By Jamie Sung, International Living
I’m going to be completely honest: I’m a little hesitant to write this.
I’ve discovered a gem of a destination that has completely captured my soul…and I’m not sure I want to share it with the world.
But my experience here has been too incredible to keep a secret. So I’m going to let you in on the spellbinding European country of Portugal—and, more specifically, its second-largest city Porto.
Beautiful, warm, and inviting, Porto is a well-kept European secret that’ll seduce you the moment you step foot onto its old, cobblestone streets. Whether you’re gazing out at one of its countless river miraduoros (viewpoints) or meandering through its unassuming, attractive little nooks and crannies, it’s nearly impossible to grow tired of the city’s rich and lively atmosphere.
Porto boasts palatial architecture, delectable food and wine, charming locals, and some of the lowest costs of living in Europe. It would be one thing to travel here and spend a few weeks in the city (and have it be worth every penny), but it’s another thing to actually save much more than you would living in another major city…while having all the time you could want to linger in the city’s enchanting aura.
For about $5.50, I can walk away from a family-owned local produce shop with a bag full of bananas, grapes, pears, apples, kiwis, plums, garlic, spinach, onions, carrots, and cabbage. No matter how many times I buy fresh produce from this place, I am still pleasantly shocked every time I get the bill. The walk home is hard for my arms but great for my wallet, and I enjoy fresh, great-tasting produce every single day.
If you want a quick breakfast, you can buy a tosta mista (a ham-and-cheese melt) and a galao (latte) for less than $3.25. Or, if you want to enjoy a drink with a friend, a cup of refreshing Super Bock—the most popularly served Portuguese beer—costs a little over a dollar.
Another great example of Porto’s affordability is the charming old Portuguese house that I live in. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large foyer, a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, a studio, and a balcony. The rent, including expenses, is about $780 per month. And if you only need a single room, it’s very common to be able to find a place for under $210 per month.
For someone who was paying $1,500 per month for a room in a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, California, this dramatic decrease in living expenses has allowed me to spend less time working just to pay the rent, and more time actually living and experiencing life.
Living here, I can afford to enjoy a coffee and a long talk with a friend in the afternoon sunlight at one of Porto’s many outdoor cafes. I can take a break from writing and walk through the old streets without a destination, knowing that I will discover a new set of favorite little corners. I can finish a day’s work by treating myself to one of the many sinfully delicious Portuguese pastries, while striking up a conversation with another stranger-turned-friend who is more than happy to speak English to me. Life in Porto is full of these kinds of moments.
I hadn’t planned on moving to Portugal when I came here, but like many visitors will attest, there is just something about this place that hooks you and makes it almost impossible not to stay. And though I came to this country as a visitor, I am now someone who calls it home.