Porto is one of those cities it’s hard not to fall in love with. That’s exactly what happened to me on my first visit there, many years ago. That very first trip was during the city’s Saint John’s celebrations, which takes place late June and, after that, I returned a number of times. My latest trip, however, was for a different type of celebration. So let me tell you about all the wonders and what to do in Porto.

The city keeps it’s historical part pretty much intact, with historical buildings dotted all over the city centre. If you’re into architecture – or even if you’re not – you’ll be amazed by the number of different styles displayed on the buildings’ façades.

WHAT TO DO IN PORTO PORTUGAL

Any trip to the city should start with on Santa Catarina street, just a few minutes’ walk from São Bento railway station. I mention São Bento station specifically because of its amazing blue-tile murals. Each mural depicts parts of the Portuguese history, as well as cultural elements. I like to just hang around and admire the details, but if you’re a history buff, I highly recommend hiring a guide to help you better understand them.

What To Do in Porto Portugal - Sao Bento Station

The giant tile murals at Porto’s São Bento railway station

Nearby, you will find the Catedral da Sé do Porto. The city cathedral was built between the 12th and 13th centuries in Romanesque style. Later, it got a Gothic funeral chapel, but the facade we see today is in fact 18th century Baroque. Located atop a small hill, I love to enjoy the views of the red-tile rooftops, as well as the Clerigos Tower in the distance.

What To Do in Porto Portugal

Right, after this massive U-turn on my explanation, let’s go back to Santa Catarina street, the city’s main commercial hub. Filled with shops to suit every budget, it’s also here that you’ll find the famous Cafe Majestic, with its unmissable art nouveau façade. This grand cafe is a favourite with tourist and locals alike, for its intrinsical decoration with stained mirrors and chandeliers. It is said that J.K. Rowling, who lived in the city, used to be a regular wrote the first drafts of the Harry Potter series here.

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A few blocks from Cafe Majestic, you will find Mercado do Bolhão, the city’s main market and another icon portuense. If you’re into fresh produce, colourful fruit and vegetable displays, good wine and great food, this is THE place to visit. My last visit was on a tour with Taste Porto Food Tour, with whom I went to taste some local wine and olive oil at the market and all over the city.

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Despite a small gentrified area, Mercado do Bolhão still keeps its local feel, with people buying their fresh produce from here. I was particularly intrigued by the butchers’ skills cutting and slicing meat with huge sharp knives – something we’d better not play with at home!

I would also recommend walking around area that surrounds Mercado do Bolhão. Many of the shops date from over a century and still keep a very historical feel and atmosphere.

But if Santa Catarina Street is where you should start exploring the city, there’s no doubt that the heart of Porto is the Ribeira area, located by the rio Douro. The historical houses have been beautifully restored and seem to be falling from the hill that forms the higher part of the city. Dom Luís Bridge crosses the river Douro, linking Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia on the other bank. Most people cross it on foot from the lower level, but I highly recommend crossing it from the top deck to enjoy the fantastic views of both sides.

What To See in Porto - Ponte Dom Luís

If you’re hungry, you should try Fish Fixe, a seafood restaurant located right by Dom Luis Bridge, serving amazing seafood and quality wine. When I ate there, I sat outdoors with my group, enjoying the fantastic views of the river, Vila Nova de Gaia and the bridge from a closer angle.

During the “Festas de São João“, or St John’s celebrations, that take place on 24th June, the whole Ribeira area is filled with a crowd of party-goers hitting each other with plastic hammers, holding long garlic stems (a local tradition) and drinking Sagres beer.

On the other side of the city, in the very upmarket upmarket Boa Vista neighbourhood, you should visit the Casa da Música, designed by Duch architect Rem Koolhaas. My visit to the iconic building, which aimed at making art and culture more “democratic”, was during the 2nd European Meeting of Brazilian Bloggers, which took place here.

What To Do in Porto Portugal

The ultra-modern design by Rem Koolhaas. Photo by José Luis Hidalgo R. (CC BY 2.0)

This futuristic building, finished in 2005, which to me resembles some sort of spaceship, hosts all kinds of cultural events, from operas to popular music concerts. But it is definitely a multi-purpose space, with restaurants, cafes, meeting rooms and grand halls where exhibitions and fairs take place.

What To Do in Porto Portugal

My recommendation is to first admire the façade, then go on a guided tour to see the incredible design and learn how it became one of Portugal’s most important cultural spaces.

What about you, have you been to Porto? What’s your favourite place in the city?

Special thanks to O Porto Encanta and Visit Porto for organising and supporting the IIEEBB in November last year.

Other Posts:
Harry Potter and the City of Porto
A Delicious Food Tour of Lisbon
Sun, Sea and San Sebastian, Spain
Is Cadaqués the Most Romantic City in Spain?
– Morbihan and the South of Brittany, France

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