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Top 12 Sights to See in Porto

Eurofile lives in the UK. She travels regularly around Europe with her husband, and they have visited Portugal many times.

Porto

Porto

Why Go to Porto?

When you think of Portugal as a travel destination, what springs to mind? Some might say the capital, Lisbon, which features on cruise itineraries. Others might picture the sunny beaches of the Algarve on the south coast. Few would mention Porto, Portugal’s second-biggest city, on the northwest coast and the place from which many think the country took its name.

In recent years Porto's status has risen. A combination of the increased popularity of river cruises, with trips setting off from Porto to go up the River Douro, and the expansion of Porto airport to receive flights from Europe’s biggest low-cost airline, Ryanair, has heralded a big increase in tourism.

Locals say “Lisbon boasts, Braga prays and Porto works”. This ‘working’ city is carving itself a deserved niche on the Portuguese tourist trail. Porto delivers a memorable and rewarding experience for visitors.

Having already visited the Algarve several times and also Lisbon, we count Portugal as a favorite holiday destination; not least because it is one of the more reasonable European countries to visit. There can not be many countries where you can buy two coffees for less than three euros. Casting around for a different part of Portugal to explore, Porto came up on our radar and the reports were encouraging. Add to the mix 12 days of annual leave going spare in June-July, a hotel available at a great points redemption rate plus cheap flights from the UK, and, for us, it was a no-brainer.

Porto.

Porto.

Where to Go in Porto

Most people call in briefly on Porto at the start or the end of a river cruise, or at most spend 2-3 days there on a city break. Having spent 12 days in the area, our explorations of Porto and its surroundings were more thorough. Here are the top 12 places we visited in the city.

Top 12 Sights in Porto

  1. Torre dos Clerigos
  2. Centro Portugues de Fotografia
  3. Igreja do Carmo and Igreja das Carmelitas
  4. Livraria Lello
  5. Estacao Sao Bente
  6. Se Catedral
  7. Palacio da Bolsa
  8. Igreja de Sao Francisco
  9. The River Douro
  10. Mosteiro da Serra de Pilar
  11. Taylor's
  12. Jardim do Palacio de Cristal

At the end of this article, you will also find information on getting to Porto, where to stay while there, finding your bearings, and the weather.

1. Torre dos Clerigos

In an unfamiliar city, it is helpful to find a good viewpoint, from which you can get an idea of the overall layout and the geography of the area. Torre dos Clerigos is at the top of Rua Clerigos and overlooks Praca de Lisboa to the north of the Ribeira area, which runs down to the northern banks of the River Douro. Once you have climbed the 225-step spiral staircase, you are rewarded with panoramic views over the city of Porto.

After taking in the 360-degree view, the museum might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is certainly worth exploring the adjoining church, which is included in the cost.

Admission to the tower and museum is 6 euros (9 am- 7 pm) and 5 euros for the tower only at night (7 pm-11 pm).

2. Centro Portugues de Fotografia

Located south of Praca da Cordoaria and within sight of Torre dos Clerigos, this former prison houses a photographic museum. The jail closed after the Carnation Revolution in 1974, but it still gives an atmospheric backdrop. Many original features have been retained and photographs of previous inmates are displayed, complete with details of their misdemeanors. As well as hosting photographic exhibitions, the museum has a collection of cameras. It is interesting to spot familiar models from bygone, pre-digital days.

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3. Igreja do Carmo and Igreja das Carmelitas

Located on Rua do Carmo, a few minutes' walk to the northwest of Torre dos Clerigos, and separated by a meter-wide house, these must be two of the closest located churches. The narrow house in the middle once divided the monks of Carmo and the Carmelite nuns. It was inhabited until the 1980s.

Tiles depicting scenes from Mount Carmel and the founding of the Carmelite order were added to the side of Igreja do Carmo in 1912.

Entrance is free to both churches with their well-gilded naves. Please be respectful of services taking place there.

4. Livraria Lello

Amongst its more famous residents, Porto boasts that J.K. Rowling lived here. She taught English from 1991 to 1993 and wrote part of the first Harry Potter book in the city. Livraria Lello, a neo-Gothic bookshop on Rua das Carmelitas, (to the north of Praca de Lisboa and Torre dos Clerigos), dating from 1906, has a twisting staircase, which is said to have inspired one in Harry Potter. Whatever the truth behind the tale, the bookshop’s owners have not looked back since. They charge 5 euros for admission, which is deductible against any book purchases, as many tourists went there to view only and book sales fell. It is now advisable to pre-book your visit to avoid lengthy queues. Tickets are sold next door and online.

Livraria Lello.

Livraria Lello.

5. Estacao Sao Bente

If you walk east along Rua Clerigos, you will pass Palacio das Cardosas (now an InterContinental hotel) on the right and Praca da Liberdade on your left, with the Camara Municipal do Porto at the top of the square. Turn right onto Av. D. Alfonso Henriques, as you do so take a look at the fascia of Igreja dos Congregados, which is illuminated at night. You will see the station (Estacao Sao Bente) on the left. From the outside it might look like a city station from the early 20th Century, but take a look inside and you will understand why this station merits a particular mention.

Completed in 1903, Estacao Sao Bente has been described as one of the world’s most beautiful train stations. The walls of the front hall are decorated with azulejo panels, using 20,000 tiles, depicting historic battles and the history of transport.