To the northeast of Porto, Rio Tinto is a parish connected to the city via the Porto Metro (Orange Line). Close by there are traditional churches, speciality museums, a zoo and a gorgeous park on the ruins of an old quinta.
In Porto’s eastern and northern suburbs you’ll find cool things that most tourists miss, like the world-class Pharmacy Museum and the solemn sculptures in the Prado do Ropouso.
Meanwhile the city of Maia is a short way up the road and has its own attractions including the tallest building outside Lisbon.
Lets explore the best things to do in Rio Tinto:
1. Igreja Matriz de Rio Tinto
Over the Rio Tinto valley, a few paces from the Metro station is the local church, which stands in sharp relief to the newer developments around it.
This is from the 1770s and replaced a medieval convent church.
On the facades there are six tile panels representing various saints important to Rio Tinto.
It’s hard to ignore the wealth of decoration inside, particularly on the altar, which has images of saints surrounded by oodles of gilded woodwork.
The church is also quite rare in Portugal for having a tabernacle (to contain the Eucharist); like the rest of the church this is very opulent, and has scenes from the Passion on its doors.
2. Museu Mineiro de São Pedro da Cova
Coal was discovered just beyond Porto’s northeastern limits in the 18th century, and where there had been farms in the parish of São Pedro da Cova, mining soon took over.
This particular mine was exploited for 200 years before closing in 1970. The museum is in the Casa da Malta, which used to be housing for miners who had travelled to work here from other parts of the country.
If you’re interested in old industry you can see what’s left of the old mine, while the museum has two parts: The first describes the kind of ore that was extracted here, and the second goes into depth on the life and routine of a worker.
3. Estádio do Dragão
Four stops on Line F of the Porto Metro is one of Europe’s football cathedrals.
It’s the home stadium for FC Porto, who are a member of Portugal’s Big Three.
Along with Sporting Lisbon and Benfica, Porto are constantly battling it out for the Primeira Liga title.
They also have a continental pedigree, having won the European Cup/Champions League and the UEFA Cup/Europa League twice each.
This prestigious history is recorded at the museum, which you can combine with a tour of this UEFA Four Star stadium.
Matches other than local derbies and against the Big Three almost never sell out, so you can easily buy a ticket at the office on the day of a game between August and May.
There’s much to keep you occupied in the parishes around Rio Tinto, but you’ll always be just 15 minutes from the centre of Porto on the Metro.
Like any great European city there’s something for people of all walks of life and ages.
If you want to feel the bustle of an old town the Ribeira quarter is for you, and if you want big sights there’s the much-photographed Dom Luís I Bridge, Palácio da Bolsa and a lineup of churches festooned with gilded woodwork and azulejos.
Those with a palate for fortified wine can cross the Douro into Gaia where there are scores of port lodges where you can taste and buy this esteemed beverage.
5. Museu Militar do Porto
In the Bonfim parish, west of Porto, is the city’s military museum.
You can make it in ten minutes or so on the Metro, using Heroísmo station.
It’s an impressive building, built as a palatial residence in the 19th century and later used as the HQ for the secret police during Salazar’s regime.
In the collection is a wealth of antique swords, uniforms and guns of different sizes from the 1400s to the 1900s.
But the pièce de résistance has to be the set of miniature figures, numbering 16,000 and produced by Europe’s leading manufacturers.
6. Quinta do Covelo
Just west of the Estádio do Dragão is this charming eight-hectare park in the middle of an old residential area in Porto’s northern outskirts.
On the upper reaches of the hill are lawns and groves of palms, stone pines and oaks.
Parents with smaller kids can visit the swings and slides but what really lends the park character is the ruins of the old estate that once contained this parkland.
You can still make out the Baroque facade of this stately house, which has been left as a hollow shell since the Siege of Porto in 1832-1833.
7. Zoo da Maia
If you’re in luck with traffic you’ll be at this zoo in 15 minutes or so from Rio Tinto.
It’s worth the effort if you have youngsters with you as the zoo has a strong educational slant and is dedicated to conservation.
It can boast the largest reptile exhibit in Portugal, with plated lizards, Burmese pythons, geckos, desert cobras, green vipers, iguanas and crocodiles.
There are also loads of other creepy crawlies, like scorpions and tarantulas.
Less scary are the bird of prey demonstrations that take place three times a day, or the sea lion presentation when you watch this animal swimming and feeding.
8. Rua Santa Catarina
Porto’s prime shopping street is also in touch, at 15 minutes or so from Levada to Bolhão station.
It’s a long thoroughfare, beginning in the north with relatively nondescript offices and housing, and getting more touristy as you head down the slope.
The livelier section begins just south of Bolhão station and has a mix of shops and boutiques selling one-off items local specialities, and more familiar international chains like Zara and Bershka, all set in refined 19th-century buildings.
The Mercado do Bolhão merits a stop, as much for the turn-of-the-century architecture around the courtyard as for its produce.
9. Torre Lidador
Portugal’s fifth-tallest building, and the tallest outside of Lisbon, is a 15-minute drive away in Maia.
If this rouses your curiosity you can sign up for a tour, which will take you to the top of this 92-metre tower for an all-encompassing panorama of the Porto Metropolitan Area.
On the roof the guide will point out the visible landmarks and give you a bit of background to Maia and its history.
In front of this building is a statue of the 12th-century commander, Gonçalo Mendes da Maia.
He was born in this area and went down in history in 1170 when at age 91 he showed up at the vanguard of a battle against the Moors (hence the name, “Lidador” ).
10. Pharmacy Museum
Worth every minute of the drive towards the coast is this superb medical museum that has gathered a host of instruments and containers from many civilisations and periods.
There are items here from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Rome, Greece, China, Japan, Russia as well as Incan and Aztec objects.
But best of all are the two reconstructed pharmacy interiors, wich have their earthenware pots and shelving.
One is the former Estácio Pharmacy, which used to be on Rua Sá da Bandeira in Porto.
The other has travelled much farther, from a 19th-century Ottoman Empire palace in Damascus.
11. Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Ó de Águas Santas
This Romanesque church in Maia is so old it even predates Portugal as a nation.
It has its origins in the 10th century when it was attached to a convent, and was rebuilt in its present form in the 1120s.
Things get very atmospheric in the churchyard where there are five monolithic sarcophagi dating from the early middle ages.
On one of them you can make out a circular cross of Malta and coat of arms.
And in the two naves are sculpted capitals with animal and vegetal motifs.
12. Prado do Repouso Cemetery
A brief walk from Heroísmo Metro Station is another interesting place that not many tourists make it to.
The Prado do Repouso was opened in 1839 as the first public cemetery in the city, and today it’s more like an open-air museum.
If you can get past the fact that this is a cemetery you’ll be treated to some of Porto’s richest artwork, sculpted by the likes of António Soares dos Reis.
There are sumptuous tombs and mausoleums, a beautiful cemetery chapel and the solemn charnel house for the former convent.
13. Mosteiro de Leça do Balio
Preserved as a National Monument, this monastery stands by the Leça River, close to the old Roman road that linked Porto with Braga.
It has been here since the 900s but the present design is from the 1300s.
And what you’ll notice straight away is the tough defensive appearance.
This was built for both defence and worship, so there are pointed merlons and arrow loops, and hardly any openings on the main facade except for the portal and rose window, itself guarded by crenellations.
Inside it’s a fusion of Romanesque and Gothic, with none of the exuberant decoration of Porto’s churches.
There’s a wooden ceiling and bare walls and columns, which have a light, airy quality from the paleness of their stone.
14. Shopping Parque Nascente
Porto’s fashion-conscious shoppers descend on this mall in Rio Tinto, which has a wide selection of clothing stores and fills up early on weekends.
Think classic high street brands like Primark, Sephora and Zara, as well as all the usual shops you’ll find in Portugal and Spain, like Oysho, Bershka, Pull & Bear and Springfield.
If you’re staying at self-catering accommodation in Rio Tinto there are a couple of supermarkets here, or you could grab a bite to eat at the food court, which has both health-conscious eateries and fast-food chains like Subway.
For a day by the ocean your easiest option is Praia de Matosinhos.
This is also the best in the area for surfing, with ideal conditions from October to May and no lack of schools to get you riding these tube-like waves.
Being on the water Matosinhos should also be your first port of call for fish and seafood.
The harbour district has affordable, no-fuss restaurants serving cod, sea bream, grilled squid and the classic sardines.
Match this with vinho verde (literally “young wine”), which often has a slight sparkle and lightness that goes well with seafood.