Set on a rocky outcrop, a couple of hundred metres from São Bento station, the Sé (April–Oct daily 8.45am–12.30pm & 2.30–7pm; Nov–March closes 6pm; free) commands a wide terrace with fine views over the rooftops of old Porto. Despite wholesale remodelling of its interior in the eighteenth century, the cathedral retains the austere, fortress-like lines of its twelfth-century origins. On the north tower (the one with the bell), look for the worn bas-relief depicting a fourteenth-century ship – a reminder of the earliest days of Portugal’s maritime epic, when sailors were still inching tentatively down the west Saharan coastline in fear of monsters. Inside, the blend of Baroque, original Romanesque and Gothic architecture is a strange marriage, not much aided by the prevailing gloom.
However, you can escape into the cloisters (April–Oct Mon–Sat 9am– 12.15pm & 2.30–6pm, Sun & hols 2.30–6pm; Nov–March closes 5.15pm; e2), with their magnificent Baroque azulejos, from where a grand staircase climbs to the dazzling chapterhouse for sweeping views from the casement windows The shaper of much of eighteenth-century Porto, Nicolau Nasoni, left his mark both on the Sé – he designed the cloister staircase, the silver altarpiece and much more – and on the surrounding buildings. On the south side of the Sé stretches the grandiose facade of the Paço Episcopal (not open to the public), the medieval archbishop’s palace that was completely rebuilt by Nasoni in 1737. He’s also thought to have designed the house behind and below the cathedral, at Rua de Dom Hugo 32, that’s now the Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro (Tues–Sat 10am–12.30pm & 2–5.30pm, Sun 2–5.30pm; e2, free at weekends), later the home of the poet Guerra Junqueiro (1850–1923), who spent a lifetime collecting Iberian and Islamic art. Seljuk pottery, glassware, paintings and glazed earthenware are exhibited here in rooms recapturing the atmosphere of the poet’s last home.
Rua de Dom Hugo curls around the south side of the cathedral to merge with crumbling stairways and alleys that plunge down to the riverside. It’s a medieval maze that would have been demolished in most other European cities – the rickety houses have grown upwards into every available space, while children try their best to play ball games on the steep staircases.