Europe, Portugal

Exploring Porto, Portugal

Porto was the final destination of our two week sojourn through Portugal. By the time we were done seeing the city we were in unison that we had saved the best for last. Porto was for Jacky and myself the most beautiful city in the country. Having lived in Finland for long, we aren’t really used to the frantic pace of big metros any-more and in Lisbon we were a tad overwhelmed by the tourist hordes and the bustle. In contrast, Porto is far less cosmopolitan and more laid-back. It’s a charming city and a veritable must see destination.

The city lies astride the Douro river downstream of the wine estates that gave the city its name. Porto is world famous among wine connoisseurs for its port wine but it’s far more than just a wine mecca. Opulent Baroque churches, wonderfully tiled Neoclassical buildings, picturesque squares, and substantial museums all add to Porto’s grandeur. I presumed that two days in Porto would give us ample time to explore the city but it being our final destination we were a bit lethargic and didn’t see as much as we ought to – much to our disappointment. The heat was relentless in late September due to which we decided to explore the city mostly without heavy camera gear. Nonetheless, here are our Top 8 Recommendations on what to see and do in this magnificent city.

Cais da Ribeira

Porto’s riverside district is an enticing maze of steep, constricted streets and zigzagging alleyways. This area is the city’s most vivid and touristy locale. Old arcades are dotted along the Ribeira promenade, and behind them are the dilapidated, multi-coloured facades of houses dating from the middle ages. So rare and precious are the structures that comprise this revered neighbourhood that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. A cornucopia of restaurants and cafes along the quay make this a popular spot for socialising.  Take a stroll along the waterfront and soak up the aura of the Ribeira. I personally loved the Ribeira more than any other place in Portugal. It is my personal must-see!

The Ribeira as seen from Ponte de Dom Luís.
The Ribeira as seen from Ponte de Dom Luís.

Ponte de Dom Luis I

The majestic Dom Luis I bridge is one of the most widely recognised structures in Portugal. It spans the Douro river to link Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia on the south bank. The bridge was built in 1886 by an assistant of Gustav Eiffel’s and the heavily riveted ironwork is indeed a testament to him. A road runs across the lower deck while the upper deck lodges a metro line. From here the Ribeira forms a stunning backdrop and the vista is best seen at dusk. Remember to take your tripod!

The imposing bridge as seen from the Ribeira (Source: António Amen/Wikimedia).
The imposing bridge as seen from the Ribeira (Source: António Amen/Wikimedia).

Torre dos Clérigos

The spindle shaped Clerigos Tower soars above Porto’s skyline and is the city’s most visible landmark. It rises 75 metres so you’ll require a robust pair of legs to scale the 240 steps to the top of the tower. Unfortunately at the time Jacky and I weren’t in the best of shape and the steep steps added to our woes. Consequently we were bushed by the time we made it up to the top. From here you can get a bird’s-eye-view of the city’s hills and red roofs which is quite impressive.

The tower can be seen from anywhere in the city (Source: Gregorio Puga Bailón/Flickr).
The tower can be seen from anywhere in the city (Source: Gregorio Puga Bailón/Flickr).

Vila Nova de Gaia

Situated just across the Douro river from Porto is Vila Nova de Gaia and this is the place to sample the product for which Porto is most renowned. Head to one of the myriad port wine lodges which offer tours and samplings explaining about winemaking, as well as the provenance and characteristics of wine. You can also marvel the rabelo boats moored along the esplanade that traditionally transported barrels of port from the vineyards upstream. With the Ribeira district of Porto providing a romantic backdrop , you are treated to an atmospheric cityscape reminiscent of the 18th century. It is awesome!

For some reason Jacky and I got completely lost on our way from the hotel to the waterfront and spent probably around 2 hours driving around the dark streets of Porto’s suburbs and only on our final attempt following the last car still on the streets, we finally made it down. A small glass of vino was well deserved after this oddysey! 😛

View of Vila Nova de Gaia on a sunny day (Source: Manuel de Sousa/Wikimedia).
View of Vila Nova de Gaia on a sunny day (Source: Manuel de Sousa/Wikimedia).

Lello bookshop

This place is an absolute gem, arguably the most beautiful book-store you will ever encounter. This Neo-Gothic bookshop has sumptuous interior architecture, exquisite wooden walls, and a stained glass ceiling. The staircase is one one the most intriguing ones I have seen. No wonder this place served as the inspiration for  the library in the Harry Potter world. I swear that I could have spent an entire day there just roaming around admiring the interior and perusing the books. The only snag is that photography and filming is vehemently prohibited and the staff are quite vigilant.

Somebody got lucky taking a snapshot of the beautiful store! (Source: Michał Huniewicz/Flickr)
Somebody got lucky taking a snapshot of the beautiful store! (Source: Michał Huniewicz/Flickr)

Sé Cathedral

This formidable 12th century landmark seems more like a fortress due to the dim hue of its exterior and grim towers. It has a lovely looking rose window though and Baroque cloisters with blue azulejo tiles.

Porto Cathedral at night (Source: Nuno Tavares/Wikimedia).
Porto Cathedral at night (Source: Nuno Tavares/Wikimedia).

Avenida dos Aliados

This magnificent tree-lined avenue dominates the city centre as it descends the hill towards the Ribeira. Some fine examples of Portuguese architecture can be found here. It is bordered on all sides by prominent and imposing institutions, such as the Câmera Municipal at its upper end, while the lower end widens to become the Praca de Liberdade, fronted by an equestrian statue of Dom Pedro IV. There are many fine shopping boutiques as well as hordes of eclectic eateries lining the avenue.

The Avenida on a foggy day (Source: AntoniusJ/Wikimedia).
The Avenida on a foggy day (Source: AntoniusJ/Wikimedia).

Gorge on the Francesinha

The title of this blog post stems from the fact that Porto natives are known as tripeiros (tripe-eaters). Along with tripe and seafood, there’s plenty of meat on Porto menus. While we’re on the topic of food you ought to try the francesinha, a famous, belly-buster sandwich which needs to be sampled at least once on a visit to Porto. The sandwich is layered with pork, smoke sausage, bacon, topped off with a medium-rare beefsteak, and finally it is topped with a fried egg and covered in a thick coat of cheese sauce. It is served hot with a crimson dark sauce. If that isn’t enough to get your gastric juices in full flood, then you must be a vegetarian. It is delectable and a must for bon vivants.

A tasty looking example of the famous sandwich (Source: Filipe Fortes/Flickr).
A tasty looking example of the famous sandwich (Source: Filipe Fortes/Flickr).

 


Our final verdict: Porto is best enjoyed in 2-3 days!

Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? Do you have tips on what else to see or do in Porto? What was your favourite sight? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!

 

2 thoughts on “Exploring Porto, Portugal

  1. I have heard only great things about Porto from friends that have traveled there! It’s still on my list of places to go. I’m a huge sucker for good views, especially along the water, so I would have to visit the Rebeira and snap some photos there. That bookstore is such a one of kind! I like books as much as the next person, but wow, I’ve never seen a bookstore like that before.

    1. Hi and thank you so much for your comment, Diana 🌞 I’m glad you enjoyed the post and hope that you’ll have a chance to enjoy the view and a glass of vino soon 🙂

      Jacky

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