As with Lisbon, it’s hard not to like PORTO. A large city, maybe, but it’s also a beguiling one, with a lengthy history – it was known in Roman times as Portus Cale (the “sheltered port”). However, there the comparison with the capital ends: as the saying goes: “Coimbra studies, Braga prays, Lisbon shows off and Porto works”. Rather than a prettified tourist destination, it’s a busy commercial city whose fascination lies more in its riverside setting and day-to-day life.
The prosperous business core – surrounded by well-to-do suburbs as well as depressed housing estates – is tempered by a kernel of cramped streets, ancient alleys and antiquated shops largely untouched by planners. But since 2001, when Porto was declared European City of Culture, the city’s streets and squares have been turned upside-down in a flurry of construction work, including the provision of a new metro system. Many historic buildings have been restored, particularly in the riverside bairro of Ribeira – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – where the waterfront cafés and restaurants are an obvious attraction. This apart, there is only a handful of true tourist sights in the city centre, including the landmark Clérigos tower, the cathedral, and a couple of good museums. The one must-see attraction, the contemporary art gallery and park at the Fundação de Serralves, is a short way out of the centre, and most
visitors also choose to take the antique tram out to the local beach at Foz do Douro, at the mouth of the River Douro. For many, though, it is the port wine trade that defines the city, with its centre of operations at Vila Nova de Gaia (just Gaia to locals), on the south bank of the river, the home of the famous port wine lodges