Visiting Porto - What to See and Do
(Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport OPO, Portugal)
People have lived in Portugal's second-most populous city since the 4th century, when Porto
was part of the Roman Empire and known as Portus Calle. Although much has changed in Porto throughout the years, the city has always maintained its mercantile heritage, best displayed in the architectural style of its city centre buildings and the traditional food market of Mercado do Bolhao.
Ancient Roman ruins and medieval attractions are still found throughout this hilly city on the Douro River's banks, where younger residents come to party on warm summer evenings. The Ribeira waterfront area is the most recommended place to begin a walking tour of this hilly UNESCO World Heritage city. The cellars containing Porto's world famous port wine stand in the Ribeira de Gaia, along the river's opposite end.
Although many visitors pass Porto by during their holidays in Portugal
, they are unfortunately missing out on all of the city's hidden charms, from its scenic upriver cruises to its various tasty signature dishes. These include both the salted codfish called 'bacalhau' and the toasted 'Francesinha' (made with sausage or steak) - ranked among the top ten tastiest sandwiches on Earth.
Ten things you must do in Porto
- Stroll along the Ribeira waterfront promenade, passing by many of the city's historic buildings and a number of its most recommended tourist attractions. This Douro River waterfront was once the main departure point for countless bottles of Porto's famous port wine, which was transported inside boats called 'barcos rabelos'.
- Browse the fresh flowers, fresh local food and other unique wares sold at the traditional two-floor Mercado do Bolhao market between Monday and Saturday. Separate sections for flowers, vegetables, fish and meat help visitors easily navigate this lively market.
- Relax and find shade from the hot summers beneath the leafy trees and stately statues of the Jardim de Joao Chagas Garden, more commonly known as the Cordoaria. This peaceful garden has been a tranquil oasis in the heart of Porto since 1865.
- Cross any of the splendid bridges spanning the Douro River between Porto and glitzy Vila Nova de Gaia, where historic harbourfront warehouses transform into vibrant nightclubs and bars after dark. Many of Vila Nova de Gaia's numerous night-time neon signs would not be out of place in Las Vegas.
- Visit the Museum of Sacred Art and Archaeology. The Igreja Grilo building is nearly as impressive as the exhibits and paintings within. It was known as the Church of St. Lawrence, but received the nickname 'Cricket Church' from the religious order who operated the church in 1780.
- Cheer on the award-winning FC Porto team alongside up to 52,000 other spectators at the architecturally impressive Dragao Stadium, which has hosted many a Champions League match in addition to concerts by Coldplay, the Rolling Stones and other renowned rock groups.
- Explore Vila Nova de Gaia's port wine caves, many of which offer multilingual guided tours and free tastings of Porto's most famous drink. Despite their local name, however, most of these wine caves are actually cellars housed within waterfront warehouses.
- Admire the sacred art collection and chapterhouse inside the imposing Sé Do Porto cathedral, which has towered over the city like a fortress since the 12th century. Stunning 18th-century white and blue tiles adorn the cathedral's Gothic cloisters. Although the public cannot go inside the Episcopal Palace, you can still soak in its elegant three-floor exterior from the cathedral's terrace.
- Stand in awe of the pure gold facade of the Sao Francisco Church, where Gothic arches were created from marble and catacombs, and contain a small museum attraction filled with former monastery artefacts. This magnificent church ranks among the most ornate in all of Europe.
- Stare at the splendour of the 19th-century Palácio da Bolsa, Porto's former stock exchange which has hosted countless heads of state inside its ornate oval shaped Arab Room, with its design being inspired by Granada's Alhambra Palace. Two bronze chandeliers dangle above the building's grand staircase.