Day 2: Historic Center & Night Out
On the second of our 3 days in Porto, we’ll explore on foot parts of the historic city center, including a number of famous monuments that aren’t to be missed.
Classic Porto Breakfast
Start the day in Cais de Ribeira and take the narrow staircase of Escada dos Guindais which leads to the steep Rua de Arnaldo Gama. Much like Lisbon, Porto is a city of hills but this doesn’t only mean a strenuous effort on the feet but also awesome views from just about everywhere. Using this route to get to the upper neighborhood of Batalha is a great way to see local residents starting out their day. You’ll eventually reach “flatter ground” along the remaining parts of the ancient city walls
For breakfast, head to Padeirinha Doce on Rua Augusto Rosa. We were the only tourists at this cafe that wasn’t only packed with locals but also with freshly-baked pastries. This is just about the right time to put the calorie counting into snooze mode and go for a round of custard-filled almond croissants. This is place is super cheap and super hard to leave.
Next stop after breakfast is Praça da Batalha, home to the national theatre and the church of Santo Ildefonso – a gorgeous cathedral perched on a small hill. Its impressive facade is covered in light blue ceramic tiles that depict religious stories and key scenes from the city’s history.
The small open space in front of the twin bell-towered cathedral also offers a great viewpoint to the city center further downhill and the Torre dos Clerigos – Porto’s signature tower which we’ll later visit.
São Bento Train Station
São Bento is the city center’s main train station and you’ll arrive here if taking the train to Porto from Lisbon. But even if you’re not hopping a train, it’s absolutely worth it to make the short downhill trip to check out the station’s incredible tiled walls. Over 20,000 intricately painted tiles depict historical events in the history of Portugal, turning this ordinary train station into a living museum.
Porto Cathedral (The Se)
A visit to Porto’s Romanesque main cathedral is not to be missed. Dating back to the 12th century, it technically should cost a few Euros to get inside but nobody was checking tickets on the day we visited.
Walking up to the Se is a pleasant experience on its own as the cathedral’s location on a commanding hill affords panoramic views of Porto along with a unique vantage point to the charming yet dilapidated apartment building of the surrounding area.
Apart from visiting the interior of the cathedral, you should wander around the lanes leading to the cathedral, check out the Pelourinho – an interesting twisted column statue, and visit the Igreja de São Lourenço archeology museum if you fancy some more fact finding.
Options for the Rest of the Day
I’ll recommend two options for how to spend the rest of this second day in Porto.
Option 1: City Center and Night Out in Porto
If you crave additional panoramic views of Porto from the Pont Dom Luis I Bridge, head from the Se to Avenida Vimara Peres and walk until the views are sufficient. Alternatively, you can explore the alleys extending from the Se, grab some lunch in the Ribeira and go back to your hotel to rest before going out.
As far as drinks go, I already mentioned the trendy Bar Ponte Pensil which is, in this case, a good way to start the evening off with a few tapas and wine beneath the famous bridge. If you want to stick around the Ribeira, head to Vinologia on Rua de Sao João. This is one of the most popular wine bars in Porto and always draws a decent crowd.
For a truly night out in local fashion, head up Rua das Flores to the Clerigos Tower (Torre dos Clerigos). Porto nightlife centers around three small streets that head north from this church: Rua do Conde de Vizela, Rua de Cândido de Reis, and Rua da Galeria de Paris. By day, this is a lively area with cool shops and cafes (which we’ll explore tomorrow) but by night, you’ll find a rich selection of trendy bars and clubs. Just in case you’re wondering, we went for cocktails at Casa do Livro and Galeria de Paris.
Before heading back down to the Ribeira, check out the beautifully lit historical building around Praca da Liberdade at the bottom of Avenida dos Aliados.
Option 2: Afternoon and Evening in Afurada
Afurada is a charming traditional fishing village located just outside of Porto at the mouth of the River Douro. The main reasons for coming out here are the lovely scenery of “old time Portugal” and the wealth of excellent dining options. To get here, either take the bus from the city center or catch the ferry next to the Arrábida Bridge (Ponte da Arrábida).