Portugal’s second largest city, Porto, contains everything that makes the country so charming all in one place. Split down its centre by the impressive Douro River, the city is famous not only for its six gorgeous bridges, but also its UNESCO World Heritage historic centre and use of white and blue azulejo tiles. Luckily, there is more to this city than just looks, so check out my favourite things to do in Porto and inspire your own adventure here.
Take Me to Church
The Porto Cathedral is one of the city’s oldest monuments. Completed in the 13th century, the Romanesque building features some peaceful Gothic cloisters, beautiful tile work and is embellished in rich gold details throughout. The cathedral is situated in one of the oldest districts in the city, so the view around is well worth the trudge up the steps to get to it.
Nectar of the Valley
The city is famous for giving its name to the fortified wine which is grown in the Portugal’s northern Douro Valley, which was then traditionally exported or sold at Porto. My parents absolutely love this rich wine, so I knew no trip would be complete without at least tasting some, for research purposes obviously.
If you cross the Dom Luis bridge and ride the cable car down, you are presented with a choice of over 50 port companies where you can sip this tasty digestif. Much of the port consumed in the world is prepared and blended here, and many of the companies offer guided tours and tastings from their cellars.
Visit the Sao Bento Railway Station
The Sao Bento railway station might seem like an odd addition, but hear me out. This historic station was built on the former site of a Benedictine Abbey by Porto architect José Marques da Silva who was influenced by French Beaux Arts architecture.
As a result the building is exceptionally beautiful. However the real attraction is to be found within the main entrance hall. Covering the enormous walls are magnificent blue and white azulejo tiles that tell stories of Porto life. Entering the station you can admire this masterpiece created by moustachioed painter Jorge Colaço without spending a penny.
Eat a Francesinha (If You Dare!)
With a name that essentially means ‘Little Frenchie’ you might be forgiven for mistaking this Porto delicacy for a tasty snack. However, don’t let the name fool you. This sandwich is a monster, a beast that can beat even the greediest diner.
Comprised of bread, cured ham, pork sausage, roasted meat and then slathered in cheese and mercilessly topped with a steaming tomato and beer sauce before being served with fries. This sandwich is beyond indulgence.
Follow Your Feet
To help work off all the delicious food you’ll no doubt enjoy, a long walk is one of the perfect things to do in Porto. From the stunning Douro River to the old town of Ribeira, the views all around are killer. Take the time to meander along the river, looking out onto the old fashioned port ships and artists painting colourful landscapes.
Books, Beautiful Books
At over 100-years old, the historic Livraria Lello bookstore at Porto’s heart is a must for book nerds. The literary library is rated the third most beautiful bookstore in the world and I must confess I fell in love too. The exterior neo-gothic façade piques your interest, while the ornate staircase plucks at your heart strings and the gorgeous stained glass ceiling that bathes the store in light.
Still not convinced? Potter fans (like me) will freak out to learn that none other than J.K.Rowling was a frequent visitor to the store when she briefly lived in Porto. I enjoyed gazing at the staircase and wondering if her descriptions of the Hogwarts staircase were perhaps inspired by the famous bookstore…
As with much of Portugal, one of the greatest things to do is simply to wander around and get lost in the maze of alleyways and winding passageways. There is so much life to be discovered here, so throw away the map for a bit and walk the city streets, you won’t regret it.
I fell in love with this charming city, but I’d love to hear your impressions of Porto too! Share your thoughts by commenting below.
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