Porto: Churches, Cityscapes and Cats

Porto packs a punch with its azulejo-clad igrejas, vibrant foodie scene and abundant viewpoints. With only two days in the city, we were keen to see as much as we could – and while we didn’t see everything (in just two days, who could?), we saw everything we wanted to and a fair bit more besides. If you missed out on last week’s post, you can catch up here. If you’re up to speed (or even if you’re not), grab a cuppa, settle in and prepare for another armchair tour of Porto – a city that just couldn’t be condensed into a single post.

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Meandering along Rua Santa Catarina, we passed Café Majestic, one of Porto’s best-known tearooms and an old haunt of J.K. Rowling, no less. Heading south, we came to Praça da Batalha, a small plaza crowned by Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, a magnificent baroque church. Unfortunately, it was closed for the best part of three hours over lunch, so we didn’t make it inside. On the upside, you can admire its tiled façade 24/7, should you so please.

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Ever the foodie, Laurence had saved some room for a pork sandwich on steroids from Casa Guedes (Praça dos Poveiros 130). We duly trotted over (no pun intended), and Laurence ordered their speciality: a sandes de pernil (pork sandwich) with queijo Serra da Estrela (a creamy sheep’s milk cheese, with protected status). If cheesy pork sandwiches aren’t your jam, fear not, for there are plenty of other (low-cost) dishes on the menu.

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Next up: Sé do Porto. Perched atop a hillside, the cathedral (above) commands superb views of the city (below) and the warren of winding streets below it. Founded in the late 12th century, Sé do Porto is a mélange of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque features, the result of centuries of tinkering with the original design. It’s currently undergoing extensive restoration, so while we were able to peek inside, we couldn’t fully explore the cavernous interior.

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Overshadowed by Sé do Porto – both literally and metaphorically – is Igreja de São Lourenço (commonly known as Igreja dos Grilos). Compared to the gilt-clad interiors and azulejo-covered exteriors of most of Porto’s churches, this church is strikingly simple, both inside and out. For anyone hoping to escape the crowds on the Terreiro da Sé, there’s a neat little viewpoint down here too. If you’re interested in religious art, it’s also home to the Sacred Art and Archaeology Museum.

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Before making our way over to Vila Nova de Gaia, I couldn’t resist a wander through some of the narrow streets around Igreja de São Lourenço, where we spotted a few furry residents. Cat on a Hot Terracotta Roof doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

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Once upon a time, old port boats were lashed together to form a makeshift bridge across the raging waters of the Douro. The double-decker Ponte Dom Luís I, the creation of Théophile Seyrig, a protégé of Gustave Eiffel, was inaugurated in 1886, and set the record for the longest iron arch in the world, with a span of a whopping 172m. For the best views, take the upper level (beware of the trams when taking photos); if you want to roll back across the bridge after a trip to one of the port cellars, the lower level is for you.

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Set on a hilltop, Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar (above) is the place to go for postcard-perfect views of Porto. We were content with taking in the view, but if you fancy going inside, there are hourly guided tours.

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We spent some time wandering along the riverfront of Vila Nova de Gaia (and picking up a few souvenirs at the market stalls) before crossing the bridge for a wander through Porto’s Ribeira . . . with an ice cream in hand, of course. At street level, there are any number of ice cream parlours, souvenir shops and taverns; look up, and you’ll see the beautiful pastel-coloured, tiled buildings which the waterfront is known for.

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After watching the sun sink into the horizon, we headed over to Brasão (Rua Ramalho Ortigão 28) for tea. It fills up quickly here, so we’d made a reservation the night before; not something we’d usually bother with, but on this occasion it worked out rather well. I ordered the steak sandwich and chips (which turned out to be crisps, darn American English!), while Laurence opted for the franceshina, a local speciality. He concluded it was rather like an English breakfast, stacked up, topped with cheese and soaked in beer – definitely more his thing than mine.

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4 thoughts on “Porto: Churches, Cityscapes and Cats

    1. It was lovely and warm, a bit of a novelty being able to wear a t-shirt and shorts in mid-October, to be honest! Still tasty, we were just a bit bewildered by crisps being part of a main course 😅

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