Menu Close

Around Porto

I frequently end my retrospectives of travel visits with a variation of “didn’t do it justice, need to come back”. There may be a dozen major destinations in Europe that I can claim great familiarity with, but most of the places are usually given a relatively brief look-over.

Who is ever able to do “slow travel” anyway? With professional obligations, family constraints, distances to get there and back, and the sheer number of places that warrant visiting, we always opt for quantity over quality on any given itinerary. Every day brings new locations to see, sometimes two or three in the space of a few hours. Spending more than a day in a given locale is customarily an unpalatable opportunity cost.

(The people among my readership who can easily envision themselves spending a whole week in one place – as long as that place is a poolside lounge chair at a Caribbean resort – will have to forgive me for labeling that vacationing rather than traveling, and therefore not applicable to the present discourse.)

Our first visit to Porto was no exception from the general rule. Even as we had our base smack in the city center for four nights and thus enjoyed quite a bit more of Porto than would be possible with a passing visit, we day-tripped elsewhere for large portions of the stay, giving ourselves roughly just a day and a half to explore Porto itself.

Back in Porto for the first time since then, ostensibly to watch a football game, I have explicitly decided to remain in the city for five full days. It gave me plenty of opportunities to slow down, linger in cafés and on park benches as well as wander aimlessly on occasion. All things that I love to do but rarely can set aside sufficient time for.

Make no mistake, I kept a steady diet of visiting standout points of interest and carried my big camera with me for a couple of days too. The photographic output allows me to compose a multi-part retrospective with minimal repetition of the views seen in the first-visit album.

Let’s start with Casa da Música.
Porto
The modern concert hall is not even twenty years old and is located a bit beyond the historic city core. The interior, which can be visited with a guided tour, is part spartan, part quirky, highlighted by a lounge covered in azulejo and a modern main auditorium.
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
In the same part of town, Mercado Bom Sucesso anchors the mid-20th-century architectural ensemble that nonetheless retains vestiges of times past in the shape of a small street corner chapel.
Porto
Bom Sucesso is one of several charming food halls in Porto.
Porto
Porto
Porto
This pleasant park is called Jardins do Palácio de Cristal.
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
There isn’t really a “Crystal Palace” here – the main architectural feature of the park is an indoor performance venue that is not much of a visual highlight, in my opinion. As the park is some distance away from main tourist routes, it is one of the most tranquil places in all of Porto. The views from its terraces are also among the best. Here is the westward perspective towards Ponte da Arrábida.
Porto
And several different focal-length eastward perspectives towards Ribeira and Vila Nova de Gaia.
Porto
Porto
Porto
The white tower in the center of the shot is the main church of the monastery of Santo Agostinho da Serra do Pilar. We will stop by the viewing platform next to it in our subsequent photo set.
Porto
Another glimpse of Ponte da Arrábida from a sloping street. I find it very enchanting.
Porto
Moving to the central part of town, here are the twin churches of Carmelitas and Carmo.
Porto
Yes, this is not a single building – and not two buildings either. On the left is Igreja dos Carmelitas, much more classical in appearance, built in the 17th century as part of a convent. On the right is Igreja do Carmo, very Baroque, built in the 18th century as a rich parish church.

Between them is one of the narrowest houses you’ll see anywhere. One legend holds that it was built specifically to create an extra level of separation between nuns of Carmelitas and monks of Carmo. More likely, it was built for the simple reason of filling the empty space between the two churches. Casa Escondida (“Hidden House”) was occupied all the way until the 1980s, and can now be visited as part of the Carmo access ticket. The interior spaces, small as they are with one or two rooms per floor, look surprisingly livable.
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
There were no bathrooms or toilets, though. Even in the mid-20th century, the tenants had to make do with washbowls and chamber pots.

Portuguese churches, in my experience, are among the most lavishly decorated in all of Christendom. That is well seen in both Carmo and Carmelitas interiors.
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
The view from the roof of Carmo over Praça de Gomes Teixeira and the central building of the University of Porto. There was some sort of ceremony or student performance in front of the building.
Porto
Looking back at the twin churches from the plaza.
Porto
A similar if slightly more remote perspective appeared in the first-visit retrospective. Back then, the eastern wall of Carmo was covered in amazing tilework. Today, for reasons I could not establish, the azulejos are no longer present, even though from a distance the same scenes of the founding of the Carmelite Order appear as if tilework; it is painted cloth instead.

For a fully tiled exterior, stop by the Chapel of Souls in the Bolhão neighborhood.
Porto
The Lello Bookstore is one of the most popular tourist sights in Porto.
Porto
It is marketed as the most beautiful bookstore in the world and as the inspiration for some of the Harry Potter scenery (JK Rowling did live in Porto and apparently did visit the store on many occasions). Because of its popularity, it requires an entry ticket to visit. The ticket acts as a voucher that can be applied towards the cost of a purchase of a book, but it needs to be procured in advance and allows entry at a specific time only; don’t expect to waltz in with your ticket unless you buy a more expensive VIP version – there are waiting areas outside in front of the store for everyone with the same half-hourly entry time.

The store was altogether closed on our first visit to Porto, so I made a defined effort to include it in my itinerary this time around. The interior is lovely – you rarely see such designs in a commercial establishment. The place is obviously very crowded; there are shelves and shelves of books but they feel almost like an afterthought with all of the picture-taking going on (I did buy a book as a souvenir to compensate for my own non-literary focus of the visit – and also to put some substance behind the ticket-voucher spend). I left with a feeling that while the store is worth visiting on balance, it is only marginally so considering the cost and the scheduled-entry requirement. Your mileage may vary.
Porto
Porto
Porto
Here is a sight that featured in the previous Porto album – the Clerigos Tower, seen here from the mini-mall of Praça de Lisboa.
Porto
And a couple of my favorite opposite perspectives which are more or less updates of shots found in that same first-visit album – from Clerigos towards San Ildefonso and from San Ildefonso towards Clerigos.
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Portugal is among the proudest countries to display World Heritage signage wherever appropriate. The signs such as the one below can be found throughout Porto, whose historic center is inscribed in its entirety.
Porto
Finally for this set, even though Porto does not boast any must-see museums, I am a sufficiently avid museum-goer to always include some in my itinerary. Among the ones that I visited on this trip were the Romantic Museum, which is sort of an ode to collecting various stuff…
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
… and the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis in a historic palace, presenting a reasonable art collection focused on Portuguese painters, along with a few other exhibitions and a lovely tiled courtyard.
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto
More to come in the next set.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.