Walking Tour: Porto's Unesco World Heritage Heart

  • Start Igreja da Misericórdia; metro São Bento (yellow line)
  • End Ponte de Dom Luís I; Jardim do Morro cable car station
  • Length 4km; four hours

Rising in a helter-skelter of chalk-bright houses, soaring bell towers and Gothic and baroque churches, Porto’s Unesco-listed historic heart is an alley-woven dream of medieval loveliness made for strolling. Cobblestone streets twist past old curiosity shops and pavement cafes that hum with local gossip, and every so often the cityscape cracks open to reveal miradouros (viewpoints) over Porto.

Duck down Rua das Flores, one of Ribeira’s most charming streets, lined with delis, cafes, boutiques and speciality shops, and splashed with vibrant street art. To the right near the bottom sits the Igreja da Misericórdia, a baroque beauty designed by Nicolau Nasoni, with an interior replete with blue-and-white azulejos.

A mosey down Rua Ferreira Borges brings you to the Jardim do Infante D Henrique, flanked by the late 19th-century Mercado Ferreira Borges market hall and the neoclassical grandeur of the Palácio da Bolsa. Henry the Navigator stands high on a pedestal at the centre of the square.

Swinging a right brings you to the Praça Infante Dom Henrique and the Igreja de São Francisco, Porto’s most sublime church: Gothic on the outside and a feast of over-the-top, gilded baroque splendour on the inside.

Strolling along Cais da Ribeira is your golden ticket to the city’s soul. This is Porto of a million postcards – the Ribeira’s chalk-hued houses rising behind you, the Rio Douro unfurling before you, street entertainers serenading you. Colourful barcos rabelos (flat-bottomed boats) bob in front of pavement cafes and restaurants and the graceful swoop of the Ponte de Dom Luís I frames the picture neatly.

Take a steep flight of steps uphill from the river to Porto’s crowning glory, the fortresslike cathedral. History reverberates in its Romanesque-meets baroque nave and cloister, and the terrace commands photogenic views of the cityscape.

Exit right onto Calçada de Vandoma, then veer right again onto Avenida Vimara Peres, which will bring you to that whopper of a double-decker arched bridge, the Ponte de Dom Luís I, taking a spectacular leap over the Douro. Cross it for swoon-worthy views, keeping your eye out for daredevils jumping off its lower level.