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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrPorto, Portugal's second largest city that dates mainly from the 18th century, is situated at the mouth of the river Douro. The true affirmation of Porto as economic power in the country came during the age of the great geographical discoveries, from the 15th to the 17th century.
A fascinating city with a long and colorful history is home to beautiful plazas, old riverside alleys, extravagant Baroque churches and houses with colorfully tiled façades. Buildings gleam with distinctive blue-patterned tiling, preserved as some of the nation’s best examples of its azulejo - painted ceramic tile-work tradition.
Explore some of the city's most beautiful sights, like balconies overlooking the Douro river. the iconic neighborhood of Miragaia, as well as lively markets, restaurants and cafes. Walk to Sao Beneto Railway Station, one of the city's impressive buildings with its magnificent tiles. Be sure to stroll along the wide avenue Avenida dos Aliados lined with shops, chic boutiques, stores, cafes and restaurants. For the best view over the city's rooftops climb the Torre dos Clerigos, an 18th century bell tower with 240 steps.
Porto’s historic center is the Ribeira district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Part of its charm is that it remains unchanged and untouched. Besides its rich heritage, Porto is also famous for being the birthplace of port, and as such has become a mecca for wine-lovers. The city is linked by six bridges to Vila Nova de Gaia , where most of the port-wine lodges are located. Views of the Douro River are best enjoyed from the Dom Luís I Bridge. Many museums, such as the Serralves Foundation and the Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis, offer free entry on Sunday mornings and early afternoons. In the evening, the liveliest place to head for drinks is Ribeira, the vibrant historic heart of the city. At the banks of the Duoro river, you can embark a riverboat to catch a glimpse of Porto from the water.
The region also harbors the country's only national park, Peneda-Gerês National Park , with its many marked trails. Its mild climate makes Porto an ideal year-round destination. Porto's location along Portugal's northwestern coast grants the city access to some prime beachfront and Vila do Conde is definitely worth a visit.
Sé do PortoPorto’s famous cathedral is centrally located right in the heart of the city. Originally constructed in the 12th century, it has been rebuilt twice; first in the late 13th century and again in the 18th century. The cathedral is flanked by two distinctive square towers and crowned with a cupola. The interior is decorated by blue ceramic tiles, installed in the 18th century. The most notable feature of this cathedral is its architecture which combines Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles. Meander along the terrace outside the church and admire the views of Porto's terracotta-colored rooftops below.
Torre dos ClerigosThe impressive 249 feet high Torre dos Clerigos is one of the architectural landmarks of Porto. The structure, constructed in beautiful Baroque style, is part of the Clerigos Church, representing its bell tower. The top of the bell tower is reached via an inner narrow staircase in spiral form. Scaling the tower takes about 15 minutes. The view from the top is simply breathtaking. make sure you come early or late in the day as the queues can be substantial. The Clerigos Church is worth peeking in too for its Baroque and Rococo gilt carvings.
Casa do InfanteAccording to legends, this was the birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator , however, this building was actually a customs house. Located on the Ribeira riverbank, it now houses an archive of historic documents relating to the city's commerce over the centuries and a small, interesting and well-presented museum with important historical collections. Also on display are the Roman foundations and mosaics discovered during excavation.
Ponte de Dom Luís IThis iconic iron bridge spans the Douro River, connecting Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia on the south bank. The bridge is especially renowned because it was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel, the mastermind behind the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The top level has metro running it, while bottom is a road for cars. Be sure to walk along both top and bottom levels as the views are superb.
Church of São FranciscoThe Church of São Francisco looks from the outside to be an ordinary Gothic church, but inside it hides one of Portugal’s most dazzling displays of 18th century Baroque finery. Glit carving embellishes the high altar, columns and pillars with barely a single patch of stone left visible. There is a museum housed in the catacombs below consisting of artifacts from the former monastery. Church services are no longer held here, but it is often the venue for classical music concerts.
Cais da RibeiraPorto's lively riverside quarter, facing the Douro River, is made up of medieval streets and narrow alleyways. The pretty quayside, with its traditional boats and colorful buildings, is one of the most photogenic spots in Porto. Wander trough the meandering streets and marvel at the charming ancient houses. Dozens of cafes, bars and restaurants set under the arches along the quayside, makes it a popular place in the city for eating and drinking. From Ribeira you can also see the series of Port Wine houses across the river, as well as the lovely Cais de Gaia riverfront.
Palacio da BolsaThe Palacio da Bolsa, built in the 19th century on the site of a Franciscan monastery, is Porto's former stock exchange building and contains a wealth of historic interest. Stroll through the Portrait Room with its gallery of uniformed monarchs, the Golden Room to admire its gilded stucco ceiling and the richly decorated Court Hearing Room to witness mercantile law acted out in due process. The absolute highlight is the impressive Arab Room, that stands out for its sheer glamour. It was built between 1862 and 1880 and is lavishly decorated in exotic Moorish revival style. For permission to see this building you must participate in a guided tour.
Soares dos Reis National MuseumThe Soares dos Reis National Museum, located in the beautiful 18th century Carrancas Palace, is one of the oldest museums in Portugal. The museum showcases important paintings, glass, ceramics, furniture and jewelry. The interesting collection of Portuguese art spans from the 16th to the 29th centuries. Its best works date from the 19th century, including sculptures by Antonio Soares dos Reis, Antonio Teixeira Lopes and Antonio Silva Porto.
Church of Santa ClaraThe Church of Santa Clara dates back to the early 15th century. It was built in a Gothic style with the Renaissance embellishments added later. The interior combines Baroque style ornaments with elements typical of the Rococo style. Wonderful rich craftsmanship will leave you enchanted. The marvelous carved and gilded woodwork is some of the finest in all of Portugal. It can be a little difficult to find the church but do persevere as it is well worth the hunt.
Museu do Vinho do PortoWorth visiting just because of the pleasant walk along the river, you will also learn there some economic grounds of Porto and wine trade. Housed in an 18th century former wine warehouse, the museum tells the story of the city's most important export, port, and how this dovetails into the growth of the city as a whole. Displays include implements used in port wine production as well as paintings and engravings depicting the trade.
Crystal Palace GardensThe lovely Crystal Palace Gardens boast exotic trees and plants, elegant fountains, majestic statues, winding walkways, ponds, ancient chapels, roaming peacocks and superb views. The beautifully landscaped park, dominated by a huge domed Pavilhao Rosa Mota pavilion, covers an area of more than 8 acres and makes the perfect place for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city center. The lush greenery is also a favorite picnic spot with the Porto families and couples. The gardens are open daily until dark and are free to explore.
Casa da MusicaThe Music House, opened in 2005, plays host to some of Portugal's most important music events. All musical tastes are catered for - from classical recitals, fado and jazz to electronic and dance music. The building was designed by the world-renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and boast eye-catching shape. Casa de Musica stands at an impressive 12 storeys high and houses two main auditoriums. Take a guided tour to gain the full experience. The top floor restaurants has gorgeous views across the city and serves delicious meals in a beautiful atmosphere.
Portuguese Center of PhotographyThe Portuguese Center of Photography is housed in a building that once served as a prison. The prison was closed in 1974, but its labyrinth of cells and the inner courtyard were all carefully restored and now serve as an unusual exhibition spaces. Its exhibition consist of contemporary and modern 20th century works by Portuguese photographers and boast a superb collection of cameras. The center is free to visit and you can find details about temporary exhibitions on the center's website.
Romantic Museum of Quinta da MacieirinhaThe Romantic Museum is situated on the south slopes of the Crystal Palace Gardens. The museum is housed in a lovely 19th century mansion, providing an insight into level of wealth that was enjoyed by Porto's merchants and aristocracy during the Romantic period. The interior is rich in design and opulent furnishings, with important artworks scattered trough the rooms. Among the highlights is the King's Room, where king Carlos Alberto of Piedmont and Sardinia received his guests.
Serralves Museum & GardensThe Serralves Museum is a contemporary art museum with impressive permanent collection, which spans a period from the 1960s to the present day. The museum showcases some of the most cutting-edge contemporary art of its time from all over the world. Also set within the grounds is the pink Art Deco Casa de Serralves, which dates back to 1920s. Inside, the house is laid out like a private residence and hosts temporary art exhibitions throughout the year. The extensive gardens, designed by the French architect Jacques Greber, boast ponds, fountains, beautiful greenery and the collection of modern sculptures. If you are visiting the city in late spring or early summer, be sure to check out the museum's annual Seealves festival with free events related to contemporary art and culture.
Food & DrinkMost of Porto’s restaurants are traditional, serving big portions of rustic food. The city also has a good array of Brazilian inspired restaurants, reflecting its former colonial links with the South American country. The most popular bars and restaurants are by the river around Cais de Ribeira and in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Try Francesinha - a sandwich typically filled with various types of meat, covered with cheese and then doused with tomato and beer sauce - or if you are not feeling so adventurous, you can seek out some of the delicious local seafood. The one culinary experience not to be missed is eating barbecued sardines. The city's namesake sweet dessert wine, port, is especially popular in the region, so be sure to sample some.
Be aware, as soon as you sit down at a table, a waiter may bring you a plate of olives, sardines, bread or cheese. These appetizers are not free and will be added to your bill if you eat them. Be sure to sample also the local liquor Eduardinho and a few authentic local specialties like 'punheta de bacalhau', 'tripas' and 'chamuca'.
ShoppingThe main shopping street in Porto is the Rua de Santa Catarina in the city center. Via Catarina, Porto’s most charming shopping center, is located along Rua de Santa Catarina, at the corner of Rua Fernandes Tomar. Boavista is the place to head for upmarket brands and labels, particularly around Avenida da Boavista an the Avis area. If you are in search of art and high-class design, head to Rua Miguel Bombarda. Other Porto shopping centers are the Centro Comercial Peninsular and the Centro Comercial Cidade de Porto.
A bookstore that has been cited as the most beautiful in Iberia, stocking a small percentage of its titles in English, is the Livraria Lello. The impressive interior is breathtakingly beautiful, with a spiral Art Nouveau staircase forming the main artery of the building. Even if books are not your thing it is wort the visit. Mercado de Bolhao is the largest open-air market in Porto and the best place in the city to buy fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, household goods and hand crafts.
ClimatePorto has a typical Mediterranean climate with long, warm summers and mild winters. It is, however, one of the wettest European cities, with most rain falling in December and January. Between June and September, it is pretty warm and the chance of rain is slight. Spring and early Autumn are the best time to visit if you wish to avoid the summer crowds. If you want to catch the blossoming of cherry, orange, apple and pear trees, head there in February.
Getting AroundPorto is easily covered on foot, but if you plan to use the metro more than once, buy an Andante card, which is also accepted on buses, metro and trams. The underground of Porto features six lines that run from the center of the city to peripheral areas of the greater Porto region. Services are frequent, relatively cheap and reliable. Buy a Porto Card or rechargeable Andante card to use the metro.
The city's comprehensive bus network, as well as the 3 tram routes, are operated by STCP. The city has also one of the oldest tram systems in Europe and it is well worth catching a ride on tram number 18, which runs along the river to the seafront, boasting some spectacular views along the way. Taxis are safe and generally reliable. Tariff charges are posted on the window of the rear door, on the left side of the taxi.
SafetyPorto is considered relatively safe. Despite it being a busy city there have been very few reports of incidents from tourist, but like anywhere in the world you should always keep an eye on your personal belongings and never flash cash or valuables around in public. Your greatest crime risk is becoming a target of opportunity, such as pickpockets and pursue snatchers, particularly at popular tourist sites and restaurants, or on public transport.
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Author: Ayda. Last updated: Jun 18, 2015