The Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens) are a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the streets of Porto. Located just over 1 km from the historic district, with all its tourist activity, it is a peaceful oasis of shady tree-lined paths, cooling ponds, pleasing flower beds and wonderful views. Finding the entrance to the park took us two days, as we tried to find a side entrance on Rua Jorge Viterbo Ferreira on one evening, with no luck. We decided to use the main entrance on Rua Dom Manuel II to enter the park the next day and finally discovered the side entrance on our departure. I can only assume it had been locked the previous evening.
The park was created in the 1860s by the German landscape gardener Émile David (who also designed the Jardim da Cordoaria) and was named after the glass and steel construction which was built in the park in 1865 and based on the Crystal Palace in London. The original Crystal Palace was demolished in 1951 and replaced with the distinctive dome-shaped structure of the Rosa Mota Pavilion (nicknamed O Cogumelo (The Mushroom) by locals), designed by José Carlos Loureiro, that is used as a sport and concert arena. With the word ‘Porto’ spelt out in giant letters in front of it, it was the first thing we noticed when we entered the park. Walking past the pavilion and the very modern Almeida Garrett library, which opened in 2001, we entered the rest of the park, whose nine-hectare gardens are arranged in themed areas, such as aromatic plants and roses. The walk took us past well-tended flower beds and into an area of trees, with strategically placed picnic tables, which was lovely and cool in the shade. In the centre of the park is a charming small stone chapel dedicated to King Carlos Alberto, the King of Piedmont and Sardinia, who died in exile in Porto in 1849 (he lived in the nearby Quinta da Macieirinha, which is now the Romantic Museum). The chapel is currently used by the Lutheran Church as a place of worship.
Around the park, ponds and little nooks contained classical sculptures, including one of Venus, the four seasons and, my favourite, a fountain with two women holding water containers (believed to be from a former fountain in the Mercado Ferreira Borges), which captures a moment in time of two girls gossiping while fetching water. The unexpected surprise at the furthest end of the park was the sweeping view of the River Douro, the Ponte Arrábida to the west and Vila Nova de Gaia including the Serra do Pilar Monastery to the east. The gardens were a lovely place to take some time out of our busy sightseeing itinerary and just be.
Jardins do Palácio de Cristal: the main entrance is on Rua Dom Manuel II, but there is also a small entrance gate on Rua Jorge Viterbo Ferreira (but beware that this gate isn’t always open).
Opening hours: April to September 8am-9pm; October to March 8am-7pm.
Entrance is free.