Vintage, Hip Porto: travel guide! Harry Potter bookstore, modern architecture, Bombarda street art.

porto famous swimming pool

Blue skies, Smiling at me… Nothing but blue skies, Do I see.” – Ella Fitzgerald

As you’ll see from the photos in this post, the jazz song seems to have been written for Porto, Portugal! Let me share how I spent the perfect day in Porto — a travel itinerary that includes vintage shops, the Harry Potter library, futuristic architecture, and the best sponge cake in the world.

(PS – but I’m currently in Istanbul and Brussels… follow along on @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat to see my daily life.)

rem koolhaas casa da musica

Porto is about a five hour train ride north of Lisbon. A stress-free journey, thanks to our Eurail passes that let us board trains all over Europe.

As you recall from this Lisbon story, we loved Portugal from the moment we arrived. I heard that Porto was a laid-back, artsy type of place — and so we came to check it out with the help of Visit Porto.

koolhaas porto music house architecture

Porto is known as a center of modern architecture. We started our day at the Casa da Musica, designed by the legendary Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas.

This spaceship-like auditorium has over a thousand seats and is bathed in light, thanks to two walls made entirely of glass.

wire sculpture porto janet echelman

We saw more alien art as we drove along the coast. This hovering net is “She Changes,” a work by Janet Echelman. Made from wire, the sculpture pays tribute to Porto’s seafaring and fishing industries.

porto modern architecture, buildings

As we drove around the city, we spotted contemporary buildings at every turn. There’s a renown architecture school in Oporto, and two locals won the international Pritzker prize (the highest honor for an architect).

porto Álvaro Siza Vieira outdoor swimming pool

One of these architects, Álvaro Siza Vieira, constructed this mesmerizing Leça Swimming Pool in 1966. The open-air pool is filled with salt water from the Atlantic Ocean, and the design naturally harmonizes into the craggy coastline.  I felt like a mermaid, perched on the rocks and gazing at never-ending skies and waves.

harry potter bookstore Livraria Lello

In addition to these modern works, you’ll find charming century-old buildings all over Porto. One of the oldest bookstores in Portugal is Livraria Lello, which dates back to the late 19th century.

jk rowling bookstore porto

The shrubbery hides the long lineup inside… Livraria Lello is Porto’s most famous landmark because of how it inspired author JK Rowling to write Harry Potter! 

portuguese bookstore stained glass

The best-selling author spent a great deal of time in Lello as she was formulating her story. The art nouveau meets Gothic interiors conjure up the magic of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

harry potter bookstore portugal

JK Rowling was most likely inspired to put a Grand Staircase in Hogwarts Castle, after seeing the winding wood stairs of this Porto bookstore.

porto fountain, portuguese church

After, we spent a few hours walking around Porto. It’s the perfect balance for travelers like us: no annoying  tourism trappings, and yet the city has a lot to see and experience.

porto carmo and Carmelitas Church

Our guide took us to the downtown square, and explained that this mega-church is actually two churches, separated by one of the world’s narrowest houses! 

Carmo and Carmelitas was built this way to overcome a loophole, which prevents monks and nuns from having contact.

two porto churches Igreja do Carmo

Located the left, Carmelitas has an ornate gold interior. On the right, the baroque Carmo has a striking blue and white panel on the side. 

porto travel blog, blue skies

It seems blue and white are favorite colors here — I can see that inspiration comes from the sky.

porto houses, architecture design

Those classic facades, with swirling wire balconies!

porto cathedral, city view

Our guide stopped at a viewpoint, overlooking red rooftops and the Romanesque Porto Cathedral (oldest in the city). I did a little panorama of this view on my Vine (you can add me @lacarmina).

porto bombarda cool hip neighborhood

Onward to my favorite Porto neighborhood: Bombarda, a district filled with young art and hip galleries.

street art porto, murals

Bombarda is the bomb. Every few paces, we saw giant works of street art. The round cat over-top a heart was my favorite.

cats tails intertwined

Perhaps these two kitties, intertwining their tails on a nearby wall, were the muses.

bombarta art creative shop, portugal

We browsed small, indie “creative shops” inside the Bombarda CCB Centro Comercial.

dog shaped lamps

Locals have all sorts of designs on display here, from Robert Smith illustrations to dog and cat lamps. We also stopped by the CCB cafeteria for a simple yet incredibly tasty homestyle meal.

hipster porto, design stores

I recommend walking on Rua Miguel Bombarda, and popping into the various galleries. So much intriguing art to see here! Keep reading…

porto bombarda street art tour

Some of the most striking designs were the ones found outside, on walls.

hip vintage stores, porto

Bombarda is also home to hip boutiques. I found these Japanese tins in a tea parlor that had a Buddha garden in the back.

portugal shopping, cafes

Porto has a vintage feeling, and this is reflected in its many  retro and secondhand shops.

pumpkin jam

There’s a lot of shopping to do in Porto, and thankfully, prices are very reasonable. I was tempted to take home a jar of pumpkin jam, a local speciality. 


kids bookstore, porto portugal

And I wanted to get one of these bright kids books, by a local author who runs this shop.

street art murals porto portugal

Bombarda has a long wall of murals by different artists. Even here, the ocean and fishing are popular themes.

bombarda porto hipster district

Quirky, modern, creative — the street art sums up Porto in a nutshell. (All photos by Borderless Media.)

porto francesinha restaurant

Now, what should you eat when you’re in Porto? All the locals suggested that we try a francesinha, or Portuguese sandwich that is a local spin on the French croque-monsieur.

This dish is found in most Portuguese local restaurants, and everyone will have a different opinion on who makes it best. We tried it at this cafe, around the corner from our Infante Sagres Palace Hotel.

portuguese francesinha

The francesinha is a beast. It’s a giant ham sandwich covered in melted cheese with an egg on top, served in a pan of thick tomato gravy with a spicy kick. Unless you’re a sumo wrestler, it’s hard to finish by yourself!

book restaurant porto

Being a port city, we had access to the freshest seafood at low prices. We ate an incredible dinner at Book Restaurant, starting with warm baked bread and olive spread.

hip cool portugal

The restaurant used to be a library, and stays true to its bookish theme. The ceiling is strung with colorful paperbacks, and a hipster bicycle sits on a shelf.

portuguese sardine restaurant

Portugal has some of the best sardines in the world. At Book Restaurant, we started with pumpkin soup and a sampling of seafood appetizers…

best seafood, porto

.. working our way up to this delectable shrimp with roe and polenta mash, served in a copper pot.

porto desserts, sponge cake

I never knew that sponge cake could be so good until I had it for dessert here. Porto makes a version that is gooey and complex: a different species from the usual dry sponge-cakes I’ve tasted.

lisbon oriente train station

I hope my travel guide gives you a sense of this mod-meets-vintage city, filled with creativity! Thanks to Visit Porto for the hospitality, and Eurail for the train passes.

I leave you with a shot of the neofuturistic Lisbon Oriente train station, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Soon, we’ll reveal a video that shows you more…



  1. MelissaR
    Posted February 11, 2016 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    What amazing memories!

  2. Mark
    Posted February 11, 2016 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    and did not go out with some magic or some elf in your bag??

  3. Daer
    Posted February 11, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    like the swimming pool

  4. Killo
    Posted February 11, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I watched you on the travel channel show!!!!!!!! Killo

  5. Shelby
    Posted February 11, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink


  6. Varter
    Posted February 11, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    glad you like Porto.

  7. sara
    Posted February 11, 2016 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Iadored the two cats…with the tails they made a heart…

  8. Alwx
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Cute cats and scarf

  9. Laos
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink


  10. Hardy
    Posted February 14, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Sandwich is intense

  11. dosker
    Posted February 14, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I love the street art so much, those cats!

  12. kartel
    Posted February 14, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I love the cats of the two tails in the heart :-) :-)

  13. Lads
    Posted February 14, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful city I loved it !!!!!

  14. ales
    Posted February 14, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Portugal Next on my list xxx

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