In our 5 Shops series, we’ll point you in the direction of our favorite independent shops across some of the world’s best cities. From food markets to bookshops, vintage and homespun designs, we’ve found a diverse and exciting mix of local retailers where you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.
Many visitors to Porto are drawn by the city’s food and wine, perhaps by a sense of tradition. The city’s shops reflect these – and excel at them – but also pull shoppers in some unexpected, quirky directions. Here are five of our favorite places to shop in northern Portugal’s charming cultural capital.
Best for something quirky
Banco de Materiais
OK, we admit, Banco de Materiais is not a shop in the conventional sense, unless, of course, you own an old, crumbling building in Porto. If you do, and if some of your tiles are falling off the wall, you can file a request with this archive of architectural elements, and if it happens to have the same pattern, you can get the tiles free of charge.
In addition to dozens of types of beautiful, hand-painted tiles, the “stock” here includes old street signs, advertisements, hand-shaped door knockers, plaster fixtures and metalwork. It’s open to the public, browser-friendly and free; think of it as free exterior/interior design inspiration, a tile museum, or perhaps a more sophisticated version of a scouting trip to Home Depot.
Best for local design
Think Portugal, and you don’t necessarily think of rugs. But GUR (rug spelled backwards – get it?) might just change that. Essentially a collaboration between the owner, Célia Esteves, artists from around the world, and weavers in Viana do Castelo, in Portugal’s north, GUR’s rugs are playful, bright, chunky (practically 3D in some cases) and unconventional. They’re also sustainable, woven by hand on wood looms from rolls of cotton cloth that are leftover from the clothing industry.
GUR’s only showroom, located in Porto’s stately Bonfim neighborhood, is a bright, airy, open space that lets those bold colors shine. There’s a loom and atelier in the back, and GUR shares space with a gallery that hosts changing exhibitions. And most of the rugs are small enough that they could be rolled up and packed in a standard suitcase.
Best for souvenirs
You almost certainly didn’t have a hardware store on your Porto shopping itinerary, but hear us out. Ferragens Fermoura started out selling tools and construction equipment in 1957, but over the years, as its counterparts closed their doors, the fourth-generation owners wisely decided to expand their inventory, offering quirky, domestically made items that appeal to foreigners. Today, the shop’s customers blend locals stopping in for stainless steel hinges, and fresh-off-the-boat tourists sniffing artisanal soaps.
Even visitors from Lisbon are enchanted by the stock here, which includes items such as deadstock toys, a wooden screw used to crack walnuts, furniture wax made by legacy companies, the distinctive stainless steel containers used to serve olive oil in Portugal, folk art figurines and rustic clay dishes. “We sell a little bit of everything to everyone,” says Carlos, the friendly, English-speaking owner, who says that occasionally the paths meet when foreign tourists come to the shop in search of tools or parts to fix their luggage or shoes.
Best for food
Unlike Lisbon, where supermarkets seem to rule, Porto remains home to several stuck-in-time, family-owned food shops. Our favorite of the lot is Casa Lourenço.
Dating back an estimated 120 years, the shop got its start selling fruit and cheese from Serra de Estrela, in Portugal’s north. Today, the wares, which cover virtually every surface of the long, narrow shop, have expanded to include cheeses from across the country, vintage bottles of Port wine, cured hams, tins of seafood, and hard-to-find olive oils. Owner João Cunha and his wife have run the shop for 54 years, and they make a point of sourcing products from small, artisanal producers, and they’re happy to slice and/or vacuum pack items, if necessary, for visitors. When we visited, João recommended salpicão, a type of smoked meat from Portugal’s far north, and a sub-10 euro bottle of wine from the Douro region (“It’s practically a homemade wine!”), and I walked away with both.
Best for books
With its ‘zines, self-published books, books and pamphlets by independent/tiny/small publishers, and an eclectic, erudite collection of used books, Térmita (Portuguese for termite) feels like a very cool bookstore from the ‘90s, or perhaps a wander through the attic library of a friend with alternative literary tastes.
The stock is mostly in Portuguese, with lots of titles on Macau and China (with more waiting in a warehouse, we’re told), history, colonial Portugal and art. There’s also books in English, French and Spanish, and readers of any language will enjoy the selection of old campy old tourist guides, brochures and maps. The stock is constantly changing as owner Hugo takes on titles from small publishers and buys more used books. Appealingly, Térmita shares space with Café Candelabro, one of Porto’s coolest wine bars, making it a one-stop shop to read, drink and look sophisticated.