Jonathan Sumner Evans
Sumner Evans
Software Engineer at Automattic working on Beeper

Porto, Portugal - Sightseeing

Posted on in Travel • 1304 words • 7 minute read
Tags: Porto, Portugal, Train Station, Cleric's Tower, Wandering, Boardwalk, Bridge

On the Saturday after the retreat I did my own sightseeing and adventuring around Porto. However, as I mentioned in my post about the retreat, a bunch of us went on a walking tour of the city on Wednesday, but since it wasn’t really meetup-related, I decided to combine the info that I got on the tour with this post, as I think it fits better.

Walking Tour

Our tour guide was a Porto native, and took us to some of the main sights in the city. He started by talking about the history of Porto and the centuries-old rivalry between Porto (which is in northern Portugal) and Lisbon (in the south). Porto was one of the first cities liberated during the Iberian Reconquista and became the regional seat of power for both the Catholic Church and later the Portuguese king. Porto was so important that the country of Portugal was named after the city. However, as the Reconquista moved south during the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, the power centre moved south and by 1255 became the capital of Portugal. Today, the rivalry is most evident in the football rivalries, and in the beer that is served in each city with Super Bock being the primary beer of Porto and Sagres being more popular in Lisbon (though I was able to find both in Lisbon when I was there a few years ago).

One of the first stops that we made was at a McDonald’s that is inside of a very famous historic cafe. McDonalds restored the old cafe, but they had to leave the exterior untouched, and keep most of the interior the same as well. It was a very beautiful building, just wish that it wasn’t a McDonald’s :).

The next stop was at the Porto train station. The entrance is decorated with intricate painted ceramic tiles. The main facades depict military conquests and other historical events such as the arrival of the English king to form an alliance with the Portuguese. Above the main murals are murals depicting the evolution of transportation from horse and carriage to the train.

One of the train station murals
One of the train station murals

We then walked up a hill to the highest point in the city. There is a famous church with a belltower (I went up it on Saturday) and a large square. Around the square are multiple important buildings such as a jail that was originally for violent criminals (they would actually perform public hangings of convicted criminals in the square outside the jail. The jail was converted to a political prison during the Salazar dictatorship, and after the dictatorship fell, they converted it to a museum of photography.

On the other side of the square was a courthouse built during the dictatorship. Outside of the building is a statue of Lady Justice, our guide pointed out that she is not blind, her sword is out in front, not by her side, and she grasps an unbalanced scale of justice in her hand. I’m not sure if Salazar requested this, or if the sculptor was trying to send a subliminal message, but it serves as a reminder of what perverted justice can cause.

Lady Justice with some authoritarian modifications
Lady Justice with some authoritarian modifications

Along the walking tour, we walked along many pretty streets. This one in particular caught my eye for its vibrant colours:

Very colourful houses
Very colourful houses

Cleric’s Tower

On Saturday, after the retreat was over, I spent the day sightseeing. A was staying at Residencial Bragança and it was literally a stone’s throw away from the Cleric’s tower and church. I didn’t know that it was so centrally located when I booked it (it was just cheap and close to what looked like the centre).

I started my day in the late morning and naturally, the church was the first thing that I went to go see on Saturday. The guide of the walking tour recommended it because of the great views. Inside, there were a variety of displays about the history of the tower. It was created by brotherhood dedicated to helping clerics who came upon hard times whether poverty or illness. Don’t ask me why this organization needed their own church and tower, but in the 1700’s they did. I’m not going to complain too much, because the church now has the best views of all of Porto.

The view of Porto from the Cleric’s tower
The view of Porto from the Cleric’s tower

After enjoying the fantastic views from the tower, I went back down and walked around the area near the tower. There was a really cool view with the tower an iconic old tram line.

The Cleric’s Tower with the tram out front
The Cleric’s Tower with the tram out front

After lunch, I continued meandering around the city with the general goal of going towards the waterfront because there are is a really cool bridge that I wanted to see. I like wandering cities in Europe, it is fun to be able to explore and when you see something interesting, just go and look at it. The streets are very quaint and colourful, and actually quite hilly. I ran across a church and went inside to look around and I wandered through a square where lots of people were lounging out on the grass enjoying the nice weather.

Eventually I made it down to the waterfront. There is a really nice boardwalk area with markets and restaurants. The main attraction at the centre of the action was the double-decker bridge Dom Luís I Bridge. The bottom part of the bridge is for foot and car traffic, while the upper level is for tram and foot traffic.

I leisurely walked down towards the bridge and crossed on the lower deck. There were buskers at various points all along the boardwalk on both sides of the bridge. By this time, I was hungry for dinner (wandering around the city is hard work :)). I went to a waterfront restaurant called Tempêro D’Maria and had steak with some port wine that Porto is famous for (it’s wine fortified with brandy). The view was fantastic from the restaurant!

The view from the restaurant I went to for dinner
The view from the restaurant I went to for dinner

I then hiked up the other side of the river bank towards a square with great views of the city.

At this point, I decided to go play some poker at a casino a few miles south of Porto in Espinho. My justification was to try and get back on the Denver timezone since it was morning in the states at the time. I’ve also been setting aside funds for poker lately because I really enjoy the game and would like to get better at it. I played for a few hours, and then headed back to the hotel and packed my things in order to make my 06h30 flight back home.


I enjoyed Porto quite a lot. It’s a really pretty city, and it is a very old city as well. Much of Lisbon was burned down during the earthquake and subsequent fire in 1755 and so most of the city was built after that. Porto, on the other hand, has many older buildings. I was very fortunate to find the hotel that I did with such a central location, and I enjoyed all of the sights immensely.

I hope that I can return to Porto at some point in the future. It seems like Portugal is a common retreat location for Automattic, so I think there’s a pretty decent chance that I do return at some point.