Bonfim is an artistic district of Porto, filled with local galleries and great little tascas to stop at and cherish a good drink and food. From there, you can head to Fontainhas, to take in a view of the spectacular Douro River that is different to the one you see on most postcards.
On the border of Bonfim, Jardim Marques de Oliveira is located. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a piece of nature in the middle of the city. The garden is not big in size but it is in atmosphere. There are blossoming flowers here and sculptures scattered in between branchy trees. It’s a centre of life for the older locals who visit here every day, set up plastic tables and chairs, and play cards until sundown.
Now stray from the beaten track and, instead of heading down from Santa Catarina, step up to stunning Batalha square.
São Ildefonso church, which you cannot miss, has one of the most beautiful azulejo façades in the whole of Porto. No matter the time of day, the 11,000 tiles create a spectacular view and reflect bright light.
Across the square is the São Joao National Theatre. It was built in 1911, yet its history is much older. Take the time to have a peek inside at the beautiful interior.
Let’s now go straight to the walls that grow from the ground and cover the view of the river. The Fernandine Walls are one of the oldest remaining constructions in Porto, built in the medieval era to protect the city from enemies. Now they are a relic of the past that creates a unique landscape around scenic Luís I Bridge. Bypass them to get to the top part of the bridge.
This amazing iron construction was designed by one of the students of Gustav Eiffel, Théophile Seyrig. From here you can admire a view of the UNESCO-listed Ribeira, with colourful properties and squares filled with people, street musicians, and chatter. When you look around you might also notice a sad side of Porto, where empty buildings turn into ruins, forgotten by their former owners.
The construction of the bridge, so innovative at the time of its creation, might impress, but look at the river and slopes of granite. Nature sculptured the banks of the river that seems invincible itself, and the builders of Porto reached for these natural resources to build a strong city.
Muralha Fernandina and the Sé do Porto cathedral seem to be a natural extension of the stunning view of the Douro river. The tissue of the city harmonizes with the natural order of the slopes.
From the top of the bridge, you can head to the cathedral, visit São Bento station and then head to Avenida dos Aliados.
The grandeur of the buildings
This avenue is one of the most spectacular in Porto. Here, you forget about medieval views and narrow streets: modern urban planning is highly visible. Stand in the middle of the avenue and admire some of the finest art deco and neoclassicist buildings in the city. Even though the street is lined with banks and exclusive hotels, it’s also a place that unites people. Here, citizens of Porto come to celebrate all-important holidays, unite during a football match, and fight for their freedom. Praça da Liberdade has long been important, the scene of many revolts, starting with fighting during the Civil War in 1828-34, through riots against Salazar, to modern-day protests.
While interiors of exclusive hotels might not be for everyone, you can still admire stunning examples of art decor architecture. Don’t miss the McDonald’s building; you don’t have to buy a burger to enjoy stunning chandeliers, the ornate ceiling, reliefwork, and stained glass that dates to the 1930s. At the time of its original splendour, it was the Imperial Café, where Porto’s artists hung out. And Café Guarany, on the other side of the avenue, stills exudes the spirit of creativity that was celebrated between a sip of a coffee and a bite of pastel de nata.
Tiles that dazzle
In Porto, azulejos proliferate. Dressing the outside of buildings, adorning interiors and even used, mosaic-style on rocks in the street. From shop fronts to railway stations (Sao Bento is the most famous), tiles are the design feature. At the Bank of Materials, you can admire thousands of tiles that builders can refer to when developing a property.
On the way to the next spot, you won’t miss Clérigos Church, the most beautiful baroque structure and an emblematic spot of the city. The tower was used as a tool to measure time but also to inform merchants about ships arriving; it is sumptuous in ever way, so no surprise that it was used as a background for the first-ever TV advertisement in Portugal.
Back in time, this was where Porto ended and the olive groves that once covered the area are now just a historic memory. Head further to reach Cordoaria Park, with its Platanus trees and their weirdly-shaped trunks, the result of a disease that attacked the trees when they were planted. Nowadays, it’s a perfect spot to hide from the burning sun, but back time it was used by rope sellers, hence the name: Cordoaria.
And don’t forget…
If you visit Porto for more than one day, or have already seen the most important landmarks, hop onto tram number 1 and head towards Foz, away from the hustle and bustle of the city where the Douro river meets the ocean. This district has a rich history – it was once where the monasteries were based. Today you can see the grand summer residencies , and stroll through Jardim do Passeio Alegre.
Foz is a perfect place for chilling on the sandy beach or strolling under the romantic Pergola da Foz that dates back to the 1930s. In the summer, you can have a swim and eat ice cream, and during winter admire high waves and warm up with a hot portion of castanhas.
Stand next to the lighthouse that leads ships home and listen to the songs of seagulls carried by the wind.
Read about where to stay, what to eat, and the essential must-sees, in this month’s issue of AlgarvePLUS
Words: Anna Zielazny