The second stop of my trip to Portugal was Porto, the second largest city in the country, which certainly is no less beautiful and interesting than Lisbon. I strongly recommend if you are staying more days in Lisbon, to visit Porto as well. The city is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List and there is a reason why. There are a lot of sights, but two days would be enough to see the most interesting places in Porto.
The history of Porto dates back to 300 BC when the city was settled. It was an important port of the Roman Empire. It’s ancient Celtic latin name Porto Calle has been referred to as the origin of the name Portugal. The city reminds of Lisbon but only because of its location – along the Douro River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Here all the buildings look older than in Lisbon and has that romantic vibe. The whole town is situated on hills, same as in my hometown Veliko Tarnovo. That’s why I felt like home.
The distance between Lisbon and Porto is 300 km, and the transport options there are many – train, car, bus, plane. The flight takes about an hour, and by car is about 3 hours. We preferred a faster and more convenient way. Unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Porto to Sofia, so we had to fly to Madrid first on our way back home.
There is a lot to see in Porto, as long as you have time, of course. I personally do not like to going to museums, so we managed to walk around the city for a day. My advice is to start your tour from the central part and then head to the old town, which is located along the river. The whole street has restaurants and you can have lunch or dinner there. I recommend you to eat fish or shrimp – they are unique.
Luis I Bridge, that connects the two parts of the city, is one of the symbols of Porto. The bridge is on two levels. If you cross the top you will go to the newer part of the city where there is a monastery and from where you can have a unique view of the city – it is perfect for pictures. Next to the monastery there is a cabin lift, that can quickly get you to the old port. The old port has been transformed into a shopping center with a lot of cafes and restaurants. From there you can take one of the cruise boats that will take you along the entire coast of the city to the place where the river flows into the ocean – I strongly recommend it to you.
The region of Porto is well known for its traditional Port wine. Typical is that it is red and sweet, dessert wine, necessarily to be stored in beech casks. Porto is home to over 40 port producers – well almost, they’re actually based across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. During the boat trip I saw how many wine cellars there were on city hills. There are also a lot of wine tours to different wineries where you can try their different ports and learn about how they’re made. It’s better to go in the afternoon because if you start with wine from the morning, the walk will end quickly.
It was in Lisbon when I first noticed that the facades of many houses and churches were embellished with ceramic tiles, mostly in white and blue. Obviously, it is part of the local architecture, but when we asked what the idea was, they explained that when the old buildings were being built, the facades were embellished with tiles because of the humidity. That style is called Azulejos and it’s Arabic influenced.
The Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas, at the corner of Praça de Carlos Alberto and Rua do Carmo, are two churches in Porto that stand almost side by side. The two churches are separated by a very narrow (1m wide) house that was inhabited until the 1980’s. The house was built so that the two churches would not share a common wall and to prevent any relations between the nuns of Igreja dos Carmelitas and the monks of Igreja do Carmo. Both have amazing rococo or late Baroque interior and the Igreja do Carmo has an outstanding azulejo-covered exterior with tiles.
The Cathedral of Porto is one of the places that is a must to visit. It’s located at the highest point of the city – you can take pictures around, inside is nothing special. Also visit the gardens in Palazzo de Cristal, and for those of you who are interested in football – there is a museum of FC Porto.
There are many churches, but I recommend you to save time and not to enter in each one. The most impressive is the church of Carmo, which I already told you about. Don’t forget to try nata (pastel de nata) which is a Portuguese dessert – a crispy basket filled with caramel cream. It’s delicious! You can see it absolutely every cafe or bakery. In fact, many of the producers of Pasteis de Nata in Portugal use recipes that are generations old, passed down from family to family, and protected from copying through the careful dissemination of details.