In 2015 I visited the Portuguese capital Lisbon for a city trip and I liked this city so much that I decided that I had to go on another Portuguese city trip soon. My boyfriend clearly remembered this, because he gave me two tickets to Porto for my last birthday. Sweet! During the long Ascension weekend (2018) it was time to spend three days in the second city of Portugal. Looking back, the timing could have been better, because during that weekend I came across a lot of Dutch tourists in Porto. On the streets, in restaurants, in trains: Dutch people were everywhere! But then again, I don’t blame them. Porto is very pleasant city for a city trip. It is not super big and it does not have a lot of sights and that is a good thing. It is a city you can explore without feeling rushed to see everything. And that is exactly what I did. No lists with sights, but just see whatever comes on my path. This article is a collection of all the things I liked & loved.
1. Counting the blue and white azulejos
Porto is known for it: the blue and white tiled churches. In the city you can find three stunning pieces. Coincidentally, one church was fairly close to our rented apartment: the Capela das Almas. A small church on a busy crossroad close to the Mercado do Bolhao. The walls are covered with nearly 16.000 blue and white azulejos that together tell the story of Saint Francisco of Assisi and Catharina. The tiles were not there from the beginning, but were added later in 1929. A good decision, because now the church is a true eyecatcher.
Not only churches are covered in azulejos, also the train station of Porto (La Estación de São Bento) is covered with blue and white tiles. This time it is not the outside walls, but the main hall inside that is the art piece. It is best to visit the train station early in the morning, because the station is mentioned in almost every travel guide or tour programme. That means a lot of tourists.
2. Search for the most colorful houses
Porto is a city of color. Every street is a collection of colorful houses, windows and balconies. It pays off to look up once in a while. I really enjoyed wandering in the neighbourhoods Ribeira and Baixa. Streets like Cais da Riberia or the alleys that lead to the Ponte Dom Luis I are a delight for your camera. I loved the colorful balconies, drying laundry on the line and the cobblestone streets.
3. Watch the details: Art Nouveau
Slowly making your way through Porto has its perks. More time to look at all the details. I noticed the lovely facades of certain shops and cafes. This is the result of the Art Nouveau building style that was popular in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. This style is characterized by organic shapes, pastel colors, symmetry and floral motives. Thanks to the rise as Porto a city trip destination a couple of Art Nouveau buildings became extremely popular. Standing hours in line for a cup of coffee at Café Majestic or to buy a book at Livraria Lello & Irmao is not an exception. I really did not wanted to waste time with standing in a line and decided to walk around and pay more attention to the buildings. You can already see a lot of the Art Nouveau style by just walking around and observing the details. Explore the street Rua de Santa Catarina, take a look at Perola Do Bolhao or walk uphill (or downhill) Rua de 31 de Janeiro.
4. Honoring Porto: port wine
You cannot leave Porto without honoring the name. I am referring to drinking a glass of port wine. Before my trip I thought I was not going to like this beverage at all, because I thought it was dry. Wrong! Port is actually quite sweet, so it was exactly my kind of wine. In Vila Nova de Gaia (at the other side of the river Douro) there is a large number of port wine houses where you can taste local port. You can book a port wine tasting, a tour in port cellar or treat yourself to a glass of port on a terrace.
5. Scouting for the best miradouros
Going up, going down. Porto is not a flat city. Your calves are put to work, but as a reward you will get a number of great viewpoints. Or as the Portuguese call them: miradouros. A view over the orange roofs, the river Douro and Vila Nova de Gaia. My favorite viewpoint was the Miradouro do Terreiro da Sé, a square in front of the Cathedral de Sé where you have a great view over the winding alleys downwards. A close second was the view from the Torre dos Clerigos. Reserve enough time for this, because security only lets visitors up the tower in small groups. This way it does not get too crowded on the tower. The view was phenomenal!
6. Street art hunt
I love street art. Though Porto does not have as much of a street art scene as big sister Lisbon, there are still some nice works to be seen. I almost jumped in the air when I saw the Half Rabbit of artist Bordalo II, made with local garbage and materials. Such a cool piece, I had never seen something like this before. On the Porto side of the river there are also some great works to see. If you walk across the upper deck of the Ponte Dom Luís I you will see the mural of an old man with a red background. I also saw some nice pieces in the neighborhood of Miragaia, an area little bit further down along the coast of the Douro river. Same colorful houses built on a cliff, but without the crowds of tourists. Portuguese artists Vhills made here one of his ‘paintings’, carved out of rock stone wall. Amazing!
7. Walking across the Ponte de Dom Luís I
Last item on my list is the famous bridge of Porto: Ponte de Dom Luís I. Built at the end of the nineteenth century by an employee of Gustave Eiffel. You know, the same architect that created the Eiffel Tower. If you observe the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge more closely you can kind of see an Eiffel Tower that is put on its side. The impressive two-level high iron construction connect the city side with Vila Nova de Gaia. The lower level is reserved for cars, the upper level is for the city tram. As a pedestrian you can use both decks. The lower deck is good for observing life at the front side of the Ribeira, but the path is quite narrow. The upper deck gives an amazing view over the river Douro. The upper deck is my favorite, because there is less traffic there.
- Hit the beach: I did not do this, because it was quite cold when I visited Porto. But it seems like a great idea to escape the city and cool off at the beach. It is only a 20-minute tram ride (tram line 1 to Foz) away.
- Porto for vegans and vegetarians: honestly, it was quite difficult. Porto is a city of fish lovers. The variety in vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants is not that big. I recommend going to Da Terra (a buffet restaurant, can be busy though) and if you have more to spend: Em Carna Viva.
- Vintage shopping at Armazem: this is an old warehouse that is used by small shops to promote and sell their vintage items. Great store to get lost in. You can also grab a drink here on the terrace.
Have you been to Porto?