- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Travel to Porto, Portugal
ort-tippling and charismatic, Porto is a city that wins hearts with its laidback charm, medieval cobbles and cavalcade of bridges, but it's more than just a place of pilgrimage for port wine lovers.
Portugal's second city is wonderfully picturesque: a higgledy-piggledy pile of red roofs, azulejo-tiled restaurants and pastel painted buildings that straddle the river Douro, admiring their own image that’s mirrored in the water.
Nuzzled in the northwest of the country, Porto is closer to Spanish Galicia than it is Lisbon, gifting the city an appealing pan-Iberian atmosphere that complements its historic and artistic charms.
This waterfront bairro positively insists you lose yourself amongst the maze of narrow streets and seek out some of the city's most cherished architectural treasures. In fact, so rare and precious are the buildings that make up this venerable neighborhood that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
Tourist Attractions in Porto
Torre dos Clérigos
The soaring Clérigos Tower punctuates Porto's skyline like a monumental needle. This is the city's most visible landmark, a 75-meter high 18th-century granite hewn rocket. You'll need a stout pair of legs to climb the 240 steps to the top of the tower, but the effort will be rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of the river, the coastline, and the distant Douro valley - a bird's-eye-view of Portugal's second largest city, and an inspiring way for first-time sightseers to get their bearings. Commissioned by the Brotherhood of the Clergy (clérigos) and designed by the Italian-born Nicolau Nasoni, the Baroque tower complements the adjoining Igreja dos Clérigos, which is also Nasoni's handiwork. Built between 1732 and 1750, the church itself is a wonderful example of the architect's affinity with the Baroque and features an elliptic floorplan, one of the first churches in Portugal built in such a way. But the tower remains the highlight and, day or night, its tapered profile stands as an historic beacon visible from most parts of the city.
Palácio da Bolsa
Dating from the mid-19th century, Porto's former stock exchange contains a wealth of historic interest. Built on the site of a Franciscan monastery, its sumptuous interior is divided into several rooms and salons, each one singular in its appeal and worthy of close scrutiny. Pretend you're a wealthy merchant visiting on business as you wander through the Portrait Room with its gallery of uniformed monarchs, and then cast your eyes skywards after entering the Golden Room to admire its gilded stucco ceiling. You'll be ready for your meeting with the boss in the lavishly furnished Chairman's Room before joining fellow merchants in the richly decorated Court Hearing Room to witness mercantile law acted out in due process. You may want to pop into the adjacent Juror's Room before gathering in the magnificent Hall of Nations to mingle with the great and the good.
Igreja de São Francisco
Visitors are shrouded by gold as they enter the beautiful church of St. Francis. Its 18th-century Baroque interior is encrusted with a gilded veneer so dazzling and exuberant that most agree this is one of the best examples of worked gold anywhere in the country. Indeed, this is a priceless sightseeing experience. Gilt carving embellishes the high altar, columns, and pillars, with barely a single patch of stone left visible. Look out for smiling cherubs and dour-faced monks as you edge towards the north wall and São Francisco's Tree of Jesse, a family tree in gilded and painted wood depicting Christ's genealogy.
A tour of the ancient catacombs underneath the church helps bring visitors back down to earth, but there are more treasures from the church's monastery to behold in the museum afterwards.
Cais da Ribeira
Porto's riverside quarter is an alluring labyrinth of narrow, winding streets; zigzagging alleyways; and low-slung, sun-starved arcades. Facing the River Douro, though, are terraces of lofty townhouses painted in bright mustard, tangerine, and tawny hues - the Ribeira is an adventure in color and flavor. A plethora of restaurants and cafés set under the arches along the quayside makes this the most popular area in the city for relaxing and socializing. Praça da Ribeira, the riverfront square, is a popular and lively meeting point and buzzes with a young, friendly vibe. This is also a busy commercial district, where grocers rub shoulders with butchers and fishmongers.
Ponte de Dom Luís I
The grandiose Dom Luís I bridge is one of the most iconic structures in Portugal. Spanning the mighty River Douro to link Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia on the south bank, the bridge's majestic sweep and two-tier aspect is a binding component in the city's proud, social fabric. The heavily riveted charcoal-grey ironwork has Gustave Eiffel written all over it, and indeed it was an assistant of the great French engineer who built the bridge in 1886. Commuters use the bridge on a daily basis - a road, Avenida da República, runs across the lower deck while the upper span accommodates a metro railway line. Pedestrians can walk across using the narrow pavements set either side of the road, or be really brave and traverse the structure using the 60 meter-high top-tier footpath. An outstanding view of the bridge can be had from the terrace of the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, on the south bank. From here, the entire city forms a fabulous backdrop and the panorama is particularly dramatic at dusk. Don't forget your tripod!