The best free things to do in Porto
For those who don’t know, the Soares dos Reis Museum was the country’s first public one. Founded in 1833 (back then it had another name and address) it was one of liberalism’s biggest conquests and hosts a varied and vast collection of Portuguese artists (especially those from Porto). The museum’s attractions are the nineteenth and twentieth-century sculptures and paintings (depicting naturalism) and also ceramic pieces, furniture (both Portuguese and Oriental) and works of art made with glass. On the first Sunday of each month, entries are free for single visits or for groups of 12 (maximum). Entry is also free for people residing in the EU who are unemployed.
Imagine if your apartment was turned into an open museum. That’s more or less the case here at 291 Rua de Nossa Senhora de Fátima, which looks like a perfectly normal house but whoever comes in can see Aurélia de Sousa’s biggest collection (there’s a whole room dedicated just to her work) and other great Portuguese naturalist painters, such as José Malhoa, Marques de Oliveira and Silva Porto. It’s all wrapped up in nineteenth-century bourgeois ambincee. Marta Ortigão Sampaio – whose dad was Vasco Ortigão Sampaio, a patron who discovered painters like Sousa Pinto - commissioned this house in the 1950s as a place where he could live and that later could be transformed into a museum. The first goal wasn’t accomplished but the second was. Aside from paintings, it also has period jewellery from the seventeenth century all the way to the twentieth, plus Portuguese, French and English art deco furnishings, ceramics and porcelain from Companhia das Índias and hats from the 1940s. Another interesting room is the bedroom, which looks like a dollhouse: Marta Ortigão’s ambience, in Foz beach, is recreated here. There’s a library and a beautiful garden (the only thing missing is a bar) that you can visit for free and guided tours.
This is one of the lesser known museums in Porto but it’s absolutely worth a visit. Teixeira Lopes House-Museum, in Gaia, was brought back to life in 2012, after several months of renovation works. It now has a cafeteria, a bookshop, a museum, a garden full of sculptures and, most importantly, a great modern art collection, with works of art from artists such as Amadeo Souza-Cardoso, Almada Negreiros, Sarah Afonso and, of course, from Teixeira Lopes himself. The house also has ceramics, furniture and African art pieces.
This amazing collection belongs to the Portuguese army and was once PIDE’s (a Portuguese security agency during Portugal’s dictatorship) headquarters. Open since 1977 and located in a nineteenth-century building, the Military Museum of Porto hosts a permanent exhibition with weaponry, military equipment, heavy artillery and fourteenth-century battle tanks. But the museum’s main attraction is the 16,000-strong toy soldier collection, unparalleled in the country. It’s a great place to take the kids.
Located in a 700-year-old building by the Douro river, the Port Wine Museum is one of best places to learn the story behind what you’re drinking. With panels that illustrate the wine region, archaeology pieces and plenty of period documents you’ll be able to learn all about this Porto landmark.
Alvo Brandão Perestrello Godinho, the heir to the Balsemão viscounts, had this palace built in the eighteenth century. In 1894 it was as a guesthouse and took in the exiled king of Sardinia and Piedmont, Carlos Alberto. Nowadays, the palace is where the Board of Municipal Culture and its Supply Centre are located and it’s also where the city’s characteristic elements such as tiles, plaster and irons are stored. The Numismatic Office, which has one of the most complete collections in the country and will tell you how the coins came about, also works there. Free entry.
Each month there’s at least one Sunday when heading towards Porto’s chaotic downtown is worth the effort, especially if you go to Café au Lait. Since 2011 they have held 7pm concerts organised by Bodyspace (the country’s second oldest webzine). These are intimate and laid-back concerts with an ambience where ‘sharing and interchange are cultivated’, says André Gomes, Bodyspace’s editor. The idea is to leave online life behind and turn the webzine into a ‘cultural agent’, which is exactly what they’ve been accomplishing in Porto and Lisbon with their video library. Most of the guest bands are Portuguese but every once in a while there are a few international performers. JP Simões, Lac La Belle, Filho da Mãe and Tó Trips are some of the artists who have already performed at Bodyspace au Lait.
This is one of those get-togethers that will be of interest to literature lovers who want to meet authors. Porto de Encontro is a monthly meeting with writers that usually takes place in the most iconic locations in the city. The audience can participate, pose questions and ask for autographs. There’s usually a stall where you can buy some of the guest writer’s books, port wine is usually served and the newspaper of the day is handed out (everything related to that specific day is free). Gonçalo M. Tavares and Germano Silva are two of the writers who already have been invited by Porto de Encontro.
Seeing one of the country’s best orchestras play in a more relaxed environment is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Every other month, usually on Fridays, the Porto Symphony Orchestra holds, at Sala Suggia in Casa da Música, a series of open rehearsals. It’s in itself a concert/training session because the room is less crowded. Just do the musicians a favour: don’t leave halfway through, switch your phone off and make sure your kids are being quiet.
Boardgames are alive and kicking. Sales are rising and there’s a growing number of organised meetings which let people meet and play together. That’s what Porto’s gamers do: they gather every Thursday, at 9.30pm, and on the last Saturday of every month, at 2.30 pm, at Cristal Park’s Onda Tropical Burger. These are open meetings and everyone can join in: from nerds who can play blindfolded to those who’ve never even played a boardgame in their lives but want to learn how. You don’t need to bring games, only your wits: don’t forget that board games are Monopoly’s predecessors, and are plenty more complex when it comes to rules, regulations and design.
All meetings are scheduled here.