The Invicta City
Douro River and Port Wine
City with Character
WHERE IT IS AND HOW TO GET THERE
Porto is located on the north coast of Portugal and is the second largest and most important city in the country. It is even the city that gave its name to the country itself, which in 200 BC was designated Portus Calle, and later became the capital of the Portucalense County (868-1139). Located by the river Douro, Porto is known for its, world famous, wine but also for its architecture, both contemporary and historical, being its center classified as a World Heritage by UNESCO. In addition, its gastronomy also stands out among the national gastronomy.
Being one of the main urban centers of Portugal, the city of Porto is served by excellent accesses, both terrestrial and aerial. Served by Francisco Sá Carneiro International Airport, it is possible to reach Porto from almost anywhere in the world, mainly through TAP Portugal, Ryanair and also PGA - Portugália Airlines. The airport is also only a few minutes away from the city, and the connection can be made by public transport, namely bus and, especially, metro. From the airport to the historic city center, by metro, the journey takes about 25 minutes.
By land, Porto is served by three motorways, including the A1, which connects with the capital, Lisbon. This means that getting to Porto through an air connection with Lisbon is also very easy and quick, taking about 3 hours by bus. In addition to Rede Expressos, which connects Porto to the whole national territory, InterNorte also connects the city to the north of Spain and the Galicia region.
Alternatively, there is the train. Operated by CP - Portuguese Railways, the rail link to Porto is also very fast, regular and comfortable, connecting the city to the whole country but mainly to the Alto Douro wine region, where the excellent Douro and Port wine are produced.
WHY VISIT THE PORTO
For those who visit Portugal and look for a destination that represents true Portuguese without being mischaracterized, then Porto is the right choice. Porto is a very different city from Lisbon. Despite its cosmopolitan character, it has a more pronounced personality, blending history and modernity perfectly.
In addition, it remains a relatively inexpensive tourist destination, especially compared to the European reality. This is mainly due to the city of Porto still being a hidden destination. Also the fact that it is the base of Ryanair in Portugal makes flying to the city of Porto relatively cheap. A vacation here has, therefore, some budget advantages, especially for young people and backpackers, as well as for larger families.
The best time to visit the city is undoubtedly from March to October, to enjoy the spring and summer and its good weather. Since it is located in the north of Portugal, Porto is a city with a cold climate during the winter and marked by rain and fog.
However, it is also true that Portugal is a country with a temperate climate and, perhaps excepting January and February, there is not a really very cold season that prevents a visit to the city. In addition, opting for a different time of year than June to September you are also escaping the high season of tourism and therefore higher prices and larger numbers of visitors, which can sometimes be somewhat annoying.
WHAT TO SEE AND VISIT
There are several mandatory places to visit in the city of Porto, from the most touristic points to some well-kept secrets of everyday life in Porto. The heart of the city is the Aliados Avenue, the main and widest artery of the city. Its architecture, from the buildings that border it in its full extent, gives it an extremely strong European look, extremely cosmopolitan. At the top, stands the Town Hall building, which is the perfect shot for an impressive landscape, to those who look from the other end of the avenue.
The other ex-libris of the city is the Clérigos Tower, the highest of Portugal. Designed by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni in the 18th century, the tower is a national monument since the beginning of the 20th century; being an emblematic work of the later rococo. Its exaggerated forms and vernacular language give it an accentuated scenic effect, which makes it an icon of the city. In addition, from the top of its 240 steps one has an astonishing view of the entire city of Porto, which should not be ignored.
From the top of the Clérigos tower it is possible to see the river Douro in all its extension. On its bank is the Ribeira district, probably the most typical and characteristic of the city. Of fisherman origin, the Ribeira is the ideal place to have lunch, with an impressive view of the river, or to drink a glass of wine in the evening. From there you can cross the river to the other shore, by the D. Luís I Bridge, another of the essential visits of those who visit the city of Porto. Built in the 19th century, this bridge is an architectural example of excellence from the iron period, and was designed by the Belgian engineer Théophile Seyrig, a former collaborator of Gustave Eiffel.
Crossing the D. Luís bridge, you will reach Gaia, where along the bank you will reach several cellars of the famous Port wine. This is a naturally sweet wine, and slightly stronger than the other wines, with an immense international popularity. The various brands offer guided tours to their cellars and wine tasting, which make this visit a “must see” in the city.
Besides its history and tradition, Porto is still marked by its modernity and contemporaneity, marked by the architecture school of Porto and great masters such as Fernando Távora or Álvaro Siza Vieira, the first Portuguese Pritzker Prize winner. In fact, he is the author of the Serralves Museum, one of the most important institutions of Portuguese and even European contemporary art. The building, situated in the equally beautiful Serralves gardens, is worth the visit, with its rational style, marked by geometric lines, white walls and a perfect integration with the surroundings.
Near this is the Music House (Casa da Música), a true UFO in the architecture of Porto. Designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhas, for Porto European Capital of Culture in 2001, the House of Music is an attractive, noble and angular building, compared to the exuberant Guggenheim of Bilbao for its sweeping effect. In addition, its music programs are equally appealing and of superior quality.
And since we are in a “cultural wave”, you can also visit the Lello e Irmão Bookshop, located right in the center of the city, next to the Clérigos Tower. Considered one of the most beautiful in the world, it even served as inspiration for the bookstore where Harry Potter met Gilderoy Lockhart in J.K. Rowling's book. However, this is only a tiny sample of what to visit in Porto, since the list spans several pages, depending on the visitor's intentions and their tastes.
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK
We have already talked about the famous Port wine. Visiting the city and not going to the cellars and tasting a glass of Port is like going to the Vatican and not seeing the Pope. Before the meal, as an appetizer, or as a digestive, it is a drink that leaves a strong and unforgettable impression.
In addition, there are several typical dishes of the gastronomy of Porto that should not be ignored. Starting, of course, by the typical Francesinha. This type of sandwich, composed of several types of meat, stands out mainly for its sauce based on tomato, beer and piri-piri. It can (and should) be complemented by a fried egg on top and lots of french fries. It is a very substantial meal, but it must be tasted in Porto, the city of the country where the best francesinhas are made. There are several known and reputed places in the city for their own Francesinha recipes, but it is impossible to decide which one is best.
Another typical dish of Porto and, basically, of the whole northern region of Portugal are the “Tripas à Moda do Porto”. Made with pork guts, various sausages and types of meat and white beans, legend has it that this dish goes back to the time of the Portuguese Discoveries, when the city ceded to the Portuguese fleet all the meat of the city and the population only kept the respective casings.
WHERE TO STAY
You will find in the city of Porto several options for your accommodation, according to your wishes and motivations. There are several hotel units with different classifications, but also hostels and Local Accommodation (AL), for those looking for more affordable option.
So, if you are looking to stay in the center of the city, in order to be close to practically all the fundamental points of interest of Porto, look for accommodation in the Aliados area. From here you can walk to some of the main tourist attractions in Porto, such as the Clérigos Tower, or even the banks of the river Douro and the Ribeira district, a mere 15 minutes’ walk. Obviously you can also easily find accommodation options in the Ribeira area, ideal for those who want to stay by the river.
However, these two areas are a bit “touristier” than, for example, the Boavista area. This one, further away from the historic city center, also offers good accommodation options and has good connections to the whole city, either by bus or by metro (5 minutes to Aliados Avenue). In addition, it is close to Music House (Casa da Música), for example. Another option is the Praça da Batalha, which is less central, but whose access to the Aliados Avenue is equally easy and very fast. In addition, it is very close to Rua de Santa Catarina, the main commercial artery of Porto, where the big brands coexist with traditional commerce and several street vendors.
If you want help deciding, see our accommodation suggestions close to each point of interest of Porto.