Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal, isn’t a city of typical monuments. Some cities show their grandeur generously through lavish buildings and monuments. However, Porto’s charm discreetly and elegantly extends throughout the old city. To fully enjoy a visit to Porto, you must explore the city with your senses wide awake.
We help you in doing so with some information that we hope will be useful.
The origins of Porto date back to a Roman settlement on the elevated terrain along the Douro River, now occupied by the Cathedral.
Elevated to a diocese in the Visigothic period, it was taken by the Arabs in the 8th century and recovered by Vimara Peres in the late 9th century. The city was initially called Cale, then Portucale, and… well, there lies the origin of the city name.
A variety of uniquely Portuguese late Gothic can be found. Maritime motifs abound, influenced by the age of discoveries and the conquests of Portuguese navigators. The decoration is abundant and highly elaborate. The foremost examples of this style are the Convent of Christ in Tomar, the portal of the Church of Madre de Deus in Lisbon, and the Royal Cloister of Batalha.
In the cathedral area, you’ll find the São Bento railway station from 1916. The vestibule is adorned with tiles, the work of Jorge Colaço, depicting historical scenes and typical rural festivities. It retains the romantic atmosphere of old steam train journeys.
The Renaissance church of Santa Clara is also worth a visit.
Follows the banks of the Douro River, with narrow streets and arcades. Numerous houses with tiled facades and others painted in pastel colors are well preserved, giving the neighborhood a picturesque tone.
An extension of the city, the long Avenida de Boavista is surrounded by hotels, shops, and office buildings. It’s Porto’s commercial area. At the center of Boavista Roundabout stands a statue of a lion crushing an eagle (symbolizing the Luso-British army defeating the Napoleonic eagle).
The Centre and the Baixa
If we take Avenida dos Aliados, we find Porto’s City Hall at the northern end. In the Baixa (or lower part of the district) are Rua Santa Catarina and Rua Sa Bandeira, elegant shopping streets. Between the two is the Bolhao covered market, another of the city’s must-see sights.
This area is also home to the Café Majestic, a perfectly preserved, century-old marvel. It’s well worth stopping for a coffee (or whatever you like, they have a very extensive menu) at one of their tables.
Palacio de la Bolsa
Rua Ferreira Borges
Open from 9am to 1pm and from 2pm to 6pm, it offers a guided tour in different languages.
Built in 1842 on the site of the former monastery of San Francisco. The most interesting part of the building is the Arab hall, inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, with beautiful gilded arabesques.
Located next to the Palacio de la Bolsa
Open from 9.00 to 18.00 h.
Built in the 14th century, the interior of the church was covered with wood in the 18th century, concealing its original structure. In 1833, a fire destroyed the cloister and part of the church (we have already seen that the Stock Exchange building was built on this site).
The main altar and pillars are covered with sculptures depicting angels, animals and decorative garlands, carved with more than 200 kg of gold. Of particular note is the Tree of Jesse, which shows the family tree of Christ, with Jesse, father of King David, at the base, and St. Joseph, the Virgin and Jesus Christ crowning the carving.
You can go down into the catacombs, an interesting (and somewhat harrowing) visit.
Igreja dos Congregados
A 17th century church with the façade covered with tiles by Jorge Colaço, depicting the life of Saint Anthony.
Igreja dos Clerigos (and Tower)
Built in the 18th century by Niccolo Nasoni. Attached to it is the 75-metre high Tower, one of Porto’s landmarks.
Dom Luis I Bridge
Designed by the architect Seyrig, one of Eiffel’s assistants (the style of the construction shows the influence of Eiffel), it was built in 1886 and is 172 m long.
Vila Nova de Gaia
Opposite the old part of the city, on the other side of the river, is Gaia, with the Porto wine cellars lined up and open to visitors. The best way to enter them is to buy a combined ticket that includes a boat trip and a visit. Numerous small boats offer a tour of the Douro, passing under the six bridges that link the two sides of the city, and then give the chance to visit one (or several) cellars.
When British merchants discovered the vinho do Porto in the 17th century, they were met with an unpleasant surprise: the wine turned sour during the journey from Portugal to the islands. They soon discovered a method to avoid this: adding brandy. This interrupted the fermentation process of the grapes, which preserved their natural sweetness. In this way they obtained a sweet wine with many degrees and with an excellent taste. Porto wine as we know it today.
It can be said, therefore, that Porto wine is a Portuguese wine but a British invention, something that can be seen on the labels of the wineries, most of which have an English name.
There are different types of Porto wine.
White: it is sweet and dry, served chilled, and drunk as an aperitif.
Tawny: with a pinkish tone and an intermediate taste between white and ruby.
Ruby: intense red colour, fruity and aged in wood.
Vintage: the most appreciated, it is made from a blend of the best wines from a single vintage.
Some practical information on how to get to the city
Porto is one of those cities that have the good taste to connect the airport and the city centre in a comfortable, fast and cheap way. The Metro (actually an above-ground route) links the airport to Trindade Station (next to Avenida dos Aliados) in 30 minutes. However, if you choose to take a cab…
If you arrive by car, you’d better find a good car park, as the layout of the streets makes traffic very difficult (especially if you don’t know the city well) and parking is really difficult.
A Special Place: Lello e Irmão Bookshop
Undoubtedly, the most famous bookshop in Porto. It was founded in 1869, but it was in 1906 that it moved to the spectacular Art Nouveau building it has occupied ever since.
Is there a problem? Well, we are in the age of tourism and Instagram, and the bookshop is so beautiful and looks so good in pictures! Result: lots of people looking and not so many buying. So they’ve decided to charge an entrance fee of 5 euros, which is deducted if you end up buying something.
And no, despite being repeated many times, the Lello bookstore has nothing to do with Harry Potter, as confirmed by J.K. Rowling herself.
Opening hours: 9:30 AM to 7:30 PM
Address: Rua das Carmelitas, 144
(We try to keep our website constantly updated; however, some information, such as opening times or prices, may be subject to changes. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause)