A walking tour of Porto
A mecca for wine-lovers, Portugal’s second city is blessed with a charming historic centre, where all roads lead to the River Douro and its famous wine cellars. Here’s our guide to enjoying everything the Unesco World Heritage Site has to offer.
240 steps (upwards): To reconnoitre the route ahead, tuck your city map away and head for Clérigos Tower. Porto’s iconic church spire is only 76m tall, but its position on the knoll of a steep hill makes it visible throughout the city. The stunning Baroque chapel on the ground floor offers a chance to steel yourself for the upward climb. At the top, soak up Porto’s undulating cityscape.
Approximately 560 steps: Once back on terra firma, head across Campo dos Mártires da Pátria to the old city prison of Relação. Don’t be put off by the bars on the windows – this 18th-century lock-up hasn’t housed any inmates since 1974. The length of a full city block, it’s now the Portuguese Centre for Photography. In place of slop holes and sluices, the cell walls are today adorned with prints by internationally recognised photographers. Mount the stairs to the top floor for a quirky exhibition of camera paraphernalia. While there, peek into the cell of the famed Portuguese writer, Camilo Castelo Branco, who was incarcerated here in 1861 for adultery.
Approximately 1,100 steps: Saunter through leafy Cordoaria’s Garden and continue on until you see two near identical churches side by side: the Church of the Carmelitas (completed in 1628) and the Church of Carmo (1768). Designated a joint national monument in 2013, the two façades and the latter’s eastern side wall offer a sublime example of the blue ceramic tiles (azulejos azuis) for which Porto is famed.
Approximately 2,435 steps: Now to the two-tiered Dom Luís I Bridge straddling the River Douro. To get there, head down Rua dos Clérigos to the bottom of Avenida dos Aliados, the city’s main boulevard and a stellar example of Belle Époque pomp. On the southeast corner, take Avenida Dom Afonso Henriques, making sure to check out the glorious tiled entrance hall of São Bento railway station on the way. Before crossing on to the bridge at the top of the hill, take a minuscule detour to Porto’s imposing cathedral. Cobbled together over multiple centuries (chiefly the 12th to the 16th), its views over the city’s historic centre verge on the divine. Once on the bridge, be mindful of the Metro train, which runs deceptively quietly right down the centre.
World of wine
Approximately 4,135 steps: Strictly speaking, crossing the bridge takes you out of Porto and into neighbouring Vila Nova de Gaia. But this is where the city’s famed wine cellars are to be found, so there’s every excuse for boundary-hopping. Save your legs and jump on the cable car down to the south bank of the Douro. Now for the steep bit: head up Dom Afonso III street, then take the first left followed by the next right (up Rua do Choupelo). Just shy of the summit, you’ll find the entrance gates of the recently inaugurated World of Wine. With Porto splayed out across the opposite hillside in all its glory, this collection of museums, restaurants and shops really does earn its acronym, WOW. Just a few of the six interactive exhibit spaces are enough to occupy several absorbing hours. February being the month of St Valentine, enjoy a glass or two of vintage port at Angel’s Share wine bar or perhaps a pastel de nata (custard tart) at temptingly named Suspiro ‘dessert café’.
Approximately 6,140 steps: Now, it’s back down the sinewy path to the river and a leisurely amble along the Gaia waterfront with its many pavement cafés and famous port cellars. Cross back over Dom Luis I bridge (this time along the bottom tier) and turn immediately left. This takes you to the bustling district of Ribeira (literally ‘riverbank’ in Portuguese). It’s a perfect spot to grab a coffee and watch the boats heading out to the nearby Atlantic or upstream to the much-prized vineyards of the Douro Valley. Leave the river, heading up the steep Rua da Alfândega to a small park dedicated to Infante Dom Henrique (1394-1460), whose maritime adventures earned him the popular title of Henry the Navigator. The park is home to two of the city’s most intriguing buildings: the 19th-century Stock Exchange Palace (be sure to visit the exotically styled Arab Room) and the gothic, gold-leafed São Francisco church. Commerce and church (almost) arm in arm.
Trams and turrets
Approximately 8,490 steps: Stroll along the riverine Rua Nova da Alfândega for a kilometre or so until you reach the old fishing neighbourhood of Monchique. If you’re feeling the pace, hop on one of the vintage trams that also serve the route. For families with young kids, consider a quick visit to the World of Discoveries or the Porto Legends exhibition at the old Customs House – both of which are located en route. At Monchique, take a right up Rua de Restauração and then, just after the first right-hand bend, look for a narrow, cobbled passageway on your left. This takes you up to the Palácio de Cristal gardens, the largest and most luxuriant green space in the city centre. Hidden away in the foliage in the southwest corner, just beyond the children’s playground, is a magical little turret with splendid views up and down the river.
Approximately 9,820-10,000 steps: Exit the park by the north gate, admiring the peacocks by the Almeida Garrett Library as you leave. Turn left along the busy Rua Dom Manuel II and then left down the short Rua Dr Alberto Aires de Gouveia, at the end of which cross over to Rua de Azevedo De Albuquerque. Carry on until you reach Passeio das Virtudes, which looks down on to the beautiful Horto das Virtudes park, the city’s one-time arboretum. Time it right and the grassy bank by the park’s west-facing railings will treat you to the best sunset view in the city.