Porto is a special city, has it own time and an amazing past. And when you get to know this place it puts a spell on you!
There are many things to do in Porto, and it’s truly is an unmissable destination in Portugal. In the north of the country, the city breathes history and it is an open-air museum. Building, avenues, statues and churches, all of them are pretty and meaningful. Walking around the city you will be amazed, specially on the shores of Rio Douro.
To understand the history behind Porto we booked a walking tour. It was the best idea ever, the girls from Porto Free Walking Tour were amazing. They gave us precious tips about the town and took us to unbelievable places.
Porto lies on the north side of Rio Douro, but the best view of the city is when you cross the Luís I Bridge and go to Gaia, the city located in the other side of the river. From there you can see all the old architecture and all the old buildings. The city was nominated as Unesco Heritage.
When you are walking around the city pay attention to the tiles on the buildings. Some are amazing, hand-painted and most of the time they show important periods of Portugal’s history. A good example are the walls inside the train station. Such a busy place, and most of the people who pass by don’t realize how important that work is.
One of my favorite places in Porto is the Lello & Irmão Bookshop. This place is unbelievable, the build dates back from 1906, and when you get inside is like traveling to a fairytale scenery. In 2008 it was elected by The Guardian Newspaper as the third most beautiful library in the world.
This library reminds you to something special? Maybe something magic?
If you already know where you saw it, keep it to yourself, because there are more surprises to come!
Porto is a jaw-dropping city, especially when you arrive during evening time and bump into many people dressed like magicians. And believe it or not, they are dancing and running on the old city streets. In that moment I figured out the title for this posts – Porto: history and magic!
Of course we stopped to watch them. As we weren´t understanding anything we made some questions to the police officer that was trying to put some order in all that magic party. Guess what? The “magicians” were celebrating their university graduation. And the party on the streets called “Queima das Fitas” is a tradition that has been repeated for centuries.
Maybe now after the last pictures you have a better insight of whom those people and place remind you?
That’s it: Harry Potter!
If you don’t know yet, J.K. Rowling lived in Porto for some years. She married a Portuguese journalist and had a child there. After the divorce, she went back to England and in 1999 she sold her first Harry Potter book.
The clothes, the staircase of Hogwarts Castle, many other characteristics in the book were taken or inspired by Porto city. At the moment we arrived in Porto I had no idea about the influence, but after getting to know the place you can see that J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter have big connection with this amazing city!
Fans of Harry Potter, this is an unmissable destination for you! 😉
Now some practical and useful information
How to Enjoy Porto: history and magic
– To get there: you can fly, or you can take a bus or a train from many cities around Portugal. Or you can get a ride through BlaBlacar. We used the bus, Alsa Company, and got a good price for a three-hour trip.
– How to move around: there is a metro line, buses and train in Porto. Although we didn’t use them so often, everything is very close and walking around the city is super nice.
– Where to stay: hotels can be a bit expensive, so go for a hostel or a shared house. Also you don’t need to pay more just to be in the old town, as we said everything is so close so you can find a nice accommodation in some neighborhood. We used Airbnb and got a really nice attic close the Casa da Música (art center and metro station). The hosts were an amazing couple! Thanks Tereza and Pedro.
– How long to stay: we suggest 2 – 3 days in Porto plus one day to travel by the Douro River and another day to visit the wine cavas in Gaia.
– Food tips: you must try “Francesinha”, a really local dish that reminds a croque-monsier but with a hot sauce. Rob tried and loved it, I am not a big fan at all!
– Insiders tip: during the weekends you will find several street markets selling from food, clothes to antiques. Ask to some local people and they will show the place, all of them are around the old town. Our fellow travel blogger Yara Coelho wrote a nice post Local & Vegan Tips : Things to do in Porto Like a Local.
– Places you should visit:
Cais da Ribeira: old town of Porto in front of the Douro river, UNESCO Heritage site.
Cais de Gaia: (shore of Douro River) great place to see the sunset.
Porto Cathedral: also know as Igreja da Sé, a 12th century fortress church.
Torre dos Clérigos: an iconic landmark in the city.
Bolsa Palace: the exuberant interior of a former Stock Exchange Palace.
Luís I Bridge : impressive ironwork bridge that connects Porto to Gaia.
Casa da Música: an amazing place to see and visit.
Monument Church Of St Francis: all covered in gold, it is an extraordinary church to visit.
Livraria Lello & Irmão: an impressive bookshop, beautiful design and full of history.
Porto (São Bento): this train station has a huge wall decorated with hand painted tiles.
Igreja de Santa Clara: a well hidden church, all made in wood and gold. Amazing!
Boat trip in Douro River: there are several companies that do the tour around Douro river to show the bridges and the shore of the old and new town. Don’t buy your ticket in Cais da Ribeira (old town). Cross the bridge and get it from the Gaia side, it is cheaper and you can get nice deals including a boat trip and the visit to the wines cavas.