Porto, Using the Porto Metro

Using the Porto Metro

Porto metro trainThe cheapest and easiest way to get from Porto airport into the centre of Porto is by the sleek, modern Porto Metro system. The great thing about this journey is that it is overground for the majority of time, giving you a chance to see parts of Porto you would not normally see. The Metro station is located just outside the airport terminal and is served by Metro E (the purple line). The trains start and finish here, so you don’t have to worry about getting on the wrong train or being on the wrong platform. Trains run every 30 minutes and the journey into the centre of Porto takes 30 minutes.Porto airport metroTickets are bought from the automatic machines at the entrance to the station. Before buying a ticket you need to check which zone you will be travelling to; all the stations are listed on the ticket machine and next to each station is a zone number, for example, Campanhã is listed as being in zone 4 (z4). Once you have found which zone you are travelling to, the instructions on the ticket machine screen are self-explanatory. The ticket you will buy will be the Andante Azul card, which is similar to the Viva Viagem card that is used on the Metro (and other public transport) in Lisbon, however, it is a bit more complicated than the Lisbon system. Like the Lisbon Viva Viagem card, the Andante Azul card is rechargable, so you will be charged 60 cents for the card when you buy it. What makes it more complicated than the Viva Viagem card is that you can only put journeys on the card for one zone at a time. You can only change zones when the card is empty. When you first arrive, I suggest you just buy a one-way journey on the card, which to the centre of Porto will cost around €1.95. Once you know how you intend to use it you can add more journeys to it in the correct zone. You will need to buy a different card for each person in your group and each card needs to be validated by holding it against the black circle on the yellow validation machine before you go up the steps to the platform. You also have to validate it if you change lines during the journey. More information can be found on the Metro do Porto website. A further tip is to carry some coins for the ticket machines, as they often have problems accepting notes.

Andante ticket

Porto, Porto by night

Porto by night

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Statue of Dom Pedro IV by Célestin Anatole Calmels, Praça da Liberdade, Porto

By day the historic centre of Porto displayed its wonderful Baroque, Gothic, Romanesque and Neo-classical architecture and justified its UNESCO World Heritage Site title. By night, however, the city took on a different appearance, as buildings, squares and statues were lit up, giving everything a golden glow. The tourists had made their way back to their cruise ships and their hotels and we could walk around the quiet streets marvelling at the regal splendour of the area around Campo dos Mártires da Pátria (for the Palácio da Justiça and the Clérigos Tower); Largo Professor Abel Salazar (for the Museu do Centro Hospitalar do Porto); Avenida dos Aliados and the two squares at either end, Praça da Liberdade and Praça do General Humberto Delgado (for very grand nineteenth-century commercial buildings, the nearby São Bento station and two charming statues, A Juventude (the naked woman, 1929) and A Abundância (the cherubs, 1931), both by the sculptor Henrique Moreira); the Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique (for the statue of Prince Henry the Navigator); the Ribeira quarter (for the Dom Luís I Bridge and the Serra do Pilar Monastery and Church on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river); and Vila Nova de Gaia (for views of Porto, including the Palácio da Bolsa, São Bento da Vitória Church, the Clérigos Tower, the Episcopal Palace and the Cais da Ribeira). Porto by day is for the tourists, but Porto by night is for the romantics.

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Statue of Justice, Palácio da Justiçam, Porto
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Museu do Centro Hospitalar do Porto
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Clérigos Tower, Porto
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São Bento station, Porto
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Avenida dos Aliados, Porto
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Praça do General Humberto Delgado, Porto
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Avenida dos Aliados, Porto
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‘A Abundância’ by Henrique Moreira, Avenida dos Aliados, Porto
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‘A Juventude’ by Henrique Moreira, Avenida dos Aliados, Porto
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São Bento station, Porto
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Dom Luís I Bridge and Serra do Pilar Church, Vila Nova da Gaia
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Statue of Prince Henry the Navigator, Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique, Porto
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Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia
Down by the Ribeira-side in Porto, Porto

Down by the Ribeira-side in Porto

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Cais da Ribeira, Porto

The Ribeira (Riverside) quarter of Porto is steeped in atmosphere, with narrow, winding streets and colourful painted and tiled houses with washing hanging from the balconies, harking back to a time when this part of the river was a working port and the quarter was a working-class district. Local children swim confidently in the murky waters of the Douro, while tourists drink and dine at the large number of restaurants and bars in the old arcades along the Cais da Ribeira (riverfront) and on the back streets. Clearly visible from the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river is the Elevador da Riberia (also known as the Elevador da Lada), an iron lift which transports people from the Cais da Ribeira to the Barredo quarter, avoiding a climb up the steep hill.

At the heart of the Ribeira quarter is the Praça da Ribeira at the bottom of Rua de São João, where old tiled townhouses line a riverfront square, at the centre of which is a fountain comprising an original stone fountain with a controversial huge 1970s cube (O Cubo da Ribeira) suspended above it, created by the artist José Rodrigues. In a niche of an eighteenth-century fountain built into a wall, a statue of John the Baptist, the patron saint of Porto, was added by the sculptor João Cutileiro (who also sculpted the statue of Dom Sebastião in Lagos) in 2000. Today the square is full of pavement tables and is a popular place to sit and have a drink or a meal, while enjoying views of the boats sailing by on the River Douro and Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the river. The view is particularly lovely after dark when the Dom Luís I Bridge and the Serra do Pilar Church are lit up.

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Dom Luís I Bridge and Serra do Pilar Church from Cais da Ribeira, Porto
Porto, Rua das Flores, Porto

Rua das Flores, Porto

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Flowers on the exterior of Ourivesaria Alliança, Rua das Flores, Porto

Largo de São Domingos was ‘our square’: the place where we sat at a pavement café drinking a glass of cold beer and watching the world go by after a long day of sightseeing. The square is at the end of one of my favourite streets in Porto, the busy and vibrant Rua da Flores, right in the heart of the old city. It links Largo de São Domingos (near the Palácio da Bolsa) to the Praça de Almeida Garrett (in front of São Bento station). The pedestrianized street is a lovely place to wander, while looking in the windows of the diverse shops; admiring the Baroque beauty of the Nasoni-designed Igreja da Misericórdia and the eye-catching sculpture on the front of the neighbouring Museu da Misercórdia do Porto; being surprised by the artwork on the outside of the ever so slightly sinister-looking Museu das Marionetas (Puppet Museum); and stopping for a drink or a bite to eat at one of the many little cafés. Many shops and cafés have taken the name of the street (Flower Street) to heart and have decorated their exteriors with flowers, ranging from a vertical flower garden on the exterior of the Ourivesaria Alliança jewellery shop, flower patterns on the table tops of a pavement café and delicately painted designs on several shop windows. Even the more dilapidated buildings along the street have been painted on by street artists and give the street a certain bohemian quality, where free-spirited locals sit slightly uncomfortably alongside well-heeled tourists.

Porto, Porto Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace

Porto Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace

 

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Baroque loggia and statue of Vímara Peres, Porto Cathedral

Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) is a simple and austere building, comprised of a Romanesque exterior dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, dominated by two square towers topped with eighteenth-century cupolas, and a dark and sombre interior, brightened up by a thirteenth-century stained-glass rose window, an ornate altarpiece and a bronze bas-relief of the baptism of Christ by the sculptor José Joaquim Teixeira Lopes (1837-1918) in the baptistery. Beside the main church there is the gilded Capela de São Vicente, fourteenth-century Gothic cloisters and, on the first floor, a chapterhouse. Both the cloisters and the chapterhouse are decorated with azulejo (decorative tiles) panels, depicting bucolic scenes, episodes from mythological stories and the story of the Virgin Mary.

In the eighteenth century the building was renovated and Baroque features were added, under the guidance of Nicolau Nasoni. José Saramago in his wonderful travel book Journey to Portugal (Viagem a Portugal), published in 1990, notes what the physiognomy of Porto and the north of Portugal owes to Nasoni, the Italian architect who also designed the Baroque Clérigos Church and Tower and Igreja da Misericórdia on Rua das Flores. It is fair to say that his involvement in the alterations to the Cathedral and the neighbouring Episcopal Palace (Paço Episcopal) in the 1720s and 1730s have resulted in the buildings we see today. He added the Baroque loggia to the side of the exterior of the Cathedral and inside the Cathedral he designed the frescoes on the walls of the apse and the staircase to the chapterhouse. He drew up designs for the Episcopal Palace building, which was to replace the existing twelfth-century palace, although his original designs proved too expensive to complete and what we see today is a scaled-back version. The Palace, which was the former palace of the Bishop of Porto, dominates the Porto skyline, particularly when looking at Porto from the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river. Positioned on the higher part of the city, above the Ribeira area, the white rectangular building with distinctive tall windows with rococo frames is attractive in daylight, but even more spectacular when lit up at night. It makes a fitting backdrop to the São João fireworks in June. I had been informed that the building is not open to the public, so we did not visit it, but I have recently learnt that it now offers guided tours around the interior and I will definitely visit it on my next visit to Porto.

In front of the Cathedral is a large bronze statue of a man sitting on a horse carrying a sword and shield in one hand and holding a flag in the other, created by the sculptor Salvador Barata Feyo in 1968. The man is Count Vímara Peres, a Portuguese hero who reconquered northern Portugal from the Moors in the ninth century, although he was Spanish and Portugal was not independent at the time. He was made administrator of Portucale (what is now the Minho and Douro regions) and the territory he and subsequent counts administered continued to extend south to become the territorium Portugalense, until Portugal finally gained independence in 1137.

Statue of Vimar Pere, Porto Cathedral
Statue of Vímara Peres, Porto Cathedral

In the fourteenth century the Cathedral and Episcopal Palace witnessed the politically strategic marriage of Philippa of Lancaster to Dom João I, the king of Portugal. The marriage was blessed in Porto Cathedral on 2nd February 1387 and the wedding celebrations were held at the Episcopal Palace. The celebrations lasted several days, as the marriage brought about an important Anglo-Portuguese alliance against the Franco-Castilian axis.

From the terrace in front of the Cathedral are great views, beginning with the Barredo quarter, immediately below the Cathedral, where houses are stacked in intimate proximity to each other. Further afield the Clérigos Tower dominates the skyline to the north, with São Bento da Vitória Church and Monastery and the Centro Português de Fotografia clearly visible near to it.

Practicalities

Sé do Porto, Largo do Terreiro da Sé, Porto

Entrance to the Church is free, but there is a fee of €3 to enter the museum and cloisters

Opening hours:

Church

Summer: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.30pm and 2.30pm–7pm; Winter: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.30pm and 2.30pm–6pm; Closed: Christmas Day and Easter (afternoon)

Museum and cloisters

Summer: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.15pm and 2.30pm–6.30pm; Winter: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.15pm and 2.30pm–5.30pm; Closed: Christmas Day and Easter (afternoon); Sundays and religious holidays (morning)

 

Paço Episcopal do Porto, Largo do Terreiro da Sé, Porto

For a virtual tour visit the website: http://www.diocese-porto.pt/visitavirtual/

Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 9am–1pm (last admission 12.30pm) 2pm–6pm (last admission 5.30pm)

Entrance fee: €5 or €6 (depending on the type of visit)

Majestic Café, Porto, Porto

Majestic Café, Porto

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Breakfast, Majestic Café, Porto

The Majestic Café was busy and noisy at breakfast time. The sounds of a coffee machine hissing, crockery clinking and voices speaking animatedly gave us a sense of what the café must have been like in the 1920s, when it became a hub for the fashionable elite, businessmen, intellectuals and bohemians. It opened in 1921 and its original name of ‘Elite Café’ was quickly replaced with ‘Majestic Café’, as it was felt that the word ‘elite’ had too many connotations with the former monarchy. Portugal had become a Republic in 1910 and in 1921 most sectors of society still had feelings of hatred for the former monarchy. The name ‘Majestic’, in contrast, conjured up an image of the belle-époque era.

The café fell out of fashion and into disrepair in the second half of the twentieth century, but in 1994 it was refurbished and reopened. It retains much of João Queiroz’s original opulent Art Nouveau decor of dark wood with ornate plaster sculptures on the walls and ceiling, leaded-light interior windows and large, slightly aged mirrors which give a sense of space, patterned-leather benches, marble tables, and metal and glass light fittings. The front of the building is elaborately decorated above the door with marble panels, sculptures, small wood-framed glass panels and the café’s name in gold. There is a small seating area on the pavement in front of the entrance to the café on the Rua Santa Catarina shopping street, which is always busy. There is also a very small courtyard at the back of the café with a pretty plants and more art nouveau touches, including a staircase flanked by two goddesses, a wrought-iron washbasin with filigree detail and a pretty stained-glass doorway and windows.

Nowadays,  well-dressed customers sit alongside tourists dressed in shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps and carrying the obligatory ‘selfie-stick’, but the standards of the café are still high, with attentive, immaculately dressed waiters and waitress in crisp, white, long-sleeved jackets with silver buttons and long black trousers. The coffee was good and strong and the pastel de nata (custard tart) was large enough to be a meal in itself! Compared to similar breakfasts we had in other cafés in Porto it was quite expensive, but a visit to the Majestic Café isn’t just about the food and drink, it is also about a sense of stepping back in time.

Practicalities

Majestic Café, 112 Rua Santa Catarina, Porto

Open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-midnight for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and cocktails.

Porto, Two days in Porto – from the top of an open-top bus

Two days in Porto – from the top of an open-top bus

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Praça da Liberdade, Porto

We are big fans of the open-top bus tours that exist in most European cities, as they are a great way of getting a feel for the layout of the city and which places are worth returning to. So, on our first trip to Porto we bought a two-day ticket which gave us unlimited access to the two routes known as ‘Historical Porto’ and ‘Porto Castles’. The buses are hop-on and hop-off at any of the 28 or so designated stops per route and while we were on the bus we were able to listen to a really informative commentary about the area through the earphones which were provided.

Day one: Historical Porto

On the first day we chose to do the Historical Porto tour, joining the bus at the stop nearest to the Baroque Clérigos Tower. The church and tower were built in the 18th century and the tower is 75 metres high, with 240 steps to the top. The climb is worth it for the aerial views of Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia and the River Douro. Nearby are two pretty gardens the Praça de Lisboa, constructed on the roof of a shopping arcade, and the Jardim da Cordoaria with its lovely sculptures. Standing at the entrance of the Praça de Lisboa is a statue of the former Bishop of Porto, António Ferreira Gomes (d.1989). The statue by Arlindo Rocha is a tribute to a man who opposed the Salazar dictatorship. Nearby is the charming bookshop, Livraria Lello & Irmão with its mixture of art nouveau and neo-gothic styles.

The bus took us down the busy Rua dos Clérigos hill and into the Avenida dos Aliados with its impressive statues and architecture, mainly from the nineteenth century. At the south end of the avenue is the Praça da Liberdade with an imposing statue of Dom Pedro IV on a horse in the centre of the square. The bus continued along the Avenida dos Aliados to the Porto City Hall building, at the north end of the avenue in the Praça do General Humberto Delgado, a building which dates from 1920 and was designed by the architect Correia da Silva.

The bus then went by São Bento station, famous for its azulejo (decorated tile) panels inside the entrance hall, and continued up to Porto Cathedral and the Paço Episcopal (the former Bishop’s Palace). The earliest parts of the cathedral date from the twelfth century and the stunning rose window is from the thirteenth century. Behind the cathedral is the Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro, which is the former home of the nineteenth-century poet, Guerra Junqueiro, who collected the artefacts on display.

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Porto Cathedral, Porto

The next stop was the Praça da Batalha, to the east of the cathedral, which houses two distinctly different, but attractive, buildings, the São João National Theatre and the Santo Idelfonso Church. The neo-classical theatre was designed by the architect José Marques da Silva and opened in 1920. It is Porto’s main theatre. The Baroque Santo Idelfonso Church has a stunning azulejo-covered façade.

The bus then went past Praça D. João I and along part of Rua de Santa Catarina and Rua de Passos Manuel, which are in Porto’s main shopping area, which includes the lovely Art Nouveau Majestic Café, and passes by the Carmo Church and the Carmelitas Church, which are separated by a very narrow house. The two churches are very different in style: the Carmo Church has distinctive azulejo panels on the façade, whereas the style of the Carmelitas Church is more restrained.

The bus passes the Santo António Hospital, a late-eighteenth-/early-nineteenth-century, neo-classical-style building designed by the British architect John Carr, which houses the Porto Hospital Centre Museum, showing the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century medicine and pharmaceuticals.

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Tram in front of Santo António Hospital, Porto

Near here is the pretty Jardim do Carregal and the Soares dos Reis National Museum, a museum and art gallery which dates back to 1833, in the former Palácio das Carrancas. The bus continued along Rua D. Manuel II to the entrance of the lovely Jardins do Palácio de Cristal and we could see the distinctive dome-shaped Rosa Mota Pavilion.

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Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, Porto

The bus then went around the Rotunda da Boavista, where we could clearly see the column with a lion crushing an eagle on the top, which was built to commemorate the Portuguese/British (represented by the lion) victory over the French (represented by the eagle) in the Peninsular War (1807-14) and the bus continued along the very long Avenida da Boavista where we passed the modern-looking Casa da Música concert hall as well as many hotels and restaurants.

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Rotunda da Boavista, Porto

As the bus turned into Avenida do Marechal Gomes da Costa we entered a very desirable part of Porto, passing the Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art set in pleasant grounds and also drove past beautiful houses on tree-lined streets. The bus came onto the sea-front at Foz do Douro, a beach area at the mouth of the River Douro. Here we saw the lovely neo-classical Pérgola da Foz, a structure built along the promenade in the 1930s, and the sixteenth-century São João da Foz do Douro Fort (also known as ‘Foz Castle’).

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São João da Foz do Douro Fort, Porto

As we made our way back into Porto along the riverfront road we passed the pretty Passeio Alegre gardens, the Tramcar Museum, the Port Wine Museum and the Word of Discoveries. The Tramcar Museum, housed in an old tram shed, as the name suggests, tells the history of the tram and has old trams on display. The Port Wine Museum, housed in a former warehouse, tells the history of and gives information about port. The World of Discoveries is an interactive museum which re-enacts the journeys of the Portuguese navigators. As we approached the Dom Luís I Bridge we passed the gothic São Francisco Church, the Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique, with the statue of Prince Henry, the Navigator pointing out to sea and the Casa do Infante, which was possibly the birthplace of Prince Henry, the Navigator, but nowadays houses the city archives. Nearby is the Palácio da Bolsa, the former stock exchange building dating from 1842.

As we crossed the bottom deck of the Dom Luís I Bridge to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river we got good views of the Serra do Pilar Monastery and Church at the top of the hill in front of us and the Vila Nova de Gaia quay, with its port lodges dominating the view, below, as well as great views of the Ribeira quarter of Porto and the former Bishop’s Palace behind us.

The bus climbed the hill by the Cockburn’s port lodge on Rua de Serpa Pinto and at the top passed the Casa-Museu Teixeira Lopes, an art museum dedicated to the late-nineteenth-century artist who lived in Vila Nova de Gaia. The bus made a stop at the huge popular department store, El Corte Inglés, then passed the Romantic-style Vila Nova de Gaia city hall before turning right at the Jardim do Morro so that we drove along the front entrance of the former Serra do Pilar Monastery, which is now army barracks, complete with tanks on display and a sentry on guard duty; this area was the least inspiring of the whole tour. The bus took us back into Porto along the modern Infante Bridge from which we got a good view of the Dom Luís Bridge to the left and the Maria Pia Bridge (which looks like the Dom Luís Bridge with the lower deck removed) to the right. The bus returned to the Clérigos Tower repeating part of the route from earlier in the day.

Day two: Porto Castles

The rather misleadingly named Porto Castles tour covered some of the same places that we had already seen on the Historical Porto tour, namely the Clérigos Tower, Porto Cathedral, the Praça da Batalha, Praça D. João I, the Carmo and Carmelitas Churches, the Jardim do Carregal, the Tramcar Museum, the riverfront, the São João da Foz do Douro Fort, the beach area in Foz, the Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art, Avenida da Boavista, the Casa da Música and the Rotunda da Boavista. The main difference with this tour was that it took us all the way out to the beach and port area of Matosinhos (to the north-west of the city), starting with the strangely named Castelo do Queijo (Cheese Castle), a star-shaped fort dating from the fifteenth century, whose actual name is São Francisco Xavier Fort. The nickname derives from the cheese-like boulders that it was built on.

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‘Castelo do Queijo’, Matosinhos, nr. Porto

The bus went on to the Sea Life aquarium and then past the wonderful sculpture of a huge fishing net known locally as ‘Anémona’ (‘Anemone’), but whose proper title is She Changes, a sculpture from 2005 by the American artist Janet Echelman.

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‘She Changes’ sculpture, Matosinhos, nr. Porto

We then continued into Matosinhos, past the very modern-looking Matosinhos City Hall building designed by the architect Alcino Soutinho in 1987 and then past the stunning early Baroque-style Bom Jesus de Matosinhos Church, dating from the early-eighteenth century, and the white and glass building of Matosinhos market dating from the 1930s. The market is still very much a working market and is famous for its fresh fish.

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Bom Jesus de Matosinhos Church, Matosinhos, nr. Porto

We then continued to the Porto Leixões Cruise Terminal, which on paper doesn’t sound very interesting, but is of architectural interest due to the white, tilted, spiral structure on the top of the terminal, designed by Luís Pedro Silva in 2015. We continued back towards Porto via Matosinhos’ beaches.

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Porto Leixões Cruise Terminal, Matosinhos, nr. Porto

 

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Beaches at Matosinhos, nr. Porto

We then turned into Avenida da Boavista past the Parque da Cidade, which is the largest park in Porto. Opposite the Parque da Cidade is the Dr. António Cupertino Miranda Foundation, a modern white building which, among other things, contains the Paper Money Museum. We continued on to the Praça da República, a pretty square with trees and sculptures surrounded by former mansion houses. Near here is the neo-classical Nossa Senhora da Lapa Church, built between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. An interesting fact about this church is that the graveyard, which was built as a result of a serious cholera epidemic, is the oldest in Portugal. As with the Historical Porto tour, the bus returned to the Clérigos Tower via a city centre route it had covered earlier in the day. We got off the bus with a really good sense of the geography of the city and environs and set off to a bar to make a list of the places we intended to return to and spend more time at.

Practicalities

Yellow bus
Yellow Bus open-top bus tour

We went on two tours with the Yellow Bus company, but the City Sightseeing company also does similar tours.

A two-day ‘hop-on and hop-off’ ticket costs €15 (as of June 2016) and gives access to two routes: Historical Porto and Porto Castles (each tour takes 1 hour 50 minutes). There are approximately 28 stops on each route. The ticket includes a free tour and tasting at the Cockburn’s port lodge, plus discounts on entrance to certain attractions.

Historical Porto tour: runs October to May 9.30am-5.30pm and June to September 9.15am-6.15pm daily; buses run every 30 minutes.

Porto Castles tour: runs 10am-5pm daily; buses run hourly.