Porto is the city of architecture, of stunning medieval landscapes, baroque churches like you’ve never imagined, of culture and art. Although commonly forgotten in the shadow of wonderful Lisbon, Port is re-emerging, stepping up, going through a renaissance. Now is the perfect time to go to Porto.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, located further up the coast from Lisbon and is an hour and a half from Spain’s Vigo and just 6 hours from Madrid. It sits at the mouth of the Rio Douro as it comes inland from the Atlantic Ocean and is an ideal destination for both beach bathers and city slickers. One of the first things to notice as you come into the city is the mix and match of styles, eras and worlds colliding into one. Colours and patterns, arabesques and sharp angles all seem to get along side by side in Porto’s dynamic cityscape.
The historical city centre, Ribeira, is now a protected UNESCO Heritage Site for its narrow alleys and zig zag roads and stairs that lead up the hillsides. The architecture is strictly medieval with few exceptions. Churches with unique tiling and interesting shops are scattered throughout, leaving something to be discovered around every corner. The locals mingle and chat over a coffee or while standing in front of the bakery. Old comrades meet in the picture-perfect plazas to play chess while their ladies gossip near the fountain.
Among the new is of course the old, dozens of twentieth century buildings and houses have been left unoccupied and unrepairable. Many younger families and students prefer the bustle of the suburbs closer to the seaside than to the historic centre where the pace of life hasn’t changed in centuries. This sort of deterioration isn’t happening all over the place, some districts are all about renewal, including the two new additions to the city’s most visited buildings, a contemporary art museum and a music hall. Both were designed by world-renown architects and they’re creating quite a buzz. The Casa da Música theater by Rem Koolhaas and the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum by Álvaro Siza, a Portuguese architect and winner of the Pritzker Prize.
What to see and do in Porto:
- Avenida dos Aliados: this street is lined with Beaux Arts facades which cannot be photographed enough. Stunning and unique, at the end you’ll find City Hall.
- Hilltop cathedral: all of the alleyways from Praça da Rieira eventually lead to this cathedral atop the hill. It was founded in the 12th century and is famous for its 14th c. rose window inside and its Romanesque character.
- Igreja de Sao Francisco: undoubtedly the most dazzling Gothic church in the country, glittering with almost 100k of gold leaf. It’s unbelievable.
- Dom Luis Bridge: it is hard to miss but it was heralded as an architectural feat for a long time, being the longest of its type in the world when it was built (1886).
- Rue de Miguel Bombarda: don’t miss this short street for its collection of art galleries, including its namesake one, the Galleria de Miguel Bombarda. The street was previously named the “art gallery street.”
- Duoro River: the best way to see the area is without a doubt by boat cruise. Take a day trip or go for a few days to visit charming towns and riverside vineyards.
- Casa do Infante: it is claimed that Henry the Navigator was born here in 1394. The house later served as a customs house for Porto. It has since been renovated and houses the historical archives. During renovations Roman mosaics where found in the foundation, which are now on display.
Porto is a perfect travel destination this summer while airfares are cheap. You can find cheap flights to Porto from Madrid for as low as £16, from Beauvais to Porto for only £19. From London flights go for £118. Offers on liligo.com are always listed in real-time so if you see one you like, you’d better jump on it quick! If you’ve been to Porto, leave us a note about what you loved (and maybe didn’t love) and what you think is worth seeing!