As isolation and coronavirus rage on, I’m continuing my tour around Portgual from my armchair – reflecting on happy memories of past trips. I hope everyone is staying safe and well through these mad times. I’ve now had to cancel all of my planned trips up to end of June (Germany, Croatia, Denmark, Romania, Italy and Spain). I’m upset about it as holidays and exploring are really special times to me – but staying safe, protecting everyone and things recovering is way more important.
So next on the list is Porto – situated in the north west of the country. The real draw for me, obviously, was the port wine – which is literally named after this city. A city with a wine named after it….why wouldn’t you visit?
As my better half always tries to remind me though, there’s more to life than wine….and it’s true of Porto too. It’s also home to lovely weather (always a bonus), a nice river, epic bridges and some really delicious food….and if anyone doesn’t know what Fado is, you need to get yourself to Porto to experience it.
I’ve included below my top 5 and ‘best of the rest’ that will fit in to 2-3 days in the city. I’ll also then post about possible day trips from Porto, which you could do if you have longer in this wonderful country.
So, on to the top attractions.
ONE. The port wine….obviously
The Vila Nova de Gaia area has been home to port wine companies for centuries. The area is situated right on the river bank, and along the water’s edge are posts with the names of the port wine traders based in Porto. There are a LOT. My favourite was Taylor’s Port. Here you can visit the cellars, an on-site museum and the visitor centre.
But most importantly, you can taste the wine in the garden of this historic home (founded in 1692). We learnt all about (and much more importantly, tasted) white, rose, red, tawny and vintage port. What better way to spend your first afternoon in the city, and then roll back to your hotel?
TWO. The massive bridge(s)
Ponte Dom Luis I is a double deck metal arch bridge spanning the River Douro linking Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia (the port wine area, above) on the opposite river bank. You can cross by car, foot or train, and I recommend crossing on the upper deck as the views are amazing. On the Vila Nova de Gaia end you can walk to the Belvedere for even more amazing views over the city. There is a restaurant with a sunny terrace just below the Belvedere which is great for watching the world go by.
Further downriver is the Maria Pia Bridge built in 1876 by Eiffel (Eiffel Tower fame), which is also well worth a visit.
So one of the main reasons I like travelling is learning about other cultures and traditions. ‘Fado’ is one of these experiences, and you can’t visit Portugal and not experience Fado! You basically have your dinner, and the courses are served in-between being entertained by musicians and singers playing emotional tales of lost love and longing. The Portugese present all sang along, and it was an amazing evening of entertainment. Have some port wine with it and it’s a winner. We visited O Fado to experience this.
This area is the harbour front on the Porto side of the river. It’s full of really characterful buildings which make for great photos and lovely views to the river and the bridge.
FIVE. The Sao Bento train station
Opened in 1916, this historic train station is truly special. The main entrance hall is truly incredible, as it’s full of beautiful blue and white moasics, made with more than 20,000 azulejos (handpainted tiles) depicting the history and legends of Portugal. It took 10 years to complete!
And finally, the best of the rest in Porto…
- Clerigos Tower – completed in 1763, you can climb the 240 steps inside for panoramic views of the city. And aching thighs.
- The Church of St Francis – Porto’s finest example of the Porto school of woodcarving which embellished existing stone structures with elaborate Baroque wooden, gilt carvings. The carvings were pretty impressive although a bit over the top for me!
- The Stock Exchange Palace – the walls of the ballroom are gilded with 18kg of gold! Nice and understated…
- Statue of Prince Henry the Navigator and Casa Do Infante – Henry the Navigator is a famous figure in the early days of the expansion on the Portugese empire. He is on the famous ‘Monument of Discoveries’ in Lisbon, and was born in Caso Do Infante which is a now an interesting museum about the history of Portugal.
- Porto Cathedral – a lovely Cathedral to explore, and just outside the cathedral is a statue of Vimara Peres a 9th century duke who secured Porto and Gaia from the Moors and became the Count of Portugal (the name Portugal is derived from combining Porto and Gaia).
- The Palacio de Cristal – we didn’t have time to go inside, but the gardens are lovely and give yet more sweeping views down to Porto and the bridge.
As I say, if you’re in Porto for more than a few days, also check out my day trips from Porto post coming soon. Thank you so much for reading. I hope you’ve found this post interesting and helpful in either planning a visit to Porto, or just learning about it. Let me know in the comments below!