When we planed the trip to Porto, the first thing came to our mind was the Port Wine. Porto is known for its port wine production and is very proud of its famed sweet alcoholic drink. But being the second largest city in Portugal and having won the prestigious title of “the best European Destination 2017”, Porto has many other interesting facts beyond the Port Wine. The stately bridges, the medieval Ribeira (riverside) in the old city centre, the merchants’ houses and cafes etc. are full of characteristic and charms.
Porto district is separated by the river Douro. The famous bridge Ponte Dom Luís I links the old city centre and the new part, Vila Nova de Gaia. Because tourist attractions are spread everywhere, we did not follow special route described in many travel guides. Our hiking through the city mainly included three parts:
- The old city centre of Porto (north of Douro river)
- The Dom Luís I Bridge and Rebeira (cross the Douro river)
- Vila Nova de Gaia ( a municipality in Porto District, south of Douro river)
Old City Centre of Porto
Igreja dos Carmelitas
The first building popped into our sight is the Igreja dos Carmelitas. The baroque building connected to its twin churches by a house. The two churches are: Igreja dos Carmelitas on the left and Igreja do Carmo on the right. The house was built in this way to prevent the two churches to share a common wall, thus to avoid any relations between the nuns of Igreja dos Carmelitas and the monks of Igreja do Carmo.
Clérigos Church and Torre dos Clérigo (Clérigos Tower)
The Clérigos Church is a Baroque church with a tall bell tower, the Torre dos Clérigos. You will not miss this tower because you can see it from various points of the city. The Clérigos Church was built between 1754 and 1763. The Clérigos Tower is 75.6 metres high. After hiking up 240 narrow steps, you would be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city.
Avenida dos Aliados
Avenida dos Aliados is generally regarded as the most grandiose avenue. A mix range of architectural styles, from neoclassical to French Beaux-arts dominate this avenue. It is home to some of the city’s most prestigious hotels, banks and insurance companies etc.
The name of this central boulevard translates as “Avenue of the Allies”. It refers to the oldest alliance in the world which was made between Portugal and the United Kingdom in the 14th century.
Porto Macdonald’s – Imperial Cafe on Avenida dos Aliados is also quite famous for its interior design. Its ceiling is adorned with crystal chandeliers, and the wall above the menu boards is adorned with beautiful art deco stained glass.
Palácio da Bolsa
This massive neoclassical building used to be the symbol of commerce, when Porto was the business capital of the country during the nineteen century. It is the former stock exchange that was built to impress and earn the credibility of European investors. But now it is the headquarters of Porto’s Commercial Association.
The interior design of the palace is grandiose. The hall has Moorish interiors that attempted to copy Grenada’s Alhambra Palace. It is now “the grand reception room” of the city where heads of state and other luminaries are received on a visit to Porto.
Praça da Ribeira
This is a historical square should be on your list of places to visit as well. The postcard buildings in this area are right next to the river. Great restaurants, cafes, bars and craft shops by the river open throughout the day but also open at night. They provide the fantastic view of the Douro River. When the evening starts, it gets very busy because it is one of the meeting places for the evening activities. We could spend the whole day to stroll around taking pictures, going in and out of shops and cafes until the end of the day.
Ponte Dom Luís I and Rebeira
Having walked the narrow streets in the shadow of the granite building in downtown Porto for good two hours, we approached the Ribeira without even looking for it.
North of the Douro river, the beautiful and colourful buildings of the riverside are something you should not miss out. We spent great time walking along side the river. Here we could enjoy the privileged view of the famous Luis I Bridge and the newest Infante D. Henrique Bridge. The illuminated bridges at the night are even more magnificent. The Ribeira is the true heart of the old city.
There were some old Rabelo boats loaded with Port Wine barrels, standing in front the Douro’s bank. They were used for centuries to transport people and goods along the Douro River, today still are used for delivering the wine barrels.
Dom Luís I Bridge
Having admired the bridge from the river side we made our way to the upper level of the Dom Luis Bridge. The Dom Luís I Bridge is a double-deck metal arch bridge that spans the River Douro between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal. The surface of the bridge has asphalt pavement for vehicular traffic. On the bridge run the modern Metros. Next to the tram track is the pedestrian area. On the bridge is the best picture point for the both sides of the river.
On the one side are the colourful buildings in the historical centre, the UNESCO site we had just visited. On the other side, the hill of Gaia is covered with orange roofs marking the presence of the famous Port wine cellars. It’s an unforgettable view.
Not far from the Dom Luís I Bridge is the Infante Bridge. Compared to the Dom Luís I Bridge it has an amazing simple style. The beauty of its elegant and thin shape are so exceptional that it stands out in every possible way.
Vila Nova de Gaia
Cais de Gaia
Finally we arrived at Vila Nova de Gaia, the home of cellars of port wine. Before we joined a wine tasting tour, we walked along the scenic riverside road Cais de Gaia, with its cafe terraces and expansive panorama views across the Douro.
In the evening many rooftop terraces offer dinners with the twinkling views of the historic centre opposite the Douro river.
British discovered port wine at the end of the 17th century, since then the quality of the wine spread all over the world. Nowadays a large number of the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, where most of the port wines are blended and aged, have English names. Some Port cellars offer port tasting tours for a few Euros. We went to Calem and took a round tasting tour.
The tour provided not only an insight into the traditional brewing process and but a chance to sample three of the finest Port vintages. The port wine is a fortified wine (20%) made by adding brandy to the wine before fermentation is complete. According to EU laws, port wine can only be named as such if the grapes are grown in the Douro valley, and the wine is brewed in Porto.
Other interesting sites
Rue da Galeria de Paris
There are bars and clubs throughout the entire street. The local inhabitants prefer to drink and hang outside. The street is full of people in the night. Similar to the situation in Spain, Portuguese people start the party very late as well. To benefit from the nightlife you should arrive after 23:00, otherwise the bars will be quite empty. The Rue da Galeria de Paris is one of the most important places of Porto’s nightlife.
We have seen many Azulejos tiles on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, monuments, benches, walls etc. They are just everywhere. Some of the tiles portray religious scenes and others are decorated with intricate geometric designs or flowers. The first place we saw was the well-known facade of Igreja dos Carmelitas.
São Bento Station
Tickets & Tours
A day in Porto is too short. It is better to book one night in Porto for a hassle-free visit. However, if you have less time planed for the visit but hope to explore the city in a better way, I would suggest to join tours instead. For example,you can buy Porto Hop-on Hop-off Tour: 1- or 2-Day Ticket to save the walking time. The tour Magic Train Tour and Port Wine Tastings provides not only the wine tasting but also the sightseeing opportunity
How to get there
If you travel to Lisbon, Faro, Coimbra or Braga before heading to Porto, you can take a high-speed train to Porto called the Alfa Pendular
Many international airlines arrive at Porto airport, for example Lufthansa, KLM, Delta and British Airway etc.
If you prefer to drive to Porto, Portugal has good highways. Use Google Maps to plan your trip.