THE HARRY POTTER IMAGINARIUM
A jam-packed new night-life district is taking shape in the once abandoned streets of the Arts District, and a blossoming creative scene features everything from hip and innovative designer’s shops in Miguel Bombarda to the traditional collection of Portuguese crafts at A Vida Portuguesa.
This district is a mix of magnificent gold-leaf-laced old churches and the colorful buildings. In between, the lovely freshness and greenness of the Virtudes garden or the Palácio de Cristal.
The Palácio de Cristal has one of the most amazing views over the River and the Sea. A beautiful Romantic garden with peacocks and where the Romantic Museum is located.
Cross the street in from of the Palácio de Cristal to enter epicenter of the Arts District – the Miguel Bombarda Street. In this area, you will find the mainly Art Galleries and designer shops. Every two months the Art Galleries do a party dedicated to the Opening of the new Exhibitions.
At the end of Miguel Bombarda street, you will find the Cedofeita Street, a shopping street. Turn right there towards the beautiful square Praça Carlos Alberto, where every Saturday happens the Portobello market, a market dedicated to arts and vintage. Here you’ll find restaurants, bars and one of my favourite places of the city – the Banco de Materiais. Which is not a touristic place at all, but it’s where you’ll find the history of the city being told by it’s tiles and street names. It’s basically a free service from the City Hall to preserve the tiles of the city.
At the end of the square Praça Carlos Alberto it’s the famous meeting point of the students of the University of Porto, the Praça dos Leões. You might see a few of those students wearing a black cape, the traditional academic dress of the University of Porto.
You’ll also find here another landmark of the city, the famous world’s narrowest house, in between the Igreja do Carmo (Carmo Church) and Igreja das Carmelitas (Carmelitas Church). This house was built to make all contact between the nuns and the monks impossible. If you look closely, you’ll find Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo (Carmo Church) (on the right) and Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços (Carmelitas Church) (on the left), and in between both churches (also known as the twin churches) is the world’s narrowest house.
Another known architectural jewel in Porto is Livraria Lello, a bookstore well-known for its red stairways that look like a giant tongue. This beautiful bookstore, which was opened in 1906, is among the ten most beautiful bookstores in the World. The store was designed by Xavier Esteves and it is the flagship store for one of the most important Portuguese publishing houses. JK Rowling, author of none other than Harry Potter, spent time here while teaching English in the 1990s. You can see where she gathered inspiration from, particularly the winding staircase and stunning stained glass.
Lello bookshop was also recently stage of the launch of the latest book of JK Rowling. Photography inside the bookshop is not allowed and to visit the bookshop you must buy in the kiosk across the street. The price for the ticket is EUR 4 per person, and you can use that value to buy a book.
Head to Olive Tree Garden, just across the street from Livraria Lello, and on the opposite site it’s the Clérigos Tower and Clérigos Church. It’s the work of the Italian Architect Nicolau Nasoni, and when it was built it was the highest building in Portugal. It’s possible to visit the Tower at night and the cost is EUR 5/ per person. Next to the Clérigos tower, it´s the Centre of Photography. Walk along the narrow street next to it to visit the Monastery of São Bento da Vitória and the belvedere of Vitória.
In front of the Centre of Photography it’s the Jardim de João Chagas, one of the most beautiful gardens of the city, full of peculiar sculptures. Also, a great spot if you’re travelling with little kids, here you’ll find one of the few playgrounds of the city centre.
Next to the Garden, you’ll see the Court house (Tribunal). Walk down the street on the left of the Court house to visit the Belvedere and Garden of Virtudes. One of the most hidden gardens of the city and one of the most astonishing ones. The entrance to the garden it’s located in the corner of the street to the right.
Still in this area, you also have the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis.
The Arts District is full of good-looking bars and restaurants that riff on the city’s artistic and culinary heritage, quirky design shops and galleries, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect weekend. Places not to be missed: Padaria Ribeiro, one of the oldest bakeries in town it’s famous for the variety of biscuits that can be ordered by kilo, and right next to the bakery the oldest dairy, Leitaria Quinta do Paço. Here the choice of Eclairs is hard to make, but if you don’t want to deal with the tough choice of choosing between Dark Chocolate or Raspberry eclairs, you can always go for the Bola de Berlim filled with whipped cream. Both places are in Praça de Guilherme Gomes Fernandes.
This city has become international and eclectic when it comes to cuisine, and you can find excellent options ranging from sushi to steak, never forgetting the traditional Bacalhau (Cod). The Zé Bota is a tiny restaurant in a narrow street right in front of the Carmelitas Church, probably a little bit hard to find, but totally worth trying. The Bacalhau à Broa (Cod with breadcrumbs) is one of the specialities and the wine list is one of the best in town.
If you’re up trying one of the hipster restaurant in town, a must try is Flow. Located in an astonishing building and with an excellent cuisine, it’s one of the trendiest restaurants in town. A must try are the Risottos, either the mushrooms one, or the asparagus with sea bass.
Portugal’s “second city” is the country’s real standard setter when it comes to design, thanks to its heritage as a manufacturing hub through most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Now it’s gaining traction as a shopping mecca, too, filled with locally made items by emerging designers who can’t be found elsewhere. Have a look at Marques Soares, Almada 13 and A Vida Portuguesa.