The top 10 Instagram and photography spots of Porto
Porto experiences a moderate climate so you can visit this city any time of the year. That's already one good reason to go right?... But to convince you even more of Lisbon's little sister, here are some of my favourite things to see and do in Porto that are too good not to share! Perfect photo ops in the city of port wine. Oh, and I'm also sneaking in a few history lessons here and there...
1) The prettiest book shop in the world!
You will have to get in line to visit this beautiful book shop and you will probably be so overwhelmed by its beauty that you might forget to actually buy a book, but it's very worth it.
Livraria Lello is often praised for its amazing historical and artistic value. The bookstore first opened in 1906 and was designed by architect Xavier Esteves.
Inside you will see copious shelves and ceilings. The staircase is particularly eye-catching, as well as the stained-glass window showing the bookshop monogram "Decus in labore" (dignity at work, in Latin).
The façade is neo-gothic design with a splash art nouveau.
Check out Wikipedia for a full story on its history, previous owners and more insight on its architecture. Yes I do sometimes read articles on Wikipedia ;-)
Read up on all practical information on the Livraria Lello's website. Why? It has been a while since I have been there so information on tickets and waiting lines (1 hour is not exceptional) gets outdated easily.
2) Tea at Café Majestic
If you like drama, Belle Époque and porcelain tea cups, Café Majestic is the place to be. It is in the top 10 of the most beautiful cafes in the world (source: ucityguides.com)
It dates back to 1921 when it was a meeting point for the local elite. Artists, politicians, writers, you name it, would come in to exchange ideas, discuss politics and gossip.
Mirrors, chandeliers, delicately carved wood and Instagram proof marble tables just scream 'take a picture'! So, come right in... Or maybe not. Since this is a tourist hot spot, you might have to stand in line a little bit. Don't let that discourage you though. There is a lot of circulation and many visitors only stay for a cup of coffee or tea.
The service is great, and the tea served hot, but the food is not that remarkable and not cheap. Perfect for a quick stop and a fancy photo op.
Rua Santa Catarina, 112 (main shopping street, city centre)
Coffee: 5 €
Club Sandwich: 18 €
Afternoon tea: 25 €
3) Flower cone ice cream
There are many ice cream shops in the world and Porto isn't usually linked with this ice-cold delicacy but the philosophy behind the Italian gelato of Amorino is quite interesting.
They offer organic flavours with a careful selection of ingredients that are not chemically treated, and all their sorbets are vegan friendly.
So why Italian ice cream in a blog post on Porto? Well believe me, you will crave some Italian gelato after an afternoon of intense shopping! Your best Instagram proof option is the flower cone where you can choose as many flavours as you like. Are you going for the prettiest colours or the flavours you really want to order?
Finally: take a picture outside. Holding your cone against the photogenic tiles of the Rua de Santa Catarina will make your followers even more jealous ;)
Rua de Santa Catarina 222
Check the online gelato flower maker here (not kidding!). The water mouthing starts at home!
4) Old skool neon signs
Porto and many other cities in Portugal like Lisbon have a tradition of using neon sings going back decades. Many of these signs were replaced and are now gone, but some of them can still be found and are still used throughout Porto. Let's go back in time, way back in time. Half a century that is...
There is just something nostalgic about spotting these neon signs. For some reason they give you the idea that time stands still. Modern technology is great but old is sometimes better than new. From a photographer point of view at least.
5) A sky full of bridges
The bridges of Porto could very well be a travel topic on its own. The 6 mega structures that span the Douro river connect the city with Vila Nova de Gaia which is famous for its port houses.
A bridge with a Belgian touch!
The most iconic one must be the Dom Luis I. A bridge that was constructed by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel (yep that guy!) in 1886 as part of a competition that was won by the Belgian society 'Societé de Willebroeck'; It has two levels, one for pedestrians and cars, the other one for the metro line.
The most fun way to discover these bridges is probably to take a riverboat cruise especially on one of the old boats. They were used for transporting port wine and are now kept alive for entertaining tourists.
You will notice that every bridge has its own unique style, from very elegant to very modern.
Even though I loved the boat trip, my favourite photography spot was at Vila Nova de Gaia close to the funicular railway entrance, just before going down.
6) The Sé Cathedral
Located on the highest point in the city, the Sé Cathedral is the most important religious building in Porto.
It is situated in Batalha, close to the walls that once offered protection to the city. Hence the fortress look with crenels from the outside.
If you are somewhat into uncovering architectural styles you will see an interesting mix of Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic. The first stones were laid in the 12th century but was renovated and rebuilt quite a few times.
Inside the cathedral you will also find the entrance to the Cloister, my favourite spot for a picture. Its elegant look screams Gothic, the blue and white tiles tell you stories about the life of the Virgin Mary and Ovid's Metaporphoses. The perfect mix of drama and contrast.
Check all recent visiting hours here!
7) The Bolsa Palace
The Palácio da Bolsa or the Stock Exchange Palace in the historical city centre was built to impress. Built in the 19th century in a beautiful Neoclassical style, the palace serves as the headquarters of the Commercial Association.
The interior of the Palace was decorated by several artists like for example Gonçalves e Sousa who designed the gem of the palace the Arab Room. Think oriental and Moorish revival. Imagine celebrities and heads of states sitting here while visiting Porto.
Don't forget to book your tour in advance. There is a screen where you can see available tours the language is marked according to the order of arrival.
8) Vila Nova de Gaia, the port wine area
Tasting port wine and visiting the wine cellars is definitely a must-do. Not only will you learn about ancient traditions, you will also get the chance to taste one of Portugal's most iconic export products. It is a relatively cheap activity that you can also enjoy even if you have never had port wine before!
Before going into one of these port wine houses I would recommend to just wander in the streets of the Gaia area. There is a cellar lurking behind every corner. Some of these corners and small streets are perfect for taking it all in and taking a cool shot.
We went to the Offley wine house and did the Offley Reserve Visit which now costs 13 €. A guided tour through the cellars with a tasting of three Offley Porto Wines. Sounds like a deal, right? Well I can remember going there in 2016 and paying about 6 euros! I guess Porto is getting a bit more expensive now. Time too book your city trip right now :)
9) The São Bento train station
I always say that Antwerp owns the prettiest train station in the world and it's true... But every now and then I stumble on strong contenders, like the São Bentro train station in Porto.
São Bento train station is inspired by French architecture and was designed by José Marques da Silva, completed in 1903 and inaugurated in 1916. You cannot miss the mansard roof when standing outside the station.
But the star attraction is right inside!
The magnificent tile work here tells the story of Portugal. They were carefully placed here by artist Jorge Colaço. More than 20000 tiles show us the history of transportation, beautiful Portuguese landscapes and important historical battles like the Battle of Aljubarrota (1385) and the Battle of Arcos de Valdeve (1140).
Is it a train station or a museum with free entrance? :)
10) The small streets of Porto
I love Porto so much because of the dreamy neighourhoods where picturesque tiled houses line narrow streets. Just wander of a little bit from the main attractions and you will soon discover the small streets of Porto where the next batch of laundry is already drying outside to wear the next day, where grandma is making a delicious stew that you can smell all the way down the next street. As pretty as these streets are, maybe this is the time to put away your camera and let it all in.