While I enjoyed my time in lovely Lisbon (read Part I and Part II), and felt like I was in a fairytale in Sintra (read here), my heart truly fell in love with Porto! Keep reading for my favorite experiences in Porto, Portugal!
Porto is located north of Lisbon, and is Portugal’s second largest city. Taking a wonderfully scenic 2 ½-3 hour train ride from Lisbon, allows visitors to see more of Portugal’s beautiful countryside. Nestled along the Douro River, and just south of the famous Douro Valley, Porto is a beautiful city with Old World charm. With centuries of history, beautifully tiled building facades, and the perfect setting along the banks of the Douro River, Porto is a delight to visit!
Lello Bookshop is a dream for book-lovers like myself! This bookshop opened in 1906 and has a beautiful neo-gothic style. The shop features a magnificent wood-carved central staircase, built-in wood bookshelves, and wonderfully old, wooden floors that creak when you walk on them. In fact, the bookshop is so stunning, it is believed that J.K. Rowling was inspired by this bookshop and based the wand shop from the Harry Potter book series after this beautiful shop! With thousands of book titles in numerous languages, I could have spent the entire day browsing the shelves!
Portugal is known for their beautiful and colorful ceramic tiles. Porto showcases the beauty of these Portuguese treasures with tiled facades on numerous buildings, churches, and train stations. Everywhere I looked, I found more colorful tiles, and it became a game to locate the different colored tiles throughout the city.
The churches of Santo Ildefonso and Igreja do Carmo, have a fantastic blue-tiled facade that are just too incredible to miss!!
A stroll through Porto’s old town and along the Ribeira (riverfront) allows visitors to marvel at the centuries old buildings and the brightly colored tiles! I strolled through the streets for days, always finding different colored and patterned tiles during every walk!
The most beautiful display of hand-painted tiles in Porto depicts Portugal’s history. Located on the walls of the São Bento train station, over 20,000 colorful tiles tell Portugal’s story. Words cannot describe the beauty of these historical tiles, it is breathtaking! What I love about the São Bento train station is when traveling to/from Porto by train (if you arrive at this station) you are immediately greeted by and are given a farewell from these beautiful Portuguese tiles!
Strolling the Riverfront Ribeira:
This lively area is the perfect place for a leisurely stroll, walking alongside the Douro River. With wonderful views of the numerous port lodges, charming colorful houses, and the Ponte Dom Luís I (bridge), and numerous river front restaurants welcome you to enjoy a bite to eat and a glass of wine with a gorgeous view! It is the perfect mix of tourists and locals, look up to see laundry drying in the breeze, elderly men sitting on their balconies, and families sharing quality time while tourists walk the streets beneath them. On the weekends, the streets become an open-air market with locals selling crafts and trinkets to both visitors and locals alike. A stroll along the banks of the Douro River and the Ribeira district is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Porto!
Ponte Dom Luís I Bridge and the “Six Bridges” River Cruise:
Porto boasts six different bridges which tower above the Douro River. The Ponte Dom Luís I takes center stage of the Ribeira district. Built in the 1880’s by a protégé of Gustav Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris) the magnificent wrought iron bridge rises 150-feet above the river, and stretches across the 500-foot wide Douro River! This bridge has two pedestrian walkways allowing access to the other side of the Douro River. The lower deck permits pedestrians and cars, and the upper deck permits pedestrians and the metro train. It was neat, but a little scary, being so far up and sharing the same platform as a train! With breathtaking views of Porto, the Douro River, and beyond, a walk on both decks is a must when visiting Porto!
As I stated above, Porto has six beautiful bridges that cross the Douro River. A nice hour-long cruise along the Douro River allows visitors to see all six bridges from the water. Being below the bridges in a boat on the river gives another perspective of this charming city. The boat tours can be a bit touristy, but I think it was worth the experience.
Visiting Port Lodges and Tasting Port:
Port-style wine is a medium-sweet wine (with 20% alcohol), and usually is consumed as a digestif after a meal. The majority of the world’s port-wine is produced in this region and in the Douro Valley which has great climate to sustain the port-wine grapes. Looking across the Douro River from the Ribeira district sits the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, home to the numerous port-wine lodges. The port-wine lodges are scattered about the banks of the Douro River, welcoming guests to taste their port and tour their port-making facilities.
We spent a rainy day at Graham’s Port Lodge. Built in 1890, upon a hill overlooking Porto, the Ponte Dom Luís I, and Vila Nova de Gaia. After a guided tour of Graham’s history and their port cellar, we made our way to the tasting room. We enjoyed tasting a selection of different port types (tawny, ruby, reserves, and vintage) and ages (10 year, 30 year, 32 year, and 40 year) of Graham’s Port. We had “premium” seats in front of a large window, with breathtaking views of the historic city center of Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia, and the Douro River! It was the perfect way to spend a rainy day in Porto!
Located on the busy shopping street of Rua de Santa Catarina, sits the Café Majestic. This beautiful Art Nouveau café was established in 1921. With delightful elements that evoke a style long forgotten, visitors are transformed to another era while drinking their coffee! Gorgeous wood carved details, wooden benches with leather seats, large elaborate mirrors hanging on the walls, decorative plaster figurines and flowers are polished to look like marble, and the beautiful lighting provides a wonderful atmosphere to enjoy your morning coffee! I enjoyed a cappuccino and some handmade pastries, making for a lovely way to start a morning in Porto!!
City Wall Walk:
Porto is full of Old World charm, but one of the best examples in the city is the remnants of the 14th century town wall. We searched for the entrance to the wall for quite some time, determined to take a walk along the historical wall. Finally, we found the entrance after walking through the small square outside of the Santa Clara Church. Through an unassuming archway, the beautiful stone wall stretches out before you! We explored the ancient city wall and the two towers that are still standing, and were treated to spectacular views of Porto, Ponte Dom Luís I, and the Douro River! We were the only two people on the wall, making our time on this historical wall even more magical! Overlooking the city, I couldn’t help but wonder about what life was like in Porto hundreds of years ago!
Porto, a World Heritage City, is the perfect combination of Old World charm with an eclectic vibe. With its location in northern Portugal, Porto has beautiful scenery and is the gateway to the Douro Valley. A visit to Porto will delight any visitor with its historical charms, port wine cellars, picture-perfect riverfront district, magnificent bridges, and a welcoming atmosphere!
Thinking of visiting Portugal? Then visit www.visitportugal.com to start planning your Portugal trip!!
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