Perched on a hill overlooking the Douro, a stone’s throw from the Dom Luis I Bridge, the Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto in Portuguese) is one of the most iconic monuments in the “Northern Capital”. Follow the guide!
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Want to know more about the history of Porto? Captain Ulysse warmly recommends this free guided tour of the city. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
Brief history of the Porto Cathedral
In the 12th century, the bishop of Porto, Dom Hugo, decided that the city of Porto should have its own cathedral: the Sé do Porto was born.
Originally built in a Romanesque style, the Porto Cathedral was enlarged, transformed and embellished over the centuries. Its heterogeneous architecture mixing Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque influences is the result of these multiple alterations.
The cloister adjoining the cathedral was thus built in the 14th century, while the loggia located on the side of the building is an addition by the Italian architect Niccoló Nasoni dating from the 18th century. Niccoló Nasoni – who also designed the Clérigos Tower – completely renovated the portal of the cathedral and made a multitude of small transformations inside the monument.
Visiting the Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto)
The forecourt of the Cathedral of Porto
At the foot of the cathedral, be sure to linger in the vast forecourt (the Terreiro da Sé in Portuguese) from where you’ll have a beautiful view of the Douro, the Dom Luis I Bridge and the quays of Vila Nova de Gaia.
Facing the cathedral, a large Baroque pillory ( pelourinho) which symbolizes justice, stands in the center of the square. According to legend, the city’s criminals were once hanged on this pillori…
The exterior of the cathedral
With its monumental dimensions and its stocky silhouette flanked by two square towers, the Cathedral of Porto looks very much like a fortress.
Before entering the building, take the time to linger a few minutes on the forecourt to admire the exterior of the cathedral. Adorning the main façade, the 12th century Romanesque rose window has survived the test of time. The portal was renovated in the Baroque style by the Italian architect Niccoló Nasoni.
To the left of the building, don’t miss the beautiful Baroque loggia decorated with azulejos, which was also designed by the famous Italian architect.
Around the cloister
Adjoining the cathedral, the cloister dates from the 14th century. In the cloister too, the architectural style is quite eclectic: the arcades, typically Gothic, are decorated with Baroque azulejos by Valentim de Almeida dating from the beginning of the 18th century and representing the life of the Virgin Mary.
The richly decorated Saint-Vincent Chapel is well worth a look for its sumptuous altar and its beautiful organ.
A little further on, the Sacristy is a adorned with over-the-top, rococo furniture and baroque paintings.
On the upper floor, the chapter house and the treasury
From the main floor of the cloister, a beautiful baroque granite staircase designed by Niccoló Nasoni leads to the upper floor.
The terrace, decorated with azulejos representing Ovid’s Metamorphoses of Ovid, gives onto the Casa do Cabido, where you’ll find the Chapter House and the Treasury of the Porto Cathedral.
The Chapter Room, decorated with baroque statues, is well worth a visit for its sumptuous coffered ceiling adorned with fourteen allegories of moral values painted by Giovanni Battista Pichini in 1737.
The Treasure Room houses a fine collection of liturgical objects (books, chalices, chasubles, etc.) dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The panorama of Porto from the cathedral
From the terrace, a narrow staircase leads to the top of one of the towers of the Porto Cathedral. From there, the panorama on the historic center, the Douro River, the Dom Luis I Bridge and the municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia is quite simply breathtaking.
Inside the Cathedral of Porto
Like the facade of the building, the interior of the cathedral is quite eclectic in style.
The narrow, barrel-vaulted nave is lined with tall granite columns and supported by flying buttresses. It is one of the earliest examples of the use of this typically Gothic architectural technique in Portugal.
The Baroque wall paintings of the choir are the work of Niccoló Nasoni. In the baptistery, don’t miss the bronze bas-relief by Antonio Texeira Lopes, representing the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist. Scattered around the cathedral, the three red marble holy water fonts dating from the 17th century are quite impressive.
The Cathedral of Porto is also home to two baroque goldsmith masterpieces:
- The High Altar, designed by Santos Pacheco and completed by Miguel Francisco da Silva in 1727-1729
- The silver altar (altar de prata) located in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. According to legend, a sacristan covered the altar with stucco to protect it from the Napoleonic troops who invaded the city at the beginning of the 19th century. But the sacristan died without revealing his secret, and the treasure hidden under the stucco was lost for an entire centurt before being rediscovered!
Getting to the Sé do Porto, the Porto Cathedral
The nearest metro station is São Bento (line D).
Opening hours of the Porto Cathedral
The Porto Cathedral is open:
- July to September: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Saturday / 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays and public holidays
- in October and from April to June: from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- November to March: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. at 5:30 p.m.
Entrance to the cathedral is free, but you will have to pay €3 per person to access the cloister and the Casa do Cabildo (chapter room + treasure room). Access is free for children under 10 years old.
Looking for tips to plan your vacation in Porto? You might find these articles of interest:
👉 A Guide to Porto: the best things to do
👉 Day-tours around Porto
👉 Visiting Porto with children
👉 Where to eat in Porto? The Captain’s restaurant recommendations
You can also find all of the Captain’s articles on Porto’s must-see sites and monuments here.
👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all the Captain’s suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: to book your accommodation in Porto, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Booking.com. From youth hostels to luxury boutique hotels: there’s plenty to choose from. The Captain particularly recommends:
– youth hostels: The Passenger Hostel and Urban Garden Porto Central Hostel
– budget and mid-range hotels: Decanting Porto House and Porto Charming Hotel
– high-end hotels: NH Porto Jardim and The Yeatman.
🎟️ Activities: museums, monuments, guided tours, boat tours, excursions… there’s plenty to do in Porto! To avoid wasting time in endless queues, especially during high season, the Captain strongly recommends that you opt for skip-the-line tickets and book your activities in advance. You can book all your tickets and tourist activities on GetYourGuide and Civitatis.
⛵ Cruises: Porto is undoubtedly synymous with Douro! It’d be a shame to leave the “Capital of the North” without embarking on a Douro river cruise. If you’re only staying in Porto for a long weekend, the Captain recommends the six bridges cruise. If you have more time, then he highly recommends the Douro Valley cruise with wine tasting & lunch.
🎫 Citypass: valid from 1 to 4 days, the Porto Card includes unlimited access to city transport (including to get to/from the airport), free entry to 6 museums and a selection of discounts in museums, attractions, Port wine cellars and shops.
🚐 Transfers: you can take the metro at the airport to get to the city center (1/2 hour). But if you’d rather avoid public transport, you can also book a private transfer at very reasonable prices.
🚌 Local transport: you’ll probably quickly tire of Porto’s steeply sloping streets and might be tempted to take local transport instead of walking. The public transport network is convenient and easy to navigate. You can buy your tickets directly at metro stations and bus stops (be careful, you will need to take 1 Andante card per person).
You should also know that access to public transport is included in the Porto Card. Otherwise, sightseeing bus tours are great options to explore the city. You can also opt for a pass including access to hop-on hop-off buses, the funicular as well as tramways.
When it comes to getting around Porto, you have plenty of other options: bikes, electric bikes, segway, tuk-tuk, train…
✈️ Flights: to book your flights to Porto, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.