Porto, Portugal

My Town

Porto, Portugal

Robyn Freiheit enjoying a beverage at one of Porto's many seaside spots. Photos courtesy of Robyn.

Robyn Freiheit (BKin’15) is a freelance marketing, communications, and project management specialist, who recently completed her Master of Public Health with a focus on food insecurity. She has been living in Porto for the past four years and was previously the alumni UBC Global Alumni Ambassador for Portugal.

What three words best describe Porto?

Charming. Nostalgic. Hip.

How did you come to live in Porto?

I originally moved to Lisbon in 2018 as a dual citizen of Canada and Portugal wanting to reconnect with my culture and learn the language. After travelling to Porto a few times as well as seeing the increased levels of tourism in Lisbon drive up its cost of living and observing the city’s subsequent gentrification, I felt drawn to Porto for its calmer and more affordable lifestyle, easy access to the ocean, and overall vibe. I moved to Porto in August 2018, and haven’t looked back since. Porto is home for me.

What do you like most about living there?

The abundance of great, local food at affordable prices. There are never enough days to try all the restaurants in town — whether traditional hole-in-the-wall tascas (traditional eateries) or trendy new finds. To experience Porto is to eat your way through the city.

Describe your favourite neighbourhood.

Each neighbourhood in Porto has something special to offer. That being said, the neighbourhood of Miragaia in the historic portion of the city will really appeal to the meanderers at heart. Not only does it feature iconic Porto architecture and exude old-world charm, but its streets are also full of the sights, smells, and sounds of locals going about their daily lives. Miragaia is also my favourite neighbourhood to celebrate Porto’s patron saint at the annual São João festivities in June.

Charming, nostalgic, hip — those are the top three words Robyn would use to describe Porto. Click on each image to learn more.

If you could change one thing about Porto, what would it be?

The humidity in the winter paired with no insulation in homes. Although the outdoors is significantly warmer than the winters back in Canada, never have I felt so cold indoors than when I faced a winter in Porto. Hot water bottles and dehumidifiers are your best friends.

What might surprise a visitor about Porto?

Most people are unaware that Porto’s city centre is less than six kilometres away from the ocean. Gorgeous beaches, waterfront walkways, surfing spots, the best seafood — these are all a quick bike or bus ride away. Porto also offers easy access to many other historic towns and gorgeous natural attractions. Places like Guimarães, Douro Valley, and Peneda-Gerês National Park are located within a one- to two-hour commute.

What are your favourite hidden gems or activities that only locals know about?

I can’t give away all my spots as some places are best kept secret! But here’s what I’ll divulge: Oficina dos Rissois is one of my favourite places to dine. It’s a farm-to-table restaurant that serves delicious comfort food, like fish and prawn rissois (a Portuguese-style savoury turnover). Another hidden gem is Jardins do Palácio de Cristal — a beautiful, multi-level park to walk, read, picnic, or watch a sunset. Full of good views, pretty flowers, and wild peacocks and chickens, it’s not to miss. Finally, I’d recommend visiting traditional grocery stores scattered throughout Porto, featuring local delicacies such as meats, cheeses, wines, and jams.

What’s the most over-rated tourist hotspot?

O Mundo Fantástico das Sardinhas Portuguesas – a gimmicky canned sardine souvenir shop chain that is found all over town. Skip the brightly lit, inauthentic tourist trap, and instead take the Conservas Pinhais Factory Tour in the nearby town of Matosinhos for an interactive and authentic experience of an operating sardine factory with a rich history (and premium canned fish too!).

How easy is it to meet new people?

It truly depends on the places you visit and the activities you engage in. But overall, people from Portugal, and particularly people from Porto (and the north), are very kind and open. If you make an effort to engage with the culture or learn a few simple Portuguese words, a little can go a long way.

What issues are particularly important to the people of Porto? 

A major concern for locals is the increased cost of living and housing costs due to an influx of tourism and expat immigration movements paired with low salaries.

What is one local custom that every visitor should know about?

During the São João festivities, people go around hitting others on the head with plastic hammers to celebrate and pass along good luck.

From striking art to seaside views to good eats, Porto is full of hidden gems. Click on each image to learn more.

Looking to connect with your UBC alumni community? 

If you’re a UBC alum living in Portugal, check out our LinkedIn group to connect with other grads in your country.

Otherwise, if you live outside our campus communities in the Lower Mainland and Central Okanagan, visit our Global Alumni Network page to see if there’s an alumni ambassador or social media community where you live.

Finally, alumni volunteers also host fun My Town Meetups in locations around the world. Check out our Meetups page to see if there’s a gathering near you — or sign up to host one in your location!