Porto is an exciting city with a vibrant arty scene and lots of things to do and see. Take a look through my eyes and fall in love with it.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, with a population of about 1.3 million in its metropolitan area. The city is one of the oldest in Europe. It was an important Roman port and it is the origin of the name of Portugal. Porto has been a registered World Heritage Site since 1996.
The most obvious landmarks are probably the Ribeira and Dom Luis I’s bridge, the Cathedral, São Bento Station, Avenida dos Aliados (Allies Avenue), Clérigos Tower, and the wine cellars in Gaia. The Ribeira is just amazing. It is a row of old colourful buildings just in front of the river Douro. Its arcades bustle with great restaurants and cafés and it has a beautiful view of Gaia and the Porto wine cellars in the opposite shore. Dom Luis I’s bridge joins Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. It is an impressive mass of iron, designed by one of Eiffel’s disciples in the 1880’s. It has two decks, and both can be crossed by car, overground and on foot. Some of the best pictures of Porto can be taken from here.
São Bento Station is famous for its tiled walls, the work of painter Jorge Colaço. The building is located on the site of a old Benedictine convent and has retained its old name. If you are interested, you can read this fantastic piece about the station from the archives of Lomography: http://www.lomography.com/magazine/locations/2009/02/18/s-bento-station-porto.
There’s also a good piece about the Avenida dos Aliados (http://www.lomography.com/magazine/locations/2009/02/16/avenida-dos-aliados) which you should also read. It is the main venue in the city. The heart of everything and a fantastic place to walk, see the buildings and enjoy whatever may be going at the moment: a market, a concert or a book fair. Don’t miss the awesome Lomography shop close to this Avenue! The shop used to be an old warehouse and you can still see the rails running through it. I’ve been there several times and it’s one of my favourites.
If you like high places and panoramic views and belong to the sporty type, climb the stairs in the Clérigos Tower. It is a slender beauty in Baroque style. It was designed by Nassoni in the 18th century. And yes, it has also been reviewed here before (http://www.lomography.com/magazine/locations/2008/07/28/tower-of-the-clerigos-church-porto) so I’ll just add that the world famous Lello & Irmãos bookshop is almost at the base of the tower. This is one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world and the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwart school. Take a look inside, browse the books and climb its awesome winding red stairs but ask for permission before shooting with your camera there! They are so tired of tourists suffering from accidents that they don’t allow cameras into the bookshop anymore. At the back of the tower, there is another site which is not usually mentioned in the guides: the photography museum. The building used to be a prison and it holds a permanent exhibition about its history and an impressive camera collection, which includes some fine Lomo specimens!
Apart from all that, one should not leave Porto without having walked along Rua de Santa Catarina, the nicest shopping street I’ve ever seen. Take a minute to visit the Bolhão Market and the cute vintage shops that surround it, including a coffee break at Confeitaria Baptista (25 Rua Formosa). And watch out for concerts at Porto’s famous rock venue, O Coliseu! A nice modernist building which was saved by the people of Porto some years ago when it was threatened with demolition.
In Rua Miguel Bombarda you’ll find lots of art galleries and the “in” crowd of Porto. It’s really worth a visit, whether or not you’re into that kind of thing. This is Porto’s youth territory so expect a surprise at the turn of every corner!
At night, take a stroll across the river and go to Gaia. The shore is teeming with restaurants, bars and a very animated scene. And the views of the city are awesome!