Top 10 things to do in Porto
Porto is one of the oldest cities in Europe; it is the former capital of the country and the current capital of port wine. It is also a lively industrial center, the historical part of which, permanently inhabited since at least the 4th century, received UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1996. Unlike other major cities in the country, the center of Porto is not so much baroque as granite and monumental. Architecturally, the city is very diverse: there are medieval monuments as well as modern buildings.
Relax on the beaches of Porto
Porto has city beaches with sand and fine pebbles, separated from each other by rocky ledges. They stretch from where the Douro River flows into the Atlantic Ocean to the town of Matosinhos. Porto's beaches are equipped with everything you need for relaxation: lifeguard booths, toilets, showers, and medical facilities. Parking spaces for cars and bicycles are provided everywhere, as are playgrounds for children and fountains with drinking water. There are numerous cafes and bars where you can eat or quench your thirst.
To get in touch with nature, you need only go a little further from Porto. Matosinhos, with its metro from Sao Bento station, has beautiful, sandy beaches. But sometimes the wind blows hard, so you can't always swim. You can still have lots of fun on your trip as Matosinhos is the gastronomic capital of Portugal, with some of the local fish restaurants offering mouth-watering delicacies. The beaches are excellent in the young seaside resort of Espinho, accessible by train from Sao Bento station. There are many stretches of shallow water, ideal for holidays with children. On windy days, the coast is overrun by surfers; the waves are world-class. A day spent in the hot sun can end with a walk through the surrounding hills and forests.
Porto's main streets, Boavista and Santa Catarina are home to the largest concentration of stores, supermarkets, fashion boutiques, antique shops, and souvenir shops. The most colorful market is the Bolhão on Rua de Sa da Bandeira, founded in 1839. Today you can buy the freshest seafood, vegetables, meat, flowers, spices, and other local delicacies. There are many large shopping malls with cafes, bowling alleys, cinemas, and lots of other attractions. The most famous are Via Catarina, Norte Shopping, Arrabida Shopping, Parque Nascente, and Gaia Shopping. Of course, the best gift from Porto is the legendary local port wine. You can also buy hand-painted ceramic tiles, funny cockerel figurines, leather shoes and bags of excellent quality, and jewelry made of gold and silver with filigree. Also, all sorts of products are made of cork oak bark, which is considered almost a national symbol of the country.
The main gastronomic souvenirs from Porto are olives, cheese, and egg cream.
Taste Portuguese cuisine
Portuguese cuisine is hearty and simple, but no less delicious. Fish and seafood are the basis of most recipes, and the filling is usually generous: every portion contains 3–4 large pieces. Rice with vegetables is a favorite side dish of the locals. The Francésinho — a meat sandwich with sausage, ham, and roast beef with a special tomato and beer sauce — and the feijoada — a traditional dish of meat with rice and red beans — are a must. Porto restaurants also serve something a bit more exotic, such as monkfish, wolf bill, or goat cheese with a thick crust. The original first courses are the aromatic cabbage and potato purée soup and the signature tripe soup.
But the main gastronomic pride of the country is the port wine, Vinho do Porto. It is made according to the ancient recipes which have reached modern winemakers since the Middle Ages. You can taste the national drink in the Port wine Museum and the tasting room of its main producer, the Sandeman Company. There are many cafés and restaurants in the city, popular with locals as well as tourists on any budget. The people of Porto are avid coffee drinkers and are extremely picky about the quality of their favorite drink. This is why there are coffee shops everywhere with excellent service, delicious coffee, and a variety of desserts. The most popular is the legendary Majestic, with its exquisite sweets and full restaurant menu.
Joan Rowling began her work on Harry Potter at the Majestic Café in Porto.
Of course, there are plenty of fish restaurants with fresh seafood. The most famous is de Praia do Ourigo, located on the Douro promenade. Restaurants on the pedestrian street of Santa Catarina offer a wide selection of national dishes of fish, meat, and vegetables. Many restaurants combine traditional Portuguese recipes with European, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. The average bill in a premium-class restaurant starts at 25–50 EUR for a dinner for two. Fans of cozy cafes with original interiors and affordable prices will also find a favorite place. Even the annoying McDonald's in Porto is unusual, built in the style of the royal chambers. Lunch at an inexpensive place will cost 10–15 EUR per person.
Visit the most beautiful church in the city
Located in the heart of Porto, the Church of São Francisco is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the city. Its imposing size and stunning view fascinate tourists from all over the world. The Gothic-style building with Baroque elements is beautiful both outside and inside. Interestingly, many of the decorations in the complex appeared much later than the church itself. For example, the stunningly beautiful wooden carvings inside the temple were made only in the 17th and 18th centuries. Almost all the walls of the church of São Francisco are beautifully decorated with special panels with wooden carvings in the rococo style. It is the main feature of the building that looks impressive. In the past, this splendor was much richer due to the gilding, which has gradually faded over time.
At the church of São Francisco, there are catacombs, which contain the graves of citizens of the 18th and 19th centuries. The burials are distributed in tiers. At the very top are the tombs and urns with ashes, and at the very bottom, particularly impressionable people, should not look. There are piles of bones and skulls lying behind the glass walls. If you are not afraid of seeing such a picture, then you can safely go down into the catacombs through the museum.
It took about 200 kilograms of gold powder to create the rich decoration of the Church of São Francisco.
Spend time with your kids
The best place for a walk with the whole family is Crystal Palace Park, equipped with numerous playgrounds, comfortable benches, and areas for relaxation. The decoration of the park includes all kinds of sculptures and installations, made in modern and ancient styles. Sports competitions, concerts, and other interesting cultural events for children and adults are regularly held here. The main attraction for younger visitors is feeding the peacocks that waltz imposingly right across the lawns.
Young fantasy fans are sure to enjoy a visit to the Harry Potter bookstore on Rua das Carmelitas. Built at the end of the 19th century, it consistently ranks among the top 3 most beautiful bookstores in the world. It was its interior that became the prototype of the Hogwarts library, and it was here that some scenes of the famous movie saga were filmed. You have to pay 3 EUR for the entrance, but the walk through the fabulous Livraria scenery is worth it. Sea Life Porto Oceanarium offers an acquaintance with exotic marine fauna: sharks, electric rays, skates, and tropical fish. You can walk through a glass tunnel, watch the feeding of the local inhabitants, and look at the ocean from the observation deck on the roof.
Take a tram ride
Porto's trams are one of the city's main attractions. Riding any of the three lines that run through the center of the city itself, you can enjoy fantastic views. The Massarelos stop near the Crystal Palace is the main central hub. From here, follow Line 1 along the river to the monument to the Infante Henrique (Ribeira area). Line 1E (often referred to as "1") goes down the river to Foz Douro. Line 18 runs up to the Carmo church and Jardim da Cordoaria gardens. Departures every half hour; hours of operation: 9:00 to 19:00. 2.50 EUR for a ticket.
Walk in the Ribeira neighborhood
The best place to start exploring Porto is the colorful Ribeira neighborhood. For most tourists, it is Porto's favorite landmark. While the Ribeira area is very interesting itself, there are many other noteworthy sites and cultural attractions nearby. Above all, the Ribeira neighborhood attracts attention with its unusual architecture. It seems that small houses of different colors with narrow facades, located on a hill, are stuck on top of each other. Many of the buildings are very beautifully decorated with traditional azulejo ceramic tiles in white and blue colors. Locals stroll through the old, winding streets; chat over coffee in cafes, or relax in the shade of sprawling trees. The natives of the Ribeira neighborhood are often referred to as "tripeiros. The word comes from tripe, which means "tripe. Years ago, the locals ate almost nothing but tripe, and the good meat went to the sailors.
Each of the neighborhood's narrow streets leads to the banks of the Douro River through Praça da Ribeira square.
In the past, Praça da Ribeira was a lively marketplace. Townspeople would buy meat, fish, bread, and more. Today, the square is buzzing with cafes and bars where you can sample some of Portugal's famous wines and port wines. Nearby is the Cubo da Ribeira fountain, which was built back in 1780 by José Rodrigues. At the base of the fountain is the figure of John the Baptist. The statue was made by the sculptor João Cotileiro. In addition, the fountain is decorated with the coat of arms of the country.
In the Ribeira district, there is also the Casa do Infanti, the house where King João the First's heir was born in 1394. He was later called Henry the Navigator. Very close to the Ribeira district are the Igreja de San Francisco church and the Fernandina fortress wall, built in the 14th century. Don't forget to stroll along the colorful Cais da Ribeira promenade along the Douro River. Here you will see a large number of small boats and ships that you can take for a stroll. Many of these ships used to carry port wine, but are now strictly for tourism purposes.
Enjoy the flowers in the oldest garden in the country
The Porto Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful parks in the city where you can relax and learn about botany; it has a rich botanical collection. The park is not too popular among tourists, but this only makes its visit more pleasant on weekdays; you can stroll here in almost complete solitude. During the time of its existence, the garden has changed a few owners. At the end of the 18th century, it belonged to the Order of Christ, after which it passed to João Salaberta. Then it was long inhabited by the family of the famous Portuguese poetess Sofia de Mello Brainerd, and finally, in 1951, it was sold to the University of Porto. Each of its many owners carefully cared for the park and took great care to preserve its original appearance. Even its transformation into a botanical garden had almost no effect on its appearance, as plants collected by the Faculty of Sciences were organically placed in the existing greenhouses and flowerbeds.
Despite the modest size of the park — just 4,000 square meters — there's a lot to see. The whole area is divided into several thematic zones, and in the center is the house of the former tenants. It is now used by the University of Porto, so it no longer has the old interiors, but visitors can still go inside and have a look around. There are several gardens around the house — there are 8 in total, and each one is decorated differently. The garden with initials, for example, reminds us of a peculiar labyrinth: it was laid out in honor of the previous owners, João and Joan Andresen, and almost its entire territory is filled with low bushes, planted in the form of the letter "J". All sorts of aquatic plants grow in the fish garden, and in the slate garden near the graceful artificial ponds, all sorts of aquatic plants grow.
A riot of color can be seen in the rose garden, the Bronze Boy's garden, and the amber garden — the latter is home to an abundance of flowers and amber trees, whose leaves turn a deep red by August. And finally, in the greenhouses of the succulent garden is a huge collection of heat-loving plants. Shelter from the hot sun if you can in the arboretum or one of the two small groves on either side of the entrance to the park. There are several local long-livers here: two ancient araucaria grow in the groves, and some trees in the arboretum were planted two centuries ago.
Go back in time in the Tram Museum
At the Tram Museum, you can learn how this mode of transportation has changed throughout its existence. There are dozens of different trams that can be placed on the track and sent on their way. The tram museum was opened in Porto in 1992. It is located on the site of the former Massarelos railway station. The museum has its depot with excursion exhibits. The majority of the trams at the museum date from the first half of the twentieth century. However, there are also horse-drawn carriages — small antique cars that were moved along the rails with the help of horses. Such a carriage fits only 12 people. The first horse-drawn carriages appeared in the city in 1872. The conductor sat on the roof and drove the horse. Later, the horse-drawn tram became ancillary to the electric streetcars. Note the so-called British trams. It was given to Porto as a gift by an English company. Interestingly, it is not only Portuguese transport. Many years ago, a large number of exhibits drove people around the cities of Bohemia, Italy, America, and Britain.
Visit the ancient castle
The powerful walls of the ancient castle, which is included in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, are already a worthy reason to visit Guimarães. Its list of some of Portugal's best citadels, its astonishing history, and the stunning views it affords, however, lead many tourists to tick a box as a must-visit. And for good reason: this is exactly how the ancient fortress, behind which the sad princess is kept in captivity, should look—fabulous, monumental, and menacing.
The territory where Guimarães Fortress is located was conquered by the Arabs at the end of the 9th century during the bloody Reconquista. Its first owner was the austere Count Diogo Fernandes. And it is his daughter who owes Portugal the appearance of the town of the same name as the castle. The brave Signorina, married with six children, founded a convent in the village of Vimaranes (now Guimarães), giving it a large plot of land on January 26, 959. And to protect it from Muslims from the south of Portugal and Normans from the sea, Dias ordered a castle to be built on the hill of Monte Largo. Today the castle has been fully restored and is open to the public. In Guimarães you can see four towers and several gates, as well as a wooden bridge across the moat.
History of Porto
The settlement at the site of today's Porto existed long before the Roman era. The Romans who came to this land founded the city of Portus Cale, the first documented mention of which dates back to the V century. Later, the name was transformed into Portucale, which later gave its name to the whole country. The Moors ruled the territory until the 8th century, and from 982, Portucale became a Christian settlement under the administration of Henry of Burgundy. The city of Porto was founded in 1123. Beginning in 1237, the economic prosperity of Porto was associated with the era of the Great Geographical Discoveries of Portugal. By the 15th century, it was one of the main shipbuilding centers in the country.
The city's population has always been remarkable for its freedom-loving and rebellious character. So, back in 1209, the inhabitants of Porto opposed the huge taxes and laid a five-month siege of the local bishop's residence. The Inquisition did not take root here at all: it survived with great difficulty for four years. In 1628, the women of Porto revolted against the tax on linen and woolen goods. In 1757, the inhabitants rebelled against the wine monopoly imposed by the Marquis de Pombal. In Porto, the Reconquista was "born" and here, in the homeland of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal's maritime expansion began.
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