Porto; Portugal’s second largest city and the world’s exclusive producer of port wine, grown and aged to perfection in the harsh climate of the region’s Douro Valley. We arrived late afternoon after our day trip to Braga and Bom Jesus do Monte and after checking into our hotel we set out on an urban hike to walk in the footsteps of Prince Henry the Navigator and explore the historic Ribeira waterfront district. Porto is quite a hilly city with many steep streets so a hike it was indeed!
We made our way down along Rua da Trindade and Liberdade Square toward the Sao Bento station to see the striking blue and white painted tiles (azulejos in Portuguese) that line the walls of the entrance hall depicting Portugal’s rich history. The blue and white colored style of tiles became popular in the 18th century influenced by the Ming porcelain being imported from China during the globalization of goods resulting from the thriving spice trading industry. The entrance hall really is quite impressive although challenging to photograph since the big front windows let in lots of sunlight to reflect off the numerous tiles.
From the station we resumed our descent down toward the Douro River, passing by the Baroque cathedral the Romanesque Se, where Henry the Navigator was baptized, on through the ancient Vitoria district, and then down along Rua do Infante Dom Henrique passing the large statue commemorating the initiator of Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. Though modern history refers to him as Henry the Navigator, the name is a bit of a misnomer as he never embarked upon any exploratory voyages! We continued our way down toward the waterfront and to the colorful houses and restaurants of the historical Ribeira district.
We settled into one of the many riverside cafes to enjoy a glass of port wine while admiring the view of the River Douro, the UNESCO World Heritage designated Serra do Pilar Monastery, and the Dom Luis I bridge that spans the river connecting Porto to the neighboring port production city of Vila Nova de Gaia. The bridge was engineered by Theophile Seyrig, a partner of Gustave Eiffel, hence the resemblance in style and materials to the famed tower in Paris.
As our hotel was located back up the hill and we had imbibed a few glasses of the rich port, we decided to shorten our uphill ascent a bit by taking the Funicular dos Guindais, however, we discovered upon arriving at the station that we had missed the last car of the evening so onward and upward we went climbing the many flights of stairs back up the hill before sinking into bed.
The next morning, after a carbohydrate-fueled breakfast buffet of toast, croissants, cereal, pastries, and almond cake (the Portuguese love their bread!) we walked over to the Torre dos Clerigos, a city landmark bell tower attached to the Baroque church of the same name, and climbed to the top to get a bird’s eye view of Porto, the port wine lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia, and out west to where the Douro River empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
We then wound our way along Rua das Carmelitas toward the famous Livraria Lello bookshop, which boasts a Neo-Gothic revival interior with a dramatic central staircase and beautiful stained glass roof. It was as much of a tourist attraction as the Ribeira or the Torre dos Clerigos was, with controlled entry and dozens of tourists snapping pictures of themselves on the staircase. It was a delightfully, cozy bookshop and we enjoyed a hot cappuccino and reading break before lunch at Restaurante Traca which dishes up delicious contemporary northern Portuguese cuisine.
Porto has such a colorful, old world gritty charm to it doesn’t it?
*Check out my handy printable travel guide here to plan your own Porto getaway!