Perched atop hilltops and clinging to the sides of cliffs, Porto’s alluring bridges, buildings and city lanterns have kept watch over the Douro River for centuries. Fiercely proud of their heritage, the citizens of this merchant town have put their blood and sweat into commerce and wine. The traditions of Portugal’s northern capital vary widely with those of Lisbon in the south. Porto inhabitants, often referred to as Tripeiros (tripe eaters), wouldn’t have it any other way. The best thing about Lisbon, they say, is the sign marking the way to Porto.
Porto is a city ready for work and a city ready for play. Discos and restaurants mingle with cathedrals, churches and museums on slender streets and broad avenues. There are plenty of cafés dotting the cityscape, where you can unwind after hiking Porto’s numerous hills. Red tiles blanket the rooftops, while blue and white tiles cover many façades. Porto is very compact, giving you a chance to wander about on foot, provided that you don’t mind exerting a little effort while climbing the city’s slopes.
The last few decades have seen a revitalization of the city, with the buildings, streets and squares having been polished and repaired. Porto once had a reputation for being a bit on the shabby side. The locals really didn’t seem to mind, explaining the state of disrepair by the fact that they were too busy working to care. That’s no longer the case (the state of disrepair, not the working bit). Porto blends old world charm (a cliché, but oh so true) with a smattering of the new. From the contemporary Casa da Música to the ancient Sé Catedral, the ages glide by on Porto’s streets.
Just across the river you’ll find the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, home to Port wine, and in western of Porto you’ll happen upon Foz. Foz is at the mouth of the Douro River. It’s a superb place to while the hours away in a comfortable café, or else grab a bite to eat in a seaside restaurant after strolling along the shore.
With a distinctive character and a sheltering atmosphere, Porto holds you in her embrace. You might not have the strength (or desire) to break free, depending on how many glasses of Port wine you’ve ingested along the way.