Porto is the second largest city of Portugal, located in the North of Portugal close to the sea and the famous Port wine landscapes, the city has grown to be a popular destination for tourism worldwide.
The Douro divides it from Vila Nova de Gaia, The city that hosts the Port wine cellars for the famous Port wines.
The city is vibrant, trendy and alive! From its culinary excellence, its wines, history, monuments and trendy nightlife this city is a must on anyone’s bucket list.
Porto’s history in a nutshell
Porto was originally a celtic hamlet that became occupied in the 4th century by the Romans who turned it into a port and named it Portus Cale, in 456 it was won by the visigoths who ruled it until the Moorish invasion of 716.
Most of Portugal remained under Moorish rule until the 12th century but Porto only until Alfonso the third from Asturias won the city from the Moors in 868. Portus Cale would later become the start for the country of Portugal and its current name.
Porto remained to play an important part of Portugals history throughout the centuries becoming the manufacturer of the ships used in the Portuguese discoveries and the export of Port wines which flourished in the 18th century.
In the 19th century Porto became recognized as an important cultural center as it brought many writers and artists of influence.
A quick tour of Porto’s center
Porto center is made up of 4 areas most worth visiting. The Baixa, Ribeira, Miragaia and Se area. These areas are best visited by foot and all within close proximity of each other.
Porto is a city of many latitudes and for those not capable or willing to walk up and down the mountains there are lifts and trams available to ease the journey.
Baixa or down town Porto is easily found from any area in Porto as it is home to the highest tower of Porto called the Torre dos Clerigos or Clerigos tower. This 75 meter high tower is open to the public and gives the most amazing 360 degree views over Porto.
No building in Porto is higher than the tower.
The Baixa is home to many interesting monuments, one being the famous book shop of Lello or in Portuguese livraria lello. This monument is still a book shop selling books but many visit it as a tourism attraction, to compensate the rush to the shop the ticket prices are sub-tractable from the books bought. Note long ques most of the time and is best visited early in the morning and preferable out of season allthough it is well worth the wait.
The Sao Bento railway station
The Sao Bento railway station is a freely accessible and fully functioning railway station famous for its hand painted tile panels. The panels of the station are of historical importance as they depict rural scenes of the time, the most famous events in Porto’s history and the history of public transport.
Miragaia is a picturesque medieval neighbourhood outside of the Porto city walls. It was home to the Jews and Armenians of Porto.
It used to be a beach on the Douro river water front and it homed the factories that build the ships used in the Portuguese discoveries. Its an interesting neighbourhood of cobbled streets and alleys that seem to have changed little over the centuries.
The most famous area of Ribeira
The Porto Ribeira area is by far the most famous. Its the most picturesque area with architecture dating back to medieval times. Its colourful facades facing the Douro waterfront are world famous and UNESCO world heritage.
Ones the home of the fisherman and warehouses of Porto, it is now the most trendy place of activity and tourism in Porto.
Se, The cathedral of Porto
The Cathedral of Porto and the bishop house build next to eat have placed and important part in Porto’s history on more than one occasion most famous is António Ferreira Gomes who was the bishop of Porto during the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar. He openly objected to Salazar´s regime in a letter which was supposed to be private but was spread among the Porto people ensuring the bishops safety. The bishop was exiled from Porto for 10 years during which time the cathedral was kept shut by his clergy with the condition that nobody would enter the cathedral before the safe return of the bishop.
The bishops act was one of great bravery and the start of opposition against the dictatorship
Some interesting facts
The Meninos do Rio – bridge jumping boys
The Meninos do Rio (the boys of the river) is a film from 1942 about the lives of the young Ribeira boys who challenge each other in jumps into the river of the most central Porto bridge the D. Luís I bridge. View who have not visited Porto during the warmer months will know that this is a local tradition with more than 120 years of history still being practiced today.
On hot days you may find yourself witnessing this local practise by boys as young as 13.
The Masons symbols
Walking through the older parts of the city you may notice the medieval stones marked with interesting symbols that seem to speak a medieval symbolic language.
These symbols were inscribed into the stone by the masons who delivered them to ensure they would get payment for the delivered stones.
Dealing with altitudes
Porto is build on various altitudes to solve the problem of travel by foot in various locations you will lifts and carriages to take you up
Vila Nova de Gaia
Many people visiting Porto think it a city split by the river Douro, however this is not true. Across the river is a different city which is called Vila Nova de Gaia. Taking the Ponte D. Luis bridge it a short walk to the other side or if you prefer take the water taxi that leaves from the Ribeira. Vila Nova de Gaia is where all the Port wine cellars are located as well as many restaurants and one of the finest hotels in Portugal, The Yeatman.