On the banks of the River Douro is the coastal city of Porto, located in the northwest of Portugal. Famously the home of port wine, behind the pretty facade of Porto is a seriously trendy city, with amazing food, street art, culture and cuisine. Like Lisbon, Porto has the characteristic vintage trams and exudes a faded elegance, with its ancient streets and Azulejo tiles. At the heart of Porto is the River Douro, with its six bridges, the most famous of which is the iconic Ponte Luís I.
The core of the city is the postcard-perfect district of Ribeira, known for its atmospheric medieval streets and blue-tiled facades that rise from the banks of the River Douro. Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the main attractions on a trip to Porto.
Once overshadowed by the capital, today Porto is a thriving travel destination in its own right, with a plethora of fascinating sights and landmarks and a wealth of historic treasures to explore. One of the oldest cities in Europe, if you travel to Porto you’re in for an unforgettable experience thanks to the friendly locals, fascinating heritage and beautiful setting.
The settlement of Porto dates back to Celtic times and it was once an important Roman commercial outpost. Porto’s most famous product, port wine, can be traced all the way back to the 13th-century, something that locals are fiercely proud of. A holiday to Porto is simply incomplete without sampling the delicious port wines that are aged in huge cellars in the city’s Vila Nova de Gaia district.
Porto enjoys a balmy Mediterranean climate, although its location on the Atlantic coast sometimes brings wet weather in the winter months. The best time to visit Porto is in May or September. This is the perfect time for sightseeing as the temperatures are pleasant and not too hot. If you don’t mind a few steep hills, the majority of sights are easily accessible on foot, although Porto has a great metro and bus system, as well as its famous vintage trams, so there’s plenty of ways to get around, perfect for sightseeing on a quick city-break.
Travelling to Porto is a chance to uncover the heart of Portuguese culture and soak up the heritage of a city founded on thousands of years of history. The historic district of Ribeira is where you’ll find a number of unforgettable landmarks and get a real feel for the atmosphere of Porto as a whole. Filled with winding cobblestone streets and candy-coloured facades, visiting Ribeira is sure to be a highlight of any trip to Porto. Expect unparalleled views of the River Douro and Ponte Luís I, as well as notable landmarks such as the Bolsa Palace and Porto Cathedral. The heart of the Ribeira district is the Cais da Ribeira, a promenade that runs along the banks of the river. Bathed in rich sunlight and lined by colourful buildings, you’ll find a number of cafes and bars here where you can sit and soak up the ambience. For a birds-eye view of the city, Ribeira is home to the Elevador da Ribeira, connecting the lower parts of the city to the upper limits. Ride the elevator for a small fee and watch in awe as the skyline of Porto unfolds before you.
A holiday to Porto is sure to include at least one port wine tasting session; Afterall, the city was built on this delicious wine! The district of Vila Nova de Gaia, known locally as Gaia, is the heart of Porto’s wine heritage. In fact, this is where all the port wine in the world comes from, and has done since the 17th-century. Huge Port Cellars store and age the wine, brought from the Douro Valley, and today, visiting one of the Port Cellars is considered an important highlight of a trip to Porto. At least 20 cellars are open to the public, where visitors can sample varieties such as ruby, white, tawny, vintage and crusted ports.
Aside from the guidebook landmarks of Porto Cathedral, Monument Church Of St Francis, Bolsa Palace and Clérigos Church, all beautiful examples of Baroque, Romanesque or Neoclassical architecture, Porto’s charm lies in its lesser know cultural sights. For example, the bookshop of Livraria Lello should be on your list of things to see in Porto, thanks to its quirky interior. Inside this bookshop, you’ll find an amazing stained-glass ceiling, ornate bookshelves and a red velvet staircase. Not only a haven for literature lovers, Livraria Lello is also an architectural treasure and a sight not to be missed on a trip to Porto.
It’s easy to forget that Porto is a coastal city, but catching the number 1 tram from the riverfront will take you all the way to Foz do Douro, home to sandy beaches, Atlantic Ocean views and the 19th-century Felgueiras Lighthouse. A favourite weekend destination for locals, a windswept stroll along the beachfront promenade might make you forget that you’re in the heart of one of Portugal’s major cities.
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