Postcard from Porto: Part II

Built across hills that drop sharply to the banks of the Douro River, Porto showcases its attractions at every turn — from hilltop viewpoints to cast-iron bridges, waterside promenades and the boats that skim across to its south-bank twin city, Vila Nova de Gaia.

It has all the makings of a delightful, short city break, from heritage architecture and cultural treasures to a thriving dining scene and a laid-back beach suburb — not to mention its port wine lodges offering tours and tastings. There’s plenty to do but Porto is, more than anything, an easy and rewarding city in which to simply be — meandering through the market, popping into a dainty chapel or watching the sky turn ruby red over the river.

Here’s just a few of my suggestions:-

1. Ramble in Ribeira

The Top Things To See And Do In Porto's Ribeira, Portugal

Picture Porto and you will see the historic neighbourhood of Ribeira, where terracotta-tiled houses in a palette of pastels rise up from the waters of the Douro. Rather than looking for sights to tick off, simply wander its slim, cobbled streets enjoying their ramshackle charms — brightly painted doors, washing flapping from wrought-iron balconies and increasingly vertiginous flights of steps. When you’re done, head downhill — you’ll clatter back to the riverbank where you can re-orientate yourself over a glass of something in one of the many waterside bars.

2. Cruise under Porto’s six bridges

Porto is a city that’s wonderful to walk around, but those hills get tiring and the views from the river rival those with more altitude. An hour-long Six Bridges Cruise whisks you up and downstream on a wooden rabelo boat to some of the city’s prettiest panoramas under 19th century cast-iron arcs, modern concrete curves and everything in between. Sit back for a quick orientation of how its neighbourhoods fit together and just the right amount of Porto’s history.

3. Tour a port wine cellar

Made from grapes grown in the nearby Douro Valley, the famous fortified wine was exported from Porto — hence the name. The historic port wine cellars are found on the south bank of the Douro, in Vila Nova de Gaia. All cellar tours cover similar themes: the terroir of the Douro; the early, dangerous journeys the grapes made in small boats down the then-undammed Douro to Porto; the ageing process; and different styles of port, then finish with a tasting. Taylor’s, with an enviable position at the top of the hill, has the best view from its terrace.

4. Climb the Clérigos Tower

Clérigos Tower | Attractions in Baixa, Porto

Sacrifice your thighs for the sake of your eyes and climb the Torre de Clérigos, Porto’s tallest belltower. Its baroque exuberance has a hint of Italy, and the design is courtesy of the Tuscan architect Nasoni, who is buried in a small chapel in the striking church below. It’s lovely to look at, but the church, is even better to look out from; it’s here that you’ll get the best views over the city, stretching right to the ocean.

5. Eat pastéis de nata

Pastel de Nata Recipe (Portuguese Custard Tarts) - Spanish Sabores

First comes the crunch as the crisp outer layer of puff pastry fractures, then the cool, soft sweetness of the cinnamon-dusted custard before the final, satisfyingly elastic chew of the base. Eating one of Portugal’s famous custard tarts is a joy (for some of the best in Porto, try Manteigaria — there’s a branch opposite the Mercado do Bolhão and another on Rua dos Clérigos). My beloved enthusiastically set out to find the best in Porto but declared none were as good as this one.

6. Discover Porto’s street art

Porto’s creatives have never been shy of showing off their skills on the city’s walls. From as early as 15th century, the Portuguese have made azulejos — the glazed ceramic tiles that grace many buildings. Some are simple, geometric patterns, while others feature elaborate tableaux picked out in dusky blue.

7. Spend a day at the beach

À la découverte du quartier de Foz do Douro à Porto | Ulysses Travel

Even getting to Porto’s beach suburb, Foz do Douro, is simple thanks to the city’s main form of public transport — trams. Those on line No 1 screech and rattle all the way along the edge of the river from Infante (the stop in front of Igreja de São Francisco) to Passeio Alegre, depositing you at Praia das Pastoras, where the waters of the Douro meet the Atlantic, overlooked by the Felgueiras lighthouse. Walk a little further to the wider, prettier Praia dos Ingleses, where a café on stilts sits over the sand .

8. Appreciate artistry at the Serralves Foundation

Tucked away in a residential suburb, the Serralves Foundation is where art and nature intertwine. This quirky cultural institution has a multifaceted appeal for adults and children; there’s a thought-provoking contemporary art museum housed in an angular concrete building designed by the Pritzker prize-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, a blush-pink art deco villa with a Lalique skylight and 18 hectares of grounds, with formal gardens scattered with sculptures, rose gardens, meadows and an arboretum with a treetop walkway – well worth a visit.

9. Take a train trip

We took trips to Guimarães and Aveiro from nearby São Bento station. But equally, we could’ve gone to Braga, Matosinho, Viana do Castelo, Amarante…………..

Guimarães is a small city in the mountains of northern Portugal. With its castle on a hilltop, myriad old churches and winding medieval cobbled streets, the city is straight out of a fairytale. It’s brimming with history and said to be the country’s birthplace. It even has UNESCO World Heritage status. The city’s winding streets are a mixture of architectural styles from different ages.

Aveiro is situated south of Porto and is known for its canals. Those aside, among its most prominent landmarks are the Igreja de São Domingos, a Roman Catholic church built in the style of Portuguese baroque, the old train station and plenty of  small cafés and restaurants selling delicious pastries, coffee and other Portuguese delicacies.

10. Visit the world’s most famous bookshop

40+ Livraria Lello Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free ...

Now, you know how much I love book shops!

As far as I’m aware, Livraria Lello is the only bookshop in the world where you have to pay an entry fee and queue to get in because it’s linked to the Harry Potter series. Allegedly, the exquisite, wood-panelled interior and sweeping red staircase are credited with inspiring JK Rowling.

11. Walk across the Dom Luís I bridge

Dom Luis I Bridge - Porto | Bridges | Portugal Travel Guide

Porto’s famous double-deck cast-iron bridge is reminiscent of a certain tower in Paris. The Dom Luís I bridge was designed by an acolyte of Gustav Eiffel. The lower level carries vehicles, the upper the metro, but pedestrians can cross for show-stopping views.

12. Explore the Douro Valley

Portugal's Douro Valley Should Be Your Next Wine Trip

Over the Marão mountains from Porto, the Douro Valley is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. Here the curving banks of the river are lined with terraced vineyards, and whitewashed wineries, known as quintas, sit on the slopes. It’s rural, tranquil, and just an hour and a half from Porto — the perfect day trip.

14. Hang around the São Bento station

São Bento station isn’t your average railway station, it’s as much a free art gallery as a transport hub. The grand Beaux-Arts building is in the heart of the Unesco-listed historic centre, and the interior is decorated with one of the most memorable displays of azulejos in the city. Over 20,000 of the blue and white tiles depict scenes from Portugal’s past, from battles and members of the royal family to saints and rural scenes.

15. Chill in the Crystal Palace Gardens

2023 Palácio de Cristal Gardens | Mad About Porto

Just a few minutes’ walk from the bustling narrow streets of the historic centre is an urban oasis — the Jardins do Palácio de Crystal. Wander down the avenue of lime trees, buy a coffee and watch the ducks in the lake, listen to the fountains, spot a strutting peacock and survey sweeping views over the Douro. No crystal palace though as the 19th-century original was demolished in the 1950s and replaced by a concrete dome. The arena is known locally as “the UFO”.

See, plenty to do over a long week-end!

















46 Comments on “Postcard from Porto: Part II

  1. Have you ever thought of taking a side job as a tour guide? I could happily ramble in Ribeira while eating custard and enjoying street art. This is wonderful, Sheree.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Sheree, I love your posts, they allow me to travel, without traveling. What an amazing place Porto is and so beautiful. You must have seen many countries in your lifetime

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If I were going there, I’d love to follow your suggestions, Sheree, although it would take me longer than a long weekend because of the flights over and back. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We should have more of the splendid prose with which you describe these attractive scenes. “Sacrifice your thighs for the sake of your eyes” is inspirational.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This would be a delightful place to visit, though it would take me a week at least to follow all of your suggestions. But I thoroughly enjoyed your tour and fabulous pictures Sheree! You could easily write a book about all these different places that you describe so beautifully! Thank you again for sharing and taking me along in your post!😊😺📷

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love the tiling, abundant and beautiful. Always seems well cared for and respected?

    Liked by 1 person

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