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Porto Travel Guide

Enjoy Porto, a Bustling Center for Wine and Trade--and great food

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porto church picture

Porto: Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

James Martin, Europe Travel
Portugal map showing Porto

Portugal map showing the location of Porto

James Martin
erotic clock detail

Erotic clock detail from the museum of Igreja de Sao Francisco, Porto.

James Martin

Porto, or Oporto, is Portugal's second largest city and capital of Portugal's beguiling north. Porto was selected the 2001 European Capital of Culture which bestowed upon the city money for lots of cultural improvements.

Portugal, by virtue of its position on Europe's Western edge, gets fewer travelers than other Mediterranean destinations. But intrepid visitors are rewarded with uncrowded cities and moderate tariffs for food and hotels. This is a place where you can splurge on a stay at a fine manor house and live in luxury for around 100 Euros a night. Porto is also known as one of the best places for fine dining in Portugal.

Known mainly for its trade in Port wine, which travels along the east-west trending Douro river that starts in Spain, Porto has for its long history been known as a cosmopolitan trading center. It still has blue collar working class feel, but it's a sort of Vasco de Gama working class with a timeless style. You'll see an array of architectural gems from Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance eras in this scenic city built into the granite cliffs at the mouth of the river Douro.

Porto - Best Time To Go

Blossoming of almond, apples, pears, cherries, oranges and figs is particularly striking in February. Summer is pleasant, with maritime winds moderating the climate. But expect some rain in summer.

For historic climate charts and current weather, see Porto Travel Weather.

Major Attractions in Porto

12th century Cathedral or Se. Huge cathedral founded in the 12th century but extensively altered in the 18th. Open from 9am to 12:30 and 2:30 to 7pm.

Igreja de Sao Francisco - Gothic church with a plain facade but tons of gold-leaf gilding inside. There is also a museum and catacombs below, which we found more fascinating than many guidebooks did.

Ponte de D. Luis, the city's emblematic iron bridge, built by a disciple of the famous Eiffel.

Foodies will want to visit Mercado do Bolhão, Porto's iconic market in the heart of downtown.

Don't miss the Ribeira do Porto, the cluster of buildings, smoky bars and seafood restaurants along the waterfront.

One of Europe's finest bookstores, an architectural wonder, is located in Porto. Livraria Lello has been selling books since 1881. Designed by Xavier Esteves, it's facade is neo-gothic, and the curving red stairway between levels, decorated walls and ceilings, and stained-glass skylight will amaze you. You can see our video of this destination: Tour the Cathedral of Books. The Livraria Lello site has a single picture without much information (yet), but the Bookstore Guide has a good description and more pictures.

If you like to eat surrounded by books, you'll need to try Book, a new restaurant at Rua de Aviz 10 serving nouveau Portuguese cuisine in a candlelit and bookish literary environment.

A number of tours are offered for Viator if you want to get further afield or just want to do something like a fado or bicycle tour of the city. See: Porto & Northern Portugal Tours (book direct).

Where to go for Great Views of Porto

  • From the top of the Clerigos Tower, a 75 meter tower accessed with 225 steps.
  • Climb up to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, from where you will gain an even more splendid view of the bend in the river, the bridge and the city.
  • The Ponte de Dom Luis I -walk across the high upper deck if you dare for good views of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank.

Port tasting:

Port Wine Institute - Rua Ferreira Borges, 27 - 4050-116 Porto Tel: ++ 351 222071600 - Fax: ++ 351 222071699. A great place to go to try many types of port in a living room atmosphere.

Solar do Vinho do Porto Rua Entre-Quintas 220 besides the Jardim do Poalacio de Cristal.

Vila Nova de Gaia, is an across-the-river southern suburb of Porto perched on the steep banks of the Douro where Port wine lodges dominate the landscape. There are over 50 port producers within the narrow lanes where the wines are aged and blended. Tours and tasting is a must for a visitor with a taste for Port wine.

(Go to the next page for Porto Transportation, Restaurant and Hotel Recommendations)

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