After seeing the city-fortress/frontier Valenca (001), then the oldest town in Portugal (Ponte de Lima 003) we continued the journey south towards Braga (004) where we admired the many churches and Cathedrals including the most iconic of them all: Bom Jesus (005). From there we took the train south-east to Regua (006) and visited the many vineyards with the help of steam trains.
Now is about time to visit one of the most fun and enjoyable city (ranked second in Portugal for size/population) => He and the next city (just across the river that separates them) give the name to their country -> here is PORTO, in 5 images:
007.1 Historic lift-Elevador da Lada.
Resembling both a sea-guard tower and a bridge -> it is one of the most iconic elevators in Porto. Known as Ascensor da Ribeira, it can be used by public/tourists (but it gets hot in the summer) and it is not open on weekends and it is not for free (or it depends…). It was built in 1994 and it has a modern look to it (nothing like the beautifully ornated one from Lisbon/Lisboa).
007.2 View over Porto from the top of Dom Luis I Bridge.
Porto is most beautiful once the sun starts to set. You get a 30+ minutes of beautiful Iberian, yellow/orange/purple mood sunset. Here, in this vista, we can admire the Douro River and the many boats ready to take you to a short cruise. Next, we have the colourful Ribeira neighbourhood filled with restaurants, dancing rings and festivals -> aka the non-stop fun side of the town. Higher we see the Episcopal Palace and the Porto Se Cathedral (up right corner) aka the must-see during the day.
007.3 Clerigos Church and Tower.
But not only the riverside is fun and full of youth. The old centre with the many Universities has most of the teenagers in one place. In here you find the Clerigos Tower and the Clerigos Church (so that is easier to spot if you get lost). The tall structure has no less than 240 steps to climb before reaching the top. From there you can admire Porto (from within) and feel 75,6m above those that do not like to climb. The construction was finished in 1760 together with the Church and it’s Bells. So if last night you spent it next to the Douro River, know you should spend it here on the many fancy coffee shops. The tower is opened also after sunset.
007.4 Santo Ildefonso Chruch and the iconic Porto tram.
Built on top of an old church, back in 1739 it features modern azulejos tilework. The blue tiles + the baroque style + the iconic yellow tram. 🚃 I took this shot since it talks a lot about urban Portugal.
007.5 Sunset over Ponte da Arrabida.
The River, the ocean, the epic sunsets, the always festive mood, the colours, the people and the historical places -> all contribute to a unique and beautiful 2-3 days on this side of Portugal. In fact, I found myself coming here more often than normal (meaning I did not see other places because I fell in love with Porto).
Now let me show you more in depth.
Looking upon this map you would think: ‘hey there is not so much to see’. Actually, I tried not to put all the best places for shopping, or where I bought my scale model locomotives or the places I ate, or the big malls or cinemas or etc., etc… nobody would understand anything! So many places to see! But keep the pins on your mobile phone and discover the areas between them. Also depending on what bus you take from the airport, there are some small aqueducts to be photographed. But you cannot make the bus stop and is hard to take photos from the bus… For me, there are 3 major areas -> beachside, riverside, and the inner city. The fourth area is Gaia but more about that one in 008.
So let’s start somewhere.
007.6 Porto Sao Bento train station.
I know for most people, Porto starts from the International Airport, but, if you saw Portugal starting from the North -> Valenca – Ponte de Lima – Braga -> I am pretty sure you would be here now: at Sao Bento train station. Might be here to go take the train to Regua or to Lisbon or… Anyway just stop and admire the train station. Maybe it is not what you would expect… but boy it has some gorgeous artwork. (yep no Starbucks, or BurgerKing or whatever… just people travelling and coming home)
007.7 Sao Bento train station.
Beautiful blue tiles (azulejos) ornate the walls with scenes of kings, battles, season activities, historic means of transportation in Portugal and many more. The station, the tunnel, the granite and the blue tiles are from the early 1900s. The three stories high building was built on the site of an old church. Is no wonder that this beautiful station is in such a beautiful city. But I give you that… is far from the beach…
007.8 Majestic Cafe.
Some of you will go exploring the city others might go towards the beach (depends on how the weather is). I suggest you start by taking a coffee with a sweet traditional tart: Pastel de Nata. And if you find yourself on the Santa Catarina street (a few minutes from the train station) there is a very fancy coffee house, with woodcarvings, chandeliers, piano, crystals, mirrors and a huge line to wait if you want to eat inside. But you can stay outside and drink a coffee -> you will enter once you need to go to the toilet…
007.9 The iconic electrical tram.
Let’s say you want to go to the beach -> walking might not be a great option but a beautiful ride on the tram should be better. For just 3euros you can get a special ride on this tram (and witness rush hour for tourists). Now, actually, you need also to get a bus 500/502/205 to get to the beach. There are also those special dual decker buses and you can buy tickets for those too.
007.10 International Beach or Praia Internacional.
Do not like the sand or is a bit too cold to stay to much in one place? Don’t worry here you can also visit the great Sea-Life. I personally did not visit the aquarium since I find it too expensive and my stay wasn’t that long…
007.11 Forte de Sao Francisco Xavier.
Ans so I got to visit an XVII-th century fort that features canons, old weapons, a bridge at the entrance (just like a classic fort would have) and a vista over the Atlantic Ocean. Mind you, it is not for free (but you can use the toilet). There are many forts to see and the best way to do it is by bicycle. In fact, ALL the Atlantic coast from the International Beach to Douro River can be crossed on a bicycle on the special road (some 3km). And boy there are many things to see.
007.12 Tapas Restaurant.
I don’t really want to make publicity to any but this a beautiful roof that teleports you to the sea-side -> Bela Cruz Restaurant (in the area where the Fort is).
007.13 Capela do Senhor da Boa Nova
Now let’s get back in the city and get to a place where most people take selfies. No, it’s not at the church and neither at the old medieval tower seen in the image above. (is a good thing to pack a zoom lens when going to Portugal)
007.14 Rosa Mota Pavilion.
The place to take photos to let everyone know where you are is at Gardens of the Crystal Palace -> great view in daylight and nighttime (the holes on the spherical roof get lid). When I was there, they featured a book festival. I found some to buy but thinking that all day I’ll be carrying heavy books … eh, I left empty-handed.
007.15 Edificio A Nacional.
Narrow streets filled with stores. Here we are not far from kilometre zero -> next to Camera Municipal do Porto. Porto has many gems that live high above the horizon. So unglue yourself from watching the shops and restaurants and admire the statues and columns high above the street.
007.16 Se Cathedral of Porto.
Dating as far as the XII-th century, the Cathedral will be finished after 5 centuries. It features Baroque architecture and famous paintings and statues. It is easy to spot and you will be passing it many times, either to go on the bridge (where most people go) or when going to Ribeira or when arriving from the train station. It is a church like inside and doesnt look Portuguese enough… (no azulejos I mean).
007.17 Another vista on Porto’s old architecture.
In this image, we see the Monument Church of Sao Francisco and the Bolsa Palace (that features an outstanding interior). Kinda cute with all those orange rooftops no? If you have time to enter in one building, I suggest Bolsa Palace. Google it if you don’t believe me. 🤫
007. 18 Livraria Lello.
One of the most outstanding library in Porto (if not Portugal) this is one of the must-see places. Unfortunately, there is always a huge line of people waiting, almost everyday so be ready for that. I don’t think you can make great pictures inside without hundreds of people jam-packed constantly moving and pulling their phones up and to the point that their arms uncouple. Well anyway, if you do wait and you have someone to give you constant icecreams to resist the heat -> the interior is WOW! I wish to make my house with one of the (hundred of ) rooms like that!😅
007.19 Down to Ribeira.
Also, some of you will go from the Old city above, down to Riverside using the Funicular. Mind you that if you don’t push people around you will be facing a wall or deserted small houses. (I made many pictures of those that I might share at some point in time and space).
Another way to get to the riverside is to climb down the stairs next to the D. Luiz I bridge into something like a suburban area. You will listen to slow ballads or more moving Latin songs, you will feel the smell of delicious food mixed with the smell of freshly washed clothes. You will see kids playing and most residents will happily greet you. A great area for those who are into street photography. And for anyone else, a better way to experience Porto (than the funicular) 💃
007.20 The colourful houses of Ribeira.
Best seen in the afternoon, this is a neighbourhood filled with colourful houses and many tapas restaurants + wine. In fact, if you ever thought to make a puzzle with one of your pictures -> well here is a place to take many pictures to be used for puzzles.🧩
007.21 View over the Episcopal Palace and Ribeira.
This is a beautiful vista, as seen from Vila Nova de Gaia (like I said in the beginning, Porto is on one side of Douro river, and Vila Nova de Gaia -known also as Cale- is on the other side. Both formed Porto-Cale, later known as the Kingdom of Portugal. And yes, if you like photography, you should be packing a wide lens, a street lens, a zoom lens and a fast lens. You will not need tripods as there are many places to put your camera and even take small time-lapses / if you have clouds… ☁️
007.22 Porto and the Ponte Luis I.
This is my favourite view over Porto (also as seen from Vila Nova de Gaia). Here we see the Douro river with the iconic traditional Rabelo boats floating around, with the same Ribeira neighbourhood colourfully dominating the middle of the image; on the hills, we see the Episcopal Palace and to the right, we see the famous Ponte Luis I.
It is often confused with another bridge (see it in next article 008-Vila Nova de Gaia) that was constructed by the famous Eiffel. He also participated at the contest to build a dual decker bridge that would allow traffic on both levels. In the end, it was his apprentice that won the project (he was cheaper) and got to make today’s Ponte Luis I.
So Eiffel does have a bridge built by him (and his crew and Portuguese workers) but he was the biggest single arch bridge (at the time). So don’t mix them up! Also, it is not long ago that you had to pay a tax to cross on the bridge…
007.23 Helicopter Pad.
Now if dining next to Douro River is not your thing, neither indulge yourself in more exquisite dishes found in the central Porto city, or if taking a boat ride on the river is not enough -> well you can always take also a ride in a helicopter 🚁 around Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
I will keep away from the conclusion just yet and hope to see you in two weeks when we travel across the bridge: to Vila Nova de Gaia.