Love cool European buildings? Porto has more than her share of them to enjoy on your visit.
Discover Porto’s stunning building heritage on your visit to this Southern European city. Here are some of the best places in Porto, Portugal for interesting architecture to check out on your next trip. Eclectic, shabby chic, medieval to modern, the art and design of this place is truly inspiring.
Porto’s best and most charming architecture district
Winding streets, perched on hillsides, the sparkling Atlantic cloaking her sides, are Porto’s delightful cityscape. These scenic steep streets are also a chore if loaded with shopping! A vibrant place it hides the fact that Porto is Portugal’s 2nd largest city and in some places has a small village feel. However, Porto also packs a punch architecturally with a diversity that will take your breath away as well as the hills!
If you love art and design, then you will enjoy hunting out these best places in Porto Portugal for interesting architecture
Ribeira, UNESCO Heritage Site in Porto, Portugal
All of this is especially true in the Ribeira riverside area, the oldest neighbourhood, with its flaking paint, red roofs, cobbles and crowded balconies. So alluring, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Not as gentrified as sister city, Lisbon’s famous Alfama with her chic Air BnBs & pastel colours, the Ribeira is intimate, shabby chic and still traditional. From the Cais da Ribeira waterfront is Porto’s iconic Ponte Dom Luis 1 bridge reaching across the Douro river to Vila Nova de Gaia. The iron wrought bridge was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel and completed in 1889. For the most outstanding view of this charming hodgepodge, ramble over to the Douro’s south bank. Enjoy the miradouro (viewpoint) in front of the church, Nossa Senhora do Pilar, (access it by the upper part of the Dom Luis I bridge).
The panorama here is marvellous and will make you fall in love with this place and its buildings.
Best of Porto’s fantastic new Architectural spots to see
Porto does fine dining to a T as well and there several Michelin starred restaurants in the city too with a delightful range of delectable options. One of the nicest is in the northern Matosinhos beach neighbourhood. Set in award winning architect Alvaro Siza Vieira’s beautiful seaside design, it is sure to impress in all ways. The irresistible Casa de Chá da Boa Nova, where Chef Rui Paula’s creations astound, is an absolutely lovely edifice that only adds to the delectable food that comes out of the kitchen. Keeping in sync with the shoreline around, it is all light, striking wood highlights and an amazing vista.
If you want a mix of old and new, try the very modern Serralves Art Museum, designed also by Siza and which is now the second most visited museum in Portugal. Integrating both a very stark new white washed design with a coral hued Art Deco building, it makes for a great day. You get some art education and also includes a superb ramble in its huge gardens.
A meld of Traditional and Modernity, Porto’s Concert Hall
Crazy about new builds, check out La Casa da Música concert hall by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. It looks like someone plunked down a solid block of cement cheese but also intriguingly uses traditional blue tile word inside. Impressively enough, this was designed to be a family home. They do guided tours of this remarkable building daily, so it is well worth a stop off to see it.
Portuguese is cheerful and sweet, like a language of birds. – Paulo Rónai
Children’s Lit Look in beautiful Portuguese buildings of Porto.
Ok, we had to mention these two buildings mainly because both extravagant buildings were the inspiration that helped form children’s favourite character, Harry Potter. Some of the best places in Porto, Portugal for interesting architecture and England’s most famous boy wizard are fortunately central and downtown.
Beautiful coffee houses abound here and for Harry Potter fans, duck into the Majestic (Rua Santa Catarina 112), an enchanting Art Nouveau spot. Opened in 1921, many a writer has cradled a coffee whilst creating their literary confections and it is said that it was J.K. Rowling’s favourite place to hang when she worked in Porto as a teacher.
The famed Art Deco book store which inspired the Rowling to create her “Harry Potter” library, is rumoured to be the Lello Bookstore. It is also known as Livraria Lello & Irmão and found on Rua das Carmelitas 144 – north of the city. A festival of beautiful wood carvings and paintings, it was built in 1906, by book lover engineer Xavier Esteves. It really is a marvel with its crimson staircase a true highlight. However the queues are diabolical and so if keen, there are a few stores on the same street and around the block which gives one an idea of the early 20th century interior.
Discover these Art Deco edifices on your trip to Porto
Porto has a number of other fantastic art deco builds so keep your eyes open. One of the very simple but elegant facades is the striking cross on the Farmácia Vitália built in 1933, it is right on the main Square, the Praça Liberdade at number #34. If you are really enamoured by this epoch’s design, try the Vincci chain’s hotel, which is in the old fish market.
Porto’s great architecture in its historical centre
For the ‘Culture Vulture’, architectural sites really are varied. Porto has some wonderful churches and many of the buildings are of granite (due to nearby mines), which gives the city its name, the “Granite City”. Amongst these is the Cathedral, the medieval walls and the most famous monument, the Tower of Clérgios. The tower which is 75m high, has over 250 years of history, and 225 stairs to walk up to get a lovely view of the surroundings.
Speaking of Baroque (of which style the tower represents), you must check out Santa Clara Church, a perfect example of this type of architecture, Horror vacui (fear of empty spaces) to the Max.
Affection for Portuguese Azulejos – Porto’s Beautiful Architectural Tiles
The top places in Porto Portugal to see if you love interesting architecture often offers travellers the added bonus of getting eyefuls of Portugal’s awesome tile work. One of the most beautiful and typical affectations on Portuguese buildings are the lovely glazed ceramic tileworks or “Azulejos” covering many buildings’ walls. Developed by the Moors, the term azulejo comes from the Arabic, az-zulayj, meaning polished stone. Becoming so popular, they were and are used to decorate everything from monument exteriors, benches, street signs,etc . Some homes in the city have an attractive cover of tiles and for those of us who dread choosing kitchen or bathroom tiles, think of what courage it takes to do the whole outside of your house!
Places to visit in Porto to see Azulejo Tiles
Fashion changes and tiles are no different, and at first the main colours used were yellow, green, white and blue. However, in the 17th century, time of the Great discoveries and influenced by Chinese ceramics like the Ming Dynasty, white and blue became the mode. A spectacular example are the outside and inside walls of the Cathedral (Terreiro da Sé), the 18th century Baroque Iglesia de Carmo with its striking early 20th century outside tileworks. Both have impressive displays of artistic creativity and highlight some of the best places in Porto’s architectural creations, tiles or not!
The Cathedral’s tiles were actually made and shipped to Porto from the great tile ovens in a Lisbon district formally called Mocambo, between 1729 and 1731. They are glorious in this shadowy Gothic building with its cool stone floors and skyward reaching pillars. Another visit if you are checking off the best places in Porto, for architecture, has got to be to the Sao Bento train Station. A solid building from the outside (built in 1903) at the end of the Praca da Liberdade, inside be amazed. Leave a lot of time if you are catching a train from here because you will be amazed at the upwards of 20,000 tiles painted by Jorge de Colaço who wanted to depict great moments in Portuguese history. This visual extravaganza shows landscape, both in Portugal and abroad, important points of history and pastural daily scenes of Northern Portugal.