Porto: “Ancient, Very Noble, Always Loyal and Invicta (Victorious)”.
To visit Porto (also called “O porto”) is to understand the noise that runs along its banks. A douro or “golden” river due to the symbolizes the city’s richness of its commerce, its people, its victories. To visit Porto is to become entranced in its gray body, on a journey among an essentially granite and dazzling architecture. To visit Porto is to be tongue-twisted and know how to say: “Carago!”
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This Porto that we know today was born as a small Celtic village giving way to the Romans who built a trading port named “Cale”. Later, it became the capital of the Condado Portucalense giving way to the current name of the country after the Independence of Portugal.
I am from the capital and I love my city (I wouldn’t trade it for any other in the world and its surroundings). But if I had to leave my “nest” I would go to Porto. Porto is a special city. It has soul, charisma and a strong personality! A personality that comes from its people. We are from the same country but we are different. The people from Porto are more direct, more cheerful, more friendly, and they swear more! (I don’t trust people who don’t swear)
WHERE IS IT AND HOW TO GET TO PORTO?
Porto is strategically well situated in the northwestern part of mainland Portugal, bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Douro River. About 300 km from the capital, you can reach the city easily in several ways:
By car: A1 for those coming from the south, A3 for those coming from the north or from the coastal north (A28) and A4 with connection to the transmontana area of Portugal.
By train: It is possible to get tickets at prices from 5€ when purchased in advance and connecting the two main stations of Porto: Campanhã and São Bento. The latter is more central and has a splendid architecture, flanked by tiles in its interior.
By bus: Flixbus – with stops at Camélias, near Batalha and São João National Theatre. Express network: With stops at Campo 24 de Agosto and connection to the metro in the surrounding area.
By plane: The Francisco Sá Carneiro airport is located half an hour away from the city, with connection to the center by subway (Line E – Airport – Trindade) and buses 601 and 604 (Airport – Cordoaria).
The easiest and cheapest way to get to know Porto is: ON FOOT, even though the city has a good bus and subway service.
TIPS: To ride the subway you must buy and load the ANDANTE ticket (it serves for all transports), but don’t forget to validate the ticket in each trip. The bus numbers are divided by zones, for example if you want to go to Vila Nova de Gaia the bus number is always 9XX, Matosinhos -5XX, Foz – 2XX. It is easy and a way not to get lost at the destination.
WHAT TO VISIT IN PORTO?
Porto is a nation! In the invicta city there are so many attractions that the most difficult part of writing this article was choosing them. To help you, we divided the tourist attractions in blocks, as follows: 1- Typical streets and squares in Porto, 2- Typical neighborhoods, 3- Monuments not to be missed, 4- Museums in Porto, 5- Parks and gardens, 6- Other attractions and activities.
TYPICAL STREETS AND SQUARES IN OPORTO
To get to know the “soul” of the city, you have to walk through it. We have prepared a map with the location of the most emblematic streets of Porto.
RIVERSIDE ZONE OF PORTO
It is the postcard of the city! Although very busy, it is possible to sit by the river and enjoy the rabelo boats, or have a drink at one of the many terraces and restaurants. Appreciate the architecture of the D. Luís I Bridge and maybe see some children jumping from the lower deck of the bridge, a very common practice among the brave youngsters from Porto.
DARK STREET OF PORTO (RUA ESCURA DO PORTO)
One of the oldest streets of the city, next to the Cathedral. Less touristy, going down from the Cathedral through Rua Escura to the “noble” part of the city is to get lost in the charms and nooks and crannies that it brings us. A child knocking at the door and shouting “é meuu = it’s mine”, clothes laid out from houses in shades of red and yellow. But it’s the blue that predominates in the city, blue and white cascades that represent the heart of the locals who cheer for Futebol Clube do Porto or even the smell of homemade food that crosses the wooden shutters of each house. This street belongs to those who live here. And despite the name that belongs to it, it is full of light and life given to it by its people.
FLOWERS STREET (RUA DAS FLORES)
Recently restored, this street is one of Porto’s main arteries. Parallel to Mouzinho da Silveira street, it is possible to take a calm walk, enjoy the esplanades, get lost in the incredible antique book stores, appreciate street art (where you can see several typical Porto expressions written on electricity protectors) and even visit the Misericórdia Church in Porto.
SANTA CATARINA STREET (RUA DE SANTA CATARINA)
The street of movement. Here you can find anything you want to buy. A pedestrian street full of commerce very close to the bolhão market. At the end of the street it is also possible to find the beautiful Majestic cafe, very popular for its interior and where J.K. Rowling says she wrote part of her books. Why not also get inspired while having a coffee?
CARQUEJEIRAS STREET (RUA DAS CARQUEJEIRAS)
As we cross the typical neighborhood of Fontainhas, we come across a steep street, easy to go down but that few dare to climb. From down there, our gaze crosses with the river immediately at our feet, from up there, we want the view perpetuated in that image. But it is on the sidewalk of this street that history is preserved. The story of the “slave” women of Oporto, who for years carried on their heads and backs the kilos of carqueja trees up the street, because the street was considered too steep to be climbed by animals.
Looking down at the ground, many of them will not have had the opportunity to appreciate with clarity and calm the splendor of these views. Which makes this space, a place of admiration and gratitude. And that is why a statue was built on the site in honor of these great women of Oporto.
STREET ART IN MIGUEL BOMBARDA STREET (RUA MIGUEL BOMBARDA)
Porto’s art district. Whether you are a street art lover or not, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the “faces” of this street. This street breathes art, either by the numerous galleries of contemporary art (there are at least 20) or by the murals along its path that give color and involve us in art and culture. It is a hub for various artists from all over the world with several exhibitions simultaneously throughout the year.
TYPICAL DISTRICTS OF PORTO
Below is a map with the location of two typical districts of Porto: Ribeira district and Miragaia district.
RIBEIRA DISTRICT (BAIRRO DA RIBEIRA)
As the name suggests, this neighborhood is located in the riverside area of the city, overlooking the Douro River and the D. Luís I bridge. Inthis historic area considered a world heritage site, it is possible to arrange a meeting with friends and have as a reference point the famous “Cube” in the Ribeira square, popularly known as cube square. In thisneighborhood, thousands of people gather on the night of S. João, June 23 to 24, to watch the fireworks that mark the city’s festivities, along with the famous hammers and hot air balloons. While walking along the banks it is possible to appreciate not only the landscape but also to discover the Fernandina walls and one of the few remaining vestiges of medieval times (the coal wicket).
MIRAGAIA DISTRICT (BAIRRO DE MIRAGAIA)
Located further west and next to the Ribeira neighborhood, we have the Miragaia neighborhood, not as popular but equally unmissable. You can start your route with a visit to the gothic church of São Francisco where you can visit the catacombs with thousands of human bones. Afterwards, follow the winding stairs of the new way and watch the sunset to the sound of Jazz jazz music at the Mirajazz cafe. Crossing Rua de Miragaia, we can lose ourselves in vintage warehouses and finish with a francesinha in a wood oven at Alfandega Douro. At the end of the Bairro, Alfândega do Porto, can be freely visited in most of its area having there are several other exhibitions throughout the year.
MUST-SEE MONUMENTS IN PORTO
There are many beautiful and unmissable monuments in Porto! To help you plan the sequence of your tours, here is a map with the location of Porto’s major attractions!
CLERIGOS TOWER (TORRE DOS CLÉRIGOS)
Ex-libris of the city, its 225 steps and 75 meters high make this tower the highest in Portugal with a 360º view over the city. Visible every day from 9am to 7pm, it is open at night until 11pm on special occasions. The price is 6€ and children under 11 years old do not pay admission.
PORTO CATHEDRAL AND BISHOP’S PALACE (SÉ CATEDRAL DO PORTO E PAÇO EPISCOPAL)
In the oldest and highest part of the city is also located one of its most powerful monuments. The most important religious monument of the city: the Cathedral and its adjacent Episcopal Palace, which is still home to the Bishop of Porto. Of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque influence, the cathedral is free to enter and its cloisters and Episcopal Palace can be visited for a single ticket of 5€.
CRYSTAL PALACE (PALÁCIO DE CRISTAL)
Popularly and forever thus known, the Crystal Palace – original nomenclature when it was still another building here, was also the Sports Pavilion and the Rosa Mota Pavilion, and is currently named the Super Bock Arena. This semi-spherical arena is located within the gardens of the Crystal Palace and hosts sports and recreational activities as well as conferences, shows, and exhibitions. Inside the dome of the pavilion it is possible to observe the city in a stunning 360 degrees.
STOCK EXCHANGE PALACE, PORTO (PALÁCIO DA BOLSA)
The most visited monument in the North of Portugal and considered a world heritage site by UNESCO. No wonder why. Although its exterior stands out, it is inside that we find its true value…. Literally. For its famous Arabic hall illuminates not only the room but also the view with its glass shutters and numerous decorations of Moorish stylization in gold leaf and various inscriptions of the Koran. Hand-painted by the Portuguese, it was commissioned during the Romantic period, when the taste for the most exotic artistic forms reigned supreme.
HOUSE OF MUSIC, PORTO (CASA DA MÚSICA DO PORTO)
A monument of unique architecture in Portugal, located next to the famous Boavista traffic circle. Here, besides enjoying its exterior beauty, this “small” music cube offers mainly classical concerts with its symphonic and baroque orchestra, remix ensemble, choir and children’s choir. Inside it is also possible to enjoy a dinner of signature food accompanied by a concert. Outside, due to the architectural structure adjacent to the music house, skateboarding is often practiced for the more courageous.
MONASTERY / PILLAR VIEWPOINT (MOSTEIRO / MIRADOURO DO PILAR)
Serra do Pilar, or the gates of the city of Porto, is named this because it is located in one of the highest points of Vila Nova de Gaia. Here was a sixteenth century convent that two hundred years later was occupied by the army and later recovered its legacy museum. From its cloisters and terrace you can see the entire historic area of Porto. A little further down, from “who comes and crosses the river, next to the mountain of the pillar” there is a garden, the garden of the hill, where we can lie on its green bed and breathe the splendor of the city.
CHURCH OF CARMEL (IGREJA DO CARMO)
Located between Jardim da Cordoaria and Praça Carlos Aberto, it is difficult to remain indifferent to this church of the Carmelite order whose patron saint is Saint Anne. On its side façade we marvel at the mural of tiles in shades of blue and white, colors that are a everywhere in this city. Because it was built on the land immediately adjacent to the Carmelite church and this was not allowed at the time, there is a small building of about 1.5 meters wide that separates these two churches. Being known as “the hidden house of Oporto” and the narrowest house in the city of Oporto, this is where the visit to the house, church and catacombs begins.
SAINT FRANCIS CHURCH (IGREJA DE SÃO FRANCISCO)
One of the most important religious monuments in the city. It had its origin in medieval times through the Franciscan order but later, due to a major fire, was remodeled giving rise to the predominantly Gothic style today. In this church located at the mouth of Miragaia, in the parish of São Nicolau, it is possible to admire not only the golden carvings of its interior but also to visit the famous Franciscan catacombs and an ossuary with hundreds of human bones.
VIEWPOINTS IN OPORTO
Below is a map with the main viewpoints in Porto.
VICTORY VIEWPOINT (MIRADOURO DA VITÓRIA)
It is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Located in the old Jewish area of Porto, next to the church of Vitória, and close to the characteristic Rua das Taipas and the old jail, it can be reached through less busy streets. This viewpoint, despite being private property, is freely accessible. From there you can see the Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace, the Convent of the Crickets, the bridge D. Luís I and even the mountains of the pillar and much of the other side, Gaia. A perfect place to breathe the city.
BANDEIRINHA DA SAÚDE VIEWPOINT (MIRADOURO DA BANDEIRINHA DA SAÚDE)
Near the Customs building, is the “Bandeirinha da saúde” viewpoint. On this site is a granite pyramid that once served to demarcate the entry of boats, raising a flag in this place at times of plagues. Today it serves only to make us look at another perspective of the city with an unobstructed view of the Douro. Because it is even less known it may be difficult to find, the easiest thing to do is look for the mermaids… not the river mermaids, but the Mermaid (Sirens) Palace in Miragaia.
AFURADA DE CIMA
On the other side of the river banks, there is a fishing village, where the rhythm of the city seems to calm down in the quietness of its colorful streets and the clotheslines left to the wind. Going up São Pedro Street, we glimpse the city from another perspective. The view follows the sea, the river, Gaia’s marina – (Douro Marina) and also the Invicta and the Crystal palace gardens.
The place invites you not only to enjoy the landscape but also to appreciate other senses. The best is not to ignore the smell of freshgrilled fish in the surrounding restaurants and go to a port wine tasting in one of the many cellars that exist in V.N. de Gaia.
MUSEUMS IN OPORTO
Below is a map with some of the main museums in Porto.
SERRALVES MUSEUM (MUSEU DE SERRALVES)
It is on Rua D. João de Castro that we find the contemporary art museum of the Serralves foundation, designed by Siza Vieira. But Serralves is not a mere museum. It is a national monument where you can delight yourself with contemporary works in the museum; the Manoel de Oliveira movie house; the Serralves house, a unique example of Art Deco; an 18-hectare park; sculptures that make you question the perspective of objects, and an incredible treetop walk through the park’s trees! There are also several activities and performances throughout the year. The ticket can be bought to include all the spaces or just some of them. There are several discounts and access is free every first Sunday of the month between 10am and 1pm.
WORLD OF DISCOVERIES
It was in an old port wine warehouse that this recent attraction was born. In the Miragaia neighbourhood, in the same building as the acclaimed francesinhas in wood-burning ovens, we find this interactive museum and theme park that takes us on a journey through the Portuguese discoveries. It looks like magic but it’s really real, you enter a small historical house in the center of Porto and travel by sea. This “trip” of about 1h30 is free for children under 3 years and tickets can be purchased online.
PORTUGUESE CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY (CENTRO PORTUGUÊS DE FOTOGRAFIA)
The Portuguese Photography Center is installed in an old jail in Oporto, the Cadeia da relação, located in the heart of Oporto, in the Amor de Perdição square, near the clerics tower. It is also in this space that we can visit the room where the author of “Amor de Perdição”, Camilo Castelo Branco was detained. With free entrance temporary exhibitions and a collection of old cameras, it is difficult not to get lost in love with this space.
PARKS AND GARDENS
Below is a map of the main parks and gardens of the city of Porto.
SERRALVES PARK (PARQUE DE SERRALVES)
A park that is a museum or a museum that is a park. Visiting Serralves Park means not only walking along paths of arboreal diversity, but also encountering works of sculpture that are permanently in the park. There are also light installations and astronomical observation sessions visits.
CITY PARK (PARQUE DA CIDADE)
With 83 hectares, it is the largest urban park in the country, and a great place to go jogging, cycling, or just sit and enjoy nature. In the western part of the park you can reach the Matosinhos beach.
BOTANICAL GARDEN (JARDIM BOTÂNICO)
With free entrance every day of the week, the botanical garden, located in campo alegre Campo Alegre, is also a cheerful and relaxed space with a greatbotanical diversity, namely of native species.
CRYSTAL PALACE GARDENS (JARDINS DO PALÁCIO DE CRISTAL)
It is in the parish of Massarelos that we can freely visit this romantic garden. Not only because of the date of its construction but also because it is possible to fall in love with it. Be it the herb garden, the twin cities garden, the feelings garden, the rose garden, the medicinal plants garden, the woods, the chestnut avenue, the lime tree avenue, the lake, the panoramic viewpoints or even the geese, chickens and peacocks that live there. We no longer know if we are in the heart of Porto, or if it is our heart that is there.
Below is a map with the location of two of the main wineries in the region.
Port wine has been aging in these cellars since 1890, but it has only been possible to visit them about 20 years ago. The way up there is steep, starting almost at the end of the Gaia pier. The view from up there is worth it, even more if accompanied by port wine tasting. Ruby? Tawny? Vintage? Impossible to choose, the best thing is to try them all. Don’t worry, the road afterwards is always downhill.
Among the oak barrels, the interactive tour of the Calém cellars allows you to know the history of the Douro valleys that make port a wine with unique characteristics. Watching a fado show and tasting white port is still a final touch to add to the experience.
BEACHES NEAR PORTO
We have two recommendations for you and a map to help you choose!
MIRAMAR BEACH – VILA NOVA DE GAIA
Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, Miramar Beach, or as it is better known, Praia do senhor da Pedra, this beach stands out for the presence of a monument of hexagonal shape, next to the rocks, flanking the sea and the sand. It is said that this is perhaps the only church built with its door facing the sea. Despite the pagan origins that are associated with it, every year in June there are festivities in honor of Senhor da Pedra. It is worth walking along this beach with a unique view!
PRAIA DO CASTELO DO QUEIJO – MATOSINHOS
Strategically well situated, if it were not flanked by a castle. It is a perfect place for walking, exercising or relaxing by the sea. The beach is small and the rocks are abundant, but it is one of the few pet friendly beaches in the city of Porto. Right next door, a few steps away, is the beach of Matosinhos where the sand is more extensive.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES IN PORTO
There are many other attractions to see in Porto! Here is a list of suggestions and a map to guide you!
LELLO BOOKSTORE (LIVRARIA LELLO)
Known as the most beautiful in the world, this century-old bookstore stands out for its stunning staircase that takes us back to the imagery of fantasy books, especially Harry Potter. It is located on Carmelite Street and it is impossible to remain indifferent to it. The price of the visit is discounted with the purchase of a book. Closed on Mondays.
BRIDGE DOM LUIS I (PONTE DOM LUIS I)
Designed by Gustave Eiffel’s disciple, Theophile Seyrig. It has two decks in an architecture dominated by cast iron. Both can be crossed by foot. The lower one connects the riverside area to the Gaia pier and the upper one, the top of the Sé to the hill’s belvedere. Always with breathtaking views.
BOLHÃO MARKET (MERCADO DO BOLHÃO)
Neoclassical monument, where it is not only about commerce, where the smell of fresh fruit, fish, meat and flowers of all kinds hang in the air. This is a space that represents the strong and cheerful spirit of its people, in it you can also hear the strong accent of the sellers, who treat all customers in a special way. It will not be strange to hear “oh my rich one, oh my rich one” when passing by the stalls. This monumental market is currently being renovated and is scheduled to open again in 2022. Until then, to buy fresh produce, go to the temporary Bolhão Market, right next door.
VIRTUE GARDEN AND VIRTUE WALK (HORTO E PASSEIO DAS VIRTUDES)
It is said that virtue is in the middle. And it is precisely in the center of Porto, at the crossroads between Miragaia and Vitória that we find the Virtues Garden and Promenade. The garden, free to enter, with an almost vertical format, is covered with terraces where we can sit on benches as if they were trees and feel part of nature. In an illuminated surrounding of trees and immense camellias it is possible to lose ourselves in time with the eighteenth century ginkgo biloba tree, thelargest representation of this species in the country, with thirty-five meters in height.
Right next to it, the path along the virtudes promenade makes us feel the name that identifies it and meet the four horsemen of the apocalypse and also observe at a glance through the steep view of the belvedere, the seventeenth-century virtudes fountain, a national monument, where the cold river used to pass. With several shadows, but without a shadow of a doubt, this is the ideal place to end the day and have a drink while enjoying the sunset over the Douro. On the same street we can find the Árvore Cooperative with free art exhibitions and a restaurant inside.
PORTO BRIDGE CLIMB FROM ARRÁBIDA BRIDGE
There, where the river ends and the sea begins, the river bids farewell to Porto over the Arrábida Bridge. It is possible to experience the climb to its 65-meter arch and a “mere” 262 stairs with proper climbing equipment. The climb, which you can buy and book in advance online, is worth it not only for the stunning view, which is a must-see for fans of photography (and heights).
The chicest part of town! Taking the streetcar number 1 that goes from the infante to the joy ride is perhaps the most beautiful way to go through Porto to its mouth. Once there, it’s possible to see the space by walking through the famous Pérgola da Foz, in the Brasília Avenue; drink a cocktail by the sea and walk through the pier until the Felgueiras lighthouse that is open to the public.
GUINDAIS ELEVATOR AND SURROUNDING AREA
Going down, as the saying goes, all the saints help. Going up, they say in Porto, the Funicular. Right there near the tunnel of Ribeira you can take the funicular of the cranes and go up to the Batalha. On its way, in the surrounding area we can see the Guindalense Futebol Clube, with a cafeteria and esplanade that from the top shows us the peaceful view over the river.
BELOMONTE BRUSHES (ESCOVADORIA DE BELOMENTE)
Nowhere else in Portugal will we talk about brushes. Why brushes? This famous brush shop is a family business that has been passed down from generation to generation for about 100 years and holds the art of making brooms and brushes for industrial and general public use entirely by hand. It is located on the street of the same name and is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling when she wrote about the second-hand broom store in Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
VIRTUAL TOUR TO PORTO
You don’t need to be a history expert to understand why this city is nicknamed the invicta city! Be it for the stunning architecture, the strength of its walls or the strong accent of the languages that live there! But who gave it the name we know it by was D. Maria II, after the city resisted the siege of the absolutist troops for more than a year without being invaded (XIX century – during the liberal war).
It is also possible to find historical records and affection to the city inside the São Bento Station with the tile murals that illustrate the marriage of D. João I with the English princess, D. Filipa de Lencastre.This historical moment also represents one of the longest alliances in history through the Treaty of Windson Windsor that militarily united Portugal and England. Lose yourself in time admiring them but don’t miss the train!
PORTO SENTIDO MUSIC
It is impossible to think of the city of Porto without remembering the song “Porto sentido” (Sense Port) by Rui Veloso. A song made by those who know the city to the bone. This article would not be complete without this masterpiece!
WHAT TO SEE NEAR PORTO?
4 days are not too many to visit the “nation” of Porto. If you have time to spare, take the following suggestions.
From Porto to Vila do Conde is only 24 minutes by car (26 kilometers away). The most famous fishing village in the country deserves a careful visit. If you go there, be sure to visit the monastery of Santa Clara, the mythical neighborhood of Caxinas, the church of Santa Clara and the mother church of Vila do Conde.
10 minutes and 8 kilometers separate the city of Porto from Matosinhos. A land of fishermen who live from the sea and for the sea! Nowadays many people visit Matosinhos to eat the best fish in the world at very attractive prices!
TYPICAL PORTO CUISINE
Porto’s gastronomy is also influenced by its people’s personality. The famous “Tripas à moda do Porto” (Tripe Porto-style), as the legends say, arose at a time when the dishes were reinvented to stave off hunger. They were made with offal, folded and dark bread, giving way to the more current recipe that includes meat and white beans. Be a tripeiro in body and soul and try this dish that is considered one of the 7 national gastronomic wonders.
Speaking of flavors, we couldn’t talk about the flavors of Porto without mentioning the very famous francesinha. Toasted bread with beds of ham, mortadella, sausage, fresh sausage, beef steak and sheets of melted cheese on top. Dipped in a special sauce that can be more or less spicy and can be accompanied with egg and fries.
Nowadays there are several versions including chicken and vegetarian. At Lado B restaurant you can order a vegetarian francesinha with vegan cheese. If your mouth is already watering, the best thing is a beer to go with it, but to be a real portuense you can order a “fino” or “a prince”. At the end of the meal drink a “cimbalino”!
RESTAURANTS IN PORTO
TABERNINHA DO MANEL
Whenever I go to Porto I go to Taberninha do Manel! A restaurant located on the banks of the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. It is perfect for those who like tapas with a good red wine! The space is cozy, the staff friendly, the food very good and the price fair for the quality and personality of the house. On Google it has over 2400 reviews (!) and a 4.4 star rating (out of a maximum of 5).