Beauty and Laidback Living in Porto, Portugal

I’m lucky enough to live the life of a wandering writer. It means I can spend part of the year enjoying day-to-day life at home and the rest of my time exploring new cities for a month, or more, at a time.

Although I’ve worked in all sorts of places, from beach shacks in Samoa to jungle towns in Bolivia, typically I have a few requirements I look for when I’m settling into a spot for a longer stay. Top of my list are excellent WiFi, reliable electricity, a comfortable writing space, and peace and quiet.

Of all the places around the globe I’ve visited, one stands out for its laidback, Old World charm and user-friendly appeal. If you want to hang out in a truly mesmerizing city for a while, the Portuguese haven of Porto comes with my highest recommendation.

Porto sits near the mouth of the Douro river
Porto sits near the mouth of the Douro river.

Portugal is the most affordable country in Western Europe (even edging out Spain), with most everyday living expenses very pleasantly priced. A bottle of water costs less than 75 cents and $2.50 or less will get you a quality glass of wine or beer. Taxis are metered, convenient, and inexpensive.

If you’re staying long-term, an Airbnb apartment with a weekly or monthly discount is the way to go. Depending on what you’re looking for (renting a room is, of course, cheaper than having a place to yourself), good places to stay here can be found for as little as $10 a night.

Still something of a hidden gem, Porto isn’t overwhelmed by the crowds of Lisbon and has escaped from the overly touristy feel of certain parts of the country’s southern coast, while still ticking all the boxes for scenic grandeur and vibrant culture.

If you’re looking for lively pubs, world-class restaurants, pavement cafés, and waterside scenery, take a walk through the city’s river districts. Even though you’ll find plenty of narrow cobblestone streets, the overall feel here is spacious, with no shortage of parks, green spaces, and large, impressive plazas. One of the best things about wandering the city like this is the number of beautiful bridges. Time your walk so you’re standing on a bridge just as the sun sets (glass of wine optional). Porto’s most famous bridge is the Dom Luis, but there are plenty of others worth checking out too.

The nightlife here is family-friendly. I felt totally safe everywhere I went, even at midnight. Be prepared to embrace the siesta culture too; many restaurants don’t even open their doors until 8:30 p.m. The food here is as good as just about anywhere you’ll find in Europe. Make sure you try the grilled dourada (a fish), Iberian Pork, and traditionally cooked octopus—it’s all delicious.

The city center is lively, welcoming, and chock-full of historical museums, cathedrals, palaces, forts, churches, and gardens; but, for a different perspective, it’s well worth taking a boat cruise upriver for a wine-tasting tour.

The beaches here aren’t quite as nice as what you’ll find farther south in the Algarve, but there are still lots of pretty spots if you know where to look. I quite liked Miramar, which is just south of the city, and boasts a striking 17th-century chapel perched on a rocky headland. The ideal place to plonk yourself down on the sand and kick back with a good book.

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