There are few cities in the world that are internationally known for their parks. Off the top of my head, I can think of Central Park in New York City, Parc Guell in Barcelona, Stanley Park in Vancouver, Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Lincoln Park in Chicago and Monsanto Park in Lisbon, but never once has anyone boasted of the rich, green paradises of Porto. Never has anyone sat down with me and said, “Hey Gabriella, make sure you squirrel away some time to see some of the most delicious gardens, incredible vistas or panoply of birds that grace our city parks!” As a lover of all things leafy, I’m amazed that this nugget of information is kept secret, and I’ve promised myself to do my part in spreading the good word. And for those of you traveling with children, consider these your family haven!
Avenida da Boavista (near the sea)
Expanding 83 hectares, Parque da Cidade (the City Park) rates as one of the most spectacular parks I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. After decades of discussion, it was’t until the 1990’s that landscape architect Sidonio Pardal was able to bring vision to words. The park is a meandering labyrinth of winding paths that extends over 10 km and covered by 74 tree, 42 shrub, 15 fruit tree, and 5 aquatic plant species. Sprinkle a little love between said species and you’ll encounter thousands of copies that make the park a textured multi-colored landscape of wonder. In Spring, you’ll come across blinding splashes of color from wide swatches of wild flowers that blanket the park. Thick moss cover tree trunks, tiny feet scamper past in close chase of black swans and soft green grass gives the perfect respite to enjoy sunny days. Bring a picnic and settle next to a fountain or gentle lapping lake, or simply prop yourself at one of the cafe’s located inside the park for a cool drink.
Rua D. Manuel II
Palacio de Cristal, or the Crystal Palace, housed the very same structure once found in London. In 1956, it was replaced with the current pavilion, Pavilhao Rosa Mota, considered one of Portugal’s leading entertainment venues with seating for up to 10,000 people. To be honest, although the pavilion is ‘interesting’ to look at, it’s the gardens and spectacular view of Porto that should call your attention. Designed by famed landscape architect, Emilio David, the gardens are overflowing with rhododendrons, camélias, pines, ginkgos and lime trees. There are also several themed gardens including the Jardim dos Sentimentos (garden of feelings), Jardim das Plantas Aromaticas (garden of aromatic plants), Jardim do Roseiral (garden of roses) and the Quinta da Macieirinha (little apple tree estate). While strolling through the gardens, you’ll also encounter strutting peacocks and waterfowl, majestic statues adorning fountains, ancient chapels and dozens of cozy nooks screaming for a glass of wine while watching the sun slowly set over the meandering river Douro.
Rua do Campo Alegre, 1191
In 1895, Port wine merchante, João Henrique Andresen, acquired Quinta do Campo Alegre to create a vast romantic garden. Fifty years later, the government took possession of the estate and turned it into Jardim Botânico do Porto (Botanical Garden of Porto). Spread across 4 hectares, the estate consists of several gardens which host a collection of orchids, herbs, tropical and subtropical plants, not to mention a collection of exotic species cared for by the Botanical Department of the Porto Science University. The garden is also an important literary space having once been the home of authors, authors Sofia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Ruben A.
Rua D. João de Castro, 210
If I were to suggest one park above all others, it would be this one. In large part, my bias stems from the fact that we live right next to it and have easy access to the park. That said, because the park is private, as well as a foundation, its grounds are impeccably well kept. Expanding over 18 hectares in an “Art Deco” style, the estate consists of herb, rose and aquatic gardens, as well as lakes, forests and farmland with sheep, donkey and bulls. You’ll also find the Museum of Modern and the House of Serralves which has been listed as a building of public interest. The Tea House, an almost impossible little cafe to find (hint: look for the tennis court) has a delicious terrace under a thick wisteria tree that serves both savory and sweet snacks.
The Passeio Alegre & Pergola
Along the river and sea
If you’re in the need for reinvigoration, head straight to the water. A fabulous highlight of Porto is that the waterfront, both along the river and the ocean, is teeming with happy pedestrians who are eager to take in the fresh air. If you’re keen, start in the center of Porto and head straight to the ocean. You’ll pass heaps of cafes where you can enjoy glass of Portuguese wine or pastry, before continuing on your journey to the sea. If the weather is lovely, the wind will be your ally providing you just enough breeze to get your blood pumping, but not enough to sweep you off your feet. Much of your stroll along the see will be graced with thick palm trees, vast flowerbeds and a view to make your jaw drop. Porto has a sunset to make angels cry. Dramatic and beautiful, it’s worth the visit!
If you’ve been Porto and have a favorite park to share, let us know!