Porto Things to Do Tips by magor65
Porto Things to Do: 428 reviews and 742 photos
Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia is located on the left bank of the river Duero. All big wine lodges (or caves) are situated here. They are usually named after their English founders, hence we've got Sandeman's, Taylor's or Graham's. There are over 80 wine lodges here and most of them are open to visitors (many free of charge). It's interesting to listen to explanations about the history of port wine and to see rows of oak casks where ports are matured before being bottled. But of course the nicest part of the visit is wine-tasting and usually at least two different kinds of port wine are served.
But Vila Nova de Gaia is not just wine lodges. There are several nice cafes and restaurants and some of them have terraces with a charming view over the river Duero and Porto.
Why do we go to bookshops? To buy books, of course. But Lello bookshop attracts visitors not only with its rich bookselling offer. Already its beautiful neo-Gothic facade tells you that the place must be special. Indeed, the interior is unique: wooden spiral staircase, fantastic stainglass and carved bookshelves must delight everybody who comes in. And what's important, the owners have nothing against people entering the place just to look around and take pictures. They must be used to it by now.
Address: Rua das Carmelitas 144
Sao Bento's azulejos
Railway station as a tourist attraction? Why not? Especially, when it is such a railway station as Sao Bento.
It was completed in 1916 on the site of Sao Bento da Ava Maria monastery. In 1930 its inner walls were covered with azulejos decorated by Jorge Colaco. The big panels depict various historic events like Jao I's arrival in Porto or the conquest of Ceuta. There are also other scenes showing rural festivities or various means of transport.
At the time we visited Sao Bento the tiles were covered for conservation purposes by a thin material that looked like gauze. Although we couldn't take in the whole beauty of the decorations, they still looked impressive.
I wonder if there are any cases of missing a train when a passanger admires the azulejos and forgets about the world around.
When you come to a country like Portugal you should be prepared to visit numerous churches. Many of them hide real works of art and have fascinating history, so they are definitely worth visiting. But having seen five with delight, ten with interest, the eleventh one can put you off. It was so with me during my trip to Portugal. So while spending a couple of days in Porto I entered only two churches: Cathedral and St. Francis. But it was impossible not to stop at least for a photo at some others. Here they are:
- the church of Carmelites with its beautiful azulejos panels (photo 1)
- the Baroque church Sao Pedro dos Clerigos designed by an Italian architect - Nicolo Nasoni. It has a tower (96 metres high) from the top of which you can admire the panorama of Porto (photo 2)
- the church that I loved for its facade and the way it was illuminated in the evening. I think it's Misericordia, but I'm not sure. (photo 3)
church of St. Francis
The church of St. Francis and Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange) make one edifice, as the latter was built on the site of the former Franciscan monastery.
Completed in 1425, the church of St. Francis is said to be the best example of Gothic style in Porto. What immediately draws a visitor's attention is a large rose-window in the main facade.
But it's the Baroque interior that makes everybody gasp in amazement. Its opulence and decorative richness is suitable for a ball-room rather than a church. Almost everything drips with gold. Gilded wood covers the aisles, pillars and chapels, arches and sculptures. The clash between the wealth of the place and the vow of poverty that the Franciscans should follow, made the authorities close the church for worship. So it is more like a museum today.
Don't miss an impressive "Tree of Jesse" carved in wood and gilded. It shows a family tree of Jesus with twelve kings of Judah. The sculpture is crowned with the figure of Mary and the Child.
Unfortunately, taking photographs in not allowed.
There is a small entrance fee.
Address: Rua do Infante Dom Henrique
Palacio da Bolsa (under the scaffolding)
Although Palacio da Bolsa looks quite ordinary, not to say dull, from the outside, its interior leaves you awestricken. It's a tangible proof of how prosperous Porto merchants were in the 19th century.
It's not a stock exchange any longer; beside being a sort of a museum it serves representation purposes. It's a venue for conferences, official meetings but also wedding receptions.
There are several rooms on two floors, each sumptuous and grand. But the 'most glittering jewel' is the Arabian room and its gold and blue intricate decorations with a repeated motif of Arabian inscriptions. It is said that the model for it was the Alhambra Palace in Spain.
I also loved the beautiful parquet floors arranged in complicated patterns or a unique in-laid table in the Portrait Room.
The imposing stairway and its decorations made of granite made me wonder how the artists managed to achieve the sense of lightness sculpting the rock so hard to work with. The large-sized chandeliers hanging from the ceiling with 1.5 tons of bronze each are also real masterpieces.
Summing up, a visit to Palacio da Bolsa is highly recommended. It's a pity that taking photographs inside is not allowed, so I can't share with you any photos.
Visiting only with guided-tours.
Porto cathedral grew and changed with the city. It was designed in Romanesque style but its appearance was much altered in the next epochs.
With its squat towers it looks a bit like a fortress.
The cathedral witnessed a very important event in the history of Portugal. Here King Jao I and Philipa Lancaster were married in 1387. Their marriage followed a treaty of alliance between Portugal and England signed a year before. John I ruled for 50 years and that time is often referred to as a golden age in the history of Portugal. One of the couple's children was a famous Henry the Navigator (born in Porto), who organised many expeditions in search of new lands.
What impressed me most in the cathedral were the cloisters covered by azulejos depicting various mythological and religious scenes. Another interesting thing is the Silver Altar of the Sacrament. But frankly speaking the cathedral is mostly worth visiting for the views. Its elevated position offers great views over the roof-tops of the city. It was also the place from where we and hundreds aof other people admired the firework display on St. John's night.
In front of the cathedral there is a square with a pillory (pelourinho). The pillory was built in 19th century and it has a purely decorative function - no punishments were ever held here.
The cathedral is beautifully lit at night; it looks much more graceful then.
Address: Terreiro da Se
Ponte Dom Luis I
Ponte Dom Luis I was constucted by one of Gustav Eiffel's students and opened in 1886. This iron bridge consists of two levels. The lower one is for motor vehicles and the upper for pedestrians and metro.
Walking over it is quite an experience, especially for people who suffer from fear of heights, like me. I didn't feel very secure when I was in the middle of it high above the river (about 60 metres) and the metro thundered past me. But it was worth it - the views from the bridge are stunning.
There is a sculpture on the bridge that commemorates a sad event that took place in Porto in 1809. When French troops invaded the city, its inhabitants were escaping in large numbers to Vila Nova de Gaia using a pontoon bridge (built from linked barges). The construction didn't withstand such a big weight and 5000 people lost their lives in the river.
Ribeira, meaning a river bank, is a part of the city close to the river. It was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. It consists of a maze of narrow steep cobbled-stoned streets and houses with colourful facades, many decorated with azulejos.
I think Ribeira is a good place to start a sightseeing tour of Porto. While walking along the embankment you can best feel the character of the city.
The wide river Douro divides it into two parts. In the Roman times there were two settlements on the opposite banks: Portus and Cale. They gave rise to the duchy of Portucale, which was a part of dowry brought to Henry of Burgundy by Teresa of Castilia. Their son Alphonso, having reconquered most of the country from the Moors, became the first ruler of a new kingdom, which he named Portugal after the land of his parents.
When you are tired of walking you can sit in one of numerous cafes or restaurants in Cais de Ribeira. From here you can clearly see Villa Nova de Gaia on the other side of the river. This is where port wine is made - hence many signs of its producers: Sandeman, Ferreira, Taylor or Graham.
Then you can walk over Ponte Dom Luis I to the othe bank or just stand on the bridge to have a wonderful view of the city.
Avenida dos Aliados
We arrived in Porto late in the afternoon. After leaving our luggage in a hotel room we decided to go for an evening walk. We knew that our hotel was about half an hour from the city centre, but that was all the information we had. ( Yes, I know we should have asked in the hotel reception for a map, or at least directions, but we didn't). You know this feeling - you are a stranger in a new city, feeling a bit insecure, not knowing where to go. The vicinity of the hotel looked rather shabby, but quite a lot of people were walking there. We passed various houses and shops in rather narrow streets. There were quite a lot of stalls selling herbs in little pots. We guessed that they must have had something in common with Sao Jao feast next day.
After about 20 minutes we came to a wide avenue with imposing buildings on both sides; they were mostly banks. We read the name: Avenida dos Aliados. Only back in the hotel did we read in our guide-books that it is the heart of Porto.
Next day we returned there with the sightseeing tour.
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