After our first two days in Porto being dampened by grey skies and drizzle, you wouldn’t believe how happy we were to step out of our hotel into the glorious, early Autumn sunshine we’d been expecting all along. However, it was just our luck that the finest day of our stay was also the shortest, with our flight booked for that very evening. I strongly had to resist the desire to retrace all our steps for pictures in better light, and stick with our original plans, which turned out to be some of the best yet!
The Livaria Lello was first on the hit list. I’d read somewhere on the internet that due to overwhelming demand you’re not aloud to take pictures inside the bookstore, but if you arrived half an hour before opening time (10am) visitors and photography enthusiasts were allowed in to take pictures. Of course, I dragged James along and arrived promptly at 9.30am to a relatively small queue. It turned out that due to how popular it is, the bookstore is now a ticketed venue! So you join one queue for a €3 ticket (redeemable against purchases) and another to get in. I’m not fond of queuing, but I am a pretty determined person and there was no way I was missing this.
So we patiently waited our turn.
You might think this was ridiculous and you’re probably asking what all the fuss is about, it’s only a bookstore after all. Well, it is the oldest bookstore in Portugal (dating back to 1906) and it’s seen as one of the best bookstores in the world. It is also believed that JK Rowling is said to have drawn inspiration from her time living in the city and the visits she made to the bookstore.
Lello’s swirling staircase is one of its main attractions and I can see how it might have inspired the Grand Staircase in Harry Potter.
But the stained glass ceiling, ornate wood work and overall intricate details are pretty stunning.
The only downside is that, like most popular tourist destinations, it was overtaken by people wielding cameras (including myself, I mean who could resist?!).
I lost my patience after about 15 minutes and had to move on.
Luckily, just up the road there was something just as beautiful to absorb, without a crowd of people standing next to you. The Igreja da Nossa Senhora das Carmelitas Igreja do Carmo (The Carmelite Church or Church of the Venerable Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel).
The azelujos look even prettier in sunlight!
Around the corner is the Torre dos Clérigos (Clerigos Tower), a tall bell tower that forms part of the church which you can see from several view points across the city. It’s only €3 to enter and despite some reviews suggesting it was far too busy, we didn’t think it was all that bad (although the staircase does require breathing in to get past other people).
The view at the first lookout was pretty good.
And it was great to see the Portuguese coast, which feels like a good few miles away down on the ground.
But of course the view across the River Douro from the top of the Bell Tower was what we were after and it was SO nice to see it in the sunshine.
It made me want to hurry down the stairs and see it all over again.
However, hunger got the better of me so we went in search of Leitaria da Quinta do Paço for Portugal’s best eclairs.
They may not look as chic as the ones you’ll find in Parisian bakeries but they’ve been making sweet treats since 1920 and they are delicious. For savoury types there’s a selection for you too.
The sugar hit helped us finally track down a tram stop to pick up a quick tram tour around the city. There are three lines running in Porto, Line 1 takes you along the River Douro, Line 18 takes you from the city to the River and Line 22 takes you around some of Porto’s famous streets (find the map here). It was obvious which one to go for so we hopped on Line 22 at the stop just outside the cafe.
We went up to the Clergios Tower.
And from there passed through many of the streets we’d ambled along in the drizzle.
It was the perfect way to see the city again in the bright sunlight without spending hours retracing our tracks.
I fully expected that the tram tour would take a good half an hour or so but it felt like it was over in minutes, to the extent that I think we did part of the route twice! We decided it was time to hop off when we found ourselves near to Sao Bento Station once again.
We had a bit of an unsatisfactory lunch at a random cafe, but it was quick and gave us enough energy for one last walk to the river front.
We strolled down Rue das Flores, taking it all in again, for the last time.
And found ourselves back at Ribiera Square.
It really struck me this time how colourful Porto is.
And I could see how it could form part of a great holiday within the Douro Valley.
But the airport was calling so we said our goodbyes.
And wandered back to the station and where it all started.
Porto is a pretty perfect city break if you’re looking for just enough to fill a weekend without running yourself ragged. I’m fairly certain that there are things we missed and much more to Porto that could fill a few more days, but I was happy spending our time wandering the city, absorbing the beautiful azulejos and adding natas to the list of naughty addictions.
I take so many photos when I’m travelling that I tend to have a break when I’m eating and resting, so I thought I’d round up a few things from the weekend.
Where we stayed: Hotel Teatro. I won a voucher at a work conference for Mr & Mrs Smith Hotels, but it was a pretty good hotel and included a great breakfast where I think you were able to drink as much champagnge/ sparkling wine as you liked.