Portugal’s secret capital Porto gives its name to the whole country. It is considered one of the most beautiful metropolises in Europe. And rightly so. Because the enchanting city in the north of the country has a lot to offer besides its famous wine.
Portugal – that is urban life in Lisbon, pure vacation atmosphere in the Algarve. But that’s not all: those who like it less hectic will find plenty of alternative options. Where perhaps a few beaches invite you to relax, or where it is still Portuguese in the hinterland and not so “touristy”. If you don’t want to miss out on urban ambience, Porto, the country’s second largest city, is a good place to go. As far as purely urban attractions are concerned, Porto even outdoes Lisbon. Portugal’s “secret capital” (so called because more and more big business has settled there in the recent past due to the high quality of life) is one of the most beautiful metropolises in Europe, perhaps even one of the most charming in the world.
Tip 1: Chapel of Souls
The Capela das Almas (Chapel of Souls) in Porto is located in the Santo Ildefonso district, right next to the famous Bolhão market.
The chapel is often called the most beautiful in Portugal. The reason for this is not its size. It is mainly the elaborate blue tiles of the church that are often seen in the cityscape of Porto.
However, it is usually only individual moldings and parts of the facade that are decorated in this design. In the case of the Almas Chapel, however, it is the entire facade. In total, there are 15,947 of them, which in their entirety tell beautiful stories.
They are called azuleios in Portuguese and show different scenes of saints. The most common are scenes from the life and death of Francis of Assisi and the Virgin Catherine. However, this unique building was dedicated to Nossa Senhora das Almas. Translated, this means Our Lady of Souls.
Although the church was built in the 18th century, these elaborate wall tiles were added much later, in 1929. It was the artist Eduardo Leite who accomplished this feat, painting the tiles in the original 18th century style.
The unique atmosphere inside the church is remarkable. While outside it is teeming with cars, pedestrians and stores on Rua Catarina, inside it is extremely quiet. Instead of noisy street vendors, the faithful dominate. Many Portuguese are strict Catholics and it is mainly many older ladies who come here regularly during the day to pray.
A highlight in the front area is the altar made of glass. Take your time and enjoy the unique ambience in this artfully designed church.
Tip 2: Aliados Avenue
Avenida dos Aliados is one of the central streets in Porto. It starts at the church Igreja da Santíssima Trindade and goes to Praça da Liberdade. There you will find the São Bento train station, which is a stop for several metro lines and regional trains. For many visitors to the Avenida, this is where the exploration of Porto begins.
In addition to the aforementioned church, you can discover other sights of the city during a walk along the Avenida dos Aliados. The boulevard is surrounded by historic buildings from the founding period.
The monument of Dom Pedro IV watches over the avenue at Praça da Liberdade. Many small cafes and stores invite you to linger along the street.
Tip 3: Livraria Lello
It’s not the impressive selection of literature that makes the Lello bookstore in Porto so famous. Visitors from all over the world are much more likely to be amazed by the store’s impressive architecture.
It is no coincidence that the Livraria Lello is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.
From the outside, the building on Rua das Carmelitas near the old town is inconspicuous. Inside, however, the architecture is like something from another world. The highlight is the curved wooden staircase that leads you to the upper floors. The entire Lello bookstore is flooded with light.
A large glass ceiling with historic window paintings makes the store shine in a special light.
Tip 4: Church of the Clergy
The six-story Torre dos Clérigos is connected to the baroque church Igreja dos Clérigos. The 75-meter-high church tower is considered a landmark of Porto.
You have to climb 240 steps to get to the tower’s platform. But the effort of the climb is rewarded by the magnificent panorama of Porto and Vila Nova da Gaia.
The associated church was built in the 18th century by Nicolau Nasoni, an Italian architect and painter, for the brotherhood Irmandade dos Clérigos Pobres. Nasoni was also responsible for the construction of numerous other buildings in northern Portugal.
In addition to the Igreja dos Clérigos, he was involved in the construction of the Episcopal Palace in Porto (Paço Episcopal), the church Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios in Lamego, and the Igreja do Bom Jesus in Matosinhos, among others.
The Torre dos Clérigos and the church are not to be missed when visiting Porto.
Tip 5: Visit of a Wine Cellar
Port wine is simply a must when you come to Porto. You will be inspired by it at the latest on the spot. Most of the wineries can be found on the waterfront of Gaia, for example Porto Cruz, Porto Cálem, Offley, Taylors and Sandeman.
In many of these wineries you can visit the cellar itself and usually even participate in a port wine tasting. You can visit the cellars of Grahams, Offley or Taylors, among others. The tours usually cost a few euros and are sometimes offered in different languages.
The largest port wineries are Taylors, Cockburns and Sandeman. Smaller wineries and insider tips include Augustos and Ramos Pinto. During the season, promoters often approach you on the street, offering port wine tours or winery tours.