Porto is one of the smaller great cities of Europe and slightly off the tourist radar, perhaps because it’s a bit isolated at the northwestern end of the Iberian peninsula. I think it’s a more interesting city than Lisbon, although it shares some similar physical characteristics, such as being located on a river and close to the Atlantic Ocean.
We spent a couple days in Porto, visiting sights in the city and the surrounding area. I’ve listed below a few things to see in Porto. In my next blog post I will cover some of the surrounding area.
Be warned, Porto is a hilly town and you will get your exercise walking up and down the city streets!
Douro River Cruise
The Douro River is a major feature of Porto, dividing the city into two halves – north and south. The river is a transportation hub and much of Porto’s restaurant scene and nightlife centers on the river front. After arriving in Porto and getting settled in our apartment, we strolled down to the waterfront and chose one of several available river cruises for the evening. The cruise was about an hour long. It’s a great way to get a feel for the city and life along the waterfront.
Close to the Dom Luís I Bridge on the north side of the river are many restaurants. Just across the river on the south side are the famed Porto wine cellars. Admittedly, it’s a little touristy around here, but there’s a fun ambiance and it’s a great place to spend an evening.
There are a number of beautiful churches in Porto, many of which date from the early – mid 1700’s. They are easy to spot with their blue decorative tile exteriors. With our tourist map in hand, we explored about a half dozen churches, a few of those are shown below.
General City Views and the Dom Luís I Bridge
The Dom Luís I Bridge connects north and south Porto and was built in the late 1800’s. One of the bidders on the project was none other than Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, although he did not get the job. This bridge is the signature landmark of Porto and dominates the riverfront views of the old city.
The bridge can be walked on either the upper or the lower level. The upper level provides great views of the city for the pedestrian (and carries trains across the river), cars use the lower level as well as pedestrians.
Livraria Vello Bookstore
The Livraria Vello bookstore is another famous landmark of Porto. It dates back to the late 1800’s, and is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and is considered one of the top three bookstores in the world. I’ve read that it served as inspiration for the Harry Potter books, as the author lived in Porto for a period of time and spent time here before writing the famous story.
Due to the store’s popularity, you have to get a ticket to visit the bookstore at a specific time, these can be purchased online. Also nearby is a fun gift shop with a whole variety of nicknacks.
Our Apartment in Porto
As usual, Robyn found us a great place to stay in Porto, an apartment right in the old city on the north side of the river and close to all the sights.