The Porto Guide to Photography and Instagram

A local photographer’s tips, tricks (and dining suggestions!) for one of Portugal’s most beautiful cities

By Gail Aguiar, Travel Writer/Photographer

Felicity—a 20-something travel lover—has teamed up with her friends from around the world to provide readers with local, insider knowledge of today’s most awe-inspiring destinations. Through writing, photography, and video, they’ll share the best tricks and tips for experiencing a place authentically and getting off the beaten path.


Dear Felicity,

I spent years traveling and living in all parts of the world, but Porto is where I finally made my home. Portugal's second city is an extraordinary place that’s flown under the tourist radar until only recently. Now it’s emerging as a prime destination for those already familiar with the European capitals and ready for a deeper cultural dive.

Wall of blue and white painted tiles in Porto  Image: Shutterstock 

Porto, also known as "Cidade Invicta" ("Undefeated City"), wears centuries of vibrant history, making it a photographer’s dream. The challenge, however, lies in navigating its stairs and medieval streets, many of which are notorious for lacking signs.

View of Porto terracotta rooftops on clear day  Image: Gail Aguiar

As an avid photographer and Porto local, I’m here to steer you to the best sights, bites, and light you can experience in a one-day photography tour of this ancient oceanside city.

Porto, East Side

Let's begin where the sun hits first: the east side of Porto. A healthy breakfast at the bright and airy Bird of Passage Coffee will fuel your walking legs as we follow the Douro River through the evolving neighborhoods of Fontaínhas and Guindais. The views along the escarpment are unbroken by development (for now) and you'll see a side of the city that has changed very little over time.

View of terracotta rooftops near river in Porto

Image: Gail Aguiar

Next we'll stop by the Municipal Library, a former convent built in 1833. With its central courtyard and walls of azulejos (decorative tiles), it's like a museum dressed as a library. Beside it is Jardim de São Lázaro, a hangout for local characters and an entertaining passage between the library and our next stop. Watch the card sharks’ animation over an exciting hand, and get caught up in the shouting even if you have no idea what these seniors are saying (it's the North, so they're probably swearing).

On the other side of this park is the legendary Casa Guedes, a little restaurant famous for its sandes de pernil (pork loin sandwiches). The pork leg is sliced right in front of you beside the registerthis is as unpretentiously Portuense as it gets. Go all-in and ask for your sandwich "com queijo" (with soft cheese from the mountains of Serra da Estrela) and a local beer called Super Bock.

If your appetite calls for more (this is a city of hills, after all!), we'll stop to tackle another signature sandwich of Porto: the mighty francesinha. This dish is served all over town and ought to come with a health warning; a traditional francesinha has five types of meat layered between two thick slices of bread that are topped with a fried egg, coated in cheese, and baked. Then it’s covered in a spicy sauce made of tomatoes and beer, served with fries and—you guessed it—more beer. Don't say I didn't warn you!

A sandwich covered in melted cheese and sitting in tomato and beer sauce

Image: Gail Aguiar

Before a food coma sets in, we'll cross the top of the iconic Luís I Bridge, a double-decker iron arch bridge built in 1886. The metro trains are far enough apart that everyone can safely take photos on the track. Views from both sides are dramatic, but hang on tight to your phone while you're taking selfies or it'll end up in the Douro.

Vila Nova de Gaia Side

Still have your phone? Good. You'll need it for the other side in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, where we'll catch more views from Jardim do Morro and the balcony at Teleférico de Gaia before walking up to the highest viewpoint of the day.

A large steel bridge with one big arch below

Image: Gail Aguiar

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar is a uniquely round 16th-century monastery and church with cloisters, but people really come for the massive terrace balcony. From here you can see nearly to the ocean and get a full panoramic view of Porto. You'll want to hang out here for a whileit's the closest thing to a drone shot you can get.

Next we'll head down to the waterfront, Cais de Gaia, passing many Port wine cellars along the way and arriving at the Mercado Beira-Rio for a market-style food break.

Small sailing ship on river in Porto

Image: Gail Aguiar

One of Portugal's best street artists, Bordalo II, built a two-story "trash art" hare on the corner of a building near the market in 2017. This is recycling at its finest.

A street art rabbit made of trash on a yellow wall

Left image: Gail Aguiar

We can either do a full tasting at Porto Cruz and head up to the rooftop lounge, or go down to the riverfront for market stalls and the best afternoon views of Porto. The relaxed vibe—and Port wine—will lull you to the grass, where you can sit and watch the boats go by.

Two glasses of Port with script on glasses

Image: Gail Aguiar

From here, we'll walk back to the Porto side on the lower deck of the Luís I Bridge, a much shorter stretch than the upper one.

Porto, West Side

Have you got your legs back yet? We're heading up the staircases from Ribeira to Sé, Porto's main cathedral OR we can take Funicular dos Guindais for different views (and to save your legs). Either way, it's down to Manteigaria for fresh, warm-out-of-the-oven pastéis de nata, with vintage shops and Art Nouveau architecture along the way.

A Portuguese custard tart covered in cinnamon

Image: Gail Aguiar

No trip to Porto would be complete without a 360-degree spin inside the magnificent São Bento Railway Station, completed in 1916. No less than 20,000 azulejos by painter Jorge Colaço adorn these walls, created between 1905 and 1916. There's no way you can capture this in a few shots—you'll need video here.

Inside of Porto train station with blue and white tiles on wall

Image: Gail Aguiar

Up the hill from São Bento Station is another enormous panel of tiles that requires a wide lens. They’re on the side of Igreja do Carmo, an 18th-century church that’s connected to the 17th-century Igreja dos Carmelitas by a one meter-wide house. This was opened to the public as a museum in 2018, but if you're feeling too claustrophobic to visit such a tiny space, you can get creative outside shooting the tiles.

Exterior of a stone church in Porto with blue and white tiles on wall

Image: Gail Aguiar

A few minutes' walk from here is Miradouro da Vitória, a viewpoint on private land that allows access to tourists—for now. Public access to this impressive view over Lower Porto could end anytime, so snap away while you still can.

At golden hour, there are many options for chilling out with BYO drinks and friends before dinner. One favorite spot is Passeio das Virtudes, a green space overlooking the river. It has the atmosphere of a backyard party in a public space, making it just right for happy hour.

People at golden hour near river in Porto

Image: Gail Aguiar

Handily, next door is Árvore, an artistic cooperative that includes a restaurant in a prime location, an art gallery/exhibition space, and a shop with products created by local artists. Here we can end our day with dinner and more art!

Image: Gail Aguiar

Cordialmente,

Gail

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Gail is a Philippines-born, Canadian-raised freelance photographer who made Portugal home in late 2013, six countries and three continents later. Her blog, Gail at Large, chronicles more than 16 years of travel-centric living through a unique lens as a 4x expat. But little did she know, after a first visit to Portugal in 2011 to follow her birthday tradition of celebrating in a new country, she would marry into Portuguese culture (and its nasalized vowels). She lives in photogenic Porto with her Portuguese husband and their rescue dog from Guimarães.

 

 

Luxurious palatial interior of hotel in Portugal

Pestana Palacio do Freixo

Estrada Nacional 108, Porto, Portugal

  • Complimentary Buffet breakfast for two daily
  • Early check-in upon availability
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • High-Speed/Enhanced Wi-Fi

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