Unless you are a cruiser, most travellers in North America would not be familiar with the second largest city in Portugal, the quaint town of Porto, or Oporto as most English speaking folks say, on the Portuguese coast. This Mediterranean looking city is located on the Douro River on the northwest coast of Portugal. It is on the itinerary of many discriminating ocean cruise lines and is the starting point for the ever-increasing popular vacation choice, river cruising, for this country.
Porto grew up on both sides of the river and on its hillsides. Founded by the Romans in the fourth century, it became the site of many important events over the years adding to its historical significance and lending itself to the interest of today’s history buff. The world’s oldest historical alliance between Portugal and England started in Porto with the wedding of John I and John of Gaunt’s daughter. Prince Henry the Navigator was born in this place too, and so on. You can feel the past surround you as you stroll the narrow twisted alleyways between the tall, thin houses capped with brick-coloured tiles. Looking down from the Clerigos Church and Tower your view is a sea of reddish roofs as Porto spreads beneath this landmark bell tower built in the 18th century.
Another landmark of Porto is the bridge, Dom Luis, one of 6 elegant and unique bridges crossing the Douro. It is a double decker with trams on the top and cars beneath. This iron bridge may remind you a bit of the Eiffel tower and for good reason. It was designed and built by an engineer partner of Gustav Eiffel , who incidentally designed a railway bridge here, the Ponte D.Maria, currently not in use.
Sites to see in this town include its historical center, Cais de Gaia, where you will find little shops and cafes right along the river side, most with outdoor seating to enjoy the sunshine and river views. This is the area for which Porto has achieved its UNESCO World Heritage status. Sip port wine here with tapas or visit one of the port wine storehouses. By now you will realize that this is where this sweet wine received its name. Perhaps you will see one of the traditional and distinctively shaped boats used to ferry the wine down the river from the Douro wineries to the port warehouses.
Other sights to take in are the Oporto Cathedral with its beautiful Gothic rose window; the opera house Casa de Musica, a thoroughly modern 12 story piece of architecture; the Igreja de Sao Francisco (San Francisco Church), another UNESCO site from the 14th century with its opulent gilt and marble décor; the Casa do Infante said to be the birthplace of Henry the Navigator and now an archive; the train station with its myriad of blue and white Portuguese tiles; the elegant Stock Exchange with its Moorish influence; and also the Livaria Lello and Irmao, a bookstore classified by UNESCO as World Patrimony for it neo gothic exterior, and supposedly third best book store worldwide according to some.
So take a tram, take a gondola, take a taxi, or just walk ( good shoes, strong legs) and see Porto top to bottom – you will be delighted and enchanted by this quaint city with so much to see, do and enjoy.
Photos courtesy of pixabay.com and bigstock.com