Porto: 8 Interesting Things To Do and See

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Porto is a beautiful place with its own special charm and is gradually becoming a trendy tourist destination.

There’s plenty to do in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city after Lisbon. Many tourists only stay there for 2-3 days, but if you have time I suggest you visit for longer and discover a bit more about this wonderful city.

Despite the growing number of tourists, it still retains its authentic feel. You’ll notice it in the narrow, cobbled streets, the old buildings and the general pace of life in Porto. It’s so easy to fall in love with.

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Porto - Interesting things to do and see

Here’s a mix of both popular and offbeat things to do and see in beautiful Porto. As always, some of these are not your standard guidebook suggestions.

Ponte Dom Luís I

The Luís I Bridge over the Douro river is one of Porto’s most famous symbols. It’s also a great place to take pictures from. The bridge has two levels, both open to pedestrians.

Luís I Bridge, Porto
Luís I Bridge, Porto

To reach the top level and get the most marvellous views, just walk straight towards the bridge from São Bento station. You’ll know you’re in the right direction when you see this:

Luís I Bridge
Luís I Bridge from Sao Bento

This is probably the place to mention that if you have a fear of heights, you’d better skip this experience or maybe try the lower level.

Luís I Bridge
View from Luís I Bridge
Luís I Bridge
Looking down from Luís I Bridge in foggy Porto

Cross the bridge to the other side for more gorgeous views of the city.

Luís I Bridge
Luís I Bridge

Luís I Bridge

Porto Architecture Tour

Walking around downtown Porto, I noticed some of it’s captivating architecture. Looking up is always a good idea. What I didn’t know though, was that some of Porto’s most impressive buildings are actually located outside the city centre.

Going on a guided architecture tour of Porto by AtWill was a way to discover the parts of the city I probably wouldn’t have discovered on my own.

This tour just reinforced what every traveller knows: always go touring with a local, it’s priceless.

The guide, a Porto-born architecture student, had a deep understanding and passion for the subject. She shared a wealth of information and knowledge, not just about the buildings but also about the history and current state of the city.

The tour lasts four hours (with a break), but you’ll hardly feel the time pass. In these four hours I learned about Porto’s leading architects and their personal styles and got a glimpse into the local culture from a fresh perspective.

Porto Architecture Tour 

What you’ll see on the architecture tour

You get to explore different types of buildings, from public institutes to modern landmarks, from social housing to metro stations. You’ll see an unexpected side of Porto and get a very interesting picture of the relatively recent history of the city.

The tour starts at one of Porto’s most famous museums, Serralves Museum. It’s an impressive building that teaches you a lot about the style of its architect, Siza Vieira. Later in the tour you’ll find that you can identify his style in other buildings too. 

Porto Architecture Tour Serralves Museum Porto
Porto Architecture Tour: Serralves Museum

The tour covers some other famous sites, like Casa da Música (a modern city landmark) and Trindade Station.

Porto Architecture Tour Casa da Musica
Porto Architecture Tour: Casa da Musica

It will also take you to places you may not have thought to visit, like the Porto’s Architecture Faculty – an amazing architectural piece.

Porto Architecture Tour Architecture school
Porto Architecture Tour: Architecture school

If you’re fascinated by architecture like me, this tour is a must for you.

AtWill – Porto Architecture Tour / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

The Portuguese Centre of Photography

I felt a bit uneasy when I walked into the photography museum. There was something austere about it which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I saw some massive metal bars right in front of me. A bit strange…

I wondered if these were put there to accompany the temporary exhibition that was on display at the time, which was about life in prison.

It turned out that the museum is actually inside a prison. To be precise, this huge, impressive building used to be a prison up until the mid 1970s. Nice to see they put it to good use!

Portuguese Photography Center, Porto, Portugal
Photo by Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Alongside the temporary exhibition showing life in prison by two photographers with very different styles, which was fascinating and disturbing at the same time, there is also a permanent exhibition. This one is the museum’s collection of cameras from different time periods.

It you’re into photography, or just want to experience this huge, weird building, check it out. Entrance is free.

Centro Português de Fotografia website / Facebook

Livraria Lello

You’ll find this on any list of top 10 things to do in Porto, as it’s one of Porto’s most popular attractions. Who would have thought that a bookshop would be so fashionable?

It’s the famous bookshop that inspired J. K. Rawling in her Harry Potter series. It is one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal and it is indeed stunning.

Here’s a 360° view:

As a major tourist attraction, the bookshop charges an entry fee of €4. However, if you buy a book there, they will deduct the fee from the price of the book.

Livraria Lello website / Facebook

Porto Lifestyle Walking Tour

On my first day in Porto, when I knew little about it, I took a free walking tour with Porto Walkers. This one isn’t your classic historical walking tour, but more of a blend of history and important monuments with stories about the city’s lifestyle.

Porto Mirador
Porto from above! We stopped at this lovely viewpoint during the walking tour

 You’ll get to hear Portugal’s 20th century history in 10 minutes (!) or the history of the Jews in Porto, but you’ll also learn about its street art scene and its drug policies, and even learn some words in Portuguese.

The tour lasts 3 hours (with a short break). Thanks to a charismatic guide with brilliant storytelling skills, you’ll find yourself fascinated and curious to know more.

Porto Lifestyle Tour / Porto Walkers on Facebook

Admire Those Tiles!

Porto’s buildings are covered with colourful glazed ceramic tiles. They are everywhere you look and they are just marvellous to look at!

They are painted and create gorgeous patterns. Some with simple geometric shapes, some with impressive floral decorations. The dominant colour is blue, followed by yellow.

Porto Tiles by TalBright
My tile collage

In some places they also have entire stories painted on them. Sao Bento railway station and Igreja Capela Das Almas are famous examples: 

Porto tiles
Porto tiles – Igreja Capela Das Almas
Porto tiles
Porto tiles – Igreja Capela Das Almas

 

A post shared by Visit Porto (@visitporto) on

The Portuguese name for these tiles is azulejos. They’re used on all sorts of buildings, from churches to restaurants to regular houses.

They’re not just there for aesthetic reasons; they help in isolating the walls, especially in wet weather.

Porto tiles
Porto tiles

As you might expect, Porto’s souvenir shops are full of items with tile prints on them, from t-shirts to notebooks. You can also buy some tiles and take them home with you.

Get a tile collage print

Enjoy Porto’s Street Art Scene

From great murals to sticker art, Porto seems to be full of wonderfully creative street art.

Street art in Porto by MrDheo
Street art in Porto by Mr Dheo

Since 2013, the city of Porto moved towards embracing street art, instead of fighting it. New rules allow artists to paint certain walls with the official support of the city.

Street art in Porto by Mots Mesk and Fedor
Street art in Porto by Mots Mesk and Fedor

It’s always nice when the value of urban art gets the recognition it deserves.

Street art in Porto by Frederico Draw
Street art in Porto by Frederico Draw

Apart from the incredible murals, there’s plenty of sticker art and paste ups all around the city.

Street art in Porto

Street art in Porto

Street art in Porto
Porto’s brilliant street art

Get Inspired at Porto’s Art District

Not far from the city centre, there’s a bohemian heaven called the Art District, or the Art Block.

Rua de Miguel Bombarda and all the streets around it have an endless selection of art galleries, displaying contemporary art mostly, plus an array of design shops, indie fashion, vintage shops and craft studios.

Six times a year, all the galleries in the area unite for an event of simultaneous openings (inaugurações simultâneas), where they all launch new exhibitions at the same time. See the Facebook page for updates on the next event.

I found myself returning to the art block again and again during my visit to Porto. There’s so much to see.

The whole area has a very alternative feel, with cool cafes and hipster bars, but despite being artistic, it doesn’t feel pretentious or snobbish at all. That’s undoubtedly part of the charm of this city.

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Porto - Interesting things to do and see

I would like to thank AtWill for inviting me on the architecture tour. All opinions are my own.

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2 Replies to “Porto: 8 Interesting Things To Do and See”

  1. Northern Portugal is high on my list for 2018 (along with Brazil). I’ve been planning on starting my trip in Porto and your post confirms my plans. Although I have vertigo, I think I must force myself to the top of that bridge.

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