Sometimes, we’ve gotta swim along the current to experience what all the fuss is about.
In recent years, Portugal has risen to be one of the largest markets in European tourism. Lisbon was already highly regarded as a traveler’s destination – a capital and a dreamy escape for Brits who grow tired of UK’s grey skies and the French who crave for a different culture without losing the warmth of sunlight. Once Lisbon has been well-discovered, Porto became the country’s followup gem. There’s much to love about Porto, but I must confess: it’s FILLED with tourists, so I promise to return, but only during low season. Here are some touristic things to do in a touristic city, sometimes, one must follow the trend to figure out what all the fuss is about. Thankfully in Porto, being a tourist comes with immense vintage charm and a feast for our curious eyes.
Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços
R. do Carmo 1, 4050-064 Porto, Portugal
Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços is a former convent from the 1600s, but it’s most renowned for two astonishing wow factors: first and foremost, it’s two churches separated by one of the world’s narrowest houses. On the left, it is the Carmelitas Church while the left boasts the Carmo Church. Secondly, the exterior of the church(es) is adorned with lavish azulejo blue and white tiles that detail the Brown Scapular Imposition on Mount Carmel. There are several cafés near the square where the churches reside, sit back and have you morning coffee while admiring Porto’s architectural feat.
R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal
Opened in 1906 as one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, Livraria Lello is iconic in modern times thanks to the rumor that JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book here. Nowadays, due to a large influx of tourists, yo need to buy a ticket to enter, although the €5 ticket is fully discountable with the purchase of a book. The interior of the two-story building is a sight for sore eyes, highlighted by a grandiose 26 ft × 11 ft staircase bonding second floor’s gallery and the entrance with intricate balusters produced by wood. Look above, the stained glass window not only includes the owners’ monograms but also a fascinating motto in Latin: Decus in Labore, meaning “honor in work.”
São Bento Railway Station
Praça de Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto, Portugal
São Bento, or Saint Benedict, railway station is another memorable stop since it’s not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also a National Monument of Portugal. Constructed by José Marques da Silva – a fan of the French Beaux-Arts style – work began in 1904 to illustrate Portugal’s history by using the region’s iconic azulejo tiles. Jorge Colaço was a significant azulejo painter during the early 20th century, he made approximately 20,000 tiles in the factory prior to transporting them to the station. The scenes chosen to be displayed in blue and white include: Battle of Arcos de Valdevez, Egas Moniz before Alfonso VII of Castile, D. João I in Oporto, and the Conquest of Ceuta. Meanwhile, the colored azulejo scenes showcase the various forms of transportation. The entire painting and tiling process required 11 years to complete, but what a sight it is to admire Colaço’s precision and artistic refinement.
Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto, Portugal
No need to head to France for the intimacy in an old-school Parisian café, right in the heart of Porto, you can find a similar glamour at Majestic Café. Hailed as one of the most beautiful cafés in the world, Majestic used to be called “Elite,” referring to the clientele that the café attracted: politicians, writers, philosophers and artists. Back in 1912, the Belle-Époque interior design matched the exchange of ideas over cups of coffee or absinthe. As cliché as it may be, this is possibly one of the most charming places to indulge a glass of port in Porto.
Cruise the Duoro River
Every major city in the world is pulsed by the heartbeat of a river. Paris has the Seine, London has the Thames, and Porto has the Duoro which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Duoro’s importance is placed in Porto’s trade in port and other agricultural productions. Although it’s a touristic activity but cruising on the Duoro is an undeniable must-do! For an hour, any boat you choose (since there are plenty along the riverwalk) the boat will drift by gorgeous homes upon hills and cross under famous bridges in the city.
Enjoy a fado performance, maybe over dinner.
Rua do Infante D. Henrique 85, 4050-297 Porto, Portugal
Dinner and live music is typically not categorized as an off the beaten path activity. In fact, it’s excruciatingly touristy. Except the genre of music in Portugal is alluringly unique, so one must not leave Porto without lending your ears to fado – a genre of music filled with sadness, melancholy and nostalgia of life at sea or of the poor. We visited A Caso do Fado for dinner and adored the live fado performances as well as the rustic and personal setting tucked inside a wine cave. The experience was so wildly enjoyable that we stayed for bonus performances after other guests had left the restaurant. This might be on a mainstream itinerary, but there’s something about fado, it somehow steals your heart away.