Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and lies in one of the most industrialized parts of the country. The city is sometimes called Capital do Norte, or ‘capital of the north’ and is best known for its trade with Port wine.
The historic center of Porto was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. In 2001 Porto was selected as the European Capital of Culture which ushered in a lot of renovation, such as the building of new metro lines and a brand new concert hall. The city has architectural gems dating from Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance eras. The city itself is scenic; perched, as it is, on the granite cliffs at the mouth of the River Douro. The city has a proud and long trading history and today, is still a lively commerce and important industrial center.
Food is another attraction in Porto. Sturdy meat dishes and excellent, fresh fish are city specialties. Perhaps the best known dish is veal tripe with sausages and butter beans. Of course, a taste of the famous wine fortified with brandy – Port - is a must.
Porto lies to the north of the coastal Mediterranean zone and enjoys temperate dry summers and mild rainy winters. Because of its position to the north, it sometimes also experiences short cool and rainy periods in otherwise dry summers. Summers are also shorter and cooler than in the coastal Mediterranean area to the south. Summer temperatures range from around 20 up to 40°C. During the summer there are occasional heat waves. Humidity is low. Occasionally, dry summers are interrupted by short cool and rainy periods with temperatures around 22 °C and frequent rain. Winter temperatures are between 5°C and 16°C, and drop below 0°C at night. Winter weather is characterized by long stretches of wind and rain. The warmest month is August, the coolest is January and the rainiest is December.
January average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 170.2 mm rainfall February average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 170.2 mm rainfall March average temperature 10.5 deg Celsius, 111.8 mm rainfall April average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 111.8 mm rainfall May average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 88.9 mm rainfall June average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 53.3 mm rainfall July average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 15.2 mm rainfall August average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 22.9 mm rainfall September average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 63.5 mm rainfall October average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 132.1 mm rainfall November average temperature 12 deg Celsius, 152.4 mm rainfall December average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 175.3 mm rainfall
Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport is located 15 km from the city center. It handles domestic and international flights and has several flights to and from Lisbon daily. There are also direct flights from several major European cities.
AeroBus stops just outside the airport and connects to the city center. It costs somewhere around €4. The services run from 6:45 am to 7:00 pm about every half hour. Taxis are also available but a ride costs around €20. A metro line, connecting the airport to the city, was established in 2006 and is fast, cheap and reliable.
The Metro is a new light rail system. It is very efficient but it is still under construction so new lines are being added. Services run daily from 6:00 am to 1:30 am. Tickets must be bought in advance and are available at machines on the metro stations. You can buy the Andante Card which will allow you to connect between the metro, funicular, tram and some bus lines. Web: www.metrodoporto.pt
The bus system is modern and has numerous lines serving the entire city. Tickets can be bought in advance or onboard.
Running daily from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm, the Funicular dos Guindais shuttles up and down the steep slope from Avenida Gustavo Eiffel.
The city of Porto is world famous for Port, which is wine mixed with brandy and aged in barrels to yield the special taste and aroma. A visit to Porto is not complete without tasting this local delicacy. Over the bridge in the Vila Nova da Gaia district there are numerous celebrated Port lodges, most of which offer guided tours and tastings for a few euros.
BEACHES IN PORTO
Praia da Luz and Praia da Gondarem are great beaches. The former is loved by surfers and the water temperature ranges from 14 – 16°C. It also sports a restaurant and a bar. The latter offers opportunities for diversions such as volleyball and football.
You can climb the 225 stairs of the 75-meter Clerigos Tower, or walk across the higher deck of the Ponte de Dom Luis I from where you can find a splendid view of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
Located in the historical center of the city, this is one of the oldest buildings in Porto, and an important Romanesque monument built in the 12 th century. The cathedral has two square towers and a narrow Romanesque nave. The building has been altered many times but the outside façade retains many Romanesque features. The inside hides several interesting treasures such as the paintings by Nicolau Nasoni, the silver altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament, the João Gordo ("Fat John") Chapel and the cloister.
The Ribeira do Porto is a riverside district where you will find tall colored houses, cobblestone alleys and traditional boats once used to transport Port. The district is also famous for vivid nightlife and great fish restaurants.
Visit the Casa do Infante where Henry the Navigator was born. This was the man behind Portugal’s great exploration of the world. Today the house features a museum.
Casa do Infante (Rua Alfândega 10; open: 10:00 am – noon; 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm; closed Mondays.)
VILA NOVA DE GAIA
This is not actually a part of Porto but it is nevertheless Porto’s greatest attraction. The steep slope is filled with Port lodges where Port wine has been stored since the mid- 18 th century. These historic houses present a nice treat for the climber as many of the lodges offer tours and tastings. During the peak season you will probably have to wait around 15 minutes for a tour.
PONTE DE D. LUIS
The 72 meter high bridge, built by the disciple of the famous Eiffel, is one of the city’s most iconic symbols. The construction began in 1881 and the bridge was inaugurated in 1886.
The arch is 44 meters tall and consists of 172 meters of steel cord.
The baroque church is famous for its bell tower, which is an iconic symbol of the city. The church, built by the Italian architect Nasoni around 1750, has typical baroque features, elliptic floorplan, and was one of the first in Portugal. The main façade is heavily decorated with baroque motifs. The tower, 75.6 meters high, is located at the rear of the church and was built between 1754 and 1763. 225 steps lead to the top where you can enjoy a great panorama of the city.
Portugal ’s cuisine is characterized by sturdy, mostly meat-based dishes. A typical Porto dish is ‘Tripas à moda do Porto’, tripe dish. You can also get delicious and fresh seafood here. A typical dish is ‘bacalhau’, salted cod fish available in several varieties.
Another typical Porto dish is ‘Francesinha’, meaning French Lady and is a French toast with cheese and spicy sauce.
The picturesque historic district of Riberia has numerous lively and charming fish restaurants and port bars lining the waterfront. But note that the waterfront restaurants tend to be more expensive than the ones in the upper city, for example around Praca dos Poveiros and Praca da Batalha or Rua do Almada.
This two week event is an important date on the city’s cultural agenda, attracting numerous important national and foreign film makers, fans and critics.
FESTIVAL DE SÃO JOÃO
Date: late June Location: the city center
This weeklong festival, held in late June, takes place during the summer solstice. The traditional celebration includes jumping over a fire while making a wish, and hitting each other with leeks. At midnight a big fireworks display is held by the Douro River.
FIERO DO PORTO
Date: summer Location: Palácio de Cristal
Summer nights in Porto are lively. The biggest crowds are on weekends as numerous events are held at the Palácio de Cristal.
The city center dates back to the Bronze Age, around the 8 th century B.C. Even in ancient times the settlement had good commercial ties with the Mediterranean. In Roman times, the city was called Portus Cale (meaning Port of Gaia) and later, when Portugal was established as a country, its name was derived from Portus Cale. In the Roman times the city wall was built. It was reconstructed in the 12 th century when the borough was given to Bishop D. Hugo. Between the 13 th and 15 th century Porto strengthened commercial and maritime links with other important European ports, such as Barcelona, Valencia, London, Antwerp, Rouen and other. During this period the Porto and Vila Nova shipyards were the most important in the entire country. The long lasting military alliance between Portugal and England was materialized in the marriage of João I and Philippa of Lancaster.
The battle of Ceuta in 1415 also brought the inhabitants of Porto their nickname; tripe-eaters. Legend has it that the good people of Porto gave away all the meat to the army and were left only with the tripe. Today, the city’s traditional dish is, of course, tripe (see restaurant section.) The wine from the Douro valley was already being transported in the 13 th century to Porto in special flat boats. Trade relations between England and Portugal were established in 1703 with the Methuen Treaty, which allowed English wool to enter Portugal free of duty and Portuguese wines imported to England for a lesser tax than the French wines. Thus the Port industry flourished.
Between 1732 and 1763 the Italian architect Nasoni built the baroque church, the tower of which soon became the city’s main icon: Torre des Clérigos (Tower of the Clerics). The 18 th and the 19 th centuries saw a proliferation of industry and an increase in the population. The two-level bridge Dom Luis I was built by Teophile Seyrig, Eiffel’s disciple. The bridge was completed in 1886 and is one of the most iconic features of the city. During the same period the central train station, São Bento was built, decorated with beautiful azuleo tiles. The building is considered one of the most beautiful stations in Europe.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
The city was attacked by Napoleon’s troops but the attack was repelled by Arthur Wellesley’s (later 1 st duke of Wellington) troops’ brilliant daylight surprise attack. The 1820 rebellion against the English rule ushered in a civil war. In 1822 a new liberal constitution was accepted.
In 1828 Miguel of Portugal usurped the throne and declined the new constitution. He ruled the county as an absolutist monarch. Porto rebelled once again and was under siege by the Portuguese army between 1832 and 1833. After the abdication of King Miguel the liberal constitution was re-established.
A republican revolt on January 31, 1891 resulted in the creation of the Portuguese republic in 1910.
In 1996 the entire historic center of Porto was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2001 it was chosen Europe’s City of Culture, giving rise to several ambitious projects such as the metro system and new concert hall.
Portuguese society is pretty traditional and conservative. The family is the foundation of the social structure. Appearance is very important, especially in the cities. People are fashion conscious and believe that clothes indicate social standing and success. They take great pride in wearing good fabrics and clothes of the best standard they can afford.
Meeting people: At first, greetings are reserved, yet polite: a handshake and direct eye contact. When the relationship has developed, greetings become more personal: men may greet each other with a hug and a handshake and women kiss each other twice on the cheek starting with the right.
If you are invited to a Portuguese home for dinner, bring flowers, good quality chocolates or candy to the hostess. Do not bring wine unless you know which wines the hosts prefer. When you are giving flowers, do not give 13, as the number is considered unlucky.
In general Porto is a safe city. Take the usual traveling precautions.
Be wary of pickpockets in crowded areas, on public buses and trams. Keep your valuables in a hotel safe and only carry with you the amount of money you need for one day and do not wander alone in dark alleys at night.
Summers are temperate and temperatures are cooler than in the south of the country due to maritime winds. Expect some rain, but in the summer it never lasts long. Springs are marvelous; the blossoming fruit trees are especially beautiful in February. Winter temperatures range between 5–16 °C. There is plenty of rain and wind; however, longer sunny periods can also occur. Heat waves can be expected in June, July or August.