Porto City Guide

Porto is a beautiful city with old world charm. While Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, the second biggest city is Porto in the north located along the Douro River. For size comparison Portugal is about the same size as Pennsylvania. Porto is half the size in area and population as Lisbon. Both cities have their similarities as both have close access to beaches and both are very hilly cities like San Francisco.  I flew into Porto first and I’m glad I did as it made me appreciate Porto first, saving the biggest city for last. I didn’t feel Porto was overrun with tourists, while in Lisbon there were Americans everywhere due to the cruise ship port. Porto is a UNESCO world heritage city for its iconic azulejos (tiled) buildings, windy cobblestoned streets, historic churches, and terracotta rooftops. I visited at the very end of May and it was only 60 degrees and rainy so my pace was a bit slower than usual. But everywhere I looked people still hung their laundry outside their windows.

Getting around:
Public transportation in Porto is easy to navigate. At the airport I bought a 24 hour Andante Tour ticket that was good for unlimited bus and metro (which only opened in 2002) rides for 24 hours for 7 euro. You are supposed to validate your ticket before you board, however the metro didn’t have turnstiles, you’re on the honor system to find the box to swipe. Most sights were within walking distance, but I had to get from my hotel to downtown and to further afield places. And to save some time and energy after getting lost in the very steep hills and take cover from the rain. There's also the tram which has been around 100 hundred years. 

What to see:

Admire the Azulejos (Portuguese Tiles)
Azulejo is a Portuguese painted and glazed ceramic tile and are a popular building material as it is a fire deterrent.  Portugal is known for their colorful and ornate ceramic tiles that cover buildings both outside and inside. In Porto you will see them everywhere in all different colors, it was quite a sight to see! Azulejos traditionally were just blue and white, but now other colors can be seen. Two churches that stood out to me the most in Porto are twin churches (below) Igreja do Carmo / dos Carmelitas and  Capela das almas which had amazing exterior floor to roof panels that showed scenes from the lives of various saints in a lavish facade.

private house

São Bento Railway Station is another great example of beautiful historical tiles. In 1930 the interior was decorated with 20,000 tiles that show historic battles and the history of transportation. If you’re arriving to this city by train or are looking for a place to exchange money, you will end up here. It’s a fantastic display with the walls completely covered that you can’t miss!

Stroll along the River
The  Ribeira is a very picturesque area with lots of restaurants along the waterfront of the Douro River. The streets that lead up the hill are all filled with colorful buildings.

Walk across the Ponte Dom Luís I bridge
Porto has six bridges that cross the Douro River but the Ponte Dom Luis is the most striking. Built in the 1880s by Gustav Eiffel (yes designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris) of his signature style of wrought iron; the enormous bridge is 150 feet above the river and 500 feet across. The bridge has two pedestrian walkways on both the upper and lower deck, as well as cars and the metro. Walking across will give you an amazing view of Porto, especially at sunset.

Taste Port in Vila Nova de Gaia 
Porto is the home of port wine, so tasting it is a must on your to do list! Across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia are many Port cellars that give tours of their facilities where the wine matures and offer port tastings. Port wine is a medium-sweet wine with a 20% alcohol content and served after a meal in a tiny glass. Wine can only be called Port wine if it comes from the Douro Valley located outside of Porto. The grapes are native to this region and are picked by hand and later stomped by foot as they’ve found this process vital to getting the flavor they want. Brandy is mixed into the vat during the fermentation process which is what makes a port. A little history lesson for you, during the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain was at war with France and decided to boycott French wine, which meant they needed to look elsewhere for wine. That led them to Portugal where wine was cheaper. Hence many of the Port houses today have non-Portuguese names.

There’s many different styles of port, I tried white port and rose port and loved both! White port is a super sweet white wine with a slight yellow color from the wooden barrels its aged in. Rose port has no contact with wood which keeps it a pink color instead of red. I enjoyed a glass of rose port on the rooftop of Porto Cruz, the most modern looking port wine cellars. They have an amazing view over Porto with a DJ spinning tunes.

I know a lot of people go to the Livraria Lello bookstore, rumored to have been the inspiration for Harry Potter's Hogwarts, but I skipped it. The lines were too long and too crowded inside. I stood outside and could see everything inside. I also didn’t get a chance to take a river  cruise along the Douro since it was drizzling most of the time I was there. 


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