Porto (Oporto in Portuguese) is Portugal’s second-largest city after Lisbon.
This amazing city is located in the northern part of Portugal, along the Douro river. Its western part extends to the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean.
The name of the city Porto originates from the name of the ancient Roman city called “Portus Cale”. The name of today’s city, but also the name of the state of Portugal derives from that period.
The Portuguese often called the city simply a port, with the article o (o Porto). Therefore, today in some languages the form of the name Oporto has stabilized.
One of Portugal’s internationally famous exports Porto wine is named after the city of Porto.
And famous the local football team as well.
What to see and what do in Porto
Porto was the first city we visited during our Portugal tour with the Filip travel agency.
Depending on your interests, one or two days are enough to see the most important sights in Porto. This fantastic city is full of history, colourful houses, little shops, and narrow streets.
Porto was the European Capital of Culture in 2001.
Jardim do Palacio de Cristal
We started exploring the city by visiting the Jardim do Palacio de Cristal.
It is a wonderful park with one of the best views of Porto, the Douro river, and Vila Nova de Gaia.
In the park, you can see a rounded shape of Palacio de Cristal, rose gardens, fountains and different varieties of trees.
On the west exit from the park, there is Museu Romantico.
And we admired the colourful peacocks that walked freely in the park and posed to the visitors.
Avenida dos Aliados
Avenida dos Aliados is Porto’s most grandiose avenue, located in the center of the city. There are impressive neoclassical buildings. The lawns and trees are in the centre, cafes, hotels, banks, and boutiques as well. At the top is the Town Hall.
The main squares are General Humberto Delgado Square and Liberdade Square with the statue of King Pedro IV.
Igreja de São Francisco and Palácio da Bolsa
The St. Francis Church (Igreja de São Francisco) is located beside Palácio da Bolsa. Once it was part of the St. Francis Convent, founded in the 13th century. This church is the most prominent Gothic monument in Porto.
But the interior in the church is amazing. The stunning baroque details from the XVII and XVIII centuries are made in wood carving in gold! Therefore, photography and filming are strictly forbidden. Inside the church, there are the catacombs, containing an ossuary of human bones.
Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) is a historical building in Porto.
It was built in the 19th century by the city’s Commercial Association (Associação Comercial) in the neoclassical style.
The most important part of the palace is the Arabic hall, built between 1862 and 1880.
The room is decorated in an exotic style, inspired by the famous palace Alhambra of Grenada in Spain.
Cathedrale Sé do Porto
The Porto Cathedral, Cathedrale Sé is the city’s oldest cathedral. And also one of the most important local monuments.
It was built in the 12th century in the Romanesque style.
It still has the original twin towers and merlons. Over the centuries the Gothic rose window and cloister between the 14th and the 15th centuries, high altar and the doorway were added. In 1736 Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni added an elegant Baroque loggia to the lateral façade of the Cathedral. And the loggia is decorated with beautiful azulejos.
In this cathedral in 1387, King John I Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster were married.
This marriage symbolized a long-standing military alliance between Portugal and England.
In front of the cathedral, there is an interesting pillar made in Manueline style. In the Middle Ages, it served as a pillar of shame. So, the Manueline style is a very specific style. It is developed at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century during the reign of King Manuel I.
Igreja dos Clérigos and Torre de Clérigos
The architectural complex of Clérigos consists of Igreja dos Clérigos, Torre de Clérigos, and Museum.
The church and the tower are from the 18th century, in the baroque style. It was built for the Brotherhood of the Clérigos (Clergy) by Nicolau Nasoni. This Italian architect left an impressive work in Portuguese Baroque architecture. The tower is 75 m high and there are 240 steps to be climbed to the top.
The impressive structure is dominating the city.
And it could be seen from different parts of town.
Lello Bookstore (Livraria Lello & Irmao)
According to The Guardian, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world is Livraria Lello & Irmao.
The origin of Livraria is from 1881. Two brothers, José and António Lello opened the establishment, dedicated to the commerce and edition of books.
The interior is fantastic. In the centre is a forked staircase, coloured in red, with wooden balusters.
The stairs have an interesting round shape and they connect a gallery with the first floor.
Over this staircase is a large stained glass window.
For years, photography and filming were strictly forbidden, but now it is permitted.
Do you know that this unique bookstore was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter books?
At that time, she lived in Porto and taught English in school.
Rua de Flores
Rua de Flores (The flower’s street) is from 1521, situated near the São Bento rail station.
Once it was one of the most important streets in Porto, where reach citizens built their houses.
But today there are a couple of houses from the 16th and 18th centuries.
Here you can find all kinds of cafés, restaurants, shops selling traditional products, handmade items, jewellery. Recently most of the buildings were renovated, keeping the typical Porto’s facade. It is the perfect place to walk and enjoy the city.
The São Bento Railway Station (Estação Ferroviária de São Bento)
The São Bento Railway Station is one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations.
It was built on the site of the former Benedectine Convent of São Bento. The station was designed by José Marques da Silva, completed in 1903 and inaugurated in 1916.
The interior of the station is breathtaking. And unusual as well.
The walls were decorated by Jorge Colaco with approximately 20,000 azulejos tiles composed.
They represent the historic battles from Portugal’s history, including Henry the Navigator’s conquest of Ceuta.
On the walls, you can see the history of transport as well.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
Close to the square Praca da Batalha, there is the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso.
This interesting church, constructed of granite was completed in 1739. The church has two bell towers, stone crosses, masonry spheres, and flagpoles with flags of Portugal. And this facade is covered with blue and white azulejos, added in 1932 by Jorge Colaço.
Santa Catarina street – Rua Santa Catarina
Rua Santa Catarina is the main pedestrian street in Porto. It is about 1,500 meters long. Here you can find a lot of different shops with international brands, traditional shops, and cafées.
In Rua Santa Catarina you can see the church Capela das Almas. Sometimes it is called Capela de Santa Catarina because of its location on this street. The church (The Chapel of Souls) is completely covered with blue and white ceramic tiles “azulejos”.
One of the most popular and most beautiful cafés is the Majestic café, in Rua Santa Catarina. It was established in December 1921. And very soon it became the favourite place for the elite of the city.
The interior is very interesting. ”Belle époque” atmosphere, leather upholstery, varnished wood. The ceiling is plaster-decorated, and the walls are covered with Flemish mirrors. In the corner of the café, one man was playing the piano… All these in one of the oldest cafes in Porto.
Since it was a sunny day, we decided to sit outside on the little terrace.
We enjoyed coffee and the famous Pastel de nata, a Portuguese egg tart pastry.
Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas
The church Igreja do Carmo was built between 1756 and 1768 in the late Baroque style. Like many other buildings, it was covered with blue and white azulejos tiles in 1912.
Near this church, there is another church, Igreja dos Carmelitas, built in the mid-17th century with the exterior completed in 1628.
But, there is one interesting fact about these two churches.
They are separated by a very narrow (1 m wide) house that was inhabited until the 1980s. The house was built so that the two churches would not share a common wall. And to prevent any relations between the nuns of Igreja dos Carmelitas and the monks of Igreja do Carmo as well 🙂
Casa do Infante – Infante Dom Henrique o Navegador
Casa do Infante is located in Ribeira’s street that directly leads to the bank of the Douro river. In this stone house was born Prince Henry the Navigator in 1394.
The building was built in 1325 for the needs of the royal family. It was used as a customs house of goods that came by sea and along with the Douro sailed to Porto. Now in this house, the City Museum Porta (Museu da Cidade) and the Medieval Museum are located.
Prince Henry was the last of the three children of John I of Portugal (King João I). He was very important for Portugal’s history, European maritime discoveries, and maritime expansion as well.
As a matter of fact, Prince Henry is the main initiator of what would be known as the Age of Discoveries.
Riberia, colourful district of Porto
Riberia is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Porto.
It is a part of the historic centre and is the World Heritage Centre, protected by UNESCO since 1996. Ribeira was originally the centre of commerce for the city with big sail ships docking. The small tower house is the oldest building from the 13th century, located in Barredo, the historic part of Ribeira.
Ribeira is a beautiful district, filled with colourful houses, narrow cobbled streets, restaurants, cafes.
The main square in the centre is Praca da Ribeira.
The elevator (Elevador da Ribeira) connects Ribeira’s port with Barredo.
It is public transportation for locals and useful for tourists, as well.
Take a nice walk alongside the Douro river.
The narrow houses are painted in different vibrant colours. The laundry is hanging from the balconies.
When you get tired of walking, take a glass of Porto wine. And try some typical local food in bars and restaurants.
West of Ribeira, in a former wine warehouse, you can visit the Museum of Port Vine (Museu do Vinho do Porto).
Along the river’s banks, you can find several tourist boats for cruising along the Douro River.
Ponte Dom Luis I
Ponte Dom Luis I is an impressive, steel bridge. It connects Ribeira and Vila Nova de Gaia, famous for the world’s largest wine storehouses in one place, built in the 17th century. The bridge was built in 1886 by Theophile Syrig, the assistant of the famous builder of the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel.
And it is one of Porto’s symbols. The total length of more than 200 meters and 72 meters (240 ft) high.
On the lower level of the bridge, the road traffic is carried. Through the upper level is the metro line.
Both levels have pedestrian walkways. And the view from the bridge is really spectacular.
Across the Ponte Dom Luis I is the area of Vila Nova de Gaia.
The first warehouse close to the bridge is Burmester Port Winery. We visited it and enjoyed fantastic Porto wines.
More about Porto wines and Burmester winery you can read here.
Foz do Douro, beach of Porto
Foz do Douro is the seafront along the avenues, the beach with bars and restaurants. It is a long promenade close to the Atlantic Ocean, perfect for a long walk. The beaches have the blue flag eco-label. And during the summer they are full of visitors almost every day.
In a word, Porto has become one of my very favourite cities.
The place has a turbulent history, great wines, colourful houses, winding streets, baroque churches.
And the picturesque Ribeira and the River Douro is filled with the scent of the ocean.
Well, there are many places to see in Porto. And so many memories to keep of this fantastic city.