Porto is a magical city. Modern, yet still clinging to the old ways, it fascinated us beyond any expectations. We spent a day by the ocean, visited the uncounted for gilded churches, took a boat tour on the Douro River, and went for a wine tasting. But we also visited the following 7 places and we think no visit to Porto is complete without them. A city with charming and colorful, yet decaying architecture, with buildings ruled by the seagulls as the owners moved to quieter villages along the coast, Porto remains for us by far the most beautiful city in Portugal.
Café Majestic is Porto's emblematic café. It opened back in 1921, during the Belle Epoche and it proudly keeps its charm to this day. Located in Santa Catarina Street, one of the busiest pedestrian streets in Porto, it is definitely a must stop for the 20s enthusiasts like myself and one of the rare occasions one is granted in this life to have a cup of coffee, or grab a bite in a gorgeous setting no longer in fashion. However, Café Majestic is not the only beautiful café in town, nor the cheapest, and if you just go outside the touristic center, you would find plenty of restaurants and cafeterias teeming with locals, and having ridiculously cheap prices.
Walking around Bolhão market you get the feeling that you have stepped back in time, or that time has stood still for many, many year. Yet, the time was less gentle with the merchants and the closed stalls give you the impression that this market is about to disappear. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the day after, but the only generation that keeps this place alive doesn't look like is going to be around much longer. Bolhão reminded me of the East European markets, except that while those are still thriving, this is a dying market. But you can still find fruits, and fish, freshly cut flowers and souvenirs, plastic house plants and decorative sea shells here. The variety it still tremendous, but the corporate supermarkets seem to have finished with it before time.
Lello Bookhop is a total surprise. Behind a beautiful, but not so out of this world Neo-Gothic façade squizeed between two buildings, you will encounter one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. You just have to bother to open the door. I could have spent hours just looking around, having a cup of coffee upstairs next to the camellias, contemplating the stairs, one of the most intriguing ones I've ever seen... They sell books in quite a few languages, including English.
Sao Bento Train Station
São Bento Train Station
This is one of the most interesting train stations you will ever see. It's small and busy and it is located just in the middle of the city. It was inaugurated at the beginning of the last century and just as you enter it, there are these huge walls covered in azulejos, blue and white tiles depicting important moments from Portugal history. I also found the platforms pretty interesting. They are few, but immediately after the train leaves the station, it cuts through the mountain. On top of the mountain are some pretty houses covered in ivy. I just can't stop gasping in amazement every time I think about Porto's architecture, how the locals shaped the rock to suite their needs and how the mountain generously accommodates them.
The Stock Exchange Palace (Palacio da Bolsa)
The Stock Exchange Palace
One visits the Stock Exchange Palace to see the Arabic Room. But the other rooms are quite interesting too, though they have a completely different character. I walked around this palace constantly exclaiming an 'Oh!' or an 'Ah!'. Though on the outside the Stock Exchange looks austere, symbolizing the seriousness of the business conducted inside, the interiors are lavishly decorated, symbolizing the richness and prosperity of the merchants. It took three generations of Portuguese artists to complete this building and the end result is simply stunning. Finding more lavishly decorated rooms will be impossible in Porto.
Porto's Town Hall
The Town Hall Square
The huge square in front of the Town Hall and the Aliados Avenue has undergone a modernization project in the last years. It is a beautiful open space lined with trees and flanked by some of the most majestic buildings in the city. Lots of Porto's hotels are also to be found around here.
Sunset from the Crystal Palace Park
Crystal Palace Park
The Crystal Palace Park offers some of the most beautiful panoramic views over the city, both up and down the Douro River. And the best Porto sunsets can be watched from here too. Many locals come here for jogging, like the eternal up and down the hills of the city wouldn't keep them fit enough. When we visited at the beginning of March the magnolias and camellias were in bloom and the park was incredibly beautiful. There are lots of peacocks and ducks running around freely (or resting) and the Crystal Palace, the pavilion in the middle of the park, is the landmark with a green dome that you can see from almost anywhere in Porto.