Porto is a busy industrial and commercial center. The city itself isn't very populous (about 300,000 inhabitants), but the Porto metropolitan area (Greater Porto) has some 2,500,000 inhabitants in a 50 km radius, with cities like Gaia, Matosinhos, Maia, and Gondomar.
The city was built along the hills overlooking the Douro river estuary, and its historical center was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1996. It has been continuously inhabited since at least the 4th Century, when the Romans referred to it as Portus Calle.
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When visiting Porto don't forget to see and experience the museums, galleries, Bars, Lounges, Restaurant and vibrant cafe society of this area!
What to see
The first place to begin with is the Ribeira, the part of the city near the river, which is also a good place to start visiting the World Heritage area; to the other side of the river you will see the Ribeira de Gaia, a similar area from the city of Vila Nova de Gaia (the two are only separated by the river) and where you could find the Port Wine Cellars. Next go up to the São Francisco church and the Stock Exchange palace nearby, where you can visit the most impressive Arab room in the country. The world known Modern Art museum at Serralves and the Casa da Música (House of Music) concert hall live in the area known as Boavista. From there you can reach the amazing ocean front drive, known as "Foz". Go back to the center of the city and visit Mercado do Bolhão, a traditional market of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Next the Aliados and the City Hall and finally the 6 bridges connecting Porto to Gaia over the Douro river, many of them providing an excellent view to the river. Porto is a mysterious city that reveals its charm to the visitor through time. Take your time, wander through the mazes and alleys of the city. Take in the old, bohemian spirit of the city. Hike through the Ribeira and Foz do Douro regions (the latter, at sunset). Porto may not be in every tourist's Iberian Peninsula itinerary, but it's well worth a visit if you want to see a city that has changed economically, but that has kept its old traditions, something that is being forgotten in Europe today.
Top Places to Visit
- Cais de Gaia, The city's postcard skyline and the birthplace of one of the world's most famous wines.
- Serralves Museum, Two buildings that are as much a work of art as the collections they exhibit inside, surrounded by a magnificent park.
- Casa da Musica, An architectural masterwork by world-renowned architect Rem Koolhaas.
- Sao Francisco Church, One of Europe's most extraordinarily lavish church interiors, completely covered in gold.
- Cais da Ribeira, Atmospheric, colorful, World Heritage riverfront medieval district.
- Porto Cathedral, The 12th-century fortress-cathedral where Prince Henry the Navigator was baptized.
- Clerigos Tower, Iconic landmark overlooking the city.
- Palacio da Bolsa, The exuberant interior of the former Stock Exchange Palace.
- Dom Luis Bridge, Before the Eiffel Tower, there was this ironwork showpiece.
- Soares dos Reis Museum, A notable national art museum named after one of the country's top artists.
Porto's most popular event is St. John (São João Festival) on the night of 23–24 June. In this season it's a tradition to have a vase with bush basil decorated with a small poem. During the dinner of the great day people usually eat sardines and boiled potatoes together with red wine.
Another major event is Queima das Fitas, that starts in the first Sunday of May and ends in the second Sunday of the month. Basically, before the beginning of the study period preceding the school year’s last exams, academia tries to have as much fun as possible. The week has 12 major events, starting with the Monumental Serenata on Sunday, and reaching its peak with the Cortejo Académico on Tuesday, when about 50,000 students of the city's higher education institutions march through the downtown streets till they reach the city hall. During every night of the week a series of concerts takes place on the Queimódromo, next to the city’s park, where it’s also a tradition for the students in their second-to-last year to erect small tents where alcoholic beverages are sold in order to finance the trip that takes place during the last year of their course of study; an average of 50 000 students attend these shows.
Porto was considered the 4th best value destination for 2012, by Lonely Planet.
Nightlife in Porto doesn’t really get going until the late bars start to open up around 10.30pm, so don’t worry if everywhere is a bit quiet until then as it’ll pick up and then stay going well into the small hours of the morning!
If you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy a tipple during the day, the beachside bars in Foz do Douro or the quayside cafés in both Ribeira and Gaia are a good choice.
Port wine is the city's major export and this world-renowned and locally produced tipple can be sampled at bars and cafés all over the city.
Porto has some of the finest restaurants in Portugal.
It is said that if you like to eat, you should go to Porto because it is a place where you eat well in terms of quality and amount (even Lisbon citizens say that in Porto is where they eat the best food). The best restaurants of the city are mainly located in Matosinhos near the beach and the seaport called "Porto de Leixões".
Expect hearty meals, and if you can, try "Tripas à moda do Porto". Be aware, however, that this is a tripe dish. Citizens of Porto are called tripeiros (tripe-eaters) on account of this dish. Also try the salted codfish "Bacalhau" - in any way it is cooked - there are hundreds of different dishes with salted codfish!
Don't forget the traditional dish called "Francesinha", which literally translated means little French lady. This city is just about the only place in the world where you can find it. However, in many other northern Portuguese cities you can find a low quality version of it. Essentially it is a toast with layers of meat inside (beef, pork meat, ham...). It is covered with cheese and a spicy sauce, with the option of including french fries on top. Most importantly, this dish must be accompanied by beer and not wine. The "Francesinha" has been considered one of the 10 best sandwiches in the World.
A good tip is taking the bus or subway to Matosinhos in July, there will be the fish festival. Freshly caught fish is being served the same day at barbecues lined up in the streets just a few blocks from the main beach. You choose a fish (only whole fish) and they prepare it on the streets for you - not a fancy restaurant, but together with the local people you are eating the best tasting fish you ever had! Try a dourada, it is delicious.
Porto is dotted with thousands of different bakeries (Pão Quente) and pastry shoppes (Pastelarias). Apart from serving delicious (and quite inexpensive) goods, they are also equipped with a side-cafe that serves all sorts of coffees (Pingo, Meia de Leite, etc.) and sandwiches (Tosta Mista-ham and cheese toastie). Note that, unlike the other river side cafes in the city, these establishments do not have picturesque views of Porto (that's expensive, and in the end, you'd be the one paying for that bill). Instead, they attract tourists by offering good food at very cheap prices.
Most locals drink black coffee (espresso).
There is at least one fully vegetarian restaurant in Porto, Paladar da Alma (Rua de Santo Ildefonso 293/5), and some other restaurants which offer vegetarian dishes alongside non-vegetarian options, such as Capa Verde (Rua da Nossa Senhora de Fatima). Vegans may have to ask for dishes to be specially prepared for them, even in vegetarian restaurants.
Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon, and one of the major urban areas in Southern Europe and the capital of the second major great urban area in Portugal. Its administrative limits (an area of 41.66 km²/16 sq.mi) include a population of 237,584 (2011) inhabitants distributed within 15 civil parishes. The urban area of Porto, which extends beyond the administrative limits of the city, has a population of 1.3 million (2011) in an area of 389 km2 (150 sq mi), making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. The Porto Metropolitan Area includes an estimated 2 million peopl. It is recognized as a Gamma- level global city by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Study Group, being one of five cities on the Iberian Peninsula with global city status, (the others being Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon and Valencia).
Located along the Douro river estuary in northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European centres, and registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. Its settlement dates back many centuries, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire. Its Latin name, Portus Cale, has been referred to as the origin for the name "Portugal", based on transliteration and oral evolution from Latin. In Portuguese the name of the city is spelled with a definite article as "o Porto" (English: the port). Consequently, its English name evolved from a misinterpretation of the oral pronunciation and referred to as "Oporto" in modern literature and by many speakers.
One of Portugal's internationally famous exports, port wine, is named for Porto, since the metropolitan area, and in particular the adegas of Vila Nova de Gaia, were responsible for the production and export of the fortified wine.
Porto. (Andy Ruch) / CC BY-SA 3.0
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