A local’s Guide to Downtown Porto – Visit Portugal
Porto (sometimes in English Oporto, but we really dislike it so PORTO it is) is our hometown, we lived, studied and worked in Porto most of our lives! 20 years ago Porto was dying, now the city is full of people and alive like never before. Porto is trending! It has been awarded the best European destination for the third time (2012, 2014 and 2017) and it’s a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage since 1996. As locals we are inspired by the revolution that is happening in the city and want to share it with you! What better way of inspiring someone to travel than showing them the attractions, the culture, the food…? And who better than the locals to do the job? This is a tour made by locals to foreign travelers. We want to inspire you to visit Porto!
Porto’s downtown is quite small and everything is very close to each other. We are proposing a walking tour with 11 stops and only roughly 5 km! We will start in one of Porto’s main train station, where most of us arrive and leave the city!
Estação de São Bento (S. Bento Station)
S. Bento is the perfect place to start the tour because it’s both the central and easy to access and a city attraction. In S. Bento you will find an excellent example of “azulejos“. A very traditional Portuguese art of blue painted titles which constitute a major aspect of Portuguese architecture as they are applied on walls, floors and even ceilings. In S. Bento there are 20 000 “azulejos” illustrating the transport evolution and events of Portuguese history and life.
Rua Santa Catarina (Santa Catarina street) with a stop in the Majestic
From São Bento we go to Santa Catarina Street, which is a major shopping street in Porto. This is where we have a typical Portuguese morning coffee. An espresso! Portuguese love their coffee, but only espressos! If you want to go full Portuguese have an espresso and a custard tart! In the Majestic you will have it in style, but in our experience neither the coffee or the tart are the best of Porto. However, this is most beautiful coffee shop in Porto, and sometimes referred as one of the most beautiful in the world!
Mercado do Bolhão (Bolhão Market)
After the typical Portuguese coffee we are ready to walk up the remaining of Santa Catarina street and turn left into Bolhão Market. This is the most symbolic market of Porto. The market has two floors and it’s a neoclassic building. However, the most interesting thing about it is walking around and check everything that is sold in it, both in the inside and outside. One “funny” thing about the market is that since the 90’s have been discussions and projects to renew it but until now it hasn’t still been done. Note: apparently Bolhão is again close to renewal so we can’t get inside…
Aliados is the main avenue of the city of Porto. In the main square the buildings around it make a beautiful skyline with domes and pinnacles with the city hall as the central feature of the square. It is marked by a large central square completely paved with granite cobblestones. This is where people from the city gather to celebrate, manifest or riot. It’s the true city center.
Livraria Lello (Lello Bookstore)
After Walking through Aliados we head to one of the most interesting attractions of Porto’s downtown: a Lello bookstore, nowadays also known as the Harry Potter bookstore. This is the bookstore that inspired J. K. Rowling and you can easily recognize it from the movies. Lello bookstore was built in 1906 and it’s a sumptuous and magical building. It is considered an Art Nouveau gem and a must visit in Porto to any traveler, but especially to Harry Potter fans.
Torre dos Clérigos (Clérigos Tower)
Very close to Lello Bookstore it’s the Clérigos Tower. Built in the XVIII century the Clérigos Tower is a major baroque building. Curiously it was supposed to be two towers, but the second was never built. The tower is 76 meters high and it is possible to climb 240 stairs almost to the top. From the top you can see the amazing panoramic view of Porto’s landscape. This is obviously one of the most striking attractions of Porto. Opposite the tower is Cordoaria Gardens and an imposing Neoclassical and Pombaline building which used to be a prison. The gardens are a great place to rest a bit after climbing and descending all those stairs.
Rua das Flores (Flores street)
Flores Street is a great example of what tourism can do! It was a dead street 10 years ago, and now it’s full of stores, coffee shops and restaurants. It’s very touristy but it’s also loved by locals. Flores street is always full of people and became one of the most lively places in the city. We are going down the street into the Stock Exchange Palace. This is obviously a good place to have lunch.
Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)
Built in the Stock Exchange Palace of Porto is a cultural and conference center in the heart of the city center. It is ideal for concerts, fashion shows, commercial exhibitions, auctions and various other kinds of events. It is even possible to privately rent these rooms to private ceremonies. Here we have to highlight the fascinating Arabian Room. It was inspired by Alhambra Palace in Spain and has an unbelievable detail and beauty.
Igreja de São Francisco (S. Francisco Church)
Right next to the Stock exchange Palace is S. Francisco Church. It was built in the XIV century in a Gothic style but the inside of the church is one of the most important works of the Baroque, by its gilded interior from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This decorative richness is the most notable feature, covering the roofs of the aisles, pillars, window frames and chapels.
After these stunning buildings we head down to Ribeira, aka the riverside of the Douro River. From here you can see Gaia and the caves on the other side of the river and the D. Luis I Bridge (and the other Douro Bridges) connecting the cities. It’s quite a wonderful view so we urge you to sit down, rest and have a nice cold drink. If you are into more culture and history you can visit the “Casa do Infante”.
We are now very close to the end of the tour and we will have to climb some stairs and head to D. Luis I Bridge upper deck.
Ponte D. Luis I (D. Luis I Bridge)
D. Luis I Bridge was inaugurated in 1886 and it is composed by two overlapping iron deck. The bridge is 395 meters long and 8 meters wide, and its arch is still considered to be the world’s biggest one in forged iron. It was designed by Teófilo Seyrig, a disciple of Eiffel and we can really see the similarity in style with the Eiffel Tower. From the upper deck of the bridge we have an amazing view to both cities (Porto and Gaia) and the Douro river!
Therefore we finish this tour with probably the best lookout in Porto!
If you have time and energy you can easily add a few more Porto downtown destinations to this script:
- Se (Cathedral of Porto) – From D. Luis I Bridge to the Cathedral is just 200 meters, so you can add it easily. It is one of the city’s oldest monuments (construction began in 1110) and one of the most important monuments. It’s also architecturally heterogeneous, featuring a Baroque porch and a beautiful Romanesque rose window under a crenellated arch, giving the impression of a fortified church.
- Carmo Church – considered to be one of the most remarkable rococo buildings of Porto and with beautiful tiles (Azulejos) on the lateral;
- Church of Santo Ildefonso – a XVIII century church with façade is decorated with Portuguese tiles;
- Casa do Infante – It was the birthplace of Infante D. Henrique, the Navigator and a Museum about Prince Henry the Navigator and the New Worlds. It’s in Ribeira, so it’s very easy to go there while on this tour.
In a hindsight, Porto is rightfully trending and totally worth a visit, don’t you agree? Have you been to Porto?