Portugal’s second largest city is known above all for its port wine, which is exported world-wide. Nestling in a deep gorge at the point where the River Duoro enters the Atlantic, Oporto is unbelievable picturesque particularly when viewed from the river, its UNESCO protected Old Town is equally impressive. An unpretentious and hard working city Oporto is at the heart of Portugal’s core industries and remains largely uninterested in tourism despite or perhaps because of this, this bustling and unselfconscious city will make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Moreover it is within easy reach of numerous coastal resorts and charming fishing villages famed for their numerous seafood restaurants.
The city’s compact historic quarter is where you’ll be tempted to spend most of your time. To help in orientating yourself climb the 240 steps of the Torre dos Clerigos, an 18th century tower, from which you will see the fortress-like Romanesque cathedral, called Se, which commands the Old Town.
One of Portugal’s most lavishly decorated churches is the Igreja de Sao Francisco, its gothic exterior bellies its spectacularly rich interior covered in vast quantities of gilded foliage.
However don’t limit yourself to the historic quarter. Oporto has several delightful parks amongst them the Jardim do Palacio de Cristal, which boasts stunning river views and the gardens of the Fundacao Serralves, which also houses the noteworthy Museu de Arte Contemporanea sometimes referred to as Museu Serralves.
Another worthwhile visit is to the neo-classical Palacio de Bolsa (stock exchange) which boasts an Arab-influenced ballroom as well as a domed glass ceiling in its great hall.
A visit to the various lodges of the Vila Nova da Gaia district across the Duoro where the legendary port wine is processed blended and aged is a must. Home to nearly 60 port houses many of which welcome guests offering tours and more importantly tastings! Make sure you cross the river via the spectacular two-tiered Dom Luis bridge, a heavy iron construction that echoes the Eiffel Tower it was, not surprisingly, built by the French architect Gustav Eiffel in 1886.
Although Oporto’s steep riverbank streets make much of the Ribeira (Old Town) only accessible by foot, the city’s bus network connects the centre to all major sights further out. The city centre hub for busses is at Praca da Liberdade where 24-hour and 3-day passes can be purchased. Alternatively single journey tickets can be purchased aboard your bus. However, for ease of navigation it may be worth asking at your hotel or the tourist office for some assistance before embarking on your journey. Not only as a means of transport but also for a truly local experience take a trip on one of the few remaining rabelos –which once carried wine barrels down the river. Boats leave regularly from the Estiva Quay and apart from getting the best views of picturesque Ribeira you will also pass under some if not all of Oporto’s five impressive bridges that span the River Duoro.