• Leslie

Best Sights and Photo Spots in Porto Portugal

Updated: Jan 12

Cais de Ribeira in Porto Portugal

Colorful vintage-y Porto Portugal is a travel photographer's dream. Or just a dream. It's so dreamy that, right now, Porto is one of Europe's hottest destination. Here are 13 of Porto's best and most photogenic sites.

Porto's magical, has a pretty palette, and is full of Baroque churches, azulejo tiles, and dreamy cobblestone streets. And hills. While those hills may make your quads burn, they provide amazing vistas to view some of Porto's visual treats.

Capela das Almas on the Rua Santa Caterina in Porto


1. Capela das Almas


This little charmer of a church is completely wrapped with an ornate blue and white tile mural on its entire exterior. The bright blue mural was added in 1912, though it's painted in an 18th century style. Its 15,947 tiles depict scenes from the death of St. Francis of Assisi and the martyrdom of Santa Caterina. It was one of the most extraordinary things I saw in Porto. So unique.

The enchanting little church is on the Rua Santa Caterina and is sometimes called the Chapel of Santa Caterina. Santa Caterina is a popular pedestrianized street filled with shops and cafes, near Bolhão Market.

Capela das Almas and its Instagrammable exterior


That's the one downside. It's hard to get a proper photo of the church, so many people are milling about and gawking at it. But plenty of people still nabbed photos against the beautiful azulejos. So be patient and you'll be rewarded.

Address: Rua de Santa Catarina, 428 Porto

Cost: free

Hours: exterior visible 24/7, 7:30 am-7 pm Mon-Fri, 7.30 am-1 pm & 6-7 pm Sat

Livraria Lello's iconic crimson staircase

2. Livraria Lello Bookstore


Porto's Livraria Lello is stunning. It's considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, clocking in at #3 on Lonely Planet's ranking. Time Magazine placed it among the world's 15 most interesting bookstores. In 2014, CNN declared it was the most beautiful bookstore in the world. It's now classified as a National Monument.

It's one of Porto’s most popular and photogenic destinations because of its lovely art deco, art nouveau, and gothic interior. It also claims bragging rights as the rumored inspiration for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series.

carved plaster decorations on the Livraria Lello staircase

view from the second floor of Livraria Lello

The downside of all this beauty and the bookstore's Harry Potter affiliation is that it's very crowded. The bookstore lets in too many people at once. So it can be difficult to get quality photos with Instagrammers vying for a coveted spot on the iconic red staircase.

My advice is to come an hour or so before closing when the crowds may have dissipated. Don't bother coming right when it opens or a half hour early. There will already be a significant line. For visiting tips, read my separate article on Livraria Lello.

Address: 144 Rua R. das Carmelitas 111, Porto

Cost: 5 euros, credited back against book purchase, online tickets

Hours: Mon to Fri: 10:00 am to 7:30 pm, Sat & Sun 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.

azulejo murals in the São Bento Train Station

3. São Bento Train Station


Another great place for photos is the São Bento Train Station. A train station, you say? Isn't that rather utilitarian? Why yes, but it's unexpectedly gorgeous.

I think it would've been extremely cool to have purchased a train ticket to Porto, and arrived at the Bell Epoque station without realizing that amazing azulejo murals await you. That would have put the "romance" into into train travel, a phrase I frequently hear but can't often agree with.

Alas, I was driving on this geographical cure. And so I paid a tourist visit. With scads of other tourists. It's a popular place.

You enter the station and there is an extraordinary soaring atrium covered with 20,000 azulejo tiles from 1905-16, courtesy of Jorge Colaço, who also created the tiles for Igreja de Ildefonso. Colaço sought to depict important moments in Portuguese history, including bloody battles and rural festivities.


Address: Praça Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto

Open: 24/7

Cost: free

the Cafe Majestic on Rua Santa Caterina

4. Majestic Café


The Belle Epoque is alive and well at Majestic Café. The eye catching cafe is considered one of the most beautiful cafes in the world. It appears regularly on top ten lists. It's certainly the prettiest one I've been inside or eaten at.

My daughter and I had dinner there our last night in Porto. It was one of the more touristy things that we did. And the cafe is definitely overpriced.

But I have to say, it was completely worth it just to see the extraordinarily beautiful Art Nouveau architecture and setting. Everywhere you look, it was beautiful, down to the tiniest details. I loved the period lighting, ornately carved wood, and the vintage mirrors.

And the food was actually quite good. The pastel de nata and the hot chocolate were especially delicious. A great chance to both eat and snap photos.

If you want something simpler, check out the world's most beautiful McDonalds on Avenida dos Aliados, right next to City Hall and near Porto Cathedral.

Cafe Majestic. Image source: José Moutinho

the intricate chairs at Cafe Majestic

curved wood door details at the cafe Majestic

Address: Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto

Hours: Mon to Sat 9:00 am to 11:30 pm

Website

Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas

5. Igreja do Carmo


The lovely Igreja do Carmo is close to Livraria Lello and the Palacio da Bolsa. It's Instagram famous for its grandiose and exquisite side panel festooned with azulejo tiles. The Baroque and Rococco style church was built in the 18th century and had its exterior tiles installed in 1910. The tiles depict the founding of the Carmelites religious order.

The church seems big, and looks like two churches smooshed together. And it is. It's actually two churches, Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas, separated by a tiny thin house -- the narrowest house in Porto. The nuns lived and worked at Igreja dos Carmelitas and the monks at Igreja do Carmo.

Like Capela das Almas, people line up and take turns getting photos against the famous wall.

the Instagram famous rectangular azulejo covered flank of the Igreja do Carmo

Address: Rua Carmo, Porto 4050-164

Cost: free

Hours: exterior 24/7, open 8 am-noon & 1-6 pm Mon & Wed, 9 am-6 pm Tue & Thu, to 5:30 pm Fri, to 4 pm Sat, to 1:30 pm Sun

view from the Miradouro da Vitoria

6. Miradouro Da Vitória


Shabby chic Porto becomes picture perfect from the superb Miradouro da Vitoria. You can see Vila Nova de Gaia, its wine lodges, the Dom Luis I bridge, the monastery Serra do Pilar, the large glass dome of the Palacio da Bolsa, Sé Catedral -- all of Porto and Gaia in one fell swoop !

unlikely entrance to the spectacular Miradouro Da Vitória, don't let it dissuade you

panoramic shot of the view from the Miradouro Da Vitória

And it's the perfect spot for photographers or Instagrammers. Plenty of room to set up a tripod and shoot away. And you'll have no trouble getting selfies.

Ali and I at the Ponte de Dom Luis I, Gaia side

7. The Top Level of the Ponte de Dom Luís I


Walk across the top of the twin level Luís I bridge for stunning views. This bridge connects the city of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia, a town south of the city famous for its port wine warehouses.

The metal arched bridge was designed by one of the famous French engineer Gustave Eiffel´s pupils, Théophile Seyrig. Its construction began in 1881 and required 3,054 tons of metal. When built, it was the longest metal bridge in the world.

Usually there are young kids and men jumping from the lower level of the bridge in exchange for euros. Visitors can walk over it, drive over it, or take the train. We walked on both the upper and lower levels. Views on the top are obviously better.

a fearless man about to jump from the Dom Luis I bridge

view of Ponte de Dom Luis I from Vila Nova de Gaia


Address: Ponte Luís I, Porto, Portugal

8. Sé Cathedral Terrace

You get a two for one at Porto's stern looking cathedral, the Sé do Porto, in the heart of the old town. You can feast your eyes on photogenic azulejos and nab a grand view.

view from Sé Cathedral terrace

The imposing fortress-like cathedral is part of Porto's UNESCO designation, it's so old. Construction began in the second half of the 12th century. It's been renovated and now sports three different architectural styles -- Roman, Gothic, and Baroque.

The church features a facade of two towers topped by 2 crowned cupolas, 2 buttresses, a rose window and a crenellated arch. The barrel vault ceiling, the nave and the altar are fabulous.

But it’s the Gothic Cloister that's a must see. Entry to the main part of the cathedral is free, but you’ll pay 3 euros to visit the cloisters and museum. The entrance to the cloister is located inside the cathedral, through a door to the right of the temple.

It’s worth parting with the cash, just to view the gorgeous azulejos. These 17th century baroque tiles were created by the artist Valentim Almeida. One set depicts the Life of the Virgin while the other depicts scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Be sure to step out onto the terrace for one of the best views in Porto.

the fortress-like Sé do Porto

the beautiful azulejo covered cloister of Sé Cathedral

Address: Terreiro da Sé, 4050-573 Porto

Cost: Cathedral: Free entrance, Cloister: €3.

Hours

Clérigos Tower, the symbol of Porto

9. Clérigos Tower


Clérigos Tower is the tallest campanile in Portugal. It's a Baroque masterpiece, dating from the 18th century that stands 250 feet tall. For €5, you can climb the 200 steps for a privileged view over Porto, the Douro River, and Vila Nova de Gaia.

Be forewarned that the steps are narrow and packed with tourists. It may be a chore to get to the top unless it's off season.

An interesting factoid about the tower is that, in 1917, it was successfully scaled by two Spanish acrobats in front of an enormous crowd. Looking at the tower, such a feat seems impossible.

view from Clérigos Tower

Address: Rua de São Filipe de Nery, 4050

Cost: €5

Hours: 9:00 am to 7:00 pm

the Palácio da Bolsa in the old stock exchange building

10. Palácio da Bolsa


Porto’s old stock exchange was built next to the Church of São Francisco in 1832. The exterior was finished in 1850 and has a Neoclassical design. The eclectic interiors were decorated right up to the start of the 20th century. It's an underrated tourist attraction in Porto, in my view.

You need to go inside to comprehend the richness of the elaborate sculpture, decorative carvings, plasterwork, frescos, chandeliers, and tiles. The stuccoed Moorish Revival Salão Árabe is almost overwhelming, while the monumental Pátio das Nações courtyard is lit by an octagonal metal and glass roof.

the Moorish Revival Room in the Palacio da Bolsa

the Palacio da Bolsa

Address: Rua do Infante Dom Henrique, 4050

Cost: € 8, students & seniors € 4.50

Hours: Apr to Oct: 9 am – 6:30 pm, Nov to Mar: 9 am – 12:30 pm & 2 pm – 5:30 pm.

The Teleferico de Gaia cable car

11. Teleférico de Gaia


The Teleférico de Gaia cable car provides great views and photo opps over the Duoro River. To catch the cable car, cross the lower level of the Luís I bridge from Porto, turn right, and walk along the river in Vila Nova de Gaia past the vendors and wine caves. Eventually, you'll come to the ticket office for the cable car on the river.

You can get a one way ticket or a return ticket. But the one way ticket is likely the best. It's the ascent and will save you a steep hike upon landing. When you disembark, you can hang out in the Jardim de Morro gardens or make the relatively short hike up to the Monastery of Serro do Pilar for more views.

The Teleférico is only a 5 minute ride, but we loved it.

Ali and I riding the Teleférico de Gaia cable car

heading into the one way stop near the Serra do Pilar monastery and miradouro

Address: R. Rocha Leão 236, 4430-148 Vila Nova de Gaia

Price: One way trip adult €6, return trip €9

Hours

the very round Serro do Pilar Monastery

12. Serra do Pilar Monastery Miradouro


If you have the legs for it, head to the Serra do Pilar Monastery miradouro. The monastery sits loftily on a hilltop across from the Luís I Bridge in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia. It has a prime position overlooking the Douro River and Porto.

The monastery itself wasn't open when were were there. But the views from its miradouro are well worth the hike up. You have a good look at a length of Porto’s 14th century fortress battlements, which are actually pretty interesting and part of Porto's UNESCO designation.

The nearby Jardim de Morro also has good views and you can sit down and rest in the grass with the young hipsters of Porto. The day we were there music was blasting and people were recruiting voters. It had a fun, relaxed vibe.

view from the Serra do Pilar miradouro

my daughter Ali in the Jardim de Morro, where she had a rest and I almost lost my sunglasses

Address: Largo de Avis, Vila Nova de Gaia

the colorful and romantic faded beauty of the Cais de Ribera in Porto

13. Walk along the riverbanks of Porto's Ribeira or Vila Nova

de Gaia


Nothing beats a stroll along the Cais de Ribeira. The riverside quarter of Porto is a medieval warren of narrow winding streets and pastel painted facades in faded glory. Tall and colorful row houses are crammed along the river bank. And there are plenty of trendy bars, cafes, shops, street artists, and entertainers.

A street entertainer making like a statue in the Ribeira. He would bang his hammer every time someone left him a euro.

a lovely ceramics store in the Ribeira

Waking along the riverbanks of the Vila Nova de Gaia affords great views back on the Ribeira. You can also inspect the wine carrying boats called rabelos.

If you peak down the side streets as you go, to the left you'll see a magnificent art installation: “Half Rabbit” by Lisbon street artist Bordalo II. It's part of his Trash Animals series (dogs, fish, bees, rabbits). Bordalo II is known for creating works of art from “waste” as a statement on the impact of consumerism.

Half Rabbit was simply arresting.

a rabelo boat loaded with caskets of port wine on the Douro River

street art installation “Half Rabbit” by Lisbon artist Bordalo II.


Hope you've enjoyed my guide to the best sights and photos spots in Porto.


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