Porto has been on My Wish List for a Long Time
I first visited Portugal three years ago and I immediately fell in love with this stunningly romantic country. It’s the place where my husband and I got engaged, in the beautiful city of Lisbon. I was really longing to sometime get back to Portugal, because i knew a lot about another charming city – Porto, so the first thing when we had the chance to come back, was to check a short 3-day visit to this Portuguese jewel.
The city of Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal and it’s located along the Douro River, in the Northern part of the country. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and it’s historical quarter (old town) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Portugal was a major colonizer in both Brazil and parts of Africa, creating the fusion and the melting pot that have become the culture and identity of this magical place.
There are so many things to do in Porto, as it’s a very eclectic and interesting city. So, if you love great food & wine, `dirty` latin streets and history – make sure you check the list below:
1. Get a Bird’s Eye View of Porto from Ponte Dom Luís I
Go for a stroll on Cais da Ribeira – the riverfront promenade which is full of old pastel-colored houses and restaurants – and arrive at the feet of the enormous Ponte Dom Luís I, that spans the River Douro between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. This 172 m spanned, double-decked metal bridge was the widest of its kind in the world at the time of construction, in 1881, and was designed by Théophile Seyrig after working closely with the famous Gustave Eiffel.
From here you can see Porto like in a postcard – the views are breathtaking and if you cross over to the other side at the golden hour of sunset you can see the city in all its great and impressive beauty. 🌇🌉😍
2. Experience the “other” side of Porto
Don’t stick to the beaten path – feel free to discover the city center and take the side-streets. Even though the center of Porto is quite small, it has lots of surprisingly hidden layers to it, like the small, romantic & dirty cobblestone streets, that are full of colors and aromas, small shops, and restaurants buzzing with excitement. Each neighborhood has a slightly different look and feel to it. So it’s fun to just wander along and get lost. It’s as Portuguese as it can get! I especially loved that there are lots of murals and graffiti pieces on almost every street and corner, making the city an intricate art and culture combination between the old and the new.🖌️🎨⚓
3. Admire the Azulejos
`Azulejo` is a form of Spanish and Portuguese painted and glazed ceramic tiles that can be found on both the interior and exterior of buildings. It’s a way of making the town even more attractive and beautiful. The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of horror vacui (‘fear of empty spaces’) and so they covered the walls completely with these azulejos tiles. Azulejos come in different sizes, patterns & designs and color schemes, but the most traditional are painted blue and white (as seen on most of churches, the railway station and other old buildings). These old tile murals are not only beautiful, but they also depict important stories and scenes from Porto’s history.〽️🔅🔶
4. Have Brunch & Coffee at Zenith
I’m always on the hunt for great eating or coffee places, so it happens that we discovered Zenith – a cool, urban spot that serves a great variety of healthy bowls, egg-based brunch options, cocktails and specialty coffee with great latte art! The food, but also the entire place, are very nice and Instagram-able 🙂 📷🍳☕
5. Visit Livraria Lello Bookstore
If you enjoyed the brunch at Zenith you can check another cool place that is in the area. The Lello Bookstore (also known as Livraria Lello & Irmão or Livraria Chardron) is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, frequently rated among the most beautiful bookstores in the World.
The bookstore was opened by the Lello brothers in 1906, and upon entering you’ll be immediately struck by the intricate and beautiful wood artwork that can be seen both in the paneling, in the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and, of course, in the large staircases. It is said that its stunning red double-twisting staircase inspired writer J. K. Rowling when she was creating Harry Potter during her time living in Porto. The whole bookstore is lit by a stained glass skylight above. If you love books & architecture then you must visit this place! Buy your ticket from across the street. The 4€ entry fee will be deducted from any purchase you make inside. 📚🎟️🌟
6. Take some rooftop photos from Torre dos Clérigos
Another cool bird’s eye view over the city is from the Clérigos Church’s baroque bell tower –Torre dos Clérigos. The 76 meter tower can be seen from various points in the city and is one of its most characteristic and important landmarks. But rest assured – there’s no easy way up! Take the elevator and then climb up some 240 stone steps, for in the end you’ll be delighted by the most amazing views, boasting a puzzle of old orange tiled rooftops and a breathtaking panorama over the City of Porto. Access fee is 3€.⛪🏚️🏘️🎥
7. Don’t miss São Bento Railway Station
Porto’s central station is not your average train station. It was inaugurated in 1916 and its massive walls are decorated with approximately 20.000 pieces of Azulejo tiles, depicting the history of Portugal. The train station is located in the historic center of Porto, occupying a large area. The symmetrical, three-story, granite building has a “U”- shaped floor plan, with its principal façade oriented to the south-west. Great place for photos! 🚂
8. Visit the Mercado do Bolhão
Located in the heart of the city, this noisy and exuberant market is a sight not to be missed! Feel the authentic portuguese vibes at one of Porto’s oldest markets – Mercado do Bolhão. From fruits to vegetables and from meats and traditional products to wines and artisan handmade souvenirs (made from cork or ceramic azulejo) you’ll find them all here, at decent prices. Enjoy the nice atmosphere of a local market culture and discover this dirty (in a nice way) but vivid and full of colors place. Across the street – on the exit to Rua Formosa Street you can also find a cool place for foodies – Confeitaria do Bolhão – a wonderful, more than 100-years old bakery where you can buy and taste all sorts of portuguese pastry goodies.🐟🍖🍊🍇
9. Don’t miss the North-Western Beaches
If you want to go sunbathing or swimming you can change the register and go visit the north-western newer neighborhoods of Porto towards Matosinhos, following Avenida da Boavista – the longest avenue in Porto, dating back to 1850. This will take you out of the old city and towards the Ocean, to Praça Gonçalves Zarco, known as Castelo do Queijo. Wide beaches and smooth white sands await you! ☀️🌴🏖️🐚
10. Dine at Taberna dos Mercadores
If you are looking for a cozy, small, romantic and with an off-the-hook food menu, make a reservation at Taberna dos Mercadores – located in the riverfront promenade area, hidden on the narrow adjacent cobblestone streets. Although the space is small (maybe four double tables), the service was amazingly warm and professional and the food truly fresh and flavorful. We ordered soup and mix of appetizers, salt-crusted dorade and octopus with rice. By far the best octopus i have ever had! So fresh, moist, buttery and tasty! To drink we had a selection of fine local wines. 🐙🍷🍴
11. Relax in Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
Last but not least – one of my favorite places in Porto – Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. An oasis in the center of the town, this huge park features landscaped gardens that were designed in the 19th century, beautiful vegetation mix, fountains, hidden paths and amazing views over the Douro River. We even saw peacocks roaming freely 🙂 It’s an excellent place to just sit in the shades of old trees, read a good book, have a picnic or meditate, taking a lazy break from the buzz of the city.🌼🌿⛲🌳
📅Bonus Vacation Tip: Make your plans ahead of time for Sundays, as almost all places are closed (shops, supermarkets, groceries, restaurants, etc) so visiting public spaces it’s a good idea.
“So Much of Who We Are
is Where We Have Been“