Porto, the city of bridges and unofficial capital of North is very much a city in its own right and the reason I say this is because I thought of it as a subdued-to-the-capital, characterless second biggest city in Portugal and while I thought of Portugal as a small country and Lisbon was an eye-opener enough, Porto really exceeded all expectations.
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It’s a beautiful city with a lot to offer apart from the bridges alone and you can guess that from some of the people it has hosted over the years, J. K. Rowling being my favourite one and if you are a Harry Potter fan, Porto is a must-see city because you will see a lot of it in the movies and books from the student uniform of the University of Porto to the grand staircase of Livraria Lello.
The most interesting fact about Porto which I found on day 1 from the guide was that the city ends at Douro river and across the river is a different city altogether called Vila Nova de Gaia (or Gaia in short and even though there is no real distinction and the public transport run across both cities like one the administrations are different and based on that both cities claim they hold the record of possessing 6 bridges unless it comes to paying for their maintenance 😉
All Things Porto
Well, the very first thing you should know is the name Porto is the English version of Oporto and the locals consider it the wrong pronunciation so if you see Oporto everywhere you know why that is. The name means The Port and comes from the ancient times when Porto used to be an ancient outpost of the Roman empire.
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Porto has its own food which is quite different from the food int he south. The city has an extensive range of places to choose from Modern, contemporary places to traditional 100’s of years old restaurants that are still local favourites. I tried a few places around and just loved the food so a few suggestions are here.
Now the most famous area for food is Rua da Picaria which isn’t very close to the centre and has some amazing restaurants, cafes and bars with a great vibe, especially for evenings. And you cannot just forget about Francesinha which is a big spicy meat and cheese and sausage sandwich that will make you drool. Funny story behind its conception though because it was invented in the 1960s by a French immigrant who came to live in Porto. His name was Daniel da Silva and he was not happy with the length of Porto girls skirts and closed collar shirts so he invented Francesinha because the spices made them sweat and they opened their collars to get some fresh air; perversion finally gave something good to the world.
Another local speciality is tripe which is too gruesome for me to eat so I didn’t bother. The story behind this comes from old times when the king sent some expeditions abroad and locals were so hopeful of their success that they used to load all the good meat on to the boats and they were left with tripes and leftovers.
I stayed near Aliados station in a hotel which I didn’t like and I would suggest you to get a place around the same area but through Airbnb. The buildings are quite grand, this being the centre of the city.
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Free Walking Tour
The Free Walking Tour that I joined was probably the most disappointing one of my whole travelling life. Not only did the guide not introduce the city as the whole the tour could have finished much earlier if they didn’t keep mentioning the pub crawl and other tours and this was not the first day only, it continued on the second day as well. I’d suggest trying another company.
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Salazar had a profound impact on Portugal after his 36 years of reign but you can see it much deeper in Porto than Lisbon or Faro. His name will spring up again and again so I’d recommend a quick read about him.
Harry Potter References
J. K. Rowling lived in Porto for a few years before she was famous and you can see the influence Porto had on the Harry Potter series. The grand staircase from Lello Book shop to the students from University of Porto and their uniforms will remind you of this place and not to forget Cafe Majestic which inspired interior for some grand themes in the books. If you are a Harry Potter fan, Porto is a must-visit.
Porto is still quite conservative when it comes to gay life and the gay circle is small with a few bars around “Galaria de Paris,” called The Galleries. Most of the gay bars are located here. The area is quite dead during the day but it comes alive at night and by night I mean after 10 because in Portugal people get done with dinner at that time and clubs generally open after 12am and stay open till sunrise. I only went to Cafe Lusitano and Zoom and loved them. Cafe Lusitano has an amazing hip retro decor and it is a converted warehouse. A few other famous bars are Pride, Syndikato & Labirintho.
Now when it comes to Grindr and guys, the reaction was fairly mixed, even though Porto is a big city the general focus on “muscles” is not overpowering and people will still meet you for coffee without asking your dick size but at the same time, guys don’t like showing their faces which is frustrating because I wanted to spend less time on Grindr and more in the city but guys are generally good looking and nice.
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Porto Card is the tourist card for Porto which gives you access to public transport and discounted or free entry to monuments and museums and you can buy it here. To be honest I didn’t think I needed it so I didn’t bother and bought the transport pass only which is quite handy and for longer distances, I stuck to uber which is quite readily available in the city.
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Allies Avenue –> Sao Bento Train Station –> Church of Ildefonso –> Se do Porto –> Ponte Luis I –> Ribeira –> Funicular dos Guindais –> The Galleries
Avenida dos Aliados (Avenue of Allies)
The main square in Porto is right in front of this avenue with Clerigos Church on one side and Sao bento station on the end of another side, this avenue is the heartbeat of the city. You will not only come here again and again it is also where most of the stuff happens from celebrations to protests and everything in the middle and not t forget it is a tour starting point.
I was saying very close to the square in a hotel and after a delicious quick breakfast of Pasteis de Nata and coffee I walked off to catch the tour and the first impression of the city from the avenue was just gorgeous with Tony white puffy clouds hovering in the blue sky in the backdrop of beautiful Baroque style buildings and the City hall in the middle…
Praca da Liberdade (Liberty Square) is on the opposite end on city hall with a statue of King Peter IV and this is where we started our tour with a little history of the city. Most of the buildings here are either high-end hotels, banks and an ‘Imperial’ McDonald’s. It is the most beautiful McDonald’s EVER with its beautiful chandeliers and art deco stained glass windows, don’t forget to pop in..
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Sao Bento Train Station
The greatest treasure of Porto lies in this beautiful train station, perhaps the most beautiful station in the whole world with over 20,000 gems. The station is fully functional and has trains coming and going but that’s not why it is called the treasure, the reason is the amazing 20,000 ‘Azulejo’ tiles that cover the walls and make the scenes from Portugal’s history. The work is so detailed it blows your mind completely and you are left wondering how the artist painted these scenes with such detailed and transformed them into ceramic tiles.
You need a few minutes to soak these beautiful art pieces in before moving on. The walk from Liberty Square to the station has a road (beginning of Rua Da Madeira or Rua de Sa da Bandeira, I don’t remember exactly) that is called the ‘Road of illegitimate children’ because of all the corpses buried under the road from the shenanigans of clergy and nuns 😉
Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso (Church of Ildefonso)
Once done admiring the beauty of the train station, a small walk away is the Church of Ildefonso. Made in Baroque style it has a touch of Porto with the beautiful white and blue tiles on its facade. The space around it also gives you a different perspective compared to the rest of the churches crammed between massive buildings throughout the city. The sleek look is also quite appealing, another must-visit…
Se do Porto (Porto Cathedral)
The walk from Ildefonso church to Porto cathedral is uphill and you will get to see the Sao Joao National Theatre as well which is quite grand. The walk will take you around some derelict looking buildings in need of repairs but a little further the road opens up and the area around the Porto Cathedral becomes open.
the cathedral is grand but boring and mundane especially compared to the ‘palace’ of the Bishop. The Romanesque facade lacks any decor and the interior is barely fitting for its size. The courtyard outside provides a good view though and the really beautiful spires outside in the courtyard turned out to be the death poles because that’s where they used to hang people for heresy and blasphemy, I didn’t dare touch them after the guide revealed it laughingly…
Ribeira do Porto
The walk from the cathedral down to the oldest and still functional district of Ribeira is the best part of the whole trip. The streets get narrower with each turn and the slope makes the views amazing. the people who still live here do not shy away from tourists and you can see them living their life to fullest with laundry freely hanging on wires and children running around and neighbours communicating across windows so close they can touch each other.
I love getting lost in these old neighbourhoods because they are like time capsules, you discover things you would nowhere in the modern parts of the city and the people who shaped the future as we see today originate from these areas. I love the air of slight nostalgia that circulates the winding streets with the small shops and ageing residents..
Don’t forget to try the chocolate cake from Cozinha Doce which is surprisingly finger-licking good with oozing chocolate and I said surprisingly because I expected something more ‘Portuguese’ than a chocolate cake from a home run small bakery with an adorable grandma figure, this is why I love travelling.
By the time you get to the Port, you will see a lot of options to eat, drink and chill out and I spent the whole evening there with some tour mates including dinner which is amazing when the lights on the city are turned on and the sun is setting on this beautiful city.
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Ponte Luis 1 (Luis I Bridge)
You will climb down the stairs through Ribeira district and finally on to this bridge famous for its name as well its wrong association with Gustave Eiffel. This Double Decker metallic giant was engineered by Theophile Seyrig who was a student of Eiffel and the reason it was associated with Eiffel was his signature style, one people go to see and take pictures within Paris (The Eiffel Tower in case you haven’t guessed it).
The bridge is beautifully lit at night and is a major tourist attraction. On the lower deck, you will see some children jumping in the river, crazy enough but they do it if you pay them so please don’t pay any kids on the bridge at all!!!
The official name of the bridge is Dome Ponte Luis I but it is called Ponte Luis I and there is a story behind it as well. Dom is added as a sign of respect in Portuguese and the bridge was associated with King Luis I who failed to show up after making people wait for hours on the inauguration ceremony and the people decided to drop the ‘Dom’, still a good outcome compared to what it could have been if Twitter was around 😉
The bridge at night..
During the day..
Funicular dos Guindais
After a chilled out Shisha at the river bank, I took this magical little ride that is almost vertical and I have only seen this in Porto. Quite a fun experience that takes you back up to Batalha from where you can take the metro or walk back to the city centre.
This is a small area and a lot of gay bars are here. The area starts crowding up after 11pm and like typical Portuguese custom, everyone is out on streets drinking and having fun. Most of the clubs open after 12 or 1pm and are open till sunrise so don’t go early. It has a great positive vibe and the people are really friendly. I had a really great night..
Day 2 is more about relaxing and good food to get some much deserved after a long day of exploration on day 1.
Cafe Majestic –> Liveraria Lello –> University of Porto –> Church of Carmo –> Praia do Molhe (Beach)
I woke up with the plan to enjoy a full breakfast at Cafe Majestic, which is famous not only for its beautiful interior and its contributions to the history of Porto. Another claim to fame for this cafe is J.K.Rowling used to sit here and write Harry Potter, during her stay in Porto and you can clearly see the resemblance of the movie’s interior in the cafe.
All that aside it is seriously expensive and it is a mission to get a table for food. I ended up just enjoying an espresso which arrived in 20 minutes and grabbed some Pasteis de nada from a bakery nearby and headed to the other side to see the other two important influencers of Harry Potter series.
The grand staircase inside this beautiful and really old bookshop is the reason for its fame. After word got out the staircase in Hogwarts was designed keeping this one in mind people flocked to the shop and it got so bad the shop wasn’t seeling any books despite hundreds of visitors so the management decided to put a ticket to see the interior which you can get a reduction for in the price if you buy a book.
It is a beautiful shop regardless of its reason for fame and a few minutes of peace and silence on the top floor reading area will open up a few ideas in your brain too, who knows..
Igreja do Carmo (Church of Carmo) & the University of Porto
A few metres from the Lello bookshop is the University of Porto which has an impressive mammoth of a building and a very beautiful presence. The Hogwarts uniforms were based on the Graduation gowns for this university and that day they had a fair going on outside about social media so I didn’t bother going in beside the building opposite was more interesting for other reasons.
At first glance, this looks like one church but actually these are two churches, the one on the right is relatively newer one. The story behind is quite funny actually. It is not allowed for two churches to share a wall in Portugal and I’m assuming in the whole Catholic world. The bishop from the left church was fired from his job for reasons unknown and he got really angry and vowed to build a better and more beautiful church at the same spot.
He was quite clear and to avoid the issue of churches sharing a wall he built his house between two churches so if you look closely, the two windows are of his house and he finally did build a more beautiful and elegant church and diverted the crowds to his church, a total win win..
After a bit of Harry Potter fanship, I was ready to get some food and rest on the beach so I headed to get the Tram number 1. This tram starts its journey near the St. Francis church in Ribeira district and the closest station to this is Sao Bento which is a bit of a walk or you can take Uber like I did.
According to Porto Transport website “Infante-Passeio Alegre”, follows the river Douro to reach Foz do Douro. This trip in an authentic charming tram is full of romance and a great way to discover in passing the Solar do Vinho do Porto (the wine institute), the Museo Carro Electrico and some splendid buildings and landscapes. A tram comes along every twenty minutes or so and they run between 9 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon.”
The tram, in short, has spectacular views and takes you along the river all the way to the beach and at the fraction of a price of taxis. It is a really amazing experience, one I am really glad I didn’t miss.
Praia do Molhe
A little walk from Passeio Alegre stop where the tram route ends, the beaches start and start they do, one after another, one more awesome than last and while you do not get vast sandy beaches like the South, the rocks provide a different view altogether.
I had made a reservation for Cafeina recommended by a friend and I loved the food especially because I was very hungry after the tour and it was a holiday and why not! (whoever needs a reason to eat good food?) .
Rubbing my tummy I walked to Molhe beach which was my favourite after walking a few and the ice cream guy let me use his deck chair as there are no sunbeds to rent on any of these beaches which is a bit crap so do take your beach towels if you head for a beach in Porto. After some quick splish splash, I set myself on the beach with my headphones in, licking away my ice-cream enjoying the sun and not caring about the world at all.
Rua da Picaria
After about 4 hours it started to get slightly colder and I wrapped up my picnic to head out to Rua da Picaria or Picaria Street which has all the new experimental hip restaurants and has a very Shoreditch-vibe but without all the hipsters and their non-conformist conformity. The street is behind the city hall and I’d recommend walking there because the night views of Aliados Avenue and city hall are awesome. I hadn’t made a reservation and ended up eating some random place which was still quite good and made a reservation for an early lunch for the next day at Cruel which was amazing. People in Porto generally like staying on the streets than in the bars and restaurants and it was the same here. I met a couple of girls and spent quite some time with them, everyone seemed really chilled with a good vibe and you feel right at home.
Food options here are plenty and you will find something of your taste for sure and the best part is, it won’t break your bank, what a blessing!
Victory Point –> Clerigos Church and Tower –> Church of Sao Francisco –> Stock Exchange Palace –> Duoro River –> Gaia –> Porto do Ferreira
Miradouro da Vitoria (Victory Point)
Technically not a public spot, this is one of the most amazing stop, one you shouldn’t miss. You will get a great panoramic view of both the cities; Porto and Gaia, especially for sunsets and evening times. The place is quite run down so bring a blanket, a coffee flask and some food for a quick picnic or a breakfast in my case. It will blow your mind.
p.s It is private property but there’s a sign that allows tourists inside so take full advantage…
Igreja e Torre dos Clérigos (Clérigos Church and Tower)
Wherever you go in Porto you will see the Clerigos Tower be it, Luis, I bridge or Picaria street. It is not only tall and famous, but it is also very well-loved and most locals will speak of with great fondness.
I walked from the victory point to the tower and decided to go on top of the tower first and then see the church which was a good idea because to get to the top requires a lot of energy due to the steps and the church provides some welcome relief later.
I divided my visit in three places; the first one was the beautiful double staircase in front of the church which has a presence of its own, the tower which is at the back of the church and is also built in the same style as the church and the last part is the church itself which is built in Baroque style.
The tower will provide you with amazing views of the whole city in each direction and the day I went, it was nice and warm with a slight breeze which made the city feel even more beautiful. Going up I was excited about the views so I didn’t feel it much though you will sweat a lot in summer but afterwards coming down step by step you will feel the height and gravity but I ignored it because it was compensated for by the views and the satisfaction and obviously I’d spent the whole of yesterday relaxing on the beach.
The church inside is more simple than I had anticipated but the altar was still impressed with the most amazing colour scheme I’ve seen in most churches. Instead of a blend, it was quite uniform which gave it a distinct elegance.
Church of Sao Francisco
A small walk down from Clerigos church and tower brought me to the most exciting monument for Porto, Sao Francisco church. Before leaving my bestie laughed about bringing some of the gold back from Portugal which they took from Brazil (She’s Brazillian) and this is one place you can recover a lot from. The church looks quite ordinary from outside and its Gothic exterior is quite unassuming but buy the ticket and step inside and you will be awestruck. Photography is strictly prohibited but the guard let me take a few when I told him about my fascinations with churches but strictly without flash (as if I’d want to damage this beauty in any way).
The interior is Baroque with every single inch covered in beautiful wooden carving which is covered in gold leaf. It is said the church holds roughly 400KG of gold which doesn’t seem far off considering how intricate and detailed the work is.
I spent a lot of time sitting and admiring different sides, the morning light entering the church and the lack of tourists and I could spend a lot more time there if it weren’t for my tour for Bolsa palace. If you get a chance to see only 1 place in Porto, make it this church, it is absolutely breathtaking.
Palacio do Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)
The former stock exchange building is located next to the church of Sao Francisco and demands a lot of appreciation. Embark on a 90 minutes tour and the guide will show you where the stock exchange used to operate and other grand room likes Arab room which has a decor that will make you glitter with the decor inside. It is currently used to receive the head of states and other dignitaries. The building also houses the flags of all nations Portugal trades with.
Unfortunately, I lost all the pictures from my visit so I have added some from google. It is a must-visit and I’d recommend booking the tour in advance which is a little long but the facts are still very significant to just visit the building for a few minutes.
Porto is located on the estuary of this beautiful river and the views from both sides; Porto and Gaia are amazing especially at night, I would highly recommend a dinner at Roberta and watching the sunset here. There’s even a shisha lounge and most places have outdoor seating.
Cable Car & Ribeira do Gaia
Once you cross the Ponte Luios I bridge, you will find the cable car starting point next to Jardim do Moro metro station. The return ticket was €9 and there is hardly any waiting time even though it was evening and things were getting more exciting. The ride to Gaia on the other side of the journey is less than 10 minutes and you get to see the views from both sides, it is quite exciting and recommended.
The riverfront from Gaia side is equally stunning if not more honestly and I just loved sitting there watching the ships go by, people crawling up and down Porto on the other side and counting my blessings. The views change when the sun goes down and you see the lights being turned on one by one on the hill, its a beautiful view that looks even better with a few sips of Port wine 😉
Porto do Ferreira
Once you reach the other side in Gaia there are plenty of wineries that are focussed on Port wine but the reason I chose this one is because it has the same name as my bestie’s last name, they are all pretty similar and the brand association is more around the processing and not its production.
Port wine is not really produced here, it is made upstream where the grapes are grown and brought here once fermentation has started. The huge barrels hold hundreds of tons of wine and depending on the type, it is processed separately. Generally, Port wine has two main types; the reductive aged Port wines that have no exposure to air because they are aged in glass and are smoother with deeper colour, the other type is oxidative aged Port wines which are aged in wooden barrels. These are more viscous and have lighter colours.
You need to go with a tour and the guide explained the process from start to the very end with some tasting at the end and the whole process is interesting and it is amazing how much time and effort goes into making something that you drink without much thought. The tour lasted about an hour and was quite informative and at €10 with three taster glasses, totally worth it. The best part was the sun setting on Porto when I was coming out which I loved on the banks of Douro, happy times!!!
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