The train into Porto carries you along the coast and down into the city with fantastic views of the river. It was raining but I liked the place already, for its old rustic feel, overlapping rooftops, and large metal bridges. I walked to Eden House Hostel. A very quiet, chilled place to stay, with a bright kitchen and lovely, fairy-light-full garden.
I doubt it’s always like that but the whole city was pretty sleepy. The famous São João festival had been only a few days before I arrived. From tired faces and limply hanging flags between buildings, you could tell it was the week after a party.
I took a short walk, down a café-lined street and into the center, walking past the Igreja do Carmo; a regular church made exceptional by a beautiful blue tiled wall. A gray building made bright. I sat in the shady, tree-lined avenue of the Jardim da Cordoaria – a humble park in the center.
It was easy to get a general impression of Porto but you can tell there are hidden details to discover. Porto for me is generally brown and gray – with details of street art igniting it with patches of color.
Day 2: Chaotic Rooftops
The hostel gave breakfast, which I took, before working in their bright, wooden kitchen all morning. With only a few coming and going travelers, it was the perfect place for some peace. In the afternoon, I took a walk down to the iconic waterside of Porto.
My first stop was the incredible lookout in front of the Cathedral. Inside was impressive but outside was much better; with a view over the jumbled red roofed buildings of the city, interrupted by protruding bell towers and mismatched chimneys. Wonderfully chaotic rooftops.
From here, I kept heading downwards, through narrow and unevenly stepped alleys to the port side. You can immediately sense the life of the city gathered there. From the people sitting on walls and dangling their feet over the water, to the people eating petiscos and drinking port in the terraced river-view restaurants. The high townhouse buildings are painted yellow and blue and red along the river, some in crimson-purples and dark orange. It’s a fantastic scene and one easy to stay in for hours, watching nothing in particular.
From here, you can jump onto tram 1, which follows the Douro River to the ocean. Full of wild seas, rocky coves and small beaches – perfect for a day on the sand or catching a rugged sunset.
Day 3: Nomad Lessons
I worked a lot in Porto. I had run out of money and was saving to take five days off to do the Camino de Santiago next week. The digital nomad dream. The writer in Europe dream. The free movement of online work dream. All these dreams are fuelled by the simple fact that you have to sit down and actually write something – and write a lot for people to pay you for it.
On one hand, I was living the travel-writing dream, Kerouac-ing my way around, free in aimlessness. On the other hand, I was working like crazy, almost homeless, totally broke, always waiting for the next payment, and restricting my experience of Porto by sitting for hours inside a small, if brightly lit, hostel kitchen.
I learned three things about becoming a digital nomad:
You have to stay twice as long in a place to enjoy it fully because you will spend at least half the time working.
You can’t say yes to everything; prioritize your experiences.
This is an entirely different type of traveling – allow time to get used to it.
I gave myself a break in the afternoon and walked into the center. I didn’t really know anything about Porto, only that many people preferred it to Lisbon, which I was still trying to decide. And that there was a cool bookshop. It was easy to find thanks to the queue of people outside.
The Lello Bookshop is a dream, filled with history, as one of the oldest in the country, beauty, from its iconic staircase and traditional wooden shelves, and, of course, many, many books. The smoothly carved staircase with a balcony bending over the shop floor is a classic image of Porto, and you can spend hours enjoying the charm inside.
Day 4: Porto Passing
I started my fourth day in Porto with a morning walk, in the kind of misty fresh air that comes after rain. Passing through the center, I took the long way round to the riverside, following an old tram track through a wide tree-lined avenue.
It felt epic to walk along; a gradual slope, between old rusty tram lines and a long straight road to the bottom, crusty brown leaves beneath my feet. I loved the scene and the moment made me want to return in autumn. My favorite season – and I knew Porto would be beautiful during it.
I returned to my favorite spot by the water before walking the steep climb back to the center. The only money I spent in Porto was on supermarket food to last the week. But I did spend my last euro on a coffee. It’s one of my favorite things to do – to sit in a café in a strange city. So simple but insightful. I saw bright yellow trams pass a group of girls in floral dresses. I saw two old Portuguese women talk and chain smoke cigarettes on the table next to me. I saw small passings of Porto life between glances up from the book on my lap.
After an afternoon of work, I made dinner and ate in the fairy-lights-lit garden, free all to myself. Watching pink clouds of the Porto sky, I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. I checked the train times for tomorrow. The whole aim of my trip had been to get to Santiago and walk westwards into nature. Finally, I’d been paid – and I set it aside to last me five days on the Camino de Santiago.