Ribeira: Porto’s Old Town
The hilly old town of Porto, which has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, is popularly known as Ribeira (Portuguese “Riverside”). Starting from the shore of the Douro, narrow streets with dense houses building wind upwards and thus form a terraces-like structure. Connected by the bridge Ponte Luís I, the sister city of Vila Nova de Gaia is located across on the other side of the Douro.
On the north-western edge of the old town, right on the Praça de Carlos Alberto, is the upscale restaurant O Caçula. Here you can sit on three floors indoors or outside, wind-protected and heated. In addition to really good smoothies, there are also vegan eating options, which are lovingly prepared and served. Since it is also a gourmet restaurant, you should plan your budget a bit higher here.
Address: Praça Carlos Alberto 47, Porto
Not even 200 meters further south is the Igreja do Carmo. The baroque church, built between 1756 and 1768, is decorated with azulejos on the side facade. The pictures made of the blue-painted and glazed ceramic tiles are found frequently in Porto, for example in the Casa da Música or in the station São Bento. Across from the Igreja do Carmo is the Universidade do Porto, which, founded in 1911, is one of the largest state universities in Portugal.
Just a stone’s throw away is the bookstore Livraria Lello, which is rumored to have served Joanne K. Rowling as an inspiration for Hogwarts. The Harry Potter author lived in Porto for some time in the early 1990s and is said to have lingered also in this bookshop. The bookstore opened in 1906 and is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe and the world. Since 2015 visitors are required to pay an entrance fee of a few euros, which can be charged with a purchase.
Opposite is the Praça de Lisboa, which with the Passeio dos Clérigos is, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful squares in the city. Over the partially covered passage is located on the second level the Jardim das Oliveiras, a park with 50 olive trees. Inaugurated in Novermber 2015, the Passeio dos Clérigos connects the Livraria Lello with the Torre dos Clérigos. By the way, it is also home to Costa Coffee, a cafe chain that offers drinks in the Starbucks style with soy milk – but is much cheaper.
On the other side of Passeio dos Clérigos is the Torre dos Clérigos, with 76 meters the tallest church tower of Portugal and one of Porto’s landmark. It was built between 1754 and 1763 by the Italian architect Niccolò Nasoni and once served as a guide to the sailors. For a fee you can climb the six floors with a total of 225 steps and so enjoy a good view over the whole city.
Not far away is the Praça da Liberdade, considered by many as the central square or the “heart” of Porto. It is located at the southern end of the boulevard Avenida dos Aliados, in its center is since 1866 an equestrian statue of Portuguese king Pedro IV. At the northern end of Avenida dos Aliados is the City Hall (Câmara Municipal do Porto), designed by the English architect Barry Parker in neoclassical style in 1916. Directly behind the town hall is the Igreja da Trindade, which was built in neoclassical style in the 19th century.
Just around the corner is the Estação de São Bento train station, designed by architect José Marques da Silva from Porto. First trains already went here in 1896, but the building itself did not go into operation until October 1916 after about 16 years of construction work. The entrance hall was designed by the painter Jorge Colaço in 1930 with extraordinary Azulejo paintings depicting historical scenes such as the conquest of Ceuta, but also the everyday life in the country or the history of the transport system.