Things to Do in Porto
Watching over the city from its hilltop spot, the imposing fort-like Porto Cathedral (Sé Catedral do Porto)is a reminder of Porto’s diverse history. Featuring Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque architecture, this is Porto’s oldest and largest church, a must-visit for architecture and history aficionados.
Standing atop a hill overlooking Porto, Portugal, are the Igreja dos Clérigos, an 18th-century church and one of the city’s architectural symbols, and the Toree dos Clérigos, its bell tower. Intricately carved baroque shells and garlands on the church reflect Porto’s seaside location, and the bell tower offers panoramic views of the city.
The imperious, double-decker metal spans of Dom Luis Bridge (Ponte de Dom Luís I) stretch across the Douro River from Porto to Villa Nova de Gaia, and were designed by Téophile Seyrig, the student of Gustave Eiffel who also drew up the plans for the nearby Donna Maria Pia Bridge. WhenDom Luis Bridge (Ponte de Dom Luís I) was finished in 1886, it was the longest single-span bridge in the world at 564 feet, and it supported 3,045 tons of steel in weight.
The bridge marked a significant step forward in Porto’s economic growth, as before it existed, the only passages across the river were boats lashed together. Today the lower deck of the bridge carries cars while the upper level is utilized by metro Line D and has a pedestrian walkway offering views across the river. Since the late 19th century, four other bridges have joined the bridge of Dom Luís I and Donna Maria Pia in reaching across the Douro; they are all best seen by river cruise in a traditional wooden rabelo.
Lying at the southern end of Porto’s majestic Avenida dos Aliados is Liberdade Square (Praça da Liberdade), which started its life in the late 18th century when the city began to expand beyond its medieval walls. If you stand in the centre of the square, you’ll get spectacular views of some of Porto’s architectural symbols, which include the Baroque City Hall (Câmara Municipal).
Casa da Música is one of the top attractions in Porto for music and architecture fans alike. Modern and eye-catching from the outside, inside it houses a vast 1,300-seat concert hall used by the Porto National Orchestra. The rooftop restaurant offers drinks and dinner options that are as delightful as the views.
Behind its comparatively stark Gothic facade, the Church of São Francisco(Igreja de São Francisco) harbors a trove of baroque finery: The interior has marble columns, intricate wooden carvings, and gold-covered walls. Highlights include the magnificent Tree of Jesse altarpiece, a 13th-century statue of Saint Francis, and eerily beautiful catacombs.
Set on the banks of the River Douro, Ribeira is Porto’s oldest quarter. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the district’s maze of alleyways and pastel-colored houses rises up on a hill above the bay. The Ribeira’s modern waterfront—lined with restaurants, bars, and cafés—is a popular leisure hub and nightlife destination.
Porto’s former stock exchange building, the Palace of the Stock Exchange (Palácio da Bolsa), is a magnificent 19th-century mansion at the heart of the city’s UNESCO-listed historic center. A marvel of neoclassical architecture and steeped in history, its grand ballrooms have played host to royals like Queen Elizabeth II over the years.
Today, the Palacio da Bolsa is open to the public by guided tour only and visitors can explore a number of its opulent rooms. Highlights include the Nations’ Room, with its collection of international flags; the exquisite parquet floors and the monumental grand staircase with its glittering bronze chandeliers. The undisputed star attraction is the dazzling Arabian Room, where the arabesque décor and gilded pillars are inspired by the famous Alhambra Palace in Granada, and music concerts are held throughout the year.
Situated in a magnificent garden just west of downtown Porto, the Serralves Museum(Fundação de Serralves) has become a top city highlight and one of the most influential modern art museums in Portugal. Its permanent collection spans from the 1960s to the present day, with large sculptural pieces scattered throughout the grounds.
The buzzing heart of Porto, running from Praça do Marquês de Pombal in the north to Praça da Batalha in the south, Rua Santa Catarina is Porto’s principal shopping street. The pedestrianized thoroughfare stretches for some 1.5km and is lined with beautiful Art Nouveau buildings, plus a huge selection of shops, restaurants, patisseries and cafés. This is the spot to find big name brands like Nike, Bellissima and Prof, while the Via Catarina shopping mall offers international stores like H&M and Zara, as well as a sizable food court.
Rua Santa Catarina is also home to the magnificent Capela das Almas, a striking blue chapel decorated with ornate azulejo tilework; the famous Café Majestic, renowned for its opulent Belle-Epoque style décor; and the lively Mercado de Bolao, Porto’s largest open-air market, where stalls are laden with fresh produce, fragrant spices and exquisite handicrafts.
More Things to Do in Porto
One of Porto’s top attractions for families of all ages, the SEA LIFE® Porto aquarium is home to dazzling displays of marine life. Visitors can enjoy up-close encounters with some of the sea’s most colorful inhabitants, including octopus, rays, sea turtles, and sharks.
Founded in 1859 by António Alves Cálem, Porto CalemWine Cellars are one of the most celebrated wineries in the Porto region. Located at the heart of the Douro Valley, the family-run winery produces some of Portugal’s finest port wines, using centuries-old production methods and offering a completely unique tasting experience for wine lovers.
On Portugal’s Atlantic coast, Matosinhos Beach (Praia de Matosinhos) is the city of Porto’s closest strand. With broad sands and a scenic promenade lined with fish restaurants, it’s a lively destination and a favorite among local families, as well as a notable surf spot.
Spanning the Douro River, Porto’s Arrábida Bridge was the largest concrete-arch bridge in the world when it was completed in 1963. Today, pedestrians can walk up the span’s archway with Porto Bridge Climb, the only bridge-climb experience in Europe. It’s a rare opportunity to enjoy a unique perspective on the city and river below.
The Museum of Our Lady of Mercy of Porto (Museu da Misericórdia do Porto, or MMIPO) is dedicated to the long history and charity work of the Holy House of Our Lady of Mercy (Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto), which was founded in 1498. Connected to the 16th-century church of Igreja da Misericórdia, the museum displays artifacts and sacred art.
A grandiose avenue stretching from Porto City Hall (Câmara Municipal do Porto) to Liberdade Square, Avenida dos Aliados serves as the city’s cultural and architectural center. A walk along the boulevard reveals architectural styles from neoclassical to French beaux arts and baroque, along with what’s been called the world’s most beautiful McDonald’s.
Describing itself as Porto’s “biggest and greenest zoo,” Santo Inácio Zoo is home to around 600 animals representing some 200 species, including lions, snow leopards, cheetahs, camels, Humboldt penguins, and more. Close to Porto’s city center, it makes an easy and entertaining day out for the whole family.
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