Because there are some of Porto's highlights that some travelers still miss, here's my list of the best attractions in Porto to enjoy it as a local. Do it ... and let Porto conquer you.
We all tend to research for the major highlights in the next country or city we'll travel to. And, most times it will return in a lot of monuments, museums and some other popular attractions, with lots of visitors. Don't miss those, of course. But, let me share with you my favourites list in Porto. The things I really enjoy doing or visit, and that will show you what Porto is all about.
“Feel free to ask me for more detailed information, like the name of the right places to have the best Francesinha.”
In no particular order ...
Monument of Clérigos
Porto's main monument is an impressive granit, barroque style obelisk called Clérigos Tower. Located in the upper part of the city, in the "border" of Porto's modern area, the Clérigos Tower is coupled with a church with the same name. So, it's actually two monuments. Not just one. The Clérigos Church worths a visit to witness the surprising interior marble decoration in all its extension. And its free. For the Clérigos Tower you need to get a ticket, to climb the neverending 220 steps staircase on the inside. But, when on the top, the 360 degrees view is quite impressive. One of those things it's hard to forget. Don't forget your camera.
The oldest neighborhood
The place where the "soul" of Porto is still alive. A picturesque maze of narrow steep cobblestone streets, built downhill from the Cathedral of Porto, like a cascade, towards the Douro river. This is the real Porto. Place yourself in front of the Cathedral's main door, turn around and start walking. You'll enjoy every step of the way - old walls, old buildings with small apartments with the windows open, clothes hanging from the balconies, locals walking up and down. Take your time. All of a sudden you'll find yourself down by the river.
Porto has a very old history about coffee and the places where wealthier families, in the 1920s and 1930s used to enjoy a coup of coffee or tea. The most iconic is, of course, the Majestic Café #majestic. Located in the most popular shopping street - Santa Catarina, the Majestic Café represents the best of the parisian style cafés in Porto. Try the special french toast if you are a sweet tooth, or tea and cookies just for the set display. But, if you prefer something less touristy, try Café Guarany. Right in the main avenue (Avenida dos Aliados), beautiful decor, it has always a place to seat and coffee is excellent. Cappuccino even better. The other two historical cafés, also nearby, are A Brasileira and the old Café Imperial.
Porto style hot dog
There are some things that we are so used to have them around that we really don't see the potential. Luckly for us, Anthony Bourdain did! That's right, this was one the food's he tasted when his tv show visited Porto. And there's only one place to get the real ones - the Cervejaria Gazela. We call it "cachorrinhos do Gazela". They are part of a standard night out in the city. Just a few ingredients, but what a taste! ... portuguese sausage in a hot dog bun, served hot with hot sauce all over it, sliced in small portions. Ask for french fries and pair everything with our local beer (Super Bock).
The view from Jardim do Morro
I don't know many places in the world where you can experience, with your own eyes, a miniature view of an entire city. Across the river from Porto, at the top of the hill, you can. The place is called Jardim do Morro. There are a few interesting ways to get there, as part of a nice stroll around the city: (1) if you are near the Cathedral area, cross the upper deck of Luis I metal bridge; or (2) across the river from Porto, at the river bank, take the gondolas/cable car to the top. Or ... go crazy and do both not to miss any of the breathtaking views.
São Bento train station
Besides the fact it is a train station, inside walls are completed covered with tiles (the portuguese blue and white tiles). Each wall a different scenes. All of them representing stories about Porto and north of Portugal. This is one of the two places in Porto where tiles have an unique and exuberant expression, and it's quite fun try to find out the meanings of all that.
Your trip to Porto will be considered a disaster if you don't include the Port Wine experience. There are four things to consider to have the full experience:
- visit the lodges (besides the unique character, being across the river, gives you also an amazing view of Porto); - enjoy an above average Port Wine tasting (the basic tastings will only give you 2 entry level wines. To fully understand Port Wine, you need to taste at least 4 different ones); - don't miss the Rabelo boats (on the river, in front of Porto, the old boats that used to transport all the wine from the wine estates in Douro to the warehouses in Gaia), - visit the Douro Valley (better option is to book a tour to the wine estates, like the "Douro Valley & Port Wine Tour").
São Francisco church
As I tell all my guests in Porto, "even if you are not that much into churches, this is The one you have to visit". São Francisco or Saint Francis church is much more than that. It's the proof of the level of richness, craziness and weird beliefs people had in the past. I gave this church the nickname of "the golden church of Porto".
Let me help you, first, with the name: "France" (the country) + "sinha" (sounds like "zeen ha" - something small and cute). Inspired in the french "croque monsieur", that was clearly too light for Porto's hard working people, they decided to improve the sandwich adding extra ingredients. Another example of something that, until recently, was part of our "diet"and the rest of the country wasn't paying much attention. Now is the exact opposite. A brand image of Porto everywhere. Almost all cafés, restaurants and taverns in Porto cook this typical food but ... your experience will be much better if you go to the right places. Advice: always for lunch. Excellent with beer. In some restaurants, you can ask to share one.
Tram ride to the beach
A relaxed scenic ride, in a historical tram called "Eléctrico", that will take you from the center of Porto, along the river, to the mouth of the river Douro and the beachfront (Foz). Once there, take this opportunity to enjoy a relaxing walk on the promenades by the river and sea. The ride is 30 minutes long, but plan for a half-day activity. Porto's trams started operating in 1895, and today the tram line 1 is one of the 3 still running.