Portugal City Travel Guide: Porto
- Portugal's second city & gateway to the Douro valley.
- Population about 240,000.
- Commercial hub & historical centre of port wine trade.
- Grittier, northern, down-to-earth alternative to Lisbon.
- Dramatic hillside location at the mouth of the Douro River.
- Named European Cultural Capital 2001.
Much is made of the contrast and rivalry between Porto and Lisbon - 'Lisbon shows off, while Porto works' - and the two port cities are the centre of the urban and commercial life of the country.
Giving its name to the nation, Porto dates from Roman times, prospering during the age of Portugal's overseas expansion as explorers and adventurers sailed to South America, Africa and Asia and its city merchants developed the lucrative port wine trade with England in the seventeenth century.
With a typical 'work hard, play hard' port atmosphere, Porto makes an excellent base to explore the beautiful Duoro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are luxury cruises available on the 65 cabin Douro Queen which was built in nearby Viana do Castelo. In the city itself attractions include the Praça da Liberdade, the fortress-like Sé cathedral and port tasting at the wine lodges south of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The historic center of the city by the River Douro, the Ribeira, is another UNESCO listed area.
Highlights here in Ribeira are the Casa do Infante (Tel: 222 060 400) reputedly the birthplace of Henry the Navigator and later the customs house of the city, the Igreja de São Francisco (Tel: 222 062 100) with an austere Gothic exterior and stunning baroque interior with its catacombs containing an ossuary of human bones, the ornate, neoclassical Palacio de Bolsa (Tel: 223 399 00), once the city's stock exchange, and the riverside Praça da Ribeira. The 19th century, two-tiered Ponte de Dom Luis I which crosses the River Duoro to Vila Nova de Gaia here is a symbol of Porto.
To the east of the Ribeira, Porto's cathedral or Sé, offers wonderful views of the city from its terrace. Recommended are the cloisters with their superb Renaissance azulejos and a granite staircase added by Nicolau Nasoni. The Tesouro (Treasury) has a collection of priceless gold and silver religious artifacts.
Along the Duoro from the Ribeira to the Ponta da Arrábida is a pleasant 2km riverfront walk. Along the way visit the Museu das Alfândegas aka Alfândega Nova (Tel: 223 403 000), built as a huge customs' warehouse between 1860-1880, and now a multi-functional space dedicated in part to Porto's history as a port and housing the Museu Transportes e Comunicações, which has an excellent collection of antique motor vehicles including the first car to arrive in Portugal. The venue also hosts temporary exhibitions from around the world and occasional food and drink festivals.
Further on are the Museu do Vinho do Porto (see museums below) which outlines the history and growth of the port wine trade in the city and the Museu do Carro Eléctrico, a homage to Porto's trams housed in a former power station. Iberia's oldest streetcar, vintage 1872 is on display along with many other lovingly restored trams.
© Oporto Municipal Council's Tourism Department
Further north of the Ribeira is the Parisian-style Avenida dos Aliados, the transport hub of the city with the imposing train station at Sao Bento and various bus stations spread around the boulevard. Sights in this central area include the 76m tall Torre dos Clerigos and the Igreja dos Clerigos both designed in the 18th century by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, whose work can be seen across much of the city. Also of note are the city hall - Câmera Municipal - (City Hall) and statues of Dom Pedro IV and the local writer and politician Almeida Garrett (1799-1854).
The triangular Jardim da Cordoaria is laid out close to the university and its tall plane trees provide welcome shade on a hot day. Another lovely park is the Jardim do Palácio Cristal, which surrounds a concrete pavilion which hosts various events and occasional concerts. Visitors can enjoy an avenue of lime streets, a pretty lake and views down over the River Douro.
The 19th century wrought-iron Mercado Bolhao is the central produce market with fish and meat, vegetables and flowers.
Ponte de Dom Luis I & Ribeira district, Porto
Interesting Porto museums include the Electric Tram Museum (Tel: 226 158 185) which houses a collection of restored trams, the modern Port Wine Museum (Tel: 222 076 300) and two excellent art galleries: The Museum of Contemporary Art (Tel: 226 156 500), 4km outside the city center and the Museu Nacional Soares Dos Reis (Tel: 223 393 770).
The Fundação Serralves administers the must-see Museu de Arte Contemporânea (The Museum of Contemporary Art), a minimalist design set in parkland by Porto architect, Alvaro Siza Vieira. The museum offers changing exhibitions of mostly contemporary art with a separate exhibition space in the pink Casa de Serralves. The park offers neat lawns, gravel paths, outdoor art and Jazz in the Park concerts in summer. There is also a cafe, restaurant and museum shop as well as a herb garden and a small farm. Take the Porto metro to Casa da Musica or buses #502 from Bolhao or #203 from Rotunda da Boavista.
The Museu Nacional Soares Dos Reis dates from 1833 and was Portugal's first art museum, established to store works seized from dissolved monasteries and convents. The collection moved to its present home, a former royal residence, near the Jardim da Cordoaria in the 1940's. The museum takes its name from the sculptor Antonio Soares Dos Reis (1847-89), whose most famous work O Desterrado is on display along with an extensive collection of 16th-20th century Portuguese fine art and applied art: ceramics, jewelry, glass, furniture and painted screens from both Portugal and Portugal's former outposts in the Far East.
The Centro Português de Fotografia (Tel: 220 046 300), just south of Jardim da Cordoaria, is housed in the former 18th century prison with the cells and workshops now exhibit rooms for both historic and contemporary photography as well as a collection of classic cameras.
The Casa da Musica (Tel: 220 120 220) designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, in Boavista, is Porto's most inventive new building. Opened in 2005 the concert hall met with wide critical acclaim and has become a new icon of the city.
Vila Nova de Gaia is the area on the south side of the River Douro across the Ponte Dom Luis I and the home of Porto's wine lodges and warehouses (caves). Take a 5 minute ride on the Teleférico de Gaia cable car which runs from the top of Ponte Dom Luis I bridge 600m along the Gaia waterfront for wonderful views of the river and bridge.
The port wine lodges offer tours and tastings (in English) and a chance to take home a bottle or two of vintage port. Wine lodges in the area include such names as Barros, Calem, Cockburn, Croft, Ferreira, Graham's, Kopke, Osbourne, Ramos Pinto, Sandeman, and Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman. Some of the lodges have introductory films and museums dedicated to port.
Enjoy five-star luxury and superb city views from the outdoor pool and spa at the Yeatman - a hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia run by the wine lodge. The wine cellar has one of the finest collections of Portuguese wine in the world.
The sea and a number of beaches are within easy reach of the centre of Porto. Foz do Douro at the mouth of the Douro River is easily reached by bus #500 or the tram. The seafront along Avenida do Brasil and Avenida do Montevideo is packed with bars, restaurants and cafes between the Castelo de São João and the Castelo do Queijo (Cheese Castle). From here you can take bus #502 along Avenida da Boavista back into town.
Further north Matosinhos can be reached by Porto metro Line A and has a number of good seafood restaurants and some of the city's best clubs.
18km south of Porto and reached by train in 35 minutes from São Bento Station is Espinho - with its white sands, surfing and casino.
Festivals in Porto
23th June. Popular Saints' Festivals or "City Festivals". St. John's Eve (São João) traditionally attracts large crowds to Ribeira, from which typical "rugas" throng through streets singing and dancing all night.
The Fantasporto international film festival is held over two weeks in February/March. May sees an international theatre festival, Fazer e Festa, in the Jardim do Palácio Cristal. GLBT Porto Pride takes place in July with the Porto Jazz Festival in September.
Casa da Musica & Praça da Ribeira, Porto
© Oporto Municipal Council's Tourism Department
Municipal Tourism Offices
Rua Clube dos Fenianos, 25
GPS: Lat 41.150175 Log -8.611200
Tel: +351 22 3393470/2; FAX: +351 22 3393303
Rua do Infante D. Henrique, 63
GPS: Lat 41.150175 Log -8.611200
Tel: +351222060412; FAX: +351 222 060 414
Terreiro da Sé
GPS: Lat 41.143047 Log -8.611185
Tel: +351 223 325 174
Rua de D. João de Castro, 210
GPS: Lat 41.159697 Long -8.660039
Tel: +351 220 996 519
The official city card that offers free admissions and discounts!
Save time and money! Buy it now in the Municipal Tourism Offices, the Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, some railway stations and affiliates. From 5 Euros! Further information at PORTO CARD
Around 19 daily flights to Lisbon from Francisco Sá Carniero airport, 20 km NW of city. Porto Metro Line E connects to the airport and there is also the AreoBus to Avenida dos Aliados in the centre of Porto, plus plenty of taxis.
Metro, Trams & Funicular
Porto's metro system runs both underground in the city centre and above ground in the suburbs. There are 6 lines: Line A (blue), Line B (red), Line C (green), Line D (yellow), Line E (violet) and F (orange).
Line B of the Porto Metro runs out to the coast at Vila do Conde and Póvoa da Vazim. Purchase a rechargeable Andante card for use on the metro, tram, bus and funicular and validate it before you get on.
Porto's remaining trams (eléctricos) run the 5km from Ribeira along the River Douro to the sea at Foz do Douro (25 minutes) with a branch line running from the Igreja do Carmo to Massarelos by the Tram Museum.
The Funicular dos Guindais runs from Praça da Batalha to the bottom tier of Ponte Dom Luis I along Rua Augusto Rosa.
Sao Bento Station, Porto © Oporto Municipal Council's Tourism Department
InterCity trains start from Campanha Station, 2km east of the centre of Porto.
Regional services start from Sao Bento Station downtown and pass through Campanha Station (5 minutes away).
15-19 trains daily to Coimbra: 1 hour, 15 mins. 12 trains daily to Lisbon: 3 hours and trains to Aveiro (40-55 minutes), Barcelos (60-100 minutes), Guimaraes (65 minutes), Viana do Castelo (90 minutes-2 hours).
Rail information call 808 208 208.
From Lisbon take the A1 highway north - 304km.
40+ minutes to the airport by AeroBus.
Renex for buses to Lisbon. Hourly departures with journey time around 3 hours 30 mins. Braga is around 75 minutes by bus from Porto.
Rede Expressos for buses to most destinations in Portugal. Coimbra is around 90 mins by bus from Porto.
There are buses with ALSA/Internote to Salamanca in Spain taking 6 hours and 15 minutes. The bus station is at Casa da Musica. Buses from Porto to Madrid take 9 hours, 15 minutes.
City bus terminals are in front of Sao Bento Station, at Praça da Liberdade and Cordoaria. Bus tickets can be bought on the bus or at newspaper kiosks.
Trams (which are historic trams) accept only Andante Tickets (same as metro do Porto).
Barco Rabelo & Cais do Porto © Oporto Municipal Council's Tourism Department
Barco Rabelo & Ponte de Luis © Oporto Municipal Council's Tourism Department
Tiara Park Atlantic Porto Hotel
Av. da Boavista 1466, Porto.
5 Stars, 20 minutes from the airport and located on the beach.
Book Hotel Accommodation in Porto
Classic view of Porto © Oporto Municipal Council's Tourism Department
Rua do Bonjardim 118
Prices: around 15. (Cafe next door).
Ryan's Irish Pub
Rua do Infante Dom Henrique 18
Irish food & drink.
Porto enjoys some lively eating and drinking - the local delicacy is tripe - and you can sample 100s of varieties of port wine at the upmarket Solar do Vinho do Porto. There's a thriving club scene too, though many are situated outside the centre. Take a night bus.
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Porto and the River Douro
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