Porto, also known to the English as Oporto, is Portugal’s second city, with an urban area population approaching two million. Situated in the north of the country, Porto is located along the Douro river estuary. Six bridges span the river and join Porto to the neighbouring Vila Nova de Gaia. Founded in around 300BC by the Celts, the city’s historical core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1996. Its ancient Celtic-Latin name, Portus Cale, is believed to be the origin of the name Portugal. In Portuguese, the name of the city is spelled with a definite article (“O Porto”; meaning “the port”) and its English name possibly evolved from a misinterpretation of the oral pronunciation, so the city is often referred to, incorrectly, as Oporto by English speakers. But the locals are a forgiving lot, as they so often need to be. Porto is a striking city, hilly and compact, spilling down the northern bank of the Douro estuary, while the settlement of Vila Nova de Gaia spreads along the southern bank. The Atlantic Ocean modifies the climate so that, although Porto’s climate is broadly Mediterranean, with hot dry, summers, the winters are mild but wet. A regular lament voiced by locals is that Porto is a very rainy city!
The area of Porto known as Ribeira, the river frontage facing Vila Nova de Gaia across the Douro, takes the title for me. Here, although the area is somewhat touristy, there are lots of good places to eat, drink and take in the sun. Portuguese cuisine in all its forms is one of the joys of the city and I found eating out at good-quality restaurants to be very affordable.
The city is very hilly and one of the best things about it is the excellent public transport system. Trips can be loaded onto prepaid cards (Andante cards) at newsagents and Metro stations, and the excellent city buses integrate with Porto’s smart Metro system, so that getting about this hilly city is a lot easier for oldies like me than might otherwise be the case. Andante, the musical term for “at a walking pace”, seems to be a strange choice of name for the public transport system, but for anyone making a flying visit to Porto, three-day cards can be purchased for just a few euros, making getting around the city and seeing all the sights an easy task.
Oh the hills, the hills, the hills! Don’t forget to pack your walking boots and make sure you practice your leg exercises beforehand. Oh yes, and the rain!
There are opportunities aplenty to buy tourist tat of the “I love Porto” variety, but a very enjoyable souvenir, for those so inclined, would be to take home a sample of Porto’s most famous export, the clue’s in the name. It’s much more affordable in Porto than elsewhere!
My wife and I stayed in an apartment rented through Airbnb.com, but there are a large number of modern hotels from which to choose, or, should you fancy it, older ones. Modern hotels include Pestana Palácio do Freixo, AC Hotel Porto by Marriott and Porto A S 1829 Hotel, although more characterful accommodation includes the riverside Ribeira Apartments and Casa dos Loios Boutique Guesthouse.
1) Catch a concert at Casa da Música
2) Sample the local cuisine, including a francesihna
3) Visit Livraria Lello & Irmão, the bookshop that inspired J K Rowling to write Harry Potter
4) Take a trip to São Bento railway station
5) Walk over the Dom Luís I bridge