Europe

A Trip to Porto

While Porto is Portugal’s “second city” behind marvelous Lisbon, the UNESCO World Heritage city on the Douro river is nonetheless nonpareil.

Image by Wikimedia Commons

Porto, or Oporto, was a Roman settlement as far back as the 4th. There is evidence to suggest however, that the banks of the Douro were occupied much earlier by Celtic peoples. Whatever the case, the European Capital of Culture in 2001 has a panoply of spectacular architecture to discover. From grand cathedrals to modern gems like the Casa da Música and Estádio do Dragão, Porto has it all.

Image by Sunfox

The main points of interest in the city span a wide swath of hills and Douro shores. The best way to explore Porto is on foot but the city has a competent bus, metro and light rail system as well.

The old town, or Ribeira, is the incomparable birthplace of the city and without question, the best place to start. From heritage architecture to open-air restaurants, narrow streets to magnificent panoramas across the Douro of the port wine lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, the old town is extraordinary.

Image by Wikimedia Commons

Important landmarks in Ribeira, all part of Porto’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, include the Casa do Infante customs house, Gothic Igreja de São Francisco and Palácio da Bolsa. The latter, a gorgeous heritage stock exchange complex, contains a tourism center devoted entirely to the wines of the Douro region – with free tastings, no less.

Image by mava

Of all the Douro river spans, Ponte Dom Luís I is the most iconic. Equipped with a pedestrian walkway to ferry visitors between the Ribeira district and restaurants and port wine caves of Vila Nova de Gaia, the late 19the century double-deck metal arch bridge is a masterpiece. The engineering marvel can also be crossed on the top deck via Line D of the Porto metro and yet another pedestrian promenade.

Image by pandahaccer

Over on the Vila Nova de Gaia side (technically a separate municipality and city from Porto proper), the heady taste of port wine lures countless tourists throughout the year. While the grapes that make Porto’s signature tipple are cultivated in the vast Douro valley, all the actual aging, cellaring and bottling takes place here. Since flooding of the river was a perpetual threat, the older port wine houses (Taylor’s, Graham’s) were built into hills overlooking the river and city. Newer ones like Sandeman however, require less of a steep climb (hint: check for telltale flood lines on the outer walls of the port cellars built directly parallel to the river). At any rate, the cellars are open daily (times may vary) and for the most part, offer free tours and tastings. Ask your hotel in Porto for tips on the most generous lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Image by JAIRO BD

Last but not least, try the panoramic elevator that runs from Largo da Lada in Ribeira, next to the lower level of the Luis I Bridge. The ride takes about three minutes and features amazing views of Porto.

Image by christian.parreira

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