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A Cultural Tour of Porto, Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow; 48 Hours In Porto

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A Commercial Palace, Contemporary Art Museum And A Grand Music Hall

While I love walking around exploring Portugal’s northern capital it is imperative for me that I include a cultural tour of Porto into my itinerary. With the help and advice of a local friend, I have selected three institutions that celebrate where Porto, Portugal has been and where it is going. From a commercial palace to a contemporary art museum and a grand music hall built to celebrate Porto’s selection as the 2001 European Cultural Capital (shared with Rotterdam, Netherlands). This is by no means all that Porto has to offer in the way of culture. Portugals 2nd largest city is steeped in history, architecture and cultural attractions that would take me weeks to visit uncover them all. This is just a snapshot of three places I think you should check out to get a sense of the Porto of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Casa da Musica, built to celebrate Porto's shared designation as 2001 European Cultural Capital

Casa da Musica, built to celebrate Porto’s shared designation as 2001 European Cultural Capital

Let’s start at the Palacio da Bolsa the heart of Porto’s bustling commerce since the first stone was laid in 1842 when the closure of the Stock Exchange forced merchants to meet and discuss their business in the open air.

Palacio da Bolsa

Palacio da Bolsa



Construction and decoration took many decades to complete which is evident in the quality and attention to detail throughout the palace. Tours cost € 9.00 and last 45 minutes and I highly recommend you take one because there is no way you could see all the wonders and understand them on your own.

A commerce court still in use inside the Palacia da Bolsa

A commerce court still in use inside the Palacia da Bolsa

Designed by architect Joaquim da Costa Lima in the neoclassical style the Palacia da Bolsa is still in use today by the Associação Comercial do Porto. The interior decorative work started in the 1860’s and took many decades to complete making it a school for local artists to share and pass on their talent.

The jewel in the palace is the Arab Room designed by Gustavo Adolfo Gonçalves e Sousa. Construction and decoration took place over 18 years and resulted in a room that wows the senses.

My next stop is the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art. Opened in 1999 it was established to promote Portuguese and international contemporary art. Designed by architect, Álvaro Siza it blends into the neighbouring landscape while creating modern art spaces within the building that are as much art as the pieces featured in each space.

Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art

Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art

There are actually three parts to a visit of Serralves. There is the actual museum itself, the park that the museum is located within and the Villa a pink art deco masterpiece that once was the centrepiece of the former private estate.

The Villa at Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art Porto

The Villa at Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art Porto

Guided tours of the museum and the villa are both available while for the park I recommend you just explore on your own discovering gardens, water features and sculptures located throughout.

The museum exhibits change regularly, but at the time of my visitation, I was treated to some truly thought-provoking pieces including some that may not be ideal for young eyes.

Of course, not everything is that shocking, depending on what shocks you.

Contemporary art installation at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto

Contemporary art installation at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto

For my last recommendation, I suggest you visit the Casa da Musica. It’s ultra-modern design juxtaposed against the backdrop of an older working class neighbourhood. Rem Koolhaas is the architect that created this masterpiece that incorporates sustainable building materials along with its signature look. It brings the outside in while simultaneously creating a near perfect auditory experience in the performance spaces.

Guided tours of the interior are a must. There are grand theatres built for orchestras all the way to smaller spaces perfect for duets and contemporary dance performances.

You may not be able to tour inside one of the grand theatres, but you may get a chance to listen in on a rehearsal or two as I did. It will truly give you a sense of the amazing acoustics that has been achieved at the Casa da Musica. I can only imagine what it would be like to attend a concert here.

After you tour the Casa da Musica head across the street and enjoy a coffee and a pastry or two. This is where you can really appreciate the building in its entirety.

Coffee and pastries across from the Casa da Musica

Coffee and pastries across from the Casa da Musica

Now like I said up top, there are plenty of other places to include in a cultural tour of Porto, but if you only have 48 hours these three will give you a great sense of Porto yesterday, today and tomorrow.  No wonder it was selected as the European Cultural Capital in 2001.

The last story documenting my 48 hours in Porto focuses on the food I enjoyed. For part one which is all about my self-guided walking tour of Porto click on the link.

48 Hours in Porto, a walking tour

48 Hours in Porto, a walking tour

This adventure is Porto is part of my Air Canada Vacations Europe Your Way adventure where you can customize your European vacation to meet your needs. Flights, hotels, transportation and attractions on your schedule.

Europe Your Way Porto

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Disclosure: General

Thanks to Air Canada, Air Canada Vacations and Tourism Portugal for hosting this adventure. All views & opinions expressed are 100% my own


About Author

Marc Smith is a former event planner turned vagabond adventurer. He loves strong Americano's, great wine, cold beer and zip lining over tree tops. Formerly of Vancouver, most of Marc's time when not travelling is in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Follow along on his nomad adventures and discover places to stay, things to do and where to eat & drink as he explores the world one city and region at a time.

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