7 Great Ideas for Your Porto Itinerary
In the last decade or so, Porto has transformed from a rather rundown second city into a bustling destination that wins awards and graces the glossy pages of international travel and lifestyle magazines. There’s no disputing that this is indeed a city worth visiting so here are some suggestions for what to do in Porto.
- Discover the medieval architecture of Porto in Ribeira
Explore the tangle of medieval streets between the 12th century Romanesque cathedral and the riverside. Don’t worry about getting lost in this maze of ochre and granite buildings with streets so narrow you can almost reach across and shake hands with your neighbour. As long as you keep heading downhill, you’ll eventually emerge beside the Douro River.
Once there, stroll alongside what’s left of the sturdy city walls and look for the information plaques to help you appreciate the history of this ancient fortification. Or simply pick a table at one of the many outdoor cafés and watch the world go by with a port tonic.
- Get your fill of azulejos (Portuguese painted tiles)
Porto is full of beautifully decorated churches and you don’t even have to go inside them to appreciate this. Igreja do Carmo and Capela das Almas are two particularly photogenic blue and white clad buildings.
The city centre train station, São Bento is another treat for the eyes with its main foyer covered with tiled panels that illustrate significant moments in Portuguese history. You’ll see countless examples of this art form throughout the city so bring your camera.
- Visit one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores
When Livraria Lello opened its doors in 1906, no one could have imagined that 112 years later, people would be queuing around the block and willing to pay €5 just to go inside. Since the exquisitely carved interior and swirling staircase became inextricably linked to Harry Potter, visitors have been coming in droves, although few were buying books. In fact the crowds led to diminished sales, hence the entrance fee, although you can redeem this against purchases.
- Get your contemporary art and architecture fix at Serralves
Within the grounds of Porto’s principal art foundation lie sculptures, an Art Deco palace, a tea room in the gardens and an impressive art gallery which hosts a wide range of international artists and events. Check the current programme or better still, try to visit at the beginning of June when the level of activity heats up for Serralves em Festa.
- Skip the queues and get stunning views from Arrábida bridge
Clérigos Tower is one of the highest structures in Porto so the views from the bell tower are understandably impressive. The narrow winding staircase to the top was not designed for the heavy flow of visitors that the tower currently attracts and it can get quite congested.
If you have a head for heights, head instead for the Ponte da Arrábida bridge climb. You’ll need to book ahead as numbers are limited but the thrills and views of the river and city are unforgettable.
- Become a port wine connoisseur
Strictly speaking, the port wine cellars are not in the city of Porto but across the river in neighbouring Vila Nova de Gaia. While you can learn about port wine in one of many wine bars and shops in Porto city centre, the best way to understand the history and flavours of this fortified wine is in one of the cellars. Some of them, such as Real Companhia Velha, contain oak barrels of wine dating back to 1867. Take a tour then decide whether you’re more a fan of white, tawny or ruby port.
- See Porto’s history through the ages at Casa do Infante
Step inside the thick granite walls of the former customs building and you’ll soon see that the structure originated as a Roman villa. A computerised reconstruction shows how it developed over time into a royal palace, the royal mint, the customs house and now a museum.
If you have ever been curious about the pioneering Portuguese explorer, Prince Henry the Navigator, this is where he was probably born. The building is now named after him and the upper floor of the museum is dedicated to his daring overseas explorations and discoveries in the 15th century.
These are just a few of Porto’s highlights. Let us know if you’d like to get to know the city better on a private guided tour.