Porto is Portugal’s second city and is situated at the estuary of the Rio Douro (River Douro). It’s fair to say that, in tourism terms at least, it has yet to enter the consciousness of the UK short break tourist.
With its wonderful baroque architecture and beautiful vistas along the river, it certainly has what it takes to become a favourite destination alongside the likes of Barcelona or Amsterdam. It is still cheap to fly there direct and the hotels, restaurants, and city transport are very much cheaper than in many of the major European cities. Above all, Porto seems to exude an atmosphere of total calm and relaxation.
Porto dates back to Roman times, making it one of the older European cities, it is also referred to as “Oporto”, which was apparently an English misinterpretation on the name which stuck. The moors dominated the city for a couple of centuries before it was won back by Vimara Peres who was sent by the King Alfonso III of Gallaecia. Porto, then called Portus Cale was the origin of Portugal, which Vimara Peres founded in 868AD.
The Portugese Age of Discovery was initiated by Prince Henry the Navigator who set sail from Porto to discover North Africa in 1415.
These days Porto is most famous for its own special brand of red wine, Port. Port is made along the Douro Valley and has been since the 13th century, but in 1717 an English trading outpost was founded which then came to dominate the Port industry and its export.
Napoleon brought war to the city of Porto in 1809 but was booted out by the Duke of Wellington.
Arriving at Porto:
The metro station is adjacent to the Airport terminal which takes you right to the centre of the city for about 2 EURO’s. This takes about 30 minutes. You can always take a taxi for 25 Euro’s but make sure you go to the official taxi rank or you’ll just get ripped off. Refuse to pay more than 30 Euro for central Porto. The cab will take 25-30 minutes depending on your hotel location.
You can get day passes on the metro from 5 Euro, but it’s a shame to use any public transport in such a great looking city – better to walk. That’s with the exception of the tourist tram which must be tried out.
Things to do in Porto
Ponte Luis I
The centrepiece of any visit to Porto is this hugely significant bridge, both in architectural and historical terms. At the time of completion in 1886 it was the largest of its type in the world, spanning 172 and 45 metres tall, although it feels a lot higher than that when you are in it. The walkway across the top is shared with the city’s modern metro train, which you can catch at either end.
From the centre bridge you can get a panoramic view of the Old City of Porto and Nova Villa de Gaia on the opposite side, with all its Port ships (Rabelos) alongside. If you don’t have a head for heights and would rather not climb to the top, you can always walk along the bottom of this bridge where there’s a road across. Most photos of Porto include Ponte Luis I.
River Douro Cruise
The Name Douro has been attributed to the Celtic Tribes that inhabited the river valley in pre-roman times. The Welsh name for water is Dwr, and in Gaelic “Dobhar”. It is the third largest river in the Iberian Peninsular after the Tejo and Ebro.
You can take a day cruise on the Douro to explore the vineyards up-river. There may also be overnight trips available too.
This 50,000 seat stadium was built for the 2004 European Football Championships and subsequently became the home of FC Porto, one of the top sides in Portugal. Get there by Metro, the station is appropriately called Estadio do Dragao.
Visit the home of Taylors Port, arguably the greatest Port shippers, and a 300 year old family business. The finest Port is grown along the steep banks of the River Douro, as it has been for a very long time, since before the Romans in fact. It goes without saying that some tasting is involved. You can walk through the caves with a knowledgeable local guide.
Solar Porto do Vinho
The Port and Douro Wines Institute, in English, which essentially means you go there if you didn’t get a bad enough headache at Taylor’s. Located on the Rua de S. Pedro de Alcântara, in the Bairro Alto, the Solar is housed in an old palace, the Ludovic. You can be offered a variety of wines of your choice.
Igreja de São Francisco
The Church of Saint Francis is the most important Gothic building in the city of Porto, located right in the centre the old city, and an UNESCO listed building. Dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, it was first built by Franciscan Monks in the 13th Century,but the original building was added to in the 16th century by King Ferdinand I. The most significant item inside the church is a 13th century statue of St Francis himself.
Casa da Musica
Yes, this building can definitely fall in to the interesting architecture category. The Architect is Rem Koolhaas from Holland. If you are staying at one of the hotels on Avenida da Boavista, you are likely to getting off at the metro station next to this building. Love it or loath it, its worth standing back to take a good look. Also adjacent to this music hall is the Napoleonic wars monument.
Palácio da Bolsa
The old stock exchange is situated, somewhat curiously, right next to the Saint Francis Church. This is due to its previous life as a convent, which burned down, so the city donated the ruins to local merchants who re-built it as a stock exchange in 1841. The photo shows the Moorish revival “Arab Room”.
Fundação de Serralves
If you like Art Deco design, you’ll love this place. The Serralves Art Foundation house was built by José Marques da Silva, and is the first contemporary art museum in Portugal.
Where to stay
We couldn’t have been happier with the treatment we had from the staff at the Tiara Park Atlantic Hotel, we were handed a glass of Port on arrival, and were given a room at the 14th floor which gave us superb views over Porto and especially back along the Avenida da Boavista back to the Napoloeanic war memorial near Casa da Musica.
The room was beautifully laid out with an incredibly comfortable king-size bed, a large cabinet containing the mini-bar, the TV, and an Iplayer. The bathroom was perfect with a great, easy to use shower and bath unit.
Breakfast was a treat with an unlimited choice of fruits, cooked breakfast, cereals, cheeses and great coffee. The service was particularly friendly and efficient.
Overall I would highly recommend this hotel both in terms of value for money and for its quality. Gary Phillips.