10 Must do's in Porto

I know I have said before that I like to think about myself as the non-tourist type of traveler but I am also on the opinion that some things deserve their place on the ‘must do’ list, no matter how touristic they might be. So there you have a few things that I have already tried in Porto and that I kindly advice you to try them for yourself too.

1. Lello Bookshop - 5 €

The third most beautiful bookstore in the world that is one century old is an art nouveau pearl that inspired J. K. Rowling to write the first book of Harry Potter while she spent a few years living in Portugal. She was even married to a Portuguese man.

The gothic details and the famous red staircase gave colour to Hogwarts while she was usually finding herself enjoying a cup of coffee here in the 90’s, so you can be sure that most probably the first chapter of The Philosopher's Stone was written here.

Tip: To get in you have to pay 5 €, but the good news is that if you buy a book, you’ll have the book discounted with the amount paid for the ticket. The line is usually pretty long and it sometimes goes all the way to the end of the street, but if you are in Porto definitely go visit it.

What I would advice you though is not to wait for hours and hours just to get in if you don’t have too many days to spend in Porto because there’s so much more to see in the city besides this. It would be a pity to waste 2-3 h waiting instead of walking around the narrow streets of this beautiful city.


2. Ribeira

One of the most magical city-panoramas you will ever experience for sure, the old city area right by the Douro, although full of tourists 24/7 is definitely a gem of Porto. You can take a ticket for the a cruise along the Douro river, go wobbly looking to the boats from the Luiz I bridge, visit the Bacalhoeiros Wall, Cubo square, eat at the Adega de S. Nicolau or have a drink in the Pestana Vintage Hotel’s bar… This district has it all!





3. Serra do Pilar and Jardim do Morro

Right after crossing right above the Luis I famous bridge, this is by far the best place to watch the sunset (or even sunrise) from. The hill above the Douro River that is placed on the Gaia side is where Jardim do Morro is found as well so you will have plenty of time to enjoy a view from the complete opposite side from the Crystal Palace gardens.



4. Porto Wine Cellars - 10-12 €

The famous place where the wine made in the Douro Valley is kept is definitely a must to while in Porto, not only because of the gorgeous guided tours that will finely educate you about the history of the varieties of wines, but also because every tour will most probably end with a Port tasting. Just check all the offers because there is surely a wine cellar for your taste: Sandeman, Calem, Taylor’s etc. and some even have a picnic with Portuguese delicacies.



5. Crystal Palace gardens

This verdant paradise is a maze of walkways, small hidden waterfalls and sculptured vegetation that creates a very exotic experience for a park. The huge pavilion that overlooks the Douro river is for sure worth the hike there.

The 8 hectares of greenery and romantic vibes that also host Porto’s book fair in September deserve their visit since you can also find here the Quinta da Macieirinha Romantic Museum that you can visit for free.



6. Porto Cathedral - 2, 5 €

The most important church of the city was built in the XII-XIIIth century and it’s a national monument because of it’s gothic cloister, chapel and one amazing story from the times of the Salazar regime.

Story time: The Bishop of Oporto was one of the many who were not approving of what the dictator was doing in Portugal in the 1960’s so the liberalizing effect on the Vatican councils started to feel more powerful in Portugal with him doing the first step in this direction.

He sent a letter to Salazar himself, speaking against the regime, the economic and social policies that led to a high level of poverty for the population of Porto. Given the extremely severe regime and the fear Salazar built among the country in that period, you can image what a blasphemy this was for his ego that the Bishop ended up being exiled for 10 years (’59-’69).

Fortunately, the letter got leaked to the press and even though the publishing houses were not allowed to officially spread the word, they simply printed the letter in thousands of exemplars and threw them out of the window right in the middle of the street, unofficially. And so, the first sign of protest was born, the people of Porto locked the church for 10 years and demanded that no other bishop or even person could go in unless it’s the Bishop himself.

After 10 years when the Bishop returned, in a sign of respect and solidarity he urged the people to step in the church instead of him since the church was locked by the people and fair enough, it was supposed to be opened by the people as well.

This is a story that I heard from our guide from the free walking tour and I think it was one of the stories that had the most impact on me. It is a proof of how far the Portuguese are able to go for what they believe in.



7. Clérigos Tower - 5 €

This tower is probably the first thing most people would visit in Porto and what’s so special about it is not its 75-meter height bell tower, but its placement right where the border of medieval Porto used to be, watching lovingly over the Largo Amor de Perdição Square since 1763.

You don’t have to climb that much (225 steps), although the very narrow stairs might not be the most pleasing to climb since it’s a one person space and you’ll have to make your way up while waiting in the corners for others to come back down.

The view is not particularly the most thrilling, but the birds eye view gives you a pretty nice perspective over the city, not to mention that you can also see the ocean from up there.

Interesting fact about it: Nicolau Nasoni is an Italian designer and architect Porto people are quite fond of because he was invited to build some things around Porto and this tower is one of them. It was built for the poor, for the people and most importantly, it was a gift. He didn’t charge any money for this building since he was quite a modest person.

Not only that, but he didn’t even want to have be buried with his name on his graveyard. So what’s funny now is how he was eventually buried in the church but his body was lost and since he didn’t even want to be found, there’s no point in looking for his body anymore right?



8. São Bento Train Station

One of the most beautiful railway stations that I have seen for sure. The Belle Epoque motifs, blue tiles and the images they depict create just the right fuzzy vibe train stations should have with the neve ending people that come on go everyday.

When you enter the train station try to look from the right corner to your left to see the evolution of transportation. You will end in the same corner with the image of the train. Also, on the same left wall the train is painted on you will see two blue paintings:

  1. The top one is the most famous 1387 wedding in the country, between King John I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster of England setting the basis of the oldest alliance in the world between these two countries;
  2. The painting underneath that is showing their fourth son Henry the Navigator who made a name for himself knowing that his chances of becoming the future king of Portugal would be very low since he was the youngest.



9. Foz

The seaside resort where Brits went on holiday is now a mini-city in Porto that everyone enjoys for its beaches or outdoor cafes. What’s more, the Avenida do Brasil has some of the most thrilling views over the Atlantic, not to mention the Felgueiras lighthouse.



10. Marés Swimming Pool

Another ‘one of the bests’ in the world that you can find in Porto, this swimming pool is an iconic work of Alvaro Vieira, Portugal’s most awarded architect, creating a magical atmosphere with this pool lodged between the rocks and the sea. I haven't tried this one yet, so I'll let you Google the pictures and decide for yourself if it is worth going there.

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