Like many cities in Portugal, Porto (also known as Oporto) started out as a Roman outpost. Its location at the strategically important mouth of the Duoro River made it a rich mercantile center for centuries. Today, Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city and a major commercial center for both the country and Western Europe. Its also famous for its “port wine” and beautiful waterfront.
Sites to see in Porto, Portugal
Clérigos Tower (Torre dos Clérigos)
At 75 meters tall, the Clérigos Tower is probably the most recognizable component of Porto’s sun-scraped skyline. It’s a somewhat arduous journey to the top, though the view of Porto from there is well worth it.
Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto)
The Porto Cathedral is the city’s most famous and intricately designed church. A mix of Gothic and Baroque styles, the cathedral was built in the 12th century during the reign of Portugal’s first King, Alfonso I. Over the years, the building has been renovated several times, but it still contains vestiges from its past that make it worth visiting. These include the ornately decorated altarpiece made of silver and the church’s unique painted ceramic staircase.
Chuch of São Francisco (San Francisco)
The Church of São Francisco is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Portugal. To enter the interior, you have to climb up a relatively steep set of stairs from the riverfront to the church’s impressive stone façade. Inside, one can see the building’s intricately-decorated walls and pillars.
Something really interesting to be found here is the “Tree of Jesse,” basically a family tree depicting Jesus Christ’s lineage. Carved between 1718-21, the tree depicts not only his mother Mary and uncle Joseph, but also the Old Testament kings David and Solomon. The church also contains a small museum and a crypt, both of which are open to the public.
Carmo Church (Igreja do Carmo)
Similar to the two churches mentioned above, the Carmo Church has a pretty impressive façade and some intricately decorated religious artifacts inside. However, what really makes this church stand out are the azulejos (blue and white tiles) that make up the right-side wall of the church.
Palácio da Bolsa
This is just a really interesting building with a lot of history. The Palácio da Bolsa was once a Franciscan monastery and later was transformed into Porto’s stock exchange. The building looks nice from the outside but it’s the interior rooms that are the star attractions. There are several decorated according to various themes including the Portrait Room (housing portraits of Portuguese monarchs), the Golden Room (with an ornately decorated ceiling made of stucco), the Chairman’s Room, the Court Hearing Room and the Arabian Room (reminiscent of Portugal’s Moorish past).
Currently, the Palácio is the home of the Porto Chamber of Commerce.
Avenida dos Aliados
Avenida dos Aliados is one of Porto’s best places for a stroll as well as to people watch. It’s a broad avenue lined with various boutiques, popular restaurants, cafés, food markets and stalls. One of major attractions along this street is Porto’s Central Railway Station, best known for its display of
20,000+ azulejos that tell the history of Portugal’s transportation system. At one end of dos Aliados is the Câmera Municipal, Porto’s city hall.
Vila Nova de Gaia
The Vila Nova de Gaia is a broad section along Porto’s riverfront. Like Avenida dos Aliados, it too is filled with cool shops, restaurants and cafés, but it’s proximity to the Douro River gives it a bit more of a calming and carefree feel in comparison to city’s other, more crowded throughways. It is from here that one can also take a cruise on along the river, a fun and somewhat romantic thing to do at sunset.
Cais da Ribeira
Another popular spot along Porto’s riverfront is Cais da Ribeira. This part of the city is a maze of brightly-colored townhouses with a bunch of traditional and trendy cafés amongst them. The buildings may look as if they were built during the last two centuries, but many of them actually date back several hundred years earlier, with foundations and walls first constructed during Roman and medieval times. Consequently, this section of the city has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The main meeting point here is Praça da Ribeira, a place where many locals come to relax and trade stories about the week’s events.
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