My favorite film festival of all time is back for another edition, despite huge budget constraints. Next week, I’ll be spending 3 days in Porto for Fantasporto and I’m extremely curious to find out how they are pulling off this genre film festival, on its 38th edition, with films from 60 countries, and special features of Taiwan B-Movies.
The cool thing about this festival, besides being responsible for the European launch of the careers of directors like Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson, is that it happens during the low season. Weather in Porto may not be as warm and blue-skied as in Lisbon during the winter but, so far, it’s held up during the film festival. Is it chilly? Yes, slightly. Is it ugly and unattractive? Not at all.
If you’re in the city for Fantasporto (or if you’re a fan of the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy genre and just happened to stumble on the film festival during your weekend in Porto), the venue Teatro Rivoli is pretty central and within walking distance from plenty of must-see spots.
Most of the film sessions don’t start until 2 or 3 pm, which gives you plenty of time to go sightseeing in the morning.
Table of contents
- Bolhão market
- Majestic Café
- Santo Ildefonso church
- São Bento train station
- Lello Bookstore
- Clérigos tower
- Carmo church
- Café Luso
- Cais da Ribeira
The green pinpoints on this handy map I put together indicate the spots that are closer to the Fantasporto venue (under 10 minutes). The yellow one is a must-see that is a little further away (15-20 minutes) but is still worth the visit if you can squeeze it into your schedule.
The best area to stay in Porto during the festival is in or near Avenida dos Aliados or Praça da Batalha because they are close to the venue (around 5 minutes) and these must-see spots. I’m usually lucky with hotel deals in these locations or close enough, even when I decide to attend the festival last minute (Fantasporto usually happens in the last two weeks of February).
One can argue that a market is just a market but I believe they are one of the best places for a first introduction to any city. The Bolhão Market, in business since 1850, is one of those places in Porto.
I like that it’s a two-floor market, I like that it’s well-organized in different sections, and, above all, I like the musicality and the no-BS attitude of the vendors.
Make your visit count more than a pretty picture on your Instagram feed and support the local businesses by buying something at the market.
Some call it iconic and some call it a tourist trap. I say it depends on what you’re expecting from it. If you’re just looking for a place to have coffee and don’t care about historic places, well, you’re reading the wrong blog.
Art Nouveau buildings are so rare in Portugal (unless you’re at the architectural style’s hottest spot in the country, Aveiro) that I’m thrilled when I find one. Yes, I have a thing for Art Nouveau (it may or not be related to the fact that these buildings look like elaborate, sugar-coated wedding cakes).
Santo Ildefonso church
There are so many churches within walking distance from one another that I actually wrote a whole blog post about churches in Porto a while ago. Baroque style is strong in many of these Catholic temples, making blue and white the signature colors of the city.
I like the austere look of the Santo Ildefonso church, even if it’s fully decorated with blue-and-white tiles. To be precise, there are 11,000 tiles, designed by Jorge Colaço (the same artist who designed the tile panels at São Bento station).
Opening hours: Mon 3-6.30 pm; Tue-Sat 9 am-12pm & 3-6.30 pm; Sun 9 am-1pm & 6-8 pm
São Bento train station
This is probably the most photographed train station in the world and it’s the typical postcard-perfect image of Porto.
Don’t just go there to take photos, take a closer look at the 20,000 tiles and the stories they depict. Please remember this is a public transportation area used by locals, so don’t block the way of daily commuters and visit the station off the peak hours (usually 7-9 am and 5-7 pm).
Since the world of pop culture discovered the staircases at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Wizardry were (allegedly) inspired by the ones at Lello Bookstore, there have been more visitors stopping by to take photographs than to buy books.
The first and only time I visited Lello, I was worried that so many tourists walking up and down those stairs would soon destroy one of the city’s most important landmarks.
In good time, the bookstore owners decided to charge an admission fee of €3 for a one-time-off visit per person (which can be deducted from the final price of a book, if you choose to purchase one).
The mix of design styles (art nouveau, art deco, and neogothic) is just one of the reasons why the bookstore is one of the most beautiful in the world.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10 am-7.30 pm, Sat & Sun 10 am-7 pm
The Clérigos tower is impossible to miss in Porto’s skyline. 250 years old, 75 meters tall, and 225 steps to climb and reach one of the most beautiful views of the city.
You’re excused if climbing six flights of stairs is not on your plans or if your fear of heights doesn’t go away for long enough to enjoy the photo opportunity. It’s still a remarkable monument seen from the outside.
If, at first sight, you feel like this church has two strange and mismatched façades, your eyes are deceiving you. Take a closer look and you’ll realize there are actually two churches (Carmelitas on the left, Carmo on the right) separated by a very narrow building.
The façade and the blue-and-white side wall of Carmo church are, of course, much more photogenic than the façade of the Carmelitas one (the real beauty of this one is in its Baroque gilded-carvings interior).
Wondering what is so special about this café in downtown Porto? Well, this is where Fantasporto was born in 1980.
It might not look now the way it did back then (the café reopened in 2010, after 10 years out of business), but they proudly keep their connection to the local culture alive.
Also, check their Friday special discount of 20% off all francesinhas (the famous Porto sandwich made with layer-upon-layer of different meats and sausages, topped by a mysterious sauce and undisclosed quantities of cheese).
Cais da Ribeira
Cais da Ribeira might be slightly crowded with tourists these days, but it’s still the ideal spot to see one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world (yes, I said it, in the world).
It’s the furthest away from the Fantasporto venue and, if you’re planning to attend all sessions or most of them, you might not make it here in time for sunset. Whatever the time you choose to visit, it’s still a great time.
Cross the Dom Luis bridge to see the colorful house façades cascading downhill towards the Douro river. A priceless (and free of charge) attraction in Porto.
For more details and information about schedules and tickets for the film festival, please check the Fantasporto official website.
Getting to Porto:
Accommodation in Porto:
Tours in Porto:
Tickets for attractions and landmarks in Lisbon: