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Published: June 13th 2014
Villa da Gaia
Looking back across the Douro River towards Porto from the wine caves of Gaia.
Oporto translates to "the port" in English, which is fitting for a city that lives and dies by the water, where everything and everyone comes and goes by the Douro River. This valley is regarded as the capital of port wine, a deep, pungent, yet sweet wine suitable for a heavy meal; port wine originated in this country when the British were at war with France in the 17th century and couldn't gain access to the full-bodied French wine. The Brits managed by brewing their own version, which combined brandy and Portuguese wine, giving birth to what is now considered by many as the most complex and richest wine in the world. With that brief history, it's fair to say that one cannot leave Porto without having tasted or bringing back some of this vino.
To get into town from Lisbon, take the 3 hour ride on Comboios de Portugal train for about $40 per person roundtrip, which will take you to the Porto Campanha station. Remember to book this online beforehand or you may find yourself out of luck because there are limited departure times daily. Once there, use the metro to get around town because it's the quickest,
Riverfront area of Porto with a wide assortment of colored buildings
cheapest, and easiest transportation method. Get off the metro at the Trindade stop and start your tour at the northern end of the city where Camara Municipal do Porto (Town Hall) is located. From here, walk south along Avenida dos Aliados to the downtown area and window shop, taking time to enjoy the gorgeous building designs flanking you on either side. You can find good eats in this part of town, but for a more authentic and cheaper option, continue south and pass Praca de Liberdade to Rua dos Clerigos. Turn west and walk to Torre dos Clerigos (Tower of the Clergy) where you can pay 2 euros to climb 200 steps to the top for a great view of the city, but it's not worth the time or money because you will have plenty of scenic opportunities to get a free panoramic of the entire valley. Instead, visit the attached church called Igreja do Sao Pedro dos Clerigos and retrace your steps eastward to Rua 31 do Janeiro. You will pass a wonderful plaza along the way before stumbling upon Rua Santa Catarina, which I feel is the premier shopping street in Porto due to its less touristy nature
Steps leading down to Zona Ribeira, providing a panoramic of the city.
and more cozy demeanor. This is where you will find boutique shops and random cafes to grab a quick bite while roaming aimlessly. Afterwards, head south on Avenida Dom Afonso Henriques to the Sao Bento train station, a remarkable display of architectural genius lined with the famous Portuguese azules blue tiles. Keep walking on the same road where you will encounter the Se Catedral, continuing down its steps that afford you a magnificent view of the town below.
Embark down this long hill to the vibrant area of town known as Zona Ribeira. Before you get to this area, however, you will run across Igreja do Sao Francisco (costs 3.50 euro for entry, a great value), an exhibition of gold-plated interior unlike anything you've ever seen. Then head down to the water on Cais da Ribeira where you will find an assortment of colored buildings overlooking the river, reminiscent of more "Pinterest-worthy" cities like Venice or Florence. Spend some time wandering around and discovering little treats like ice cream Porto-style, which I assure you will be the most rewarding purchase on a scorching summer day. Afterwards, walk across the Ponte do Dom Luis I bridge to Villa da Gaia
Dessert at Sandeman
A delicious Italian ice cream cake
where all the port wine is made.
In Gaia, most of the wine caves are located along the riverfront street, Avenida Diogo Leite. Don't make the mistake of visiting these wineries too late in the day so remember to get there before 5 pm. Since we arrived late, we were left with few options and had to eat at Sandeman, but this was not a choice we would regret. It offered an awesome location for enjoying an early dinner--by European standards--and watching the sunset over the Porto skyline. The cityscape provided a wonderful backdrop for tasting port wine, tomato-drenched grilled ham and cheese sandwiches your mom will never be able to make, and a salivating ice cream cake only found in Italy...and Porto apparently. When we were finished with dinner and taking pictures worthy of postcards, we went up the hill along a maze of stone-paved roads in search of a way back to Porto on top of the bridge. After an eternity of dead ends and residential homes, we found a calm park at the top before returning to the other side of the river. The walk across the bridge at night is a must-do because very rarely
Camara Municipal do Porto
Town hall located at the northern end of Avenida dos Aliados
will you have the chance to overlook a river from 150 feet above with 2 cities on either side, each illuminated by the moonlight.
To get back to the hotel, we hopped on the metro and took a short 10 minute commute to the Casa da Musica stop. We were exhausted after wearing out our feet on the aging streets of Porto, but we would have to recover quickly because in the morning, we're jetsetting to the Catalonian cultural hub, Barcelona!
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