We got straight to work using our only full day in Porto to hit as many of the charming city’s major sights as we could. In order to enrich our little touristic romp we decided to book a local guide for half of the day (via WithLocals) who would provide some deeper knowledge about some of the city’s well-known attractions. The most fitting place to start such a tour is irrefutably Sao Bento Train Station. Built in 1900 by the prominent and prolific architect José Marques da Silva, the French Beaux-Arts style building contains an ideal introduction to the world famous tradition of hand-painted Portuguese tile work. In the lobby of the station visitors are treated to a visual history of Portugal with some of its major events depicted on a grand scale using around 20,000 meticulously placed, hand rendered ceramic tiles. For the next few hours we casually walked around Porto’s center and conversed with our guide. Before the tour was over we had seen the most beautiful McDonalds in the world (McDonalds bought and built out a store in a historic, early 20th century imperial cafe), the strikingly narrow profile of the famous Clérigos Tower and a former prison that had been transformed into none other than a photography museum.
After we said goodbye to our WithLocals guide, we decided to take a closer look at an attraction that we had walked by briefly on the tour. Livraria Lello is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. In fact, JK Rowling is said to have taken a great deal of inspiration for the interior design of Hogwarts from this 100+ year old bookstore that looks straight out of a fairytale. Intricate woodwork, gothic details, stained glass and a red spiral staircase work together to create a rather stunning cathedral to the written word. Being one of the most popular attractions in the city, a ticket is required for entry to the store, and it is almost always full of people. We had to wait about 15 minutes to get a photo of the red staircase with nobody on it, but ended up liking this one more; as the well-dressed man seems to be descending into the gaping red mouth of the building. We ended up purchasing a couple of books before leaving. The price of your ticket goes towards the purchase of a book, which is a brilliant marketing scheme honestly. Leaving the bookstore we headed to our last major site of the day, The Crystal Palace Gardens, to drink wine and watch the sunset with our new expat friends Justin and Bella. Afterwards we all grabbed a bite at a local spot famous for its Francesinha - a porto originated sandwich made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese, a hot thick tomato, beer sauce and served with french fries. Feeling sufficiently stuffed, we then wandered around the dark and deserted Porto street blocks and enjoyed having the city virtually to ourselves. Men had been working all day blocking off major streets and thoroughfares for a big rally car street race that was to happen the next day. They gradually pushed tourists and locals alike back home or into narrow pockets of the city, now echoing with the sound of carefree reveling.