While Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, has been a popular vacation spot for some time, tourists have recently started venturing farther north to the country’s next hit destination: the city of Porto. Known for its world-famous Porto wine, beautiful Douro river, and welcoming community, Porto has captured the hearts of many and even earned the title for Best European Destination in 2017.
I was lucky enough to visit Porto in October 2017, and headed back again in April 2018. Knowing how difficult it can be to plan a trip that encompasses everything the unvanquished city has to offer, I’ve put together a list of my favorite spots in Porto.
Torre dos Clérigos
This must-see spot, which can be spotted from the other side of the Douro River, is a church, museum, and bell tower rolled into one. Clérigos Tower stands, rooted in the history of the unconquered Portuguese city. The exterior alone attracts travelers with its traditional Baroque architecture, and the 360-degree view of the city from atop the tower is simply breathtaking.
Passeio dos Clérigos
Right beside Clérigos Tower is a walkway known as Passeio dos Clérigos. Within this small strip are coffee shops and clothing stores, and above it sits a beautiful garden and café: Base Porto. When spring is in full bloom, Passeio dos Clérigos overflows with locals seeking sunshine and warm weather. Blankets and jackets are tossed onto the grass, and groups gather under the clear skies?. With Clérigos Tower standing tall in the background, this is a popular meeting point for Portuguese locals, and the reason why is obvious — there’s nothing better than lounging in the grass and listening to the constant flow of conversation intertwined with laughter.
Avenida dos Aliados
This popular avenue in Porto consists of towering buildings, restaurants, cafés, and businesses — including the prettiest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. Somehow, Porto managed to keep with its traditional architecture and design a fast-food hub that truly looks like it belongs in the city.
In the center of Avenida dos Aliados is a long walkway that ends at a statue of King Pedro IV on horseback, which commands everyone’s attention. Avenida dos Aliados, known for its intense celebrations, is utterly beautiful but in a constant state of movement because of never-ending traffic. Soccer is popular in Portugal, so whenever FC Porto wins the League, this is where the team comes to celebrate with their fans. When the Portuguese National Team won the European Championship in 2016, giant screens were placed all along the center of Avenida dos Aliados, allowing fans to watch the game and support their country in unity. The normally busy avenue turned absolutely silent until the moment Portugal scored and won its first championship. Avenida dos Aliados is the city’s heart— a place where the city’s vibrancy can be felt by simply looking at its grand appearance.
The Ribeira is by far the most beautiful part of Porto. It is most striking when the weather is warm and its streets overflow with people. Souvenir shops leave their doors open, kids take turns jumping into the river, and outdoor seating at coffee shops becomes the most sought-after commodity. The view of Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the Ribeira is lovely, but nothing compares to the view of Porto.
For the best view of both the Douro River and Porto, cross the Dom Luis I Bridge (one of the six bridges that cross the river) and take a cable car to the top tier of the bridge. From such heights, the view of Porto becomes 10 times more beautiful, and a serene feeling that cannot be aptly described sets in — all noise fades away and it’s just you, the sun, the river, and Porto.
Estação de São Bento
With large windows, blue-tiled walls, and a clean, white ceiling with beautiful calligraphy, Estação de São Bento might just be one of the prettiest train stations to ever exist. Everything about this building will make your mouth gape, for Porto welcomes its visitors exquisitely. A large clock looms above the arrivals and departures board, long windows stretch from the floor to the high ceiling, and the colorful tiles depict historical events. In my opinion, the amount of detail that went into this train station showcases the true essence of Porto.
Igreja do Carmo
Igreja do Carmo has an extravagante façade and is one of Porto’s most photographed places. It exudes history and fits in perfectly with neighboring buildings. Igreja dos Carmelitas sits right beside Igreja do Carmo, on the left hand side. The same architectural style is carried from one church to the other making it look as if it is one huge church. Notably, the same design seen in the interior of Estação de São Bento style can be found on the exterior of Igreja do Carmo, and the church’s exterior wall is completely coated in intricate blue tiles, just like those seen in the train station. The uniqueness of this side wall captures the attention of any passerby. It’s impossible to walk by without snapping a picture.
Churches are seen as big attractions in Portugal, and a handful of Porto’s are known for their extravagant size and beauty. I’ve already mentioned two of them, but the third does not disappoint. Sé Catedral sits on a hill and, like the Clérigos Tower, offers a 360-degree view of Porto. The church features beautiful, historic architecture, but the view is the real treat. Take a moment to look down from the hilltop and marvel at the orange rooftops scattered across the city — I’m sure you’ll be able to spot Clérigos Tower standing tall in the distance, too.
Rua Santa Catarina
This thoroughfare is known as the place to shop in Porto. This long street is closed off to traffic and is home to some of the most popular clothing stores in Portugal. It also has its own shopping center: Via Catarina Shopping. Although you can’t go too far without bumping into a small coffee shop in Portugal, and Rua Santa Catarina has a few of its own noteworthy cafés and restaurants including the famous Majestic Cafe.
Rua das Flores
Ah, another of Porto’s most frequented streets. While wandering around, pay close attention to the electrical boxes found along the street, as each is painted and decorated with common “Porto” sayings. Rua das Flores is also known for the little shops and cafés that line the street.
And any book lover cannot speak of Porto without mentioning the intricate Livraria Lello, which is located right beside Passeio dos Clérigos. Although the length of the line to get in can sometimes seem discouraging, it’s definitely worth a visit to see the shop’s beautiful stained-glass windows and winding staircase. It certainly looks like a page from a fairytale.
Note that while exploring Porto, you won’t need a map. Simply roaming around the city will take you to these places and many more. Beauty is everywhere — be it at a popular landmark or along a narrow street with laundry hanging high above your head and the view of Rio Douro spanning from the bottom of the street. Let the city guide you.