The city has to be visited on foot.
I have been twice in Porto, specifically, two weekends. Everyone spoke very well to me; but I went without much expectations. I liked Lisbon too much and thought that Porto would be behind. This is a clear example of the error of prejudging before knowing. Porto is amazing. Small, beautiful, with history, very nice shops and a good gastronomic offer. For me, it is almost perfect.
On the map below you can see the route I followed. The blue dots correspond to the bold text in the post. If you click on the map, you will see the details.
The Douro River (Duero) divides the city in two. On one side is the Ribeira de Gaia from where you can enjoy great views of the mythical "skyline" of Porto with the Luís I bridge. This neighborhood is full of wineries to taste the wines of the area that have a worldwide reputation . It is a good idea to start the route (on foot) on this side of the river.
Crossing Ponte de Luís I is lovely because, step by step, you are entering into the part of the city that has more life. It is probably the most relevant icon and one of the most visited sites; in fact, it is one of the most important tourist claims. It has a highway at the bottom and a train line at the top. It was inaugurated in 1886 by the then King of Portugal (Luis I). Porto has many bridges that cross the river; this is one of the oldest. Declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1996. It was designed by an engineer disciple of Gustave Eiffel, which is highly appreciated for the type of iron construction. It is always full of people, both local people who travel for work, as well as tourists or travelers taking photos in all directions. Often young and daring people jump from above to the river doing tricks to be able to collect a tip from those who stop to enjoy the show.
The bridge crosses quickly and you soon reach Cais da Ribeira. It is the historic area of the city declared a World Heritage Site. It is the walk that borders the river and is full of small restaurants that give it a lot of life. The buildings are very cute, colorful and without much height. It is perfect to walk with no hurry. I always recommend seeing it during both day and night, as it has a special and different charm depending on the time. This is where the boats are taken to go around the river. I'm not going to fool you... doing it is a "tourist"; but is it worth it!
Just behind Cais da Ribeira, there is my favorite neighborhood in Porto: Barredo. It is where the essence of the city is found. It has a decaying point that I love. It is a labyrinth of narrow streets, there are stairs everywhere and small balconies with clothes hanging. It transported me to some years back. I would have spent hours walking, although it is not too big.
Northwest direction, you reach Praça do Infante D. Henrique with the Palácio da Bolsa and the Igreja Monumento de Sao Francisco. The square is not worth much, but the Palace and the church give it majesty. They are two very different buildings and they are attached! None of the two times I have been in Porto I have entered the Palácio da Bolsa. The first due to lack of time and the second because there was a huge queue to enter. On the next visit, I promise to enter only to see the Arab room in neo-Arab style and I can say that from the photos I have seen it is amazing! Currently, it is used to receive personalities and heads of state and to perform classical music concerts. The church has to be seen, but it is not awesome.
Just in front of the church there is a very small alley called Travessa de Sao Nicolau that has a building where the entire wall is tiled. I found it amazing.
Going west, there is the Igreja de Sao Joao Novo. Without having extensive knowledge of history, I liked this church more than the Sao Francisco one. I was pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, the Muralha Fernandina, despite being a World Heritage Site by Unesco, disappointed me. They are medieval fortifications. Honestly, I still think now that I was in the wrong building!
Look for the "Ecuador Viterbo" chocolate shop. The smell calls for everyone to enter. Authentic cocoa in different formats and different presentations. It is a real sin not to buy in this store. It will make you stronger for the next visit.
The Catedral o Sé do Porto physically is a mixture of fortress and church. Romanesque in style with a rose window and Gothic cloisters. I arrived to one side and I identified it by a cross in the central and upper part. It looks more like a fortress than a religious building (or so it seemed to me). As I got closer, I liked it more. On one of the sides there are some arcades with the walls filled with ceramics. It is beautiful. The main entrance plaza is amazing. It is very large and very quiet. From here you can see the main facade from any angle and here there are also very good views of the city. One can spend hours observing the roofs of the houses, people hanging clothes or even the Torre de los Clérigos standing out in an exaggerated way for its height. Inside, it imposes a lot. It is sober. I did not have the opportunity to enter the cloister and, from what I have read and seen, I think it is worth it.
Leaving the Cathedral square through the Escadas do Colégio, you reach two places that are really interesting. On one hand, there is the Miradouro da Rua das Aldas with good views of Porto and, on the other, there are public laundries that I can't find any information about anywhere. There was no informational sign and on Google Maps I did not find them. In fact, they look new.
"Ecolà" is a very small store that is on street parallel to Rua das Flores. I love it. They have wool clothes with a very exclusive design. Returning to the famous Rua das Flores, enter to "Flowers - Creative Concept Store" which is a very creative store with different objects. Nearby is "Lufa Lufa", a perfect place to take a souvenir shirt of the city. They are comfortable, original and authentic.
Walking along Rua das Flores made me fall in love. I was going like in a cloud towards the Sao Bento station, and I had no expectation that the cloud would still rise higher! It is a wonderful train station. You have to enter the main lobby to enjoy the magnificent tile decoration on the walls. Amazing!
As you are here, you can visit Praça Liberdade. It is one of the most mythical squares in Porto. From here, take Rua dos Clérigos to Torre dos Clérigos. The complex formed by the tower, the museum and the church has been considered a National Monument since 1910. Do not hesitate to pay to go up to the tower. There is one of the best views in the city. They date from the 18th century and are in the Baroque style.
Nearby is the "Casa Oriental". No one can leave Porto without entering. It opened in 1942 in Murtosa and is a factory that has become the largest flag in the canning sector. Initially, it was dedicated to the export of eels; but, bit by bit, they diversified. The store is very cool.
Northbound and a few meters away is the "Livraria Lello". It is so amazing that it has been repeatedly chosen as the most beautiful bookstore in the world. The Harry Potter writer worked in Porto as a teacher and visited the bookstore to get inspiration from the novel. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in the city. You have to pay admission and access is in shifts. Bags must be left in the lockers.
The next stop is a double visit: Igreja do Carmo and the Capela das almas de Santa Caterina. They are a little apart; but I recommend visiting them in a row and in this order. The blue ceramic exterior walls make them awesome!
A Perola do Bolhao is an old grocery store (founded in 1917) that you must visit. It has an art noveau ceramic façade that is beautiful. Inside they sell high quality local products.
Everything I've mentioned so far is viewed quickly. Porto is small. You can do everything on foot without problem. If you have time, I recommend walking to the Far de Felgueiras (in green on the map). The tour is done on the road that borders the Douro River and takes 1 hour and 15 minutes each way, from the center of Porto and west. It passes through a very picturesque neighborhood, through a heliport from where you can take a helicopter to fly over Porto and ends the tour at the lighthouse, where the waves break and where the Douro river empties into the Atlantic.
Another option is to take a taxi to "O Cantinho da Helena" (in green on the map) to walk a very pleasant walk that also borders the river but to the east of the city, in the Aldeia Nova area.
Recommendations for meals (marked in red on the map):
- For breakfast, in the famous Rua das Flores there is Garota da Baixa. They offer a heavy breakfast, but really good.
- For lunch and/or dinner:
- "Páteo das Flores". It is a small and discreet restaurant that is placed in one of my favorite streets in the city: Rua das Flores. I found it by chance and I have already marked it on the map! I tried the fresh prawn battered with Panko, served with garlic mayonnaise, lime and aromatic herbs, a kind of "pepito" of veal that was delicious and a really good dessert. I recommend the place!
- By chance I arrived to "Manteigaria - Fábrica de Pasteis de Nata". It is a modern place where I ate some casseroles (meat with vegetables and mushrooms with almonds) that were really good.
- "Cafe Santiago da Praça". It is a place to eat a combination dish at an affordable price. I only highlight the bolo de bolacha. It is my favorite dessert from Portugal. It is a biscuit cake and, I have to admit that the one here was delicious.
- "Cafe Majestic". It is the most emblematic coffee in the city. Elegant, romantic, beautiful and refined. It is considered one of the 10 most beautiful cafes in the world. You can go to breakfast, lunch, dinner, have tea or eat a sandwich and some tapas. Here you can eat what you want. I ate the "Rabanadas" Majestic Style dessert; a toast with raisins, walnuts and pine nuts and a sauce on top. Delicious.
- To snack between meals:
- A place that is worth to visit is the "Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau". They tribute to the land and the sea; the two oldest realities of the Portuguese nation. Cod comes from the sea and Serra da Estrela cheese comes from land. In this emblematic place where the land and the sea meet you can taste good fritters!
What I will not mark on the map is the famous "Santa Franceshina" to eat what is probably the most typical dish: franceshina. It’s a sandwich with different types of sausages and a sauce that made me dizzy for the rest of the weekend. I'm sorry, but no.
- The first weekend I went to an Airbnb in Vila Nova de Gaia. It was a completely renovated, cute and very affordable apartment for 4 people. I've been looking for references and haven't found it. I imagine it will be closed.
- The second weekend I went to "The House Ribeira Hotel". Impossible to find a better located accommodation. The hotel is small and very correct. A 4 star highly recommended.
A couple of days is enough to see the center of Porto.
If you want to make the excursion to the lighthouse and the river promenade you need one more day.