There are currently two places in the world, that some of my friends have already learnt not to mention when I’m around. For one reason – I will never stop talking about them! One of the mystery destinations, that completely stole my heart, is Porto in the north of Portugal. Our first randezvous took place back in 2013, when I moved to do a part of my master’s degree at the local university. At Faculdade de Letras at Universidade do Porto, to be exact.
Ecstatic about the travel possibility, new experiences, meeting new people and trying new food, I didn’t really know what’s waiting for me there. I’ve never been to Portugal before and at that time it wasn’t a hugely popular tourist destination. Thankfully, it was love at first sight! The cobblestoned narrow alleys, colorful houses, palm trees popping up here and there, proximity of the ocean, and friendly people, made me feel right at home. So much, that I have revisited Portugal several times, even returning to the place where it all began recently. Spending a weekend in Porto again was a dream come true. What makes it so special? Let’s see!
The colorful houses
Walking around Porto, there is a very slim chance, that you will find two houses, that look the same! Each of them is a masterpiece of its own. With a variety of colors, designs, and decoration, the rows of narrow buildings are a magnificent sight for sore eyes. And remember to pay attention – sometimes, if you look really closely, you might get another colorful surprise! Exactly like me, walking down Rua das Flores and almost missing the blue cat mural, on the side wall of one of the houses.
White and blue tiles (known as azulejos) are a Portuguese trademark. They can be seen on multiple buildings not only in Porto but all across the country. The word itself derives from Arabic and it’s a clear influence from that culture from back in the day. The blue and white ones came to Portugal in the 17th century but became a true hit around 100 years later in the “Golden Age of the Azulejo”. Usually, the pattern tells a story or is dedicated to a historical figure. Nonetheless, till this day Portuguese houses and other buildings incorporate the tiles both in exterior and interior design.
The must see
Portugal and Porto have a rich history. It would be quite impossible to mention every single place worth visiting in this magnificent and beautiful city but here is a selection from my last trip to the north of Portugal.
Wondering around, you’re bound to end up at the main square – Avenida dos Aliados at one point or another. It is a perfect spot to have a little rest in the sun, as it is surrounded by an array of restaurants and cafes serving typical Portuguese treats to hungry travellers. It’s also a great meeting point, since it’s easy to find. All you have to do is to look for the white building with a tower – the town hall.
Possibly the most beautiful train station in the world – São Bento. It dates back to the 19th century and the interior has been kept in perfect shape since then. Don’t be fooled by the gray facade. Take a step inside and take in the beautiful mosaic and decor!
Another place that shouldn’t be omitted when going to Porto is the famous Livraria Lello. Also known as the “Harry Potter Bookstore” as it is commonly connected to the time J.K.Rowling lived in Porto and took inspiration from Lello to create some of the places in her book series. Today, the lines to get inside can get quite insane and the bookstore is usually full of people. Yet, the enchanting details and magnificent red staircase are definitely worth the wait. The door opens at 10am each day. Remember to buy your entry ticket right next door, at Armazéns do Castelo, for €4. If you decide to buy a book at Lello, the entry price will be deducted from your purchase!
Ponte Dom Luis I is the most well-known bridge connecting Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Back when it was constructed, it was the longest arch bridge in the world at 172m long. It dates back to the late 19th century and has been in use ever since. You can cross the Douro river by car, tram, or even by taking a leisurely stroll on a sunny day (which was my choice). As a fun fact, one of the designers, who proposed a project for a bridge connecting the two cities was non-other than Gustav Eiffel. Yet, he got rejected due to worries of growing urban population and his vision of the bridge not being able to handle it. Ponte Dom Luis I is a popular tourist attraction and a great spot for taking panoramic pictures capturing the beauty of Porto’s ribeira.
Being located close to the Atlantic Ocean, Porto is a great spot for fans of water sports and sunbathing. Just a short commute to Matosinhos can take you to picturesque beaches with charming sunsets.
One of the best spots for taking pictures of Porto is tucked away in the old Jewish part of the city. From there you can enjoy the bright red roofs of the city, views of the main monuments and the Douro river. All at once! It’s located at the end of Rua de São Bento Vitória. Although navigating through the narrow streets of Porto can be tricky, all you need to do is find the main building of Universidade do Porto (big thing, can’t miss it) and stick to the street on its side – straight all the way to awesome views!