Porto travel guide

Porto, is the second largest city in Portugal. It is an important port city in the Atlantic Ocean.
In Portuguese, the city is called O Porto meaning: the port.

 

The Bridges of Porto

The city is located in northwestern Portugal, on the Douro River, which spills at the end of the city into the Atlantic Ocean. Six bridges connect the two banks of the river. Some of them are impressive and famous and each of them was built in different styles. The two most impressive bridges are: the Ponte de Dom Luis I, a two-story bridge, 385 meters long, which was inaugurated in1886 and was considered at the time as “The longest iron bridge in the world”.

 

Ponte de Luis I bridge

 

The most famous bridge of all, inaugurated in 1877 was called Maria Pia Bridge and was designed by the French engineer Gustav Eiffel, who only twenty years later planed and built the Eiffel Tower. This bridge was Eiffel’s last project before he built the famous tower in Paris.
It is nice to sail on the Douro River in one of the river boats that sail between its bridges. The duration of the tourist sail is about an hour to an hour and a half and is highly recommended in the evening.

 

Vila Nova de Gaia

The town on the other side of the Douro River is called Vila Nova de Gaia, where the famous port wine wineries are concentrated. The famous wine is named after the town and is the number one export product of Porto.

 

Douro river

 

Did you know?

The Port wine was invented in the 17th century when a war broke out between England and France causing a shortage of Bordeaux wine in England. The English, whose weather is unsuitable to produce the wine industry, which was an allied of Portugal, had decided to produce it in Portugal as an alternative wine. They established wineries in the Douro River region. In order to preserve the wine on the journey to England, they added a little bit of brandy to the barrels during the fermentation process. This caused the sugar to remain in the wine since the fermentation process was stopped before the process of decomposition of the sugar by the yeast finished. This is why the resulting wine was sweet and with a higher concentration of alcohol then normal, about 20 percent. The port is a mixture of several vintage years, and therefore the year of the vintage is not marked on the bottle, except for the most outstanding years in which the vintage years is marked and the wine is called Vintage Port.
To this day, the English names of the wineries and the wine houses in Porto have been preserved. Today there are over 20 wineries and wine houses in the city where you can take a tour. The most successful wineries where it is recommended to visit and have a taste their tasty Ports are: Taylor’s, Cockburn and Graham’s. In all of them there are tours in the wine cellars, amongst the wine barrels which are sometimes are decades old, with explanations about the production process, the difference between the different types and also tastings.

 

 

The Cockburn Winery
The Cockburn Winery

 

The Ribeira District

The liveliest and most touristic district of Porto, is the Ribeira district bordering on one side with the Douro River bank and on the other side the old city. It served, since it was established in the 12th century, as a social and economic gathering place, thanks to its strategic location close to the river that served as a main traffic artery.

 

The Ribeira District in Porto
The Ribeira District in Porto

 

In 1491, a large fire broke out in the area and destroyed large parts of the district, which was rebuilt and reconstructed over many years. In the district, there are the two of Porto’s famous cathedrals: Se do Porto Cathedral built in a 12th century gothic style and the Igreja de Sao Francisco, which is considered as one of the most impressive cathedral in Europe. The interior is covered with pure gold.

 

Porto’s Cathedral

Porto’s Cathedral

 

But the most luxurious and impressive building in the city is the stock exchange built (formally) as Palacio da Bolsa. In this two-story building with painted ceilings and wooden carvings, there is a hall in an especially luxurious Mori style construction (Arabic).
Another impressive building is the “Music House” Casa da Musica, a 12-story performance and concert hall with a unique architectural design.
The old city of Porto is considered as one of the oldest cities in Europe. It was declared in 1996 as a national UNESCO site thanks to its historic buildings and its impressive monuments.
In Porto you will find: the most beautiful bookstore in the world: “Lello bookstore Livraria Lello” which is considered as one of the oldest ones in Portugal. The store has a very impressive spiral staircase and colorful glass windows with high ceilings decorated with woodcuts.

Lello Bookstore – Livraria Lello

Lello Bookstore – Livraria Lello

The most beautiful train station in the world, the Sao Bento station was built on the ruins of a monastery at the beginning of the 19th Century and its walls are decorated with murals on ceramic tiles describing important events in the history of Portugal (even the McDonald branch close to the train station has an impressive design with a high ceiling and murals).

The Sao Bento Train Station

The Sao Bento Train Station

And the most beautiful café in the world – Majestic Café, designed in Art Nouveau style and is considered as a popular meeting place for intellectuals, and art people and politicians.
(All were selected by various press bodies and magazines to carry these titles.)

Did you know?

JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, lived in Porto in 1993. She worked there as an English teacher. She said in one of her interviews, that she got the inspiration for the Hogwarts Library from the Lello bookstore. Rumors are that her first book in the series, she began writing in Porto, in the Majestic Café and therefore the locals are proud to say that Harry Potter was in fact born in Porto.

 


The Baixa District

The Baixa district is the busy commercial center of Porto. All along it there is the most famous boulevard in the city called Avenida dos Aliados where the city hall has with a 70-meter bell tower. Also in this district is the most important square “The Liberation Square” Praca da Liberdade and in the center, there is the statue of King Pedro IV on horseback. In the square, there are many street artists and it is surrounded by cafes, shops and hotels.

Praca da Liberdade:

Praca da Liberdade

Recommended Hotels in Porto:

Ribeira do Porto Hotel

A 3-star hotel in the heart of the touristic Ribeira district, close to the Douro River.

NH Collection Porto Batalha

A 4-star modern hotel centrally located in the heart of the city close to the leading tourist attractions.

HF Ipanema Park

A 5-star modern hotel at an attractive price, about a ten-minute drive from the center of town.

Bnapartments Ribeira

An apartment hotel suitable for 4-6 people, at the heart of the touristic historical area of Porto close to the Douro River.

Landscape Observations

A popular overview of the city is an iconic tower which is considered as one of the city’s symbols: Torre dos Clerigos. It is a baroque-style tower overlooking the city and the river.
Another popular overview of the river is from the impressive garden in the Cristal palace, Jardins do Palacio Cristal. In the mansion gardens from the 19th century, there today, the Museum of Romance.

Landscape Observation


Other Popular Locations:

Porto has a colorful urban market called Mercado de Blhao.
Another modern market is the Sucesso bom Mercado specialized in a variety of food stands.

Sucesso bom Mercado:

Sucesso bom Mercado

Those who keep Kosher will be happy to know that nearby there is a kosher hotel called the “Music Hotel” Musica da Hotel.
The art lovers should not miss the “Bombarda Street” Rue Miguel Bombarda, which is filled with art galleries.

It is recommended to not be only satisfied with the center of town but travel to the spill of the River Foz do Douro, where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash onto the pier. On the spill of the river there is a fortress and from it alongside the coast there is a long promenade filled with cafes, restaurants and is bustling with cyclists and runners.

promenade


Porto is also known for it's bustling nightlife, especially in the streets: Candido dos Reis and Conde de Vizela which are filled with bars and clubs.

The Jews in Porto

In Porto, a Jewish community flourished, which got almost entirely wiped out during the period of the inquisition, but until today there is still an active synagogue “Sinagoga Kadoorie” there which continues to serve the small Jewish community living today in the city.
It is interesting to take a guided tour in the old “Jewish ghetto” street of Porto and learn about the ups and downs of the Jewish status in the city and what happened to them.

Guided Tours:

An excellent guide with a tour called Jewish Tour, is Ricardo Brochado. He has a small and high quality touring company called The City Tailors which will take you on a fascinating journey in time in the alleys of the city. As you walk, you will learn, a lot not only about the history of the city and the Jewish community but also about the life in it today, its culture, and you will combine wine tasting in a local wine store,

wine tasting

 tastings of typical Portuguese pastries, salty and sweet, you will satisfy your thirst with a local beer and you will see impressive viewpoints and less touristic known especially to the locals. Ricardo will prepare for you a tour according to your request and according to your interests and thanks to him you will learn a lot about Porto and Portugal in general. Highly recommended!

Transportation

Porto is about 320 kilometers from Lisbon, about a 3 hours drive. Between the cities there are excellent highways, trains and buses.
Porto has an international airport Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport, with direct flights from all over Europe, including a growing number of low-cost airlines and domestic flights from various destinations in Portugal, including Madeira.
In Porto, the transportation is convenient and inexpensive. The city has a network of metro and buses. It also has a lot of cheap taxis. Therefore, those who arrive with a rented car, it is recommended to leave the car in the hotel parking lot and travel by public transportation or even better by foot. (It is not easy and especially – it is not cheap to park in the center of town).

Did you know?

The typical food of Porto, which is being served in almost every restaurant and buffet in the city, is the “Francesinha” – a sandwich that includes several types of meats covered with cheese and dipped in tomato sauce. The dish is usually being served with fries.

 

The Peneda-Geres National Park

Portugal has one national park called: Peneda – Geres National Park located in the north of the country on the border of Spain. The park is located only about an hour and a quarter from Porto and can be a wonderful nature day trip for the visitors in the city. It has many hiking trails with waterfalls, a river, forests and a number of lakes and small towns.

Peneda – Geres National Park

Peneda-Geres National Park

It is of course possible to visit there independently, but if you want a comprehensive day where you will find hidden places on trails only known to the locals where in addition to hiking, landscaping and swimming you also learn about the lifestyle of the villages in the region, the local culture and especially about the animals and vegetation in the park – It is highly recommended to join a full day jeep tour (12 hours) by the Oporto Adventure Tours. This includes going in a 4X4 to the park and inside, walking in hidden places in the park, swimming is the waterfalls and the “Blue Well”, a waterfall pool with turquoise water in which you can jump from a high rock (for brave ones to whoever is not sensitive to cold).

 

Peneda-Geres National Park


A variety of impressive sights including the most impressive overlook point “Pedra Bela", from the top of the mountain into the lake and the towns far below.

Peneda-Geres National Park

During the tour, In the heart of the park, you will visit one of the typical homes in the villages which looks as if time has stopped from moving. You will prepare local bread from rice flour and corn and you will eat soup made for you by one of the local village women. The tour includes lunch in a popular restaurant in the park overlooking the panoramic view. This is a wonderful and comprehensive tour for nature lovers, landscape and action.

 

More about Portugal:
Lisbon travel guide
Travel Attractions in Madeira Island

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