The epicenter of Porto, the Porto Baixa is a mix of narrow streets, impressive churches and traditional Portugal. In recent years, this traditional area has undergone a transformation becoming cooler each day as the city sprints to join the 21st century while trying not to forget its history and essence. Today, it’s the coolest neighbourhood in Porto with a ton of things to see, do, eat and places to be seen. Here’s how to hang with the cool kids during your free time on Contiki’s new 12-day Fiestas & Siestas adventure that spends two nights in the city.
CCB (Centro Comercial Bombarda)
Once a sketchy area that was close to an abandoned shopping mall, today the Centro Comercial Bombarda is a great showcase of Porto’s creativity. Beware, this isn’t your standard run-of-the-mill mall. Instead, the incubator space boasts a heap of shops that carry local cool brands and designers. Make some time to stop at Pimenta Rosa in the afternoon where you can find the biggest (and moistest) cake slices in town. Rua de Miguel Bombarda 285, 4050-379 Massarelos
How’s this for the ultimate shopping spot? Almada 13 is a 5-in-1 shop! It’s where you can find five spaces that sell products from art, houseware, cork goods, shoes and yes, clothes! The best part? Many of the products are made in Portugal. This is a great spot to get your hands on some of the coolest merchandise from Portuguese designers. Once inside, make sure to go all the way to the back where you’ll find a shop called Miss Pavlova Cake & Co. where you can kick back and replenish with some sweet treats post-shopping spree. Rua do Almada n.º 13, 4050-036
The hidden house
While Harry Potter may call the UK home, Porto is full of Hogwarts magic. JK Rowing lived in the city, teaching English between 1991 and 1993, and it’s said that during this time she outlined and developed her ideas for the entire seven-book series, and even got started on book one. From Salazar Slytherin to the Hogwarts Uniform or the Lello Bookshop and broom shop, there are loads of attractions in the city that will remind you of Harry and his adventures. In fact, one of those sites just opened its doors to the public! It is the smallest house in town, between two churches where it’s been rumoured to have inspired Sirius Black’s house in the novels.
I know what you’re thinking. Going to a McDonald’s abroad, especially in Europe, is a capital crime. You should make an exception in Porto. You can find what is often called the “most beautiful McDonald’s in the world” in the heart of the city. What was once the former Imperial Café, a Porto institution in the 1930s, is now likely the most beautiful place in the world to grab a Big Mac. Opened in 1995, the ‘Imperial’ McDonald’s boasts many of the original Art Deco features including the ornate ceilings, chandeliers, and a large stained-glass wall, which is currently behind the counter. Did we mention there’s also a staircase? While sure, you’ll still be able to get your Quarter Pounder (it’s called ‘McRoyal’ in Portugal) and fries, you’ll be dining in a super romantic setting! Praça da Liberdade 126, 4000-322
Sunset on Virtudes
What better way to finish a day in Porto than with an Insta-worthy sunset? Head to Virtudes Garden for this experience – you won’t be disappointed! Home to super dramatic views over the river and Arrábida bridge, this green space is where the locals flock to grab the last beer of the day. Come in the early evening (as sitting space fills up quickly) and you can grab beer for around one euro at any of the neighbourhood cafés. Rua de Azevedo de Albuquerque Porto 4050-076
Stretching from the roundabout of Boavista to the ocean, this is the longest avenue in the city and one of the coolest in town. From old to new, the financial district of Porto is also located on Avenida da Boavista and serves as a playground for architects. The avenue boasts works of three Pritzker Architecture Prize, the annual award honouring the world’s best architects, award winners.
Casa da Música
Designed by the world famous Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, Casa da Música is a ground-breaking concert hall located half way between the historic centre and the Foz zone. If you are into architecture, you are in for a treat! For €10, you can take a visit and find out why this architectural masterpiece was considered to be one of the best concert halls in the world. If you’re lucky enough to be in town when a cool gig is taking place, make sure to book your tickets online. You’ll also have the price of the tour deducted from your concert ticket. Avenida da Boavista, 604-610 4149-071
Mercado Bom Sucesso
This market opened its doors in the 1950’s, but it has changed a lot since then. After having faced some hard times in the past few decades, it was shut down to be re-opened, this time as a food market where you can find the best of Portugal! From wines, such as Port, Portuguese sparkling to the local speciality Francesinha (this local traditional sandwich clocks in at 2,000 calories), this market is full of delicious things! Praça Bom Sucesso 74-90
A casa da Boavista
If you feel like running from the big buildings and busy streets, A Casa da Boavista will make you travel in time. This is a house with walls covered with over 7,000 books, and home to a nice café with light meals and great wines. It’s a great cultural meeting spot where deep discussions of music are whispered between shots of espresso. Avenida da Boavista, 919
Once the home and gardens to one of the richest families in town, Serralves is now a cultural institution boasting one of the best contemporary art collections in the country. It’s also the best museum in Porto that you should make a beeline for during your downtime on Contiki’s weeklong Madrid to Porto trip. If you are not so much into art, the gardens are still worth a visit for super Insta-friendly shots featuring awesome promenades, enchanting corners and even a farm. Rua Dom João de Castro 210
Parque Da Cidade
At the end of Avenida da Boavista, where land meets the Atlantic Ocean, the concrete jungle that is Avenida da Boavista gives way to a proper green space, the Parque da Cidade. It is considered the lungs of the city and Portugal’s largest urban park. It’s a perfect place to enjoy the sunny days, chilling out, going for a bike ride or even going for a swim in the ocean. This park finishes by the beach, the most popular in town where esplanades are found everywhere with great drinks, great food and great waves if you feel brave enough to ride the Atlantic.
RIBEIRA AND GAIA (River banks)
Along the banks of the Douro river, you can find not one but two cities. The river serves as the border between Porto (North side) and Gaia (South side). While the Porto side is full of narrow streets and colourful buildings, Gaia is full of lodges of port wine – the highest concentration of alcohol in the world. Together they make one of the coolest areas in town.
Porto Cruz Rooftop
At the end of Gaia’s riverside, surrounded by centuries old wine cellars, the rooftop of Porto Cruz has, hand down, the best views of Porto, and one of the most incredible sunsets around. To make things even better, they have one of the best Port wine cocktails list in town at very good prices. Port tonic with rosemary and Rose port with passion fruit are just some of their made in heaven creations. Watching the world go by while sipping Port here will surely offer answers to the meaning of life. Largo Miguel Bombarda 23, 4400-222 Vila Nova de Gaia
While in Porto, make sure to visit a Port wine cellar. These massive buildings are home to one of our finest national creations – Port. It was named after Porto after all, since the city and in particular the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, were responsible for the packaging, transport and export of the fortified wine. If you’re on Contiki’s easy-going Madrid to Lisbon adventure, you’ll have the option to visit an authentic Port wine cellar where you’ll get to see the real stuff – long dark tunnels with barrels stacked high to the ceiling. Not to mention, you’ll also get to taste the sweet nectar that is Port wine afterwards.
One of the best views you can get over Porto is inside of a boat. By the banks you can find loads of converted rabelo boats, a traditional Portuguese wooden cargo boat that were used to bring Port from the Douro Valley to town. This is a great way to get a killer 360º degree panoramic view of the river, of the city’s bridges, and the waterfront buildings.
On hot summer days, local kids and visitors alike climb the lower deck of the double-decker Dom Luís Bridge and jump into the river. It might look easy but it’s not. This is a 20 metre jump we’re talking about. This is an old tradition that started as way for the area’s underprivileged kids to kill time and refresh themselves. Many visitors give it a try nowadays, but, if you do decide to, remember that it’s quite dangerous as the streams of the river are quite strong. It’s probably better off watching from the sidelines and still be part of tradition.
Hard Club is a legendary music venue in Porto. Originally located on the south bank, the club made a name for itself for hosting awesome parties and big names in the music industry. A couple of years ago the club moved to Mercado Ferreira Borges, a 19th century market. Now it is the most dynamic and important cultural animation hubs of the country. Apart from the regularly occurring parties, there is also a great restaurant and bar for the non-party hard types. Praça do Infante D. Henrique 4050-252