Porto is often referred to as “capital do Norte”, the capital of the North, and “cidade invicta”, the never defeated city, because it has shown a capacity of keeping the enemies away. But Portugal’s second biggest city doesn’t need any title of respect, because it is at the origin of the name of the country! Porto is Europe’s westernmost line, symbolizing the borders that Portuguese people decided to cross so many times in history.
Water is a fundamental element of Porto, and not only with the Atlantic Ocean, but also with the impressive river Douro that divides the city centre from the vineyards of Vila Nova de Gaia, birthplace of worldwide famous Port wine. But Porto is really much more than its wine: let me show you what you shouldn’t miss while visiting the city.
Take a walk through Cais da Ribeira (Ribeira riverside)
The riverside and the streets that go up through the Pena Ventosa hill constitute the original city centre, where the great market operations used to take place in the past.
Nowadays the Ribeira zone is globally famous thanks to its recognition as UNESCO World Heritage Site. I recommend that you take a moment to contemplate the unique beauty of the ancient sailor houses and of the narrow alleys that intertwine in picturesque ways. The riverside always teems with tourist groups, who admire the original neighbourhood from both of the Douro’s sides, linked by the famous Dom Luis I bridge.
Built on two levels, this bridge is one of the best panoramic places of the city, from where you will enjoy an incredible view of Porto.
The entire area becomes even livelier on the 24th of June, for the festival of Saint John (São João), patron of the city. The celebrations for this day begin the night before, involving the entire population and the great number of tourists that come every year in this occasion. One of the most folkloristic aspect of this feast is that participants cheerfully beat each other with (harmless) plastic hammers. The highest point of the celebration is the fireworks on the Dom Luis Bridge, an amazing moment!
From the top of the city
Once you have walked through the first level of the city, you should look up to the Dos Clerigos Tower, the belfry of the eponymous church that marks the city skyline. With its height of 76 metres, this is Portugal’s highest tower, and it offers an incredible view on Porto. If you are not in the mood to climb the 240 steps to reach the top of the belfry, you could just sit in the surroundings, and listen to the sound of 49 music boxes ringing twice a day (at 12:00 pm and 18:00). And of course, with much less exertion it is possible to visit the Dos Clerigos church, famous for its original elliptical drawing.
The magic side of Porto
Are we talking about the magic of the arts? Maybe, but there is another reason for you to you feel like in a magic world in Porto. You will find it in Rua das Carmelitas 144, the civic number of the “house” of the world’s most famous wizard… I’m talking about the Lello & Irmao bookstore, of which it is said that Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling took inspiration while she was writing her famous novels. She lived in Porto for ten years, working as English teacher, and she used to have her daily cup of tea at the second floor of this shop. This is the reason why probably many fans will notice the similarities between the bookstore’s staircase and Hogwarts’ one described in the books. Even before this connection with Harry Potter, the shop was already known as one of world’s most ancient and beautiful bookstore. Despite the usual queue of “muggles” (sorry, visitors) at the entrance, you will be fully rewarded upon entering this magnificent room.
The beauty of azulejos style
In the area of the great bookstore, you will discover a particular and beautiful aspect of Portuguese culture: “azulejos”, the coloured ceramic tiles (usually in white and blue, but sometimes in other colours as well) that decorate the facades of many buildings and palaces, like the famous twin churches set in Teixera Square, Do Carmo and Dos Carmelitas. The name “azulejo” derives from the Arabic word az-zulayj, which means ‘polished stone’. Some of the tiles show historic scenes while others are decorated with flowers or geometric designs. Another incredible place to admire a tiled building is the old São Bento Railway Station, that shows the entire illustrated history of Portugal with more than 20,000 azulejos!
A trip into the wine cellars
Don’t forget you are in Port wine’s hometown, so a visit to the ancient cellars is quite compulsory! Your tour can start at Taylor’s, Sandeman or Graham’s, some of the most renowned companies that produce their wine using grapes from the river Douro’s valley. During the past centuries, the grape used to be carried onold boats that are still there today, placed on the Vila Nova de Gaia riverside. It’s exactly from this bank that your tour has to start, continuing among the several ancient cellars and ending at the Porto Wine Museum. Here you will have the possibility to discover all the secrets of the history of the Port Wine trade. Guides visit are organized in order to show the history of the three ports: Porto city, Port wine and the river Douro’s port.
Don't miss the op-Port-unity to visit this great city!
The “never defeated city”, the “capital of the North”, “the city of bridges”, or simply – as young people call it today – “Op-Port-unity”, Porto will never cease to amaze you, with something to please everyone.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.