Porto is a thriving, buzzing, port city on the mouth of the Douro River where history collides head-on with a hedonistic, 21st century population beneath the sombre gaze of monumental architecture and blue-faced churches.
Portugal’s second city is an eclectic juxtaposition of old fashioned shops, avant-garde art and historic plazas with free WiFi. From its busy waterfront restaurants and celebrated wine cellars to its lively bars and nightlife, Porto combines the splendours of a thousand year old mercantile history with a vibrant, youthful culture.
A port city dating back to the 8th century BC when the Romans established a town called Portus (port) at the mouth of the Douro River, Porto is steeped in history. Recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1996, the city is awash with Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassical architecture housing galleries, theatres, museums, cafés, shops and offices.
Life in Porto is a dual centred affair, alternating between the river and the city centre.
By day the water front wine cellars of Cais da Gaia conduct tours and tastings for the visitors who come into the city in their droves while the river boats ferry them up and down the Douro on pleasure trips. The riverside restaurants of Cais da Ribeira do a brisk trade in keeping the tourists fed and watered while above them, the faceless residents of the faded and tiled façades of towering town houses hang their washing to catch the sun and the prying eyes of strangers. Seemingly oblivious to the canoeists, pleasure boats, cargo ships and diving cormorants constantly invading its surface, the River Douro languidly spreads its blue expanse beneath ornate iron bridges and the cable car which tacks the heavens like a typewriter carriage.
On the hillside above the river a steady stream of shoppers, students, office workers and commuters flows through the city’s veins that thread their way past former mansions and palaces via cobbled alleys and tree-lined avenues interspersed with landscaped parks and expansive squares. By night the streets behind Praça da Liberdade fill with diners heading to the avante-garde restaurants that sit cheek by jowl with old fashioned book shops and mini supermarkets. Later, the bars of Rua Galeria de Paris morph from coffee wielding cafés to standing-room-only bars and clubs spilling out across the street into one, big house party.
Buzz Trips Opinion
There’s something distinctly northern about Porto. Its warm welcome, widely spoken English, unpretentious food, packed bars and urban industrial landscape made us feel instantly at home.
Excellent shopping, charismatic cafés, great restaurants, lively nightlife, culture by the gallery load and all at a price tag which is considerably lower than many of its European neighbours, including Spain. Porto is a joy to explore on foot, every turn revealing another surprise and another facet to the city. There are more things to see and things to do in Porto than you can cram into one weekend, which is fine because you’ll want to come back anyway.
We were blown away by Porto which far exceeded our expectations and sent us into 2012 with grins on our faces and a new favourite city in our hearts.