Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, attracts travelers indulging their passions for culture, history, art, great food and more. Fortunately, after all that indulging there are plenty of free things to do in Porto.

By doing a little research before they set off on their Portugal holidays, visitors can make sure they don’t bust their budgets while staying in Porto. Simply wandering around the streets with a guide-book and map in hand can make a great pastime. With its medieval relics, impressive bell towers, baroque churches and beaux-arts buildings, there is plenty to explore. With its old architecture and plazas, Porto’s historic center of Ribeira is part of a Unesco World Heritage Site.

port wine casks in cellar

Since the city is the birthplace of Port wine, it has long been a favorite destination for wine lovers who visit the cellars that are open for tastings. Most of these cellars require visitors to pay a fee. However, savvy travelers head to Taylor’s, where free tours are available showing how this beverage is made. Visitors get a glass of white and red port for free and can taste these samples on a terrace with wonderful views overlooking Ribeira. The Port producer Croft also offers free tours and samples.

To get your bearings in this meandering city, try a free tour when you arrive. Porto Free Tour guides aren’t professional, but they are enthusiastic, friendly and knowledgeable. They accompany tourists on trips through the city, sharing interesting facts and helping people experience places off the usual tourist trail.

Tours are limited to six people and they usually begin at 11am, although afternoon excursions can also be arranged. Typically, they last for two to three hours, with a break in the middle. To book a place on these tours, contact the organisation by 10pm the previous evening. This can be done by phone or text.

Livraria Lello bookstore Porto
Photo by Michal Huniewicz

Porto boasts many beautiful buildings, one of the more unusual is the Livraria Lello. This dramatic neo-gothic bookstore first opened in 1906 and the Lonely Planet has classified it as the third best bookshop in the world. It sells new, second-hand and antique books, as well as foreign-language guidebooks. This is a must-see for book lovers and building enthusiasts alike.

NOTE: Due to overwhelming crowds the Livraria Lello bookstore now charges 3 euros to enter which will be refunded off a book purchase.

Then there are the gigantic tile murals for visitors to admire. The tile panels inside the São Bento Station are a marvel to behold. In total, there are around 20,000 of these tiles featuring images alluding to the history of Portugal and its transport. They are mostly the work of artist Jorge Colaço.

Carmo church tiles Porto

Photo by Alex Ristea

Similarly impressive is the façade of the Carmo Church, what some say is Porto’s prettiest church was built in the 18th century. Visitors are drawn to the building because of its magnificent baroque architecture and one of its walls, which is completely covered in blue and white tile panels.

To get the full Porto experience, allow yourself at least two full days in the city. There is plenty to see and do within its streets and these free activities are just a taste of what’s available.

 

Tiles are everywhere in Lisbon.  They flank windows and doorways, and in some cases even cover the fronts of entire buildings.  But I was captivated by the tiles under my feet.  Particularly since they were all around, transforming otherwise mundane sidewalks into masterpieces. Read more

From a kitschy throwback hotel in North Korea to a nudist B&B in Portugal, we found a few unique places to stay in the world. Here are some of our favorites:

1) Little Petra Bedouin Camp, Jordan

 

Little Petra Bedouin camp Jordan

The Little Petra Bedouin Camp is so named because of its proximity to Little Petra, a smaller cousin of the world-renowned site of Petra. Just like the name implies, it’s little, but worth visiting as it gets less than 1% of the visitors of Petra. When we visited there were only three other people there. The Bedouin camp offers accommodations in tents. However, we were a little concerned at check-in when the owner cheerfully told us, “I’ve upgraded you to a cave.” So we spent a rather cold night in the cave but it was filled with blankets and pillows and ended up being quite cozy.

Website: Little Petra Bedouin Camp

2) Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing, China

 

Unique places to stay Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel

Keen observers will notice that while Larissa is waiting for the next performance she is engrossed in a game of Solitaire.

Hutongs are traditional neighborhoods of small alleys and courtyard homes in Beijing that are rapidly being bulldozed over for new developments. While the hutongs are becoming a shadow of their former selves, will an art based on shadows help revive them? The Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel is in an old hutong neighborhood and showcases the ancient art of shadow puppetry. Banned by Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution, shadow puppetry is being revived by another Mao, this one an artist.

Unique Places to stay Shichachai Hotel Beijing

The man behind the curtain is puppet artist Mao.

Mao makes his own hand painted shadow puppets as he revives the lost art. A theater was built into the hotel lobby to showcase regular performances for guests.. Staying here provides the visitor a unique opportunity to experience life in an old hutong while watching an ancient art.

Book a room at the: Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel

3) Belar Homestead, Dubbo, Australia

 

Unique places to stay Belars Australia

The Belar Homestead sits in Australia’s bush country on a 3,000 acre ranch owned by 4th-generation cattle farmer Rob Wright and his wife Deb. In fact, the house was built by Rob’s great-grandfather. The setting off a mile-long driveway is perfect for someone seeking solitude with the only neighbors being a few cows, some chickens and the occasional kangaroo. The remote location provides a spectacular night sky for stargazing. It’s so clear that the Parkes Radio Telescope, which received the video of the first Apollo moon landing, is nearby.

4) Ai Aiba, The Rock Painting Lodge, Namibia

 

Ai Aiba rock painting lodge Namibia

Namibia has become a popular destination in Africa for independent self-drive safaris. Aside from the big game viewing, there are many areas with prehistoric cave art paintings. Ai Aiba sits within a 12,000 acre reserve boasting over 150 of these paintings. On a pre-breakfast hike we spotted some ancient artwork of giraffes while looking over our shoulder at real giraffes munching on the acacia trees. It was a sublime experience.

Ai Aiba rock painting lodge Namibia

Website: Ai Aiba, The Rock Painting Lodge

5) Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea

 

Yanggakdo Hotel Pyongyang North Korea

Okay this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly wasn’t Larissa’s choice, but the Yanggakdo is the place to go when visiting the monolithic country of North Korea and experience some retro-70s style. There’s even a highlight of that era, a revolving restaurant on top. The rooms were nicer than we expected, although coated somewhat with several decades worth of tar and nicotine. The only way to visit North Korea is via an authorized tour operator. We recommend Koryo Tours. Extra bonus: There’s a two-lane bowling alley in the basement that comes with your own cheerleader.

Website: Koryo Tours

6) Casa Amarela, Algarve Coast, Portugal

 

Casa Amarela Naturist resort Portugal

If you’re seeking a vacation where you can pack light, really light, the Casa Amarela may be what you’re looking for. The guest house run by Brits Jane and Stewart is clothing optional. The feeling of diving into the pool and then drying off au natural in the warm Portuguese sun is so … well, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. And while you’re relaxing just think of all the money you saved on baggage fees.

Web site: Casa Amarela

7) Munduk Moding Plantation, Bali

 

Unique places to stay Munduk Moding Bali

If you’ve dreamed of waking up to a view of a coffee plantation on the island of Bali then this is the place. True coffee addicts can hike the plantation then retire to the lodge for a fresh cup of Kopi Luwak. Made famous as the java of choice for Jack Nicholson in The Bucket List,  it’s brewed from beans that have first been eaten and shat out by the civet cat. Despite that history, Larissa tried it. Fortunately for Michael he’s not a coffee drinker. As an added bonus you can visit the civets in cages and watch them prepare the beans for roasting.

Munduk Moding Plantation Bali

Website: Munduk Moding Plantation

What unique places to stay can you recommend?

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Our first ever guest post is from our friend Paula who traveled with us in Portugal to peek behind the curtain at Changes In Longitude:

Spending time with the “Traveling Milnes” is like finding yourself on a TV sitcom. One that was probably canceled after three episodes.

First of all, half of what they tout on their website is a scam. “We’re traveling light!” they exclaim. Have you actually tried to lift Larissa’s suitcase? The thing weighs a ton. It’s a wonder half of it didn’t fall off in Pyongyang.

Then there’s Little Rocky. Their photos make him look huge, imposing, sleek. In person, the poor thing is decrepit, held together by scotch tape, his coloring half flaked off. He’s even a bit waterlogged after an ill-fated attempt to float him in the Dead Sea. (Newsflash: statues don’t float.) It’s like seeing me without my makeup.

Portugal Duoro Valley

Yes, Portugal’s Douro Valley is gorgeous, but who’s got time for that when there’s laundry to do?

Then there’s their technology. They blog! They tweet! Surely they have all the latest gadgets. Yes, Larissa has a MacBook Air and can whip up a wifi hotspot as easily as a chicken dinner. (Which was delicious by the way.) But Michael, stuck in the past, sluggishly clicks away at an ancient PC. It’s a sad sight to see.

And the glamour? What a joke. Their idea of exotic adventure is washing out their underwear on a beautiful day in Portugal’s Douro Valley.  Heck, they spent half the morning trying to figure out the knobs on the washing machine, probably just to kill time.

Changes In Longitude blog

On a slow day, watching the spin cycle is a fascinating event.

So all in all, Changes in Longitude needs some changes in attitude.  Because traveling with the Traveling Milnes definitely makes you want to jump on a plane and go somewhere immediately. Preferably straight back home to resume life as you know it.

(P.S. All of the above, while based on fact, is meant strictly tongue in cheek, of course. I’m happy to report that Larissa and Michael are great fun to travel with. And now they owe me 100 euros.)