Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, is built on granite cliffs above the Douro River (Douro) in the northern part of the country, it amazes the eye with its maze of beautiful streets with old buildings, steeply descending to the medieval harbor. It’s hard not to be enchanted by the narrow streets, the beautiful arches and the city promenade with its many ancient ships carrying wine. Porto, which Europeans call Oporto, is one of the main financial and economic centers of the northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula.
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Once upon a time there was a Roman settlement of Portus on one shore and Calus on the opposite shore. In the early Middle Ages, the city became known as Portucale.
Portugal’s most famous product, port, was named after this very city, as the wine was exported from Vila Nova di Gaia, on the other side of the river. Beginning in the 1850s, winemakers began aging the wine in Porto’s warehouses, and since then about 60 wineries have climbed the mountain near the harbor. Tours with tastings are arranged there.
The people of Porto have always prided themselves on their ability to work hard, but the buzz in the bars and restaurants at night proves they know how to relax as well as work.
The Douro River is spanned by beautiful bridges and steep slopes are lined with colorful houses with red tile roofs.
Things to see and try
Porto is an architectural cocktail. It’s best explored on foot, though you have to climb the many hills. The city has an amazing vitality. There’s modern architecture, art galleries, chic stores and restaurants, and even a new subway – the tunnels for three lines were drilled into the granite cliffs.
With its headwaters in Spain, the Douro River has always been Porto’s chief source of wealth. The river valley is lined with vineyard terraces. Excellent table wines and the famous Port wine are produced here. Traditionally, port was delivered to the city in oak barrels that were loaded onto the local barcos rabelos, flat-bottomed boats with square sails. And in the city the barrels were reloaded into the cool and humid cellars of Vila Nova di Gaia (this town is opposite Porto, on the other side of the river). Port wine is still stored in the same warehouses today, but now the barrels are transported in trucks.
The city had its origins on the riverbank, but has long since moved beyond the ancient walls. Praca da Liberdade (Liberdade Square), which is the center of the city today, is high on a hill. There is a central tourist office behind the town hall (Rua Clube dos Fenianos 25, Tel: 223-393-472, www.portoturismo.pt) . From Liberdade Square walk west along Clerigos Street and climb to the bell tower of the Clerigos Baroque Church (Igreja de Clerigos; daily October-March 10am-12pm, April-July, September 9.30-13pm, 2.30-19pm, August 10am-19pm) .
A couple of blocks east of the church and south of Liberdade Square is the spacious and very beautiful Sao Bento station (Estai;ao de Sao Bento) – too beautiful to be considered just a station. It was built in 1916. The waiting room is decorated with magnificent tiled panels depicting scenes from the history of the city.
South of the station is the Cathedral Quarter. The Romanesque cathedral of the XII century (Se; April – October daily 8.45-12.30, 14.30-19.00, November-March Mon-Sat till 18.00) looks rather gloomy and severe – a fortress rather than a church. In the XVIII century, an attempt was made to give the cathedral a more modern look. That’s when the baroque decorations appeared. Upon entering the cathedral, notice the baroque silver altar and the rosette above the entrance. In this granite cathedral, King João I married Philip Lancaster in 1387, thus cementing the sacred union between Portugal and England – the sanctity of which is especially felt in Porto, where numerous English firms are involved in the port wine trade.
Nearby, on Rua de Dom Hugo, is the Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro; Fri-Fri 10am-12.30pm, 2pm-17.30pm, Fri-Sat 10am-12.30pm, 2pm-6pm, Sun 2pm-18pm, admission paid, free at weekends. This is the house where the famous Portuguese poet lived in the 18th century and today you can see his manuscripts, furniture and art collection. On Largo 1 Dezembre you can visit the Church of Santa Clara (Igreja Santa Clara; Mon-Fri 9.30-11.30, 15.00-18.00), a great secret of Porto that is not easy to find. A modest Renaissance façade hides a sumptuous Rococo interior.
The cozy coastal neighborhood of Cais da Ribeira is very popular with tourists and residents alike. Porto’s historic waterfront is now listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
There are many fish restaurants here. From here the boats depart and the piers are located under picturesque bridges. From here you can take a week-long cruise on the Douro River to Regua. The beautiful King Luis I Bridge (Ponte Dom Luis I) was built in 1886. It goes over the colorful houses of Ribeira and goes directly to the Vila Nova di Gaia wine cellars.
On a hill overlooking the river is the neighbourhood of the Bolsa, named after the elegant 19th-century Bolsa Palace (Praga do Infante Dom Henrique; April to October 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., November to March 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., payable; www.palaciodabolsa.pt). Of course, the richly decorated neoclassical palace no longer has a stock exchange, but tourists have a chance to see the luxurious interiors. The palace’s main attraction is the Arab Hall (Salao Arabe), reminiscent of Granada’s Alhambra palaces.
Nearby on Rua do Infante D. The most beautiful church in town is the Church of Sao Francisco, daily Feb. to May 9 am – 6 pm, June to September 9 am – 7 pm, July to August 9 am – 8 pm, November to January 9 am – 5 pm, entrance fee is charged. Behind the austere Gothic facade hides a stunning gold Rococo interior. Gilded ornaments and decorations cover all the walls of the church from floor to ceiling. Note the gilded and painted wooden sculpture from the 18th century. “The Tree of Jesse” on the north wall. From this sculpture you can study the genealogy of Christ.
Opposite the church is an interesting little museum where relics of the old monastery are kept. Here you can also visit the catacombs.
Near Bolsa is the Casa do Infante (Casa do Infante; Fri-Sat 10.00-12.00, 14.00-17.00, Wed 14.00-17.00, admission paid, free on weekends) . Supposedly this is where Enrique the Navigator was born. The people of Porto are very proud of it. The city has always been very closely connected with the sea. The navy was assembled here, which recaptured Ceuta in 1415. The patriotic citizens of Porto donated the best meat from their stores and ate their own tripe for the navy as it went to war with the Moors in North Africa. For this they earned the nickname “tri peyrouche,” meaning “tripe eaters.
Other interesting museums in Porto are northwest of the city center. Suares dos Reis Museum (Rua Dom Manuel II; em 14.00-18.00, Wed-Sun 10.00-18.00, admission paid) is a remarkable art gallery located in the 18th century Carrancas Palace. You’ll see paintings by Josepha de Obidos and sculptures by Antonio Soares dos Reis. Note the magnificent sculpture O Desterrado.
The Romantico da Quinta da Macieirinha (Rua Entre-Quintas 220, west of the Clerigus Tower; Tues-Sat 10.00-12.30, Thu 14.00-17.30, admission paid, free on weekends) houses a collection of 19th century art and furniture, which belonged to the last king of Sardinia.
Fans of modern art and architecture should visit the Fundagao Serralves, Rua D. Joao de Castro 210, about 3 km west of the Clerigouche Tower; Fri-Fri 10.00-17.00, Sat, Wed 10.00-19.00, admission paid, www.serralves.pt) .
This museum consists of two parts. The first is a gloomy modern building built by the famous local architect Alvaro Siza Vieira. The second is a magnificent pink Art Deco mansion from the 1930s, surrounded by a beautiful garden and a park where wild goats live. Both parts of the museum hold temporary exhibitions of Portuguese and foreign artists.
If you want to try some good port, go to the Port Wine Institute (Mon-Sat 16.00-24.00; www. ivp.pt), next to the Crystal Palace, at the end of Rua de Entre-Quintas. It’s a wonderful place with a beautiful view of the Douro River all the way to its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean. Another fantastic place is Graham’s Port Visitors’ Centre (May – September daily 9.30-18.00, Tues by appointment, October – April Mon-Fri 9.30-13.00, 14.00-17.30) .
Vila Nova di Gaia.
The lower level of the bridge of King Luis I leads to the wine cellars of the Vila Nova de Gaia. These low buildings occupy the whole south bank. Familiar and less familiar names await you here: Taylor, Osborne and Ramos Pinto. Restaurants line the modern promenade, from where you can enjoy a very beautiful view of Porto.
Although no longer required by law, most port wine is still blended, stored and aged in the wine cellars of Gaia (that’s how the coastal town is called) .
Almost all of the wine cellars were founded in 1703 after the Treaty of Methuen, under which England agreed to lower import duties on port wine. Most producers offer tourists free tours and tastings.
Most of the ancient city is best explored on foot by walking through the center or down to the colorful Ribeiro neighborhood on the northern bank of the Douro. However, the local metro will not only save you from endless traffic jams (such as on Boaviste), but will also allow you to quickly reach the most interesting parts of the city. One of these attractions is the luxurious new Casa da Musica concert hall. Another, which on some days draws huge crowds, is the Dragao soccer stadium, where the world-famous local team Porto train. The metro also takes you across the river to Vila Nova di Gaia. The trains are clean and quiet and it’s easy to buy tickets. Just don’t forget to stamp them before boarding the train.
Take a look at the romantic old streetcar at the foot of the hill in the Bolsa district. It takes you to the Museu do Carro Electrico where you can see the very first streetcar introduced in Porto in 1872.
Excursions along the coast
Porto’s closest beaches are in the west. The Douro River has a large sandbar here. It flows into the ocean at Foz do Douro (Douro estuary) . In the nineteenth century, the Fauche was a popular resort, but now the water here is heavily polluted.
But you can still enjoy a pleasant day and evening on its beaches and in its restaurants, and take the scenic old vintage streetcar (no. 18) from the city to the Castelo do Queijo.
A little to the north begin the beach resorts of the Costa Verde in Minho. The water is not the warmest, but it is clean. The closest resorts to Porto (only 27 km to the north) are Vila do Conde and Povoa do Varzim. Vila do Conde is prettier and cozier than its neighbor.
You can easily walk to Povoa do Varzim. It is a busier and more built-up resort, where there is even a casino. A visit to Rates, with its magnificent 11th century Romanesque church, is a must.
When to visit
Spring or Autumn.
Not to be missed
- Ribeira, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. This lovely little neighborhood, home to many architectural landmarks, is ideal for walking.
- The Douro River Valley, with its extensive vineyards, is known for its production of port wine; several vineyards can be visited here.
- The city cathedral, built in the Portuguese Gothic style, commemorates the Portuguese victory over the Muslim armies in 1510. The cathedral bell, considered one of the finest in the world, is called “golden” for its magnificent voice.
- The Church of St. Francis is an original temple built in honor of St. Francis of Assisi in 1383, then enlarged and finally completed in 1425.
- The church is the best example of Gothic architecture in Porto.
Need to know
Porto is the center of production of Port Wine, a wine that is named after the city.
Porto (Portugal) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights of Porto with descriptions, guides and maps.
City of Porto (Portugal).
Porto is the second largest and most important city in Portugal and impresses with its rich collection of cultural attractions. It is a lively industrial and commercial center and is considered the capital of the Portuguese north. Porto is a picturesque city built along the hills overlooking the mouth of the Douro River, famous for its baroque architecture, grand neoclassical buildings and magnificent museums. Its historic heart (Ribeira), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a maze of atmospheric narrow streets and stunning architectural treasures.
What to do (Porto):
€80 per tour
Sample the highlights of Portuguese cuisine in some of the locals’ favourite restaurants.
€60 per excursion
By land and water: from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia
Panoramic view of the city and boat trip to famous Portuguese bodegas
Geography and Climate
Porto is situated in northwest Portugal at the mouth of the Douro River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The city occupies the right bank of the river valley and is built on hills. The distance from Lisbon is 300 km. Porto’s climate is subtropical (Mediterranean). The Atlantic influences the weather and summers are generally not as hot as in neighboring Spain. Winter in Porto is warm and fairly windy. Even on the coldest winter nights, the temperature rarely drops below freezing.
- Porto has a population of more than 230 thousand people.
- Area 41.66 km².
- Language: Portuguese.
- Currency – euros.
- Visa – Schengen.
- Time: UTC 0, +1 in summer.
- Porto is famous for its gastronomy. It is said to have some of the best restaurants in Portugal, most of which are concentrated in Matosinhos (between the beach and the port). Porto is also famous for its pastries (bakeries are called Pão Quente) and traditional dishes Francesinha (a kind of sandwich) and Bacalhau (salted cod).
- Of the traditional products and souvenirs from Porto, the most popular is Port wine (fortified wine).
- Porto is generally a safe place if you take the usual precautions.
Porto is one of the oldest and most important historical cities in Portugal. It was founded in the 3rd – 4th century BC by Celtic tribes. In 136 BC, the settlement was conquered by the Roman Empire. The Romans named the city Portus Cale, from which came the modern name of the city, the medieval county and the entire country.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire in 540, Porto was conquered by the Visigoths. At the beginning of the 8th century, the city was conquered by the Moors. In 848 Porto was recaptured by the founder of the county of Portugal, Vimar Pires, but between 997 and 1050 was again Moorish. The city was finally liberated in 1092 during the Reconquista and became part of the Kingdom of Leon.
Panorama of Porto
In 1096, the city became part of the county of Portugal, which was later declared an independent state. In 1123 Porto received city status. In 1370, during the reign of Fernando I, the city fortifications were expanded. Porto flourishes in the 18th century, when the city establishes close trade relations with England. The main commodity in this trade is Port wine.
In 1809 Porto was occupied by Napoleon’s troops. The city was liberated by British troops under the command of the Duke of Wellington. Subsequently, Porto passed through fierce military conflicts. Also, the city (like the rest of Portugal) was actually away from the world wars, which allowed to preserve its historic architecture and atmosphere.
How to get there
Porto is one of the most important transport hubs in Portugal. Its airport, 15 km from the city center, is the third busiest in the country and considered one of the best in Europe. The metro line connects the air port with the city center, providing a quick and quiet ride.
Porto has rail connections to most major cities in Portugal, as well as to Paris and Madrid. The city is also served by five main highways, which allow you to get here fairly quickly by car or bus from Lisbon, Aveiro and Spain.
The streets of Porto
For shopping we recommend the Mercado do Bolhão (food market) and the Santa Catarina. The major shopping centers in the Porto area include the Norte Shopping Centre, Arrábida Shopping Centre, Parque Nascente, Gaia Shopping Centre and Mar Shopping Centre.
The streets of Porto
Porto’s coastal quarter or Ribeira is a maze of narrow, winding streets and alleyways with brightly colored houses of yellow, blue and brown hues, soaked in the scents of pastries and filled with hundreds of voices. This is Porto’s most popular neighborhood, known for its lively and friendly atmosphere with many restaurants and grocery stores. The heart of this neighborhood is the square of the same name, which attracts thousands of people every day. Ribeira is a fascinating history and striking medieval relics built right on ancient Roman foundations.
Porto’s coastal quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Clerigouche Tower in the urban fabric of the city
The Clerigos is a symbol of Porto and one of the city’s most notable landmarks. It is a stunning baroque granite tower built in the 18th century. To get to the top of it you have to overcome 240 steps. This effort will be rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of the old town and the Douro Valley. The tower is part of the neighboring church, built between 1732 and 1750. This baroque structure is one of the first churches in Portugal to have an elliptical plan.
Bolsa Palace is a historic building of the former stock exchange, built in the 19th century on the site of a Franciscan monastery. It is famous for its luxurious interior with Moorish motifs.
Port Bridge “Ascent”.
The Ascent Port Bridge is a striking example of 20th century engineering, opened in 1963. The bridge was built over the Douro River and is 65 meters high (at its highest point). An interesting feature of this structure is that you can climb it.
San Francisco is a beautiful 18th-century Baroque church that has a simply stunning interior decorated with dazzling gilded elements. Beneath the church building are ancient catacombs, which can be visited as part of the tour.
Church of St. Ildefonso
The Church of St. Ildefonso is a magnificent 18th-century baroque church with a colorful façade. This religious structure was built on the site of a medieval chapel from the 13th century, which was demolished in the 18th century because of the threat of destruction.
Bridge of Luis I
The Luís I Bridge is an imposing 19th-century engineering structure and one of Portugal’s most iconic civilian sites. The bridge is of steel construction and connects Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank of the Douro.
The Cathedral (Sé) is an imposing 12th-century church that is one of the most important Romanesque structures in Portugal. Construction began in 1110 and was not completed until 627 years later.
The Carmo Church is a magnificent 18th-century Baroque religious structure with a stunning façade and an equally beautiful interior.
Avenida dos Aliados
Avenida dos Aliados is a wide double avenue and a lively commercial center of the city with many stores, cafes and restaurants.
€70 for a guided tour
Porto is the city of my heart!
The old bookstore, the picturesque São Bento train station, the Luís I bridge – and many, many vivid stories about the city