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Porto, that popular and ruggedly beautiful city in the north of Portugal is full of interesting things to see and do. Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and is located on the coast, along the Douro River. My friend and I spent a pleasant weekend in Porto at the beginning of 2022, and even though the weather was a bit chilly, we also got to enjoy the warm sunshine from time to time and have some delicious coffees on a terrace by the river, even without a jacket.
The best thing about Porto is definitely the city life and aimlessly wandering around the places according to your own taste, but so that the weekend trip isn’t just aimless wandering, I still thought I’d put together what I personally think are the city’s coolest sights and activities to experience.
Ribeira is the historic center of the city and it stretches all the way to the banks of the Douro River. This old quarter, full of winding and interesting alleys, is definitely my favorite part of Porto. Colorful, beautiful and jagged buildings, interesting details, wonderful river views and the cheerful atmosphere of the area immediately convinced us that we had chosen our accommodation Porto River Aparthotel* in exactly the right place. What would have been nicer than waking up in the morning to enjoy morning coffee while looking at the river views from the window with the sun rising in the background?
Ribeira is also included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and contains beautiful architecture and brilliant colors, as well as historical attractions ranging from baroque churches to various museums and amazing restaurant culture. The most popular sights are definitely the Torre dos Clérigos, the 76 meter high bell tower of the Clérigos Church, and the old railway station of Sao Bento.
Many people also take a relaxing cruise along the Douro river as a nice activity and also walk across the impressive gray Ponte Luis I bridge, which is created by the French Gustave Eiffel in 1886, to the other side of the river to Vila Nova De Gaia to admire the view from the opposite bank and to get to know, for example, the old port wine cellars. Here we also hopped on the cable car to look at the scenery from a little higher up!
PORTO CATHEDRAL AND CHURCHES
Porto Cathedral Sé is one of the city’s most famous sights, although in my opinion perhaps not the most beautiful from the outside. However, the cathedral built in the 12th century is a popular destination and should not be missed during your visit. In addition to the cathedral, other things worth seeing are the city’s many different baroque-style churches, some of which are beautifully decorated with blue-and-white tiles, called azulejos. The most famous of these is certainly the Igreja Do Carmo and the Carmelitas right next to it, where you can also find the most popular blue and white azulejo wall that is visited by many people every day to take “the” Instagram picture.
In addition to Igreja Do Carmo, blue and white tiles can also be admired in, for example, the Chapel of Souls and the facade of Igreja De Santo Ildefonso baroque church, as well as on the exterior walls of Igreja de Santa Clara, to name a few. We didn’t go inside the churches, because I’m not terribly interested in them myself and nowadays I even experience a kind of church overload, but from the outside, we did see several of them. If you’re interested in churches, there are plenty of them in Porto and each one is certainly worth seeing from the inside, so I can’t help but recommend them nevertheless!
MIRADOURO DA VITÓRIA
An excellent way to get a complete picture of the city is to climb one on of its good view points, perhaps the most popular of which is the Miradouro da Vitória viewing platform. From here you have a great view over the city towards the Douro river and the Dom Luis I bridge, and from here it’s good to look around at different places and buildings.
I’m not a bookworm, but I’ve read the Harry Potter series and many times I can admit. As a big fan of the book series, this weekend in Porto was also very meaningful because, in addition to its other wonders, Porto also has many places that inspired the author and creator of the wizarding world of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling. Livraria Lello is one of Portugal’s oldest bookstores and also a popular destination both among tourists in general and among Harry Potter fans in particular.
There is a 5 euro entrance fee to the bookstore in the form of a voucher, but this amount will be refunded to you when you shop with at least that amount in the bookstore. I personally bought the book Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows in the English version, but I would have also paid the voucher price anyway, because the inside of the bookstore is really lovely and its winding red staircase was fun to walk up and down. This particular staircase also served as the inspiration for the Hogwarts Wizarding School‘s transforming staircase in the book series.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO
There is a lot to experience and see in Porto and here were only my favorites, in other words the icing on the cake. After the historical sights, churches and museums, the best thing to do is just relax with good food and drink and get to know the city’s delicious restaurants and enjoy the wonderful sunset from the Dom Luis I bridge in peace.
There are several good and interesting guided walking tours available in Porto, from which you can get information about the neighborhoods and the history of the city, as well as some tips about Harry Potter and the places that inspired the book series. It’s also worth stopping by for a hot cup of whatever you prefer and a Pasteis de Nata at the Majestic Café, where J.K Rowling is also said to have spent a lot of time writing the first part of the HP book series.
Our weekend in Porto was very successful and full of walking around the city, seeing the sights, enjoying good food and browsing the boutiques. Although Porto in all its splendor is very pleasant, I still wouldn’t trade Lisbon for it. Porto just doesn’t have “that something” for me personally, which Lisbon does. I could still definitely travel to Porto any time again to spend the weekend and there remains still more to explore of course!
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<3: Tiina Johanna
*Photos: Tiina Johanna, blogger
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