As a small country, Portugal is often overlooked on the popular European tourism trail. However, those who have visited know that Portugal is well worth straying from the beaten path. Known as the “Second City,” the city of Porto I also often in the shadows, playing second fiddle to the capital city of Lisbon. But similar to the country as a whole, this city offers a bevvy of its own must-see features.
Just a few hours from Lisbon, Porto has a unique identity that its citizens bear proudly. Along the Douro River, Porto is a popular port city also known for its world-renowned wine. The city also appears to be entirely made from granite from the exterior but manages to have an inviting atmosphere that draws tourists back time and time again. When traveling to the area, the following are some experiences to enjoy.
1. Tour the Port Wine Lodges
If you like port wine, and even if you don’t, you’ll want to check out the port wine lodges. They’re located across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. You can also use Porto as a springboard to visit the nearby Douro Valley, where the grapes for the wine grow on stone terraces. As you visit the wine lodges, you’ll also get a built-in history lesson. The expert staff at the lodges will be happy to share their knowledge of the drink’s history as well as the history of the city. You can also try a variety of ports while here.
2. Tour the Ribeira District
One of the best local travel experiences in Porto is visiting the city’s most colorful quarter. Ribeira literally means riverbank and it’s the perfect, scenic place to spend a few hours of your day. Stroll along the embankment and take time to stop in the shops that line the river. This is one of the best lazy afternoon activities because you can enjoy local artisans while also experiencing worn faces and facades. Porto has a rich architectural history that has largely remained untouched by time.
3. Take a Food Tour
Although you can enjoy the port by itself, the food of Porto is also remarkable, and of course, pairs well with the wine. One of the best ways to enjoy it is with a local tour. You can sign up for one or create your own. Porto natives are often called tripeiros, or tripe eaters, and you can sample a variety of tripe stews on many local menus. You’ll also see a great deal of seafood, which is always fresh and flavorful. The favorite sandwich here is the francesinha, which can be likened to the French dip sandwich. The food in Porto is plentiful and unpretentious, which makes a food tour a fun, laid-back experience for travelers of all ages and interests. Try out the local restaurants and step off the beaten path to enjoy the lesser known spots.
4. Visit the Porto Cathedral
Porto city is surely an amazing addition to your Europe bucket list, and one of the best ways to experience the city is to look at its ancient churches. This cathedral dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries with a mix of baroque and gothic style. The church almost appears like a fortress and it one of the oldest monuments in the city. Although the façade appears fairly plain, the inside is a different story.
Explore the interior of the cathedral to see stained glass windows, a collection of ancient stone sculptures, and a silver altarpiece that was once a bishop’s study. The cloister is especially noteworthy with cobalt tiles that depict scenes from religious history. This spot takes a few hours to truly enjoy, especially if you take advantage of the terrace outside the church. Here, you’ll get amazing views of the entire city.
5. See the Six Bridges
As Porto is located on a river that splits the town, it features six bridges that are amazing pieces of history. Still standing and mostly operational today, it’s worth taking the time to see them. There are a few boat tours that you can take down the Douro River to offer glimpses of all the bridges on a single journey. Take special note of the Ponte Dona Maria Pia, a steel bridge that truly appears to be a work of art. It was designed by Gustav Eiffel, best known for his design of the Eiffel tower.
These are a few of the best travel experiences to be had in Porto, but you certainly will find more than enough others to fill your time while visiting. Porto is a compact city that’s easy to explore, making it possible to check a lot of bucket-list boxes while you’re there. What are you waiting for? See what the Second City is all about on your next European adventure.
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