After a relaxing day, we decided it was time to make the 2 hour journey from our hilltop home, through the windy and at times foggy hills, to reach our destination of Porto.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon and is located along the Douro river estuary in Northern Portugal. Porto’s first known inhabitants were the Celts in 300 BCE, followed by the Romans and Visigoths, Christians and Moors. In fact the name Porto is believed to have formed the name Portugal. But possibly Porto’s biggest claim to fame is for being the home to where Port wine is exported from.
We did our own walking tour in Porto and probably walked about 5 km up and down the hilly terrain. I had promised Max and Ava that we would not visit any cathedrals during our day trip, so while we didn’t go inside any, we did see the exterior of a few. Our first stop was Igreja do Carmo.
Igreja do Carmo
Igreja do Carmo has a striking exterior, primarily due to the blue and white azulejos (tiles) that cover the exterior of the cathedral. Although the church was constructed between 1756 and 1768 in the roco or late Baroque style, the azulejos were not added until 1912. The tiles were locally made and designed by artist Silvestro Silvestri and depict scenes of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel.
Another interesting fact about this church is that it actually adjoins another, Igreja das Carmelitas, that was built in the 17th century, not that you can see it from my photo. Ancient law at the time said that two churches could not share a wall, so in order to get around this, the narrowest residence in Portugal, one meter wide, sits between the two churches.
In our effort to reach the Market, which had been temporarily relocated so the building can receive a much needed face-lift, we stumbled across the next stop on our tour.
Porto Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
Similar to the previous church, this one also has Azulejo tiles, however the 11 000 tiles cover much more of the facade than the previous one. The tiles depict the life of Saint Ildefonso and stories from the Gospel and was added in 1932 by Jorge Calaco. The church was completed in the 18th century on the site of a previous chapel. The interior can be visited, but the church’s main draw-card is it’s exterior.
Although we did visit the market, we didn’t stay long and instead found a pastelaria for lunch, before continuing onto Porto Sao Bento.
Porto Sao Bento
Porto Sao Bento is actually a railway station, why visit it you may ask? Tourists visit the station not to ride a train, but to see the 20 000 azulejo tiles that were used to give the station a facelift between 1905 – 1916. The tiles were created by Jorge Colaco, who also did the tiles for Porto Igreja de Santo Ildefonso.
The Azulejo tiled scenes depict Portuguese history ranging from battles, the chronology of transport and wedding celebrations.
Our walk took us to Porto’s most famous bridge, the Luis I Bridge.
Luis I Bridge
The Luis I Bridge is a twin-level, metal arched bridge that crosses the steep, rocky banks of the Douro river. The bridge connects the Port wine houses of Vila Nova de Gaia with the downtown Ribeira district of Porto. The bridge was opened in 1886 and was conceived by German Engineer, Theophile Seyrig, who co-founded the Eiffel Company and partnered with him in previous projects.
The Ponte Dom Luís I is on two levels; one on top of the arch and the other below it. Originally both decks carried road traffic, but today the top level carries the metro trains and pedestrians and the bottom levels motor vehicles.
I loved crossing the upper level, which sits about 60 meters above the river Douro, although the height may not be for everyone. The view from the top level is tremendous, giving you a view of the Port Wine Houses, the city of Porto and the boat traffic below. If heights are not your think, you can still cross the bridge on the lower level.
From the Port Wine Houses there are amazing views across the river of Porto and also of the tourist boats.
After walking along the river bank it is a bit of a climb to get back up to Porto city, but never fear there is an alternative way, the funicular.
On our return to the carpark we made a short stop at Livraria Lello and Irmao.
Livraria Lello & Irmao
Livraria Lello & Irmão is a book store housed in a neo-gothic building dating from 1906. Some believe the bookstore to be one of the most beautiful in Europe and the world. The shop is decorated in wood, stain glass and covered from floor to ceiling with shelves of books. My favourite part of the shop was wooden and red staircase in the center of the shop, connecting the two levels. Also interesting to note was in place of markers to indicate authors names, they had plaster faces of the authors marking where their books are.
J.K. Rowling lived in Porto for a period of time and it is said that she was inspired by the book shop when writing Harry Potter. While you can certainly imagine the book shop to be the library in Harry Potter, the bookstore does play on this a lot, seen by the 5 euro entrance fee to enter and the plethora of not only books, but displays based on the books. The kids enjoyed it though.
Igreja do Carmo/ Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalcos
- Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 12pm │ 2pm to 5pm
- Saturdays from 8am to 12pm.
Porto Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
- Monday 3 pm – 6 pm │ Tuesday – Friday: 9 am – 12 pm/ 3 pm – 6.30 pm │ Saturday:; 9 am – 12 pm 3 pm – 8 pm │ Sunday and Religious Holidays: 9 am – 12.45/ 6 pm – 7.45 pm
Livraria Lello & Irmao
- Mondays to Sunday │ 9.30 am to 7 pm
- 5 euro entrance fee, however if you purchase a book they will deduct the entrance fee off the cost. The books were overpriced though.
Funicular dos Guindais
- Winter (November – March) │ Sunday to Thursday – 8 am – 8 pm │ Friday to Saturday – 8 am to 10 pm
- Summer (April – October │ Sunday to Thursday – 8 am – 10 pm │ Friday to Saturday – 8 am – midnight
- Exceptions: Easter – 8 am – Midnight │ Sao Joao – continous operation June 23rd to 24th │ Christmas – December 24th closes at 7 pm; December 25th – closed │ New Years Eve – continuous operation from December 31st to January 1st
- €2.50 for a one way journey either up to Rua da Batalha or to the city’s river bank.