Looking across to Gaia (the focus of the port wine industry in Porto) it’s truly odd to be standing in the heat of a Portuguese city seeing enormous rooftop hoardings with a number of quintessentially English surnames such as Taylors, Cockburn and Graham peppered across the length of the river bank. Though, I’m not a big fan of encountering my fellow countryman [sic] abroad, on this occasion, I’ll make an exception and cannot recommend enough a trip across to Gaia to these British Port wine making behemoths to sample the drink with which this magnificent city takes its name. Be sure to make a reservation for a tour in advance as the port houses are, understandably, very popular.
Much of what you will see in Porto will be on the other side of the river in the medieval Ribeira district and on first impressions, you may think Porto a little rough round the edges and of little interest; with the crumbling historic facades of buildings (a result of difficulty in meeting the expensive UNESCO reconstruction standards) and its relatively quiet cobbled streets, it is easy to dismiss Porto as a city with little to offer. Make no mistake, Porto is to be explored; a genuine city playground ripe for an urban adventure!
SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS
The Dom Luis I Bridge – The Douro River cuts through the city of Porto, snaking its way to the Atlantic Ocean from the depths of the Douro Valley. Connecting Porto’s Gaia district with Ribeira is the magnificent Dom Luis I Bridge. A symbol of the city, this double-decker arch bridge made from iron stands almost 45 metres above the river. It is truly a fantastic sight, thanks to its scale and the beauty of its construction. The bridge can be crossed by various forms of transport, but the best way is to walk across and take in the breathtaking vistas across both sides of the Douro and marvel at modern metro trams trundling across this 130 year old architectural wonder.
Free Tour – Regular readers of Pulped Travel will know how much I enjoy and value a free tour, and with Porto, I think it is a must do for any visitor. Porto, for most people, doesn’t have the familiar history and sights of say London, Paris or Barcelona; so to take a tour means you get a local’s insight into the city, its past, its personality and, of course, where the best place is to eat the legendary local sandwich, the Francesinha! (www.portowalkers.pt)
The Architecture – Walking round Porto, with no particular direction, is such a great way to enjoy the city. You’ll pass by a mix of architectural styles, beautiful blue tile-adorned buildings and modern architecture that has sensitively been incorporated into, what is largely, an historical city. Grab a coffee to go and, in the nicest possible sense…go get lost!
EAT and DRINK
Francescina – The Francesinha was at the heart of much discussion on the free tour I took with people saying to each other, “are you going to try it?!”, “I heard it’s 3000 calories!” among other lines that would make your arteries shrivel and your doctor wince. The Francesinha is a typical dish of Porto. It is a sandwich consisting of different meats such as sausage, ham and beef. This is then covered in cheese and a sauce made primarily of tomato and (rumoured to include) beer. It is often served with a fried egg on top and a portion of chips. Put simply, it is a cheese toastie on steroids! The locals view it as a treat; a snack after an evening of partying and, for what it is worth…washed down with its natural partner, a Super Bock beer, I enjoyed every bite of my calorific Francesinha-fest!
Rota do Cha Tea House – I stumbled across this place by chance in the arty district of Porto. Something caught my eye. I walked in. First through the building; happy to be lost in the maze of beautifully decorated rooms and then to the amazing garden, situated out back. Quite simply, this tea house is an oasis in the city; a comfortable setting and a great place to relax under the shade of trees whilst sipping one of the teas available from the fantastic specially selected menu. Be warned! You will lose hours here! (www.rotadocha.pt)
The Vitória district is where much of the nightlife in Porto occurs. It is centred on two streets – Galeria de Paris and R. Cândido dos Reis and is located close to Porto’s university. The bars here are quite a sophisticated affair, filled with locals, students and tourists who spill out on to the streets as the area becomes busier and with copious amounts of the local beer of choice, Super Bock, you’re bound to have a great time partying with the Tripeiros!
Matosinhos Beach – A short bus ride from the city, along a road that hugs the coast (at one point it even crosses out into the sea) is the Atlantic coast and Matosinhos Beach. Praia de Matosinhos is one of a number of beaches along the coast close to Porto. It is unique in the area for being the widest and within reach of a number of bars and restaurants when lazing on the sand becomes all too much. Popular with the surf crowd, Matosinhos has a really great vibe and offers city visitors the chance to cool off from the heat of the city; which is a real asset for Porto. In addition to the beach, a few minutes walk from the sand is the verdant Parque da Cidade do Porto, with its winding paths and cooling sea breeze the park is a real find. The park is also frequent host to a number of festivals and events throughout the year.
Just like the capital, Porto has a superb range of hostels catering to both backpackers and flashpackers. They are highly rated and understand the needs of the modern traveller. My experience at the Porto Lounge (www.portoloungehostel.com); a centrally located hostel that is close to all the attractions and a host of transport options, was superb.
Porto may not be on your bucket list, but with so much to offer travellers of all stripes, this magnificent city by the beach is one not to miss.