Porto: the lovely medieval city along the Douro river
Updated: Apr 26
Porto (also known as Oporto) is the second largest city of Portugal after Lisbon. The historical centre is one of the oldest in Europe and is a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as of 1996. It is world famous for its port wine, which is named after Porto. You will find out more about that at the end of this blog.
Capela das Almas (The Chapel of Souls)
The exterior walls of this chapel are covered with blue painted white tiles (azujelos). There are several of these churches in Porto, but in my opinion this one is by far the prettiest in town. It is located at the main and very busy shopping street Rua Santa Catarina.
On the 23rd of June the people of Porto celebrate the Festa São João (Festival of St. John). It is a festival that takes place every year during Midsummer. And it is quite a happening!
Dinner on this night consists of grilled sardines or meat, and grilled bell pepper. So everywhere in the streets you will see people grill in front of their home on the sidewalk. Everyone sits outside together with family and friends at large tables, music plays on every corner of the street and the party goes on until the wee hours.
This festival attracts thousands of visitors each year. We decided to avoid the extremely crowded main streets and the area around the riverbanks. Instead we climbed the stairs of a lot of small and winding alleys in Ribeira to experience the party in the middle of the community. We had a blast!
As it was the 23rd of June, there was no menu at Pimms Café that evening. So we had the typical São João dinner with very tasty grilled sardines and local white wine on their outside terrace.
Carmo Church (for monks) and Carmelitas Church (for nuns) is separated by a narrow house of just 1 meter wide. In front of these churches there is this square with old fountain.
Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (Gardens of the Crystal Palace)
This park is a great place to escape the city and to walk around many beautiful gardens, ponds and statues. It covers an area of more than 8 acres. Fun fact: several peacocks call this place home. From here you also have a nice view over the river and the city.
In this former garage we had tasty Açaí bowls for breakfast, so we visited this place twice during our stay in Porto :-) The friendly staff made us feel very welcome.
Porto has got numerous great view points. One of my favorites is next to Igreja dos Grilos. Go there just before sunset to experience golden hour at this beautiful place.
The location of the restaurant used to be an Art Gallery where local artists used to display their work. Now the restaurant is part of the beautiful A.S. 1829 Hotel which has a nice terrace to relax and see life pass by while having a traditional Portuguese dinner with some Asian influences.
In Porto you can find lots of beautiful street art; like this bunny made out of trash by Bordalo II. In Lisbon we've spotted his fox and raccoon as well. I was very impressed by the outcome of his creative use of waste materials.
The Sé Cathedral with attached cloister are two of Porto's oldest monuments, the construction began in the 12th century. I liked to go there ad the end of the day because the light and view over the city is amazing up there.
We had to wait for about half an hour to get a table, but is was definitely worth the wait! The restaurant is located on the city wall next to the Douro river. So it's really a great place to relax and chat, while overlooking the river with a glass of port (or two..). Our dinner with fresh fish was very good and the local wine from the Douro Valley matched perfectly. But keep an eye on the seagulls, they might try to steel your food! ;-)
São Bento Train Station
Even if you arrive and leave Porto by plane or car it is worth to visit this train station which was opened in 1916 and covered with the famous azujelos tiles. We've visited it in the evening to have less visitors.
Dom Luís I Bridge
This bridge is definitely the show piece of Porto! It is a double-deck bridge made by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel in 1886. Both decks are accessible on foot.
When you cross the Dom Luís I Bridge you will enter a different city called Vila Nova de Gaia. In this city you will find numerous Port Houses which you can visit. From here you have an amazing view over the city of Porto.
The view gets even better when you climb the steep hill of Serra do Pilar Monastery.
Along the river bank of Vila Nova de Gaia there are many huge touristy terraces, but when you enter the small streets behind this boulevard you with find a couple of smaller and quieter restaurants and lunch spots. Here we found 7g Roaster by accident, where we had good Chemex coffee and a healthy lunch.
From all the port houses we choose to visit the Offley Cellars. First we had a very interesting guided tour for about half an hour trough the huge cellars. Afterwards we tasted 3 types of port; white, tawny and reserve. We ran out of time so unfortunately we weren't able to visit more cellars. We would have loved to visit Taylor's and Sandeman for example as well. So I think we need to go back one day :-)
These boats are traditional Portuguese wooden cargo boats. The name rabelo means 'little tail'. Before the arrival of the railway these boats were used to transport the port wine.
Every year on the 24th of June (the day after the above mentioned Festa São João) there is a rabelo boat race.
Church de Santa Marinha was built in the 14th century and has a shipwreck artwork in front of it.
In this beautiful old building with rustic walls they serve perfect organic omelets with homemade juice.
After this breakfast it was time to say goodbye to Porto,
because we had to catch the train to Lisbon.
Click HERE to see my blog about Lisbon!