Porto is Portugal’s diamond in the rough: It is beautiful and known for its tiled buildings and wine cellars scattered around the hilly city.
There are lots of things to do and activities that will guarantee you to stay preoccupied for well over a week if you’re planning a long vacation there.
Just remember to buy calling cards on your arrival if you’re staying for a longer time, since that will make it much easier to arrange bookings with hotels, restaurants and tours.
International texting is becoming cheaper every year, so make sure to choose a good company that offers good prices and you will be able to stay in touch with the folks back home as well.
Here are my top 5 things to do in Porto…
1. Port tasting
Port wine or Vinho do Porto is named after the city and a trip to Porto would not be complete without a visit to one of the port wine cellars. Port is a sweet wine usually red but also made in other varieties.
You’ll find many of the port producers along Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from Porto itself. There are port tasting tours where you visit several cellars and taste a range of white, ruby and tawny ports.
At the Port Wine Institute you can see hundreds of port varieties ranging from the simplest and cheapest to the finest and most prestigious. You could also visit one of the many bas in Porto to taste the famous drink.
2. Serralves Museum
The museum is housed within two exquisite structures, a minimalist-style building and the Casa de Serralves, a pink art-deco-style building both are worth seeing.
They stand in beautiful park grounds with landscaped gardens, fountains and statues as well as natural farmlands. In all the grounds cover 18 hectares; one of the most famous sculptures in the grounds is the giant shovel by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
The museum is home to cutting edge modern art and the works are always part of temporary exhibitions as there is no permanent collection. The museum hosts top art exhibits from the leading contemporary artists worldwide. During May and June the Sealves em Festa Festival offers many free events related to contemporary art.
3. Sao Francisco Church
This 14th century church appears fairly unremarkable from the outside but inside the entire space is covered with gold! The Gothic and Baroque structure is one of the most opulent in Europe with gilt wood carvings, marble arches and the spine chilling ossuary of bones stores in the cellar.
In the catacombs there is a museum with artifacts from the monastery which used to be part of the church. It is said that in all 400kg of gold cover the church’s inner walls.
4. Cais Da Ribeira
This is the magnificent river side area of Porto lined with cute cafes, unique stores and facing the river. You can explore the meandering medieval lanes and cobbled alleyways which all lead to the Praca da Ribeira, riverfront square.
The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the river you can see colorful boats bobbing on the water, and the water’s edge is lined with picturesque historic buildings. Many of the buildings have a story to tell like the Casa do Infante where Prince Henry the Navigator was born in 1394. At night the area comes alive with music, bars and restaurants and this is the place to be when there are festivals.
5. River Boat Ride
Take a relaxing boat cruise down the Douro River to see the city from a different perspective; you also get to see the Douro River Valley which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the tours have a live commentary so you can learn about the sites which pass you by.
Pass under many of the city’s bridges, see Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite shore and follow the Ribeirinha Promenade along the water’s edge. The iconic Ponte Luis I Bridge is one of the stunning sites along the river as well as the Dona Maria Pia Bridge of 1876 designed by Gustave Eiffel.
You can also see the Ponte do Infante, with the world’s longest reinforced concrete arch and the Ponte de Sao Joao with three arches. If your cruise continues out of the city you’ll see vineyards and unspoiled countryside.
(photo credit: 1)