I had the first taste of Port wine when I was 20 and my grandfather had offered me a Port wine from Goa. Only three years later after moving to Europe, I went back in time to know that the Port wine in Goa has origins in Porto- second biggest city in Portugal. It was quite natural that Portuguese invaded India by entering Goa first and the first thing they did was to introduce Port Wine- just kidding! But Portugal in general or Porto is just not about Port Wine but it has many more fragrances to it. May it be the delicious seafood, the traditional Francesinha, joyful people, catchy graffitis or the colourful neighbourhoods. Ryan Air flies often from major European cities to Porto for as less as 10 euros sometimes and so is quite touristy at times. I was there at the start of Summer in Portugal in March and I would highly recommend this time due to pleasant climate conditions (22° C max and 15°C min). This makes Porto a perfect weekend destination.
Historical context to the city
Historically said, Porto has its origins in the pre-Roman habitation. But only after the Portuguese discovered the navigation, the city and Portugal started playing a role in European affairs. During the 15th century, Porto became the busiest port in Portugal. In the 17th century, the commercialization of Wine as a major business in Porto started. Also, wealthy families started building baroque style architecture and neoclassical buildings in and around Porto. During the time frame from 1832 and 1833, the population of Porto along with King Pedro IV fought against the troops of King Miguel I of Portugal. The win of the liberal cause led to the description of the city as “undefeated, noble and very loyal city of Porto”. Due to all this, the UNESCO declared Porto as a World Heritage site. Porto is also awarded the best tourist destination in Europe.
Getting into the city
When I started searching for hostels, I was quite happy to see so many options with excellent reviews at a price as cheap as 15 euros per night. I stayed in “Yes! Porto hostel” right in the city centre with numerous food options and tourist places around. As in other cities, you can definitely carry the Porto tourist map to cover popular destinations. I did the same on the first day when we visited the Clerical Church that was quite next to our hostel. It is the first baroque church in Portugal built in 1750. Its tall bell tower gives a panoramic view of the city and is one of the most characteristic symbols of Porto. The entry to the church and the tower is 5 euros. Near to the church is the famous library (or bookstore) called Livraria Lello.
It is famously known as harry potter library as it is said that J.K Rowling started writing the novel sitting in this bookstore. As a result, they charge 5 euros as an entrance which is refunded when you buy a book.
The Golden Church
Porto has many churches including the Clerical church, St. Francisco Church, Porto Cathedral among the famous ones. But the church of Santa Clara is one not to be missed. The admirable gothic architecture along with golden wooden work (stolen gold) is just eye-catching. It is said that the gold in this church is all the gold stolen by Portuguese wherever they ruled. Photography is strictly restricted.
Also, admirable is the 18th-century train station- Sao Bento, the walls of which consist of approx. 20,000 azulejo tiles. Every wall depicts a certain scene in the history of Portugal. The wall to the left of the entrance depicts some battle whereas on the border of the wall are the countryside scenes.
The pretty neighbourhood of Ribeira
The Ribeira district in Porto is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Porto. Extending from Luis I bridge up to the river Duoro this district greets the tourist with different essences of Porto throughout the way. In the neighbourhood are pretty coloured houses, dozens of restaurants and bars that are open throughout the day and night. We were taken to a bakery store where they served only three desserts: chocolate Muse, dark chocolate cake and the mango nata. Believe me, that was the best chocolate mouse I had in my life. The other two desserts also tasted quite good.
On the riverside are a number of restaurants with varying price ranges that serve traditional Portuguese food and all offer wine tasting at a price usually 5 euros for 5 tasters. Other than that, there is one wine store where you could buy a bottle of wine and glasses. Sipping wine whilst watching the sunset on the river bank is the best start to the evening. The Porto’s nightlife starts in the street called Rue de Galeria de Paris.
The best view of Porto is from the other side of river Duoro, that is from Gaia. Once after crossing the bridge, I was made aware that this city on the other side of the river is not Porto but it is Gaia. Walk over the Luis I bridge and admire the beautiful Porto sitting on the river banks of river Duoro but in Gaia. The city of Gaia is famous for one more thing, that is wine cellars. If you have enough time and are interested in Port wine tours head to Gaia. This blog is a perfect guide for the Porto wine tour.
Miscellaneous activities in and around Porto:
Do a free walking tour- Porto Walkers!
A wine tour is one such activity depending on your personal interest. Check out this blog for interesting wine tours. If you are in Porto for more than a weekend then you can also check out the spiritual city of Braga. It is the third largest city in Portugal and is 20 min from Porto by train. This vibrant university city is an ideal one day trip from Porto combined with history and culture.
On our way to Lisbon, just to try out something new, I went to the hike- The Paiva Walkways or “Passadicos do Paiva” suggested by Google in to-do activities. It turned out to be quite good and I would recommend this if you are looking for something besides the city life. It is easily accessible by private car and there are some tours from Porto doing this 8km hike.
This blog from Mark and Miranda- The Common Wanderer also share an interesting weekend itinerary.
To experience the culinary life in Porto check out Part II of this blog
Wait, after Porto I did go to Lisbon and on the way had some amazing stops. I will write about that in a separate article.
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