It was kind of a last-minute decision to go to Porto. I was about to celebrate my 30th birthday and had plans with friends for the actual day, but I also wanted to travel somewhere new to celebrate by myself.
Because, yes, I love surrounding myself with my favourite friends, I love the brilliant network of inspiring people I’ve built around me in London, but there’s something really satisfying about getting on that plane alone and arriving at your hotel alone and really taking some time out for yourself.
I spent an entire day researching possible places, weighing up the cost of flights and hotels, and finally settled on Porto. Firstly because I found some flights within budget on the days I wanted to travel, secondly because I’d never been to Portugal and Porto felt like the perfect place for a solo city break.
And HIGH FIVE SELF because I was right: Porto was everything I wanted it to be and more.
I picked the right hotel
When I was looking for a hotel in Porto, all I was really looking for was somewhere central so I didn’t have to walk miles on my own at night and somewhere with a balcony so I could soak up some sun in the late afternoon after a day of walking. In the end I settled upon Pao de Acucar, a hotel that charged a little bit more for a room with a terrace but it was so, SO worth it.
I had a view of city hall and every afternoon at around 4ish I’d come back to my room to sit on the terrace in the sun to read and chill out before finding somewhere to have dinner. It was so nice to have somewhere nice to relax after spending most days walking about the city and I have no regrets about paying a little extra for it.
People come to London and think they’re going to be wowed by every view around every corner.
Um, yeah, kind of not the case.
Sure, if you know where to look you can feast your eyes on some spectacular views around the capital but without doing a bit of research you can quite easily end up on some back street in the middle of London wailing WHERE IS THE PRETTY STUFF I SAW ON PINTEREST into your overpriced G&T.
In Porto? Not so much. I did no research before I got on the plane (and, let’s be honest, when I got off the plane) and everywhere I turned was another picture-perfect view of this pretty-perfect-already city. I mean, sure, I had to do a bit of legwork to get to this sunbathing spot with a view over the city but, mostly, finding pretty views in Porto was kind of easy.
I have to admit that despite being no stranger to solo dining both here in the UK and on my travels I was a little worried about going out for dinner by myself in Porto. I wasn’t sure what people would think of me and hated the idea of people assuming I was eating alone because I couldn’t get anyone to come to dinner with me when, actually, I was alone by choice.
But, actually, dining alone in Porto was a really lovely experience. One evening my waitress complimented me on my H&M kimono (she’d been in London recently) which sparked an entire conversation about shopping in Europe and made me feel like, somehow, I belonged. Another evening, I managed to snap up a table at a gorgeous little bistro next to the river with a view of Dom Luis bridge, where I took my time with my food and sipped my green wine and thought to myself how in love with life I was at that precise moment.
Being able to walk everywhere
Apart from the day when I took the train to Miramar, a little town about 10km south of Porto with a beautiful beach, I walked everywhere while I was in Porto and it was a welcome change from my life in London where I probably walk more than some people who live here but still tend to take the tube or bus for convenience. Being able to walk around a new place means you see so much more and, by the end of my four days in Porto, my legs were aching but in a good way.
It’s official: the Portuguese know how to make a good sandwich. The ‘national dish’, Francesihna, is a combination of meat, bread, and melted cheese – can you think of a better combination for a sandwich? I can’t, especially when I ordered it as I sat outside a cafe under the shade of an umbrella and an espresso on the side.
On my first day in Porto I stumbled upon a little cafe at the back of a market where, not able to read the menu, I told the waiter I’d have whatever he thought was good. What came, five minutes later, was a huge plate of mussels, meat, potatoes, and rice. Basically, ALL THE CARBS, for the tiny price of 4 Euros.
And that evening when I met up with my friend Dave, who’d made reservations at Tascö, a restaurant he’d been recommended by another travel blogger friend, I ended up trying chicken gizzards (so much nicer than they sound), two kinds of port (obviously), and green wine which I continued to order with basically every meal I ate in Porto from that moment on.
Porto is, by far, one of the most colourful cities I’ve ever been to. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be another brightly-painted building or a fruit-filled market stall or a house decorated with blue and white tiles. Add to this the fact that I was lucky enough to have blue skies and sunshine for the entire four days I was there, and the city just seemed to be bursting at the seams with colour.
I didn’t expect Porto to have so much street art. But then, because it was kind of a last-minute trip, I didn’t really do a whole load of research. Maybe I should have known this but it wasn’t until I began exploring that I discovered Porto’s street art.
Living in east London, I’m used to seeing street art all over the place and, it a weird kind of way, seeing it in Porto not only made me love the city more but also made me feel strangely at home in a a place I’d just arrived in.
The quiet beach
When you live in London, a quiet ANYWHERE is a breath of a fresh air so you can imagine how happy I was when I rocked up in the small town of Miramar, a 30 minute train journey from Porto, and found a beach that was clean, quiet, and pretty damned beautiful too.
And that’s before I even explored the chapel which sits right on the beach itself.
The fact that I was in Porto on my own
Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling with my friends but there’s something hugely liberating, for me personally, about exploring a new destination on my own. When I first realised that if I wanted to see more of the world I was going to have to do it on my own I was mildly terrified by the prospect of travelling to new places alone: I don’t speak any other languages, I have anxiety, and I had no idea what solo travel would be like.
Three years and many solo trips later I actually love travelling on my own, especially in places like Porto where I felt completely safe. The people were friendly, the city was small enough to not feel intimidating, and (even though I attempted a bit of Portuguese to be polite) many locals spoke English.
One sunny afternoon, I walked past two women in aprons and head-scarves dancing together in the street and I took their picture and they asked me to join them. So I did, albeit briefly. I’m a terrible dancer. Another morning I sat outside a cafe drinking an iced-tea, trying to keep to the shade so I didn’t burn. The cafe was quiet and I spent twenty minutes chatting with one of the waiters who wanted to practise his England. He wanted to go to London, and made me tell him all about what it was like there.
These things often don’t happen when you’re not travelling solo. Your eyes are, perhaps, not open as wide. You’re sometimes distracted by whoever you’re with. My eyes were open, in Porto, and if I’d have gone with my friends it would have been a different experience. We would have had fun, sure. We would have stayed out later, drank more. We would have been making memories together.
But, this time, I was just happy making memories on my own.