between the two of us.
And after chowing on all that good food, we decided to wash everything down with a delicious glass of—you guess it—Port:
And for dessert? Gelato in the shape of a rose:
You can get this at Amorino, which is right next to the “Livraria Lello” bookstore. You can choose as many flavours as you want for a 4.50 Euro medium-sized cone—even all 24 flavours! But I would recommend getting weird flavours like “fig” and “port wine” because those are the most unique and memorable.
After the food coma, we decided to wake ourselves up by walking over the Dom Luis bridge, which is a bit of an adventure for those with vertigo, but has the best views of the city:
With all the magic the city has to offer, Porto is definitely a gem that we’ll be returning to, and the good news is that Portugal has a similar non-lucrative visa like the one in Spain called the D7. We’ll write about this in a future post.
And if everything I told you doesn’t make you want to immediately hop on a plane and head there, you likely will once you see how much we spent:
|Category||Cost in USD/couple||Cost in CAD/couple||Notes|
|Accommodations:||$27 USD/night||$35 CAD/night||We stayed in a self-contained studio apartment near Casa de la Musica station, which has easy access to the subway and gets us into sightseeing places within 10 minutes. Rent was super cheap at 700 Euros/month. We could've even gotten a 2 bedroom for 750 to 800 Euros/month in the same area but we felt the extra space would've been wasted since our friends weren't available that month to come visit. Rent in Porto is fantastic!|
|Food:||$26 USD/day||$34 CAD/day ($21/day for eating out, $13/day for groceries)||We ate out pretty often since eating out in Porto is so cheap. When we got sick of eating out, we simply went to Pingo Dolce (an upscale grocery chain) and got the roast chicken special for only 5 Euros (enough for 2 meals for 2 people) so we barely had to cook.|
|Transportation:||$8 USD/day||$10 CAD/day||Transportation was convenient and cheap at only $1.20 Euros per person per ride. All you need to do is get a subway card for 0.50 and charge it with your credit card. If you buy 10 tickets at once, you get one trip free. Trips on the train to go to neighbouring cities for day trips was also convenient and cheap–around $10-15 Euros/person for a 2-3 hour trip.|
|Entertainment:||$2 USD/day||$3 CAD/day||The city and landscape itself was endless entertainment. There were many free gardens all over the place and we spent many happy hours just exploring Porto's winding alleyways on foot. The only time we spent money on entertainment was tips for a free Sandeman's guided tour.|
|Misc:||$1.60 USD/day||$2 CAD/day||We bought some toiletries during the month which ended up being once again really cheap, because everything is cheap in Porto.|
|Total:||$64 USD/couple/day||$84 CAD/couple/day|
$2600 for the month?! Holy shit. That’s like South East Asia prices! If we get the D7 Visa, we could live in Porto for $31,000 CAD a year (which is a Safe Withdrawal Rate of only 2.7%)!
When we travelled for the first time around the world, we thought we’d have to divide our time between Western Europe and South East Asia, but traipsing around Europe this year using our German Working Holiday Visa, we’ve discovered you can just as easily stay within the $40K/year range simply by substituting South East Asia with Portugal, Spain, and Eastern Europe!
What do you think? Have you been to Porto before?
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