Porto is not a city for the faint hearted - and I'm not even saying that in an alcoholic context with port wine having a percentage of about 20%. I'm speaking of cobblestone everywhere in the inner city, steep hills and steps of at least double the height of regular steps that I'm used to from (faint hearted) Denmark.
This was my first time in Porto, and the cherry was popped with my as photography passionate friend Anna, that already had accompanied me succesfully in England a couple of years back. (You can see the photographic haul of that trip here) Because travelling with non-photographers has become dull.
You will see plenty of silhouette shots of Anna for presentation's sake here you see how she loos from the front - go check out her Instagram for (even) more awesome photos!
Our trips was four days and we didn't do a lot of touristy stuff - and then again: photographing the bridge, photographing the bridge in a sunset, drinking port wine and sangria and seeking shelter in the main train station kinda is touristy. So we did do a lot of touristy stuff, actually.
So here come my experiences and recommendations - feel free to add in the comments!
What we Did in Porto
Here is what we did:
Porto is located ust beside river Douro and many bridges connect it to the other side. They are all pretty and impressive. However, one specific bridge is the main subect in most family's travel photos from Porto. It's a pretty bridge and it's in the middle of Porto, so it makes sense. And we weren't immune to its charme either. I present - one million photos of a fucking bridge:
The top level is for the metro and pedestrians (plenty of space and heart attacks because of honking metros), the lower level is for cars (little space) and pedestrians (very little space).
Both Anna and I are suckers for pretty light and lensflares, so there was no question about whether we would try to catch a sunset (we're also both suckers for sunrise light, however, you need to get out of bed early for those, sooo ....).
Due to the weather forecast, we actually only expected and planned one sunset. Unfortunately for us, we had the pleasure to experience three pretty sunsets from three different locations which resulted in us getting home with another million of photos just of sunsets (some of these photos overlap with the million bridge photos so - luckily!).
The light of each sunset was different, so obviously we just had to shoot away every time. Why can't we just watch and enjoy? On the other hand - some of those photos I might put on my wall as a print ...
For the first glorious, soft-golden-light-sunset we took the cable cars to one of the high spots with a view over the river and Porto.
We weren't the only ones with that idea. People were having picknicks up there, some were playing music, a couple of booths were selling coffee and Apreol Spritz en masse.
It was kinda okay.
This is how the upper level of the bridge looks.
We also experienced a still-golden-but-more-dramatic sunset with richer colors and more cloud action.
How can one not keep photographing that fucking bridge?
Nightphotography and Long Exposures
As the good photography tourists we were, we did also take some photos at nights. The temperatures were much cooler than during the day, but still relatively mild.
Stalking metro passengers
In case you were in doubt - the bridge is of course main subject in many of these photos as well. I was actually in doubt, where I should have put them in the post. Would they have fitted better under the subheader "The Bridge"?
More Long Exposure
Apart from doing the typical long exposure shots along the river, I tried to push in a few motion blur shots in as well whenever possible. I did bring a ND filter for my 24mm lens, I didn't use it a lot during the day, though. It was just too troublesome to attach and dettach while constantly on the move. So most of these photos didn't have a very long shutter speed, just enough to get some motion blur.
The main station in Porto is a beautiful old building with the typical blue-white tiles. I assume the entrance hall is always pretty crowded, but on a rainy day it's even worse. There were people standing and moving everywhere, and their rain clothes and umbrellas dripped constantly. Perfect for long exposure, thank you everyone!
We didn't use the metro a lot, and we always kinda were in a rush to get the train that would arrive in one minute. However, I managed to get a quick experimental long exposure shot in - and later on my computer discovered how you could see the passangers saiting behind the wet windows and barely blurred by the motion blur.
There is one relatively long tunnel for both cars and pedestrians in the city center of Porto. I guess if I lived there, I would take a lot of photos in there!
Maybe you have heard about it. I certainly hadn't when we made the decision to go to Porto. However, even if you hadn't, all travel guides and maps will tell you about it. That Bookstore™.
It's a pretty bookstore, no doubt. It's old, small, wood paneling everywhere, and they have small cast heads representing the authors. It even still has some old tracks in the parquet, I assume from times when a wheeled ladder was pushed around the shop. It's charming, it's cozy. Hadn't Joanne K. Rowling found it cozy as well, taken a liking to their staircase and praised it publicly.
The name of That Bookstore™ is Livraria Lello by the way. No need to remember that. Just google "Porto bookstore" and it will be one of the top hits.
We arrived at That Bookstore™ shortly after they opened. The queue to the store itself was long. As in loooong. The queue for the store that sold tickets for That Bookstore™ was long, too.
It was pretty, no doubt. It would have been prettier without all the people, though. Geez, suddenly everyone is a Harry Potter fan and bookworm!
Besides That Bookstore™ (and all the photos of the bridge), the cathedral was possibly the most touristy activity we did.
It's a nice relatively small cathedral, that is not even crowded that much if you visit it not long before they close.
We managed to be the last ones on the tower before they shooed everyone down. Those stairs! Remember I said that steps are at least double the height of normal steps? Yeah, try and climb up a tower with steps like that!
Porto isn't far from the Atlantic and you can walk all the way along the river promenade, which I'd highly recommend you do! It's a nice, flat (!) walk with a great view, about 3-4 km. It's a very nice and refreshing way to get away from the crowds and narrow streets in the inner city.
We spent about half a day with walking along the Douro (on the side of Vila Nova de Gaia), looking out on the Atlantic, eating lunch in the harbour and then take a small ferry boat over to the Porto side.
This bike path would have been the best and only place to use the longboard.
It was very hazy because of sea spray and sand.
As you might already have seen from our holiday in England, Anna and I enjoy visiting graveyards. Not in a weird way. It's just a nice way of getting insight into other cultures.
The graveyard we visited in Porto was Cemitério Agramonte.
Here is why we recommend it:
- There are a lot of mausoleums
- There was a epilleptical building that we kind of went into without knowing whether we are allowed to. The doors were open, though.
This passage is a tribute to birds in Porto. Mainly pigeons and seagulls, and a single white heron.
On a rainy day in Porto, there is nothing better to do than entering one of the port wine cellars, take a tour and end with a little tasting. At least, that's what we did.
After getting soaked on the way getting there, we took the audio tour at Taylor's which proved to be quite interesting even though I definetely wouldn't call me a great wine or even port wine enthusiast. The tour ended in a crowded tasting area, where we got a sip of their white and red port wine and (obviously) some Portuguese pastries. Always pastries. (They taste very similar to regular Danish pastries.)
On the side of the river that is Vila Nova de Gaia, there are port wine cellars everywhere. So if you don't like Taylor, there is plenty of variety to pick from!
So you thought you had survived a great amount of golden-hour-soft-glory when you made it past the sunset photos? Ha! Gotcha!
Due to Anna leaving for the airport early and her messaging me "Sunrise could be pretty", I jumped out of bed (literally) and raced up Porto's unforgiving stairs to present you with some more golden-hour-glory! I did this without coffee and without breakfast, I even had a little bit of asthma, so I expect you to appreciate it!
(I cut down on all the photos I wanted to show you. Do you want more? Please let me know!)
In general, we just did a lot of walking, looking up, squatting - everything you do to take photos. So here is all the rest that didn't anywhere else but deserves a place in this blogpost:
When rain surprises the city of Porto.
Everyone huddled together in the big hall of the main station.
Wet good bois! (I could say hi!)
Anna posing beautifully in front of the dramatic rainy platform.
Another good boi! (I couldn't say hi)
Andante Card for Public Transport
This is not a bad thing about Porto per se, just a little regret on our part.
We purchased the Andante Card, which as a tourist gives you unlimited public transport in all zones for a set timespan.
This type of card has payed off before, for example the Oyster Card in London. However, Porto is not as big as London. Also, the weather tends to be better than in London. So in our case, the Andante Card was a waste of money.
We bought the Card for 72 hours upon arrival at the airport. We used it to get from the airport to the inner city, and we used it once (in my case) or twitce (in Anna's case, as her 72 hours ran out later) on Sunday. To get back to the airport, we had to purchase single ticket as that was outside of the 72 hours.
Public transport in Porto is relatively cheap - a ticket to the airport cost a little over 2 EUR and a single ticket in the city a little over 1 EUR.
So it's a great card, but do think about how willing you are to walk and whether the card still we be necessarily. Porto isn't a bit city, so it's easy and fast to explore by foot - it's just ... steep.