Porto's history is written in the names of the streets, engrained in the local neighbourhoods, distinguished in its modern architecture, preserved in the secrets of the staircases, embedded in the tiles on the façades of the houses, romanticised in the preservation of the Fernandine walls, the cliffs and the river Douro. It is impossible to stroll through Porto without looking upwards, at the bridges and the towers and the old buildings. We propose you do the opposite: climb to the highest points, to get to know the city from above. You will see a new city emerge before your eyes. Plus, you don't even need a drone. All you need to do is visit our seven recommended viewpoints. We wish you a good trip and happy discovering.
1. Torre dos Clérigos: 225 steps
The Torre dos Clérigos is 75 metres tall (a quarter of the height of the Eiffel Tower), 272 years old, with 225 spiral steps to the top and is the tallest and best known monument in the city of Porto. The project was designed in the 18th century by Nicolau Nasoni, an Italian architect who even chose to be buried there
.. The work was inaugurated in 1750 and classified as a National Monument in 1910. From the balcony surrounding the bell tower, you can see the entire city, from the centre to the mouth of the river Douro. The view is especially stunning at sunset. However, it is also worth investigating the church and the tower itself, as together they form one of the most beautiful examples of the baroque style in Portugal. Also, listen out for the sound of the 49 bells, which have been ringing out across the city since 1995, a rare event in the country.
2. Crystal Palace: 196 steps
The Crystal Palace, renamed Super Bock Arena in 2019, is a stunning building whose copper-green dome, studded with small skylights, is visible from various points of the city. This magnificent dome has 196 steps, which place it at a height of 30 metres above the ground. Those brave enough to scale the narrow concrete steps will be able to view the Crystal Palace Gardens from above, as well as some of the well-known areas of Porto such as Boavista, Ribeira, Foz and even the Arrábida Bridge, which crosses the Douro River. Looking across the river gives a panoramic view of Vila Nova de Gaia.
As private visits are not possible, the walk up to the arena roof includes a guided tour inside the building, which includes the story of the controversial demolition of the granite, iron and glass palace, inspired by London's Crystal Palace, to make way for the Sports Pavilion in 1951. Tours take 40 minutes and are not available to children under 12 years of age.
3. Arrábida Bridge: 262 steps
In 1963, this remarkable feat of engineering, designed by Edgar Cardoso, was inaugurated with excitement and trepidation as the bridge with, at 270 metres, the longest reinforced concrete span in the world.
Up until 2016, its elegant lines could only be enjoyed from the ground. Since then, the beautiful arch that crosses the Douro is the only one of its kind in Europe that can be visited. The bridge is 65 metres above the river and you have to climb 262 steps to enjoy one of the most unforgettable views of the city.
On a full-moon lit night, it is possible to make this a night-time visit and sometimes sunrise climbs are also available. These visits, for people over 12 years old, take place from the half-arch on the Porto side. From there you can see everything from on high. You can see part of the Luís I Bridge, and the towers of the Marquês church, of the Clérigos church, of the Cathedral, as well as the RTP station mast are in view. Even the mountains can be seen in the distance. The Arrábida Bridge was classified as a national monument in 2013.
4. Casa da Música: 40 metres tall
The VIP Terrace, as it is known, is the highest part of the intriguing building designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who has since been awarded the Pritzker Prize. Initially, this terrace was designed to be a technical area, but as work took shape, the architect changed his mind and the space, with its superb view, was included as part of the Casa da Música's public walkway.
British newspaper "The Guardian" selected the Casa da Música, inaugurated in 2005, as "one of the most emblematic cultural buildings of the century". The building, built at the top of Avenida da Boavista, comprises 17 sides and is 40 metres tall, and celebrates the year in which the city of Porto was elected European Capital of Culture in 2001. Two guided tours are held per day, lasting one hour each, and include a visit to each floor, including the Artists' Bar, the magnificent Suggia Hall, the Choir, the 17-metre high wavy glass East Foyer and, of course, the VIP terrace.
5. Cruise Terminal of Leixões Harbour: 30 metres tall
From which ever point we look at the award-winning Cruise Terminal for the Port of Leixões, in Matosinhos, we always come to the same conclusion: the building, with a height of 30 metres, 800 metres from the coastline, is absolutely extraordinary. What's more, this bold architectural work designed by the architect Luís Pedro Silva can be visited from the outside. Once you get to the amphitheatre on the roof, the view over the Atlantic Ocean is impossible to describe. Unsurprisingly, some call it "a UFO out of water". But there are also those who prefer to say it looks like a rosebud.
To visit this orthogonal work it is necessary to book in advance. However, it has a restaurant, from which it is possible to exit onto the outdoor ramp that leads to the top of the roof. Among many other distinctions, this terminal won ArchDaily's international award in the category of Best Public Building in 2017.
6. Escadas dos Guindais: 290 steps
The city of Porto was built from the Fernandine Walls, which ran from the riverside area of the Douro River to the highest part of the Sé and Vitória parishes. This explains the number of existing staircases that have resisted time, unlike the earlier medieval walls, which have all but been destroyed. One of the most emblematic sets of steps is the Guindais staircase, right next to the Luís I Bridge, which connects the areas of Ribeira do Porto and Praça da Batalha. Next to it, there is a café-patio offering a stunning view of the bridge and across the river to Gaia and the Port wine cellars. Venturing up the 290 steps reveals the Funicular dos Guindais, built in 1891 and renovated in 1994. The trip on the funicular is short, but worth it.
7. Serra do Pilar: 85 metres high
To end on a high note, cross the Douro River via the Luis I Bridge, and climb up to the Serra do Pilar Monastery.
Porto seen from Vila Nova de Gaia takes on another dimension. From here the city is literally at your feet, from the colourful riverside houses on the Porto side and the historic port wine cellars on the Gaia side, to the Arrábida Bridge. However, the panorama is actually much more comprehensive. Apart from the boats sailing along the Douro, you can also see the bridges, especially the iconic Luis I Bridge, designed by Théophile Seyrig, a student of Gustave Eiffel.
Climb up to Serra do Pilar, day or night, because it's always worth it and you'll never be alone. There will always be someone walking around or photographing this fascinating scenic view.
If you can, visit Serra do Pilar at dusk to watch an unforgettable sunset.
The Serra do Pilar Monastery, the Luís I Bridge and the Historic Centre of Oporto were classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1996.
Original release in LUXIMOS Christie's magazine | June 2023