Porto – Before and After the Camino! Part One: Before

As the city of Porto is one of the beginning points of the Caminho Português, we decided to stay a couple of days here prior to setting out on our Caminho. We would check out the city a bit while getting over the flight and adjusting to the time change. We stayed at Hotel Peninsular. It seemed to be in the heart of the city, but far enough away from the river that we wouldn’t be gauged for the views.


  • São Bento Train Station
  • Porto Cathedral
  • Sandemans Free Tour
  • Francesinha
  • Livraria Lello
  • Dom Luís I Bridge
  • Centro Portugues de Fotografia


Turned out it was about three minutes away from one of the places on our Porto bucket list. The São Bento Train Station was just down the street.

The station’s walls and ceilings are covered with 22,000 tiles – azulejos – by Jorge Colaço, painter, caricaturist and potter. It has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful stations in the world.

It was a nice surprise to accidentally stumble upon the station immediately after leaving the hotel.

It really is quite stunning. And finding it just like that gave us hope that the rest of the city would just as easily open up to us. And it did.

Once we oohed and awed over the gorgeous tile work inside the station, we were ready to continue our First Day walk. And right outside the doors of the station, Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) came into view! It was just another short walk away. This historic cathedral is the starting point of the Caminho if one is starting in Porto (you can actually begin the Caminho Português in Lisbon). There’s a rough and confusing history of the Roman Catholic Cathedral itself, but if you dig for it you will find that they broke ground on it in 1110 and it was completed in 1737. But you will also notice that there were changes well into the 1700s, the 1800s, and the 1900s. Not quite the work in progress at the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, which has literally been under construction since the mid 1800s and is not yet completed. Porto Cathedral is more of a fixer upper project that has undergone changes. Whether you’re in Porto for the Camino or as a tourist specifically to see the city, you shouldn’t miss the cathedral.

A quick heads up, though. This is not your typical cathedral. It would not be difficult to get turned around and find yourself lost in and around this sprawling cathedral.

We toured around the periphery for a while, climbing stairs, coming out into courtyards, finding room after room to explore. We even found a tower to climb up into, where we discovered the first of many perfect locations to find the breathtaking views of the city we discovered on social media prior to our visit.

We arrived in this location from a series of walkways and stairs found within the cathedral.
The cathedral quickly became a series of arches, stairs, and passageways…each opening onto something new and exciting. Finally, we found a tower to climb…

The views from the tower made us excited to get down there, and into the city…into the lively riverside neighbourhood we already knew to be bustling with excitement… but we hadn’t even seen the ‘church’ part of the cathedral yet. Where was the narthex, the nave, the transepts, the apse, the ambulatory, where was the ‘church’ in all of this rambling architecture?

A few more twists and turns, and we were there. And then it was time to continue our walk throughout the city. Our First Day walk of discovery. The city was opening up and letting us in. It was so much more than a starting point on an adventure that would have us walking away from it. I was glad we had decided to spend a few days here AFTER our Camino was over. You can tell at first glance that a day or two wouldn’t be enough time to give to Portugal’s second largest city.

We quickly got ourselves down to the river, where we knew we would find places to eat. We were famished.

It was time to finally try the sandwich created in Porto and made internet famous on YouTube and Instagram. It was francesinha time! After watching YouTubers diving into this sandwich for months on end while researching the city, it was finally our turn! 

What is the francesinha sandwich? Ham, steak, two types of homemade sausage, bologna, and cheese between two thick layers of bread. It’s often topped with a fried egg. THEN it’s smothered in a beer gravy and served surrounded by fries. Basically, it’s literal heart-attack on a plate…and worth the trip to Porto for. I don’t even like steak!

Plus, whatever outdoor patio you choose to eat at…you’ll have a great view of Dom Luís I Bridge and the Douro River. Built from 1881 to 1886, this double-decker bridge is a gorgeous work of art…and the views from the top are stunning (just be careful when you get up there–the city metro line crosses through the centre of the open top span…right beside the pedestrians…without a safety barrier between them)!

There is a lot to see in Porto. Having just arrived from our trans-Atlantic flight, though, we were ready to call it a night. One more day of discovery ahead of us before waking up the following morning and heading out on our journey along the coast and up into Spain.

Does every city in the world have these signs now?
Just a quick walk past Livraria Lello this time! We would save the inside for after our Camino, when we were back in the city for a longer period of time!
Clérigos Tower. We never did go inside, but quite the sight to see it.

It was in this neighbourhood, near the Clérigos Tower, that we found a fun free museum. It was a building just standing there with the door open. I had to walk inside, I had to see what it was…

Centro Portugues de Fotografia

It was the museum of photography, and it was absolutely free to enter. The Portuguese Centre of Photography is found inside an old prison, and it has a spectacular collection of cameras dating back to the 19th century.

It’s rather foreboding as you enter in past the reception, all cells and iron bars and repression. But it opens up into several floors of fascinating photographic memorabilia! If you love cameras, it’s a MUST SEE stop on your Porto visit. FREE!

Wherever we are in Europe (Brussels, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, etc), we plan for at least ONE Sandemans tour, the FREE one. We’ve never been disappointed. It gives you a great sense of the city you’re visiting, the tour guides are ALWAYS spectacular, and they give you an overview of the paying tours that they have on offer. Please note that the FREE tour is technically free…but that tipping the guides is encouraged. Once you finish your tour, no matter the city, you will happily tip your guide. PORTO FREE TOUR.

The guide walked us throughout the city, entertaining us with historical facts and showing us some of the awesome little side-streets and architecture.

We enjoyed the FREE tour so much, we booked for another tour immediately following it with the same guide. This one cost a nominal fee, and took you through a different part of the city. We always want to see as much as we can!

We ended our second day by the river, with food and drink…

In the morning, we would leave for our Camino adventure. We had a really good sense of the city we would return to after our Camino adventure was over. We still had a huge Porto bucket list, but it would have to wait a couple of weeks for our return!






By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.

1 comment

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: