Everything you need to know when visiting Porto for the first time.
Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal and the gateway to the beautiful landscapes of the Duoro Valley. It is best known for its ancient history, world famous wine and charming architecture and boasts a traditional and authentic atmosphere. Yet these are just some of the reasons to fall in love with Porto. There is, indeed, so much to explore in the city, that it makes for an ideal solo holiday as much as a child friendly city trip. Intrigued? Read on and find out what is so special about Porto and why you should visit:
With references going back to the 4th century, the city has a strong and colourful history. Established by the Celts on the mouth of the Douro River, the small settlement was later occupied by Romans who renamed it “Portus Cale” and transformed it into an influential port. The name of the town eventually influenced the name of the country that developed around it. Fast forward to the 11th century, the county of Portugal became the Kingdom of Galicia and Portugal as it is known today.
Porto old town
Porto’s old town, known as the Ribeira, is one of the city’s highlights. The area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and since then has undergone some restoration and redevelopment to save some of the old buildings. Today the waterfront consists of a long strip of cafés, bars, shops, and restaurants against a background of tall, colourful houses perched high above the Douro River.
The fortified wine that took its name from the city itself is ever present in Porto. The city’s bars, taverns and cafes are stocked with every type of the sweet red wine, from common 10-year old bottles to rare century-year old Port. Some cellars are dedicated exclusively to the iconic drink, so if you fancy making it a wine-tasting weekend to try some of the best varieties in the world, you are in the right place. One thing is certain, a trip to Porto seldom feels complete without sampling a glass of its most famous export.
Porto’s cultural sights
Despite being relatively small, Porto is one of the most culturally significant cities in the world. As a former European Capital of Culture, it features a Roman-style cathedral, world-renowned museums and one of the most prestigious architecture schools in the world.
One of the most characteristic symbols of the city is Torre dos Clérigos, a bell tower, which can be seen from various points of the city and is part of the Baroque Clérigos Church. It was built in the 18th century and at that time was the tallest building in Portugal. At the bottom of the bell tower, the enchanting Lello bookstore, also known as the Livraria Lello & Irmão is housed in a building that is a true work of art and the oldest bookstore in the world. Its impressive wooden ceilings and magnificent crimson art nouveau staircase is a sight not to forget. A much more recent addition to Porto’s cultural landscape, is the Passeio dos Clérigos, a manicured garden filled with olive trees and alfresco dining, as well as a high-end shopping mall below. It can be found just outside the Lello bookstore.
One of the most striking features of many sights are the azulejos, the glazed ceramic tiles that adorn many buildings. This traditional artwork is prevalent throughout Portugal and gives a distinctive look and feel to many historic buildings. Porto’s São Bento train station and the Igreja do Carmo church have stunning examples of this unique art, but it is also found on the outside of many other buildings, including houses throughout the city.
When to visit
Due to its geographical location in the north of Portugal, the weather here is a little colder than in the rest of the country. If you like it warm, then the best time to visit is between May and October. A good time is during the São João festival on 23 June which has been celebrated in Porto for over 700 years and is truly part of the city’s identity.
How to get around
An experience not to miss, especially if you travel with kids, is a trip on a wooden Rabelo. These boats used to transport Port Wine from the Douro Valley to the cellars near the city. Today you can cross the river on a private Rabelo, pass under the imposing Dom Luís bridge and visit some of the riverside cellars.
Some say the best way to explore the city is on foot as most of the sights are close to each other. Plus, there are hidden gems at every corner which you might miss otherwise: romantic waterfront views, tiny handicraft shops, cobbled alleyways and little hidden eateries offering superb local cuisine.
Just bear in mind that Porto is very hilly, especially in the historic city centre, so this may not be for everyone. Thankfully, the city has a good network of roads, which can take you to any corner of the city, including the airport. So, if driving is your preferred choice of exploring Porto, you could rent a car at Porto city airport for a convenient way to transfer to your accommodation and experiencing this charming city. Whether it’s airport or car hire in Porto, with Enjoy Travel you can choose from a wide range of cars and financial offers for touring the city.
Porto is a vibrant and fascinating city full of picturesque viewpoints and small-town charm that you cannot but help but fall in love with. The locals are friendly and always happy to make friends and tell you about the history and culture of their city. Last but not least, Porto is one of the safest cities in Europe making it a great destination for female solo travellers, with or without children. So if you are looking for holiday ideas for 2021, check Porto out as a city break for solo travellers or single parent holidays 2021!
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