Porto at the Crack of Dawn

Just a few years back, Porto was not the hot international destination that it is today. The boom there is changing what the city has to offer. But if you’re an early bird, you can probably catch a more authentic version of Porto and its people as they actually live in this gorgeous Portuguese town.

I’ll admit it, I’m a morning person and I like to watch. Watching the way people live their everyday lives in a place they call home fascinates me. I like eavesdropping even if I don’t know the language, getting a notion of who the locals are and their hidden details and secrets that vanish when the streets are thronged with tourists: What is their routine before going to work? Do they have breakfast and, if so, where/what do they eat? Is the city an early bird like London or a late night lover like Madrid?

My dreamy Portuguese breakfast

For me, Porto in the mornings equals pure love. Not only because I wouldn’t miss my Portuguese breakfast of Pastel de Nata and “galão” (cafe latte), but because Porto has a “feels like home” atmosphere.

I am definitely a morning person, and even more so when I travel! I love seeing cities waking up, preparing for a new day, and also love capturing deserted streetscapes in the morning light. Life in Porto doesn’t start before 9 am, so I had to wait a little for Torre dos Clérigos to open. It was the perfect time for a quick breakfast!

Sitting in a busy pastelaria, it feels like I’m sharing Porto with the locals, which I’m happy about because it would never be the same without them. One of the best things about Porto is its people and I kind of regret having them mixed in with so many tourists. Sipping on my coffee, I wonder “How did Porto become such a popular tourist destination? When did it join the global touristic network?” I let that thought stray like the steam coming off of my coffee.

Locals rule!

Still, it’s my contention that cities have their own personalities and one way to really feel this is in the morning, when locals rule the streets. This explains why anytime I travel, I always get up early. It has nothing to do with any intentional alarm setting, it is due to my excitement over discovering a new place, a new culture, a new “city personality.”

Porto’s particulars

Among Porto’s charms are its cobbled streets and colored houses which look like they’re made of Legos on the steep hills of the Ribeira district. The rabelo boats, used to carry barrels of Port wine from the Douro valley vineyards to the Port Wine cellars, sit quietly by the side of the river Douro. “Elétricos” – historic trams that you would think are from a museum – still rattle through the city; and there’s the azulejos – beautiful glazed tiles that adorn buildings all over Porto. Let’s not forget the colors and faces at Porto’s Bolhão market, where real, everyday people buy the ingredients for that night’s meal.

Wandering thoughts

But the lives of locals have been changing irreparably since 2009, when the first low cost flight to Porto was launched and the number of tourists has tripled ever since. And Porto has benefited a lot from tourism: the town is booming, the city is full of cranes and scaffolding. No doubt, it is changing. Old houses are being torn down and rebuilt as hotels or apartments that will probably end up on Airbnb. Will these changes be good for Porto?

And how pretentious is it to be worried about Porto’s original charm when I am one of those tourists whose presence raised this issue in the first place? In no way am I telling you not to visit Porto! In fact, if you trust me, visiting this fab Portugese town is a must.

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