Porto in a Nutshell: What to Do in Porto, Portugal

From a hip up-and-coming art and architecture scene to iconic, tile-covered monuments, Porto has a lot more on offer than port and bacalhau. So take a day or two to explore Northern Portugal’s charming unofficial capital.

Highlights
R. de Sampaio Bruno 11, 4000-196 Porto, Portugal
Feast your eyes upon the Francesinha. What is in this curious looking sandwich, you ask? Heaven. Sausage. Cheese. Port wine. Onions. And a bit more heaven. If you visit Porto - and why wouldn’t you visit the home of Port wine - you’ll come to know the Francesinha. How well you come to know this sammy has a direct correlation to how good of a time you have in this gem of a throwback European town. Restaurants throughout Porto claim that they were the first to invent this sammy or that they were the first to add foi gras or the first to serve it with prawns - none of that matters. All that is important is that you ear more than your fair share of one of the world’s sauciest culinary marvels. And that you do it with a pint of beer, and a glass of port nearby.
R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal
A blend of neo-Gothic and art nouveau, the enchanting Livraria Lello bookshop dates to 1906 and is rumored to have inspired J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts in Harry Potter.
Might be one of the most beautiful train stations in the World, Sao Bento Railway Station was opened to the public in 1916 and is well known for its walls covered with 20,000 splendid azulejo ceramic tiles which describe the History of Portugal. It took Jorge Colaço, the artist, 11 years to complete this building. The railway station is located in the Almeida Garret Square, in the centre of the city. I happened to be there on a Saturday rainy morning, while I was looking for a place to hide from the heavy rain. It was quite interesting watching the people’s dynamics, which might look the same in every major Railway station, despite its location. This place is beautiful all year around and probably most hours of the day. Indulge in this beauty and pay attention to the little details.
4050-278 Porto, Portugal
Casa da Música, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is the first building built in Portugal which is dedicated entirely to music in various aspects; presentation of music (concerts), education of music and creation of music. The building was intended to be finished on 2001, to mark the year in which Porto became a Cultural Capital of Europe but eventually Casa da Música opened its doors to the public on April 15th , 2005. I first heard about Casa da Música when I read my travel guide about Lisbon and Casa da Música was a suggestion for a weekend getaway. The VIP Room grabbed my attention right away and I knew it was something I had to shoot. It is a multifuncional space, mainly used for sessions for small groups, installations or ceremonial occasions. The room pays an homage to Portuguese tiles and each of its panels is a reproduction of an original panel to be found in different museums in Portugal and the Netherlands. When you plan your visit in Casa da Música, plan it wisely time-wise. And treat yourself to a concert. It is worth it. Address: Avenida Boavista 604
Rua do Agro 141, 4400-281 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Sample the best of seasonal, local ingredients and creative spins on traditional Portuguese dishes in this restaurant and wine bar among oak barrels used for aging port on the premises at Graham’s. Housed in a 19th-century wine cellar, on one side enjoy views of thousands of casks of valuable port, and from the conservatory on the other, Porto’s old town, the Douro River and the iconic Dom Luis bridge. Port fanatics can schedule a tour of Graham’s cellars with a tasting after lunch.
R. Formosa, 4000-214 Porto, Portugal
When in Oporto in Portugal, don’t miss the most famous of the city’s markets: The Bolhao Market. Established in 1839, this colorful, noisy market is located in the heart of the city of Oporto. The market consists of a huge two story building. This market carries every imaginable type of fruit, vegetables, beans, olives, Portuguese specialty cheeses, wonderful home made breads, and deserts. Of course there is fresh fish, poultry, and meats. Don’t miss the flower ladies who carry a huge selection of flowers. An afternoon spent in the market is just an adventure you shouldn’t miss. Walk out with your favorite ice cream flavor at the end of the day.
61 Rua de Miguel Bombarda
Ó! Galeria is a small space crowded with sketches from Porto illustrators. They hang on the walls, dangle from clothing hangers, with notes about them jotted on yellow Post-Its. This appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue.
R. Formosa, 4000-214 Porto, Portugal
When in Oporto in Portugal, don’t miss the most famous of the city’s markets: The Bolhao Market. Established in 1839, this colorful, noisy market is located in the heart of the city of Oporto. The market consists of a huge two story building. This market carries every imaginable type of fruit, vegetables, beans, olives, Portuguese specialty cheeses, wonderful home made breads, and deserts. Of course there is fresh fish, poultry, and meats. Don’t miss the flower ladies who carry a huge selection of flowers. An afternoon spent in the market is just an adventure you shouldn’t miss. Walk out with your favorite ice cream flavor at the end of the day.
Iberia
Oporto is the second largest city in Portugal and one of the oldest European cities dating back to the 4th c. “Oporto " means the port. Oporto is famous for among other things Port wine. Port wine is fortified wine. These wines are world renowned. They are produced in the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal. At harvest time, the grapes are picked from the vines on the steep steps of the Douro Valley and taken to the various cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. Until the late 1960’s the wines were carried down the river in flat bottomed boats called barcos rebelos. In the 1700’s, there were several hundred of these vessels carrying the Port. In the 1930’s there were about 300 plying the river. Today Port is sent by rail and road. You can still see the barcos with their sails with barrels on board in the river on the shores of Vila Nova de Gaia. They are there to show the history of the vessels and Port wine. You can sign up for tours of the various wine cellars. There are many such as Taylor, Graham, Croft, and Ramos Pinto. The tours are fun and offer different samples of Port and sometimes biscuits and chocolate. Your hotel desk clerk will help you or check out an information center. I crossed the D.Luis I Bridge on foot and descended to Vila Nova de Gaia. I checked out the history of Port wine. Great experience! There are several restaurants that serve traditional Portuguese food. After dinner enjoy an expresso and a glass or two of Port.
Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto, Portugal
The Rua Santa Caterina is the most important shopping street in Oporto. It is a pedestrian street which is closed to traffic. Along the Rua Caterina you will find the Mercado Bolhao which is a lively market with many shops to delight the market lover. There are many clothing stores, restaurants and cafes along the street. One of them is the elegant Majestic Cafe established in 1921. It was a favorite meeting place for artists and writers.For a time it was abandoned when tea rooms fell out of favor but was restored to its former glory and reopened in 1994. The pastries are excellent and will satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. Take time out from your sightseeing and shopping to just sit with a cup of tea and a pastry, or, perhaps, a cool drink. Enjoy the surroundings and chill out.
R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal
A blend of neo-Gothic and art nouveau, the enchanting Livraria Lello bookshop dates to 1906 and is rumored to have inspired J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts in Harry Potter.
552, R. de São João 28, 4050-513 Porto, Portugal
The wine bar Vinologia: La Maison des Porto specializes in the city’s namesake port. Drop by the cozy tasting room to sample one of 200 bottles, mostly from regional small-batch producers. Rua de São João 46, 351/936-057-340 This appeared in the January/February 2012 issue.
R. da Fonte Taurina 99 101, 4050-270 Porto, Portugal
The great D. Luis I Bridge is the symbol of Oporto. It was inaugurated in 1886. The engineer was a disciple of Eiffel. There are two iron decks. The upper deck is the Metro track while the bottom deck is a traffic and pedestrian way. To get to the bridge I used the funicular and then walked the lower deck to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river. The views of the city and the area from the bridge are spectacular. I recommend a trek to the bridge and over it to the Gaia area.
Rua do Infante D. Henrique, 4050-297 Porto, Portugal
I was in the Ribeira district of Oporto. I wanted to see the Gothic and Baroque Church of Sao Francisco. So I wandered into the church that was listed as one of the most important and beautiful churches of Oporto. It was said to be very ornate. I was mesmerized by the beauty of this huge edifice with the elaborately decorated interior said to have more than 300 kilos of gold dust covering altars and other decorative surfaces. I stood there and tried to think of the work involved in completing this church. It must have been a huge undertaking ( as were so many of the monuments the world over). The church was built originally as a small building in 1245 by the Franciscan friars in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. In 1383, a much larger church was built.It was finished about 1425. The structure is a basic Gothic church with the large rose window. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Baroque architecture was added. The Franciscan friars were buried in the catacombs which you can visit. There is also an ossuary with thousands of human bones. The interior is very large and you need at least an hour to peruse this monument. This is an attraction that you should not miss while in Oporto.
Praça da Ribeira, nº1, 4050-513 Porto, Portugal
In Oporto, Portugal, you can take a river cruz if you want. There are several choices from 50 minute boat tours to several hours or even several days. I chose to go on the 50 minute “Six Bridges” river cruise. I started at the Cais da Ribeira where you purchase your ticket and board the boat. We passed under the six bridges of Oporto on a relaxing tour and took in the glorious view of the World Heritage site of Oporto up on the hills. The wine cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia were spread out on the opposite side of the river. The views were magnificent of many old historic buildings and old cathedrals and churches. At the mouth of the Douro, we viewed the waters beyond known as the “land of the fishermen”. The Douro River is a beautiful river that sparkles under the azure sky as the sun shines down on its pristine waters. I was rewarded with a serene and happy feeling as I disembarked from my short cruise. I definitely recommend cruising the Douro while in Oporto. The difficult part is choosing which boat cruise to enjoy. Of course, it depends on how long you are staying in Oporto. Plan ahead, of course, and work this adventure into your trip. You will be glad that you didn’t miss it. Info: www.portodouro.com/cruzeiro-das-seis-pontes-cidade-porto
Driving along the countryside in northern Portugal near Oporto I saw the spectacular hillside vines of the famous Douro Valley spread out in front of me for miles. The sight was breathtaking. I saw the steep hillsides with the vines on the terraces. The vines were loaded with grapes that in a couple of weeks would be ready for harvest. The vineyards were first established in the 12th century by Cistercian monks. There are numerous Cistercian monasteries in the area. UNESCO declared the Douro Valley a World Heritage Site in 2001. The Douro Valley produces the grapes for port, red, and white wines. Douro tours are available and run from a few hours to a few days. The cruises run from April to October. If you want to see the harvest picking of the grapes plan your tour for September. A drive through the Douro Valley or a cruise down the Douro River is an experience to savor. If you get to northern Portugal, look into a side trip to the Douro. You won’t be disappointed.
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