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Who says Porto, says Port. But this northern Portuguese city is much more than the heart of the port wine. Porto is visited far less than the capital Lisbon, and that is incomprehensible. Because Porto is a very cozy town, beautifully situated on the River Douro, with local cuisine that makes your mouth water and stunning nature as its surroundings.
The historical center of Porto is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This neighborhood is called Ribeira and exists of narrow, winding streets. Take the time to explore the old center. Wander around and turn in an alleyway at random. You will find not only beautiful houses in Ribeira, but restaurants, shops and terraces too, often in unexpected places. Most restaurants specialize in seafood. Particularly nice are the restaurants on the quay along the Douro, where the house fronts have been painted in various pastel colors.
On the other side of the Douro are the districts of Ribeira de Gaia and Vila Nova de Gaia. These traditionally are the neighborhoods for trade in port. You can find many wine cellars and tasting sessions here, where you can discover how the sweet port wines are made in enormous wooden barrels. The end of such a tour is the best part; tasting the wine, after which the owners obviously hope you'll purchase a bottle or two. One of the most famous houses is Taylor's winery in Vila Nova de Gaia. While enjoying a glass of port you have a beautiful view from the terrace of historic Porto. Like the name of this winery indicates the port trade has been the domain of the Brits for a long time. The Factory House in downtown Porto reminds is another reminder.
The banks of the Douro are linked by the impressive metal bridge Dom Luis I. This bridge somewhat resembles an Eiffel-tower laid on its side. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that it is designed by one of Gustave Eiffel's employees, the Belgian Teófilo Seyrig. But you can choose another form of transportation from one bank of the Douro to the other by taking a ride on one of the so-called rabelos, small traditional ferry boats.
In the 13th century the construction of the cathedral (Igreja da Sé) was started. Over the centuries parts have constantly been added, but also demolished and changed. There is not much left from the original design for this reason. The biggest part of the current cathedral dates from the 18th and 19th century. The Igreja de São Fransisci was built during the 14th and 15th century, but this church too was subject to changes in later centuries. Admire the many gold leafs and exuberant carvings in the interior.
Want to relax on the beach for a bit? Drive your rental car to Matosinhos, Miramar, Aguda or Granja where you'll find beautiful, wide beaches.
The Douro Valley is the area where the grapes for the port wine are grown. To visit the vineyards, follow the road along the north bank of the Douro. The road doesn't immediately run next to the river from Porto by the way: only at Villa Real the road deflects and will take you to the Douro.
Furthermore, there are many nature parks in the surroundings of Porto. North of the city lies the National Park Montezinho, which is the home of many birds and the Iberian Wolf. Further north you will find the vast and varied Parque da Peneda Gerês, which include hot water springs. The mountainous Parque Natural do Alvâo is a true bird paradise with beautiful waterfalls and spectacular rock formations.
Remains of the Romans are also found near Porto. The historic spa town Chaves has an impressive Roman bridge over the Rio Tâmega. Just east of Chaves are remains of a Roman settlement. In Ponte de Lima you will see an old bridge with a whopping 31 arches. The bridge dates from the 14th century and is build on foundations dating from Roman times.
There are several parking lots and garages (even underground) in Porto, but they are on the pricey side and moreover high in demand. Best is to leave your car on the large ground near the FC Porto stadium and continue your journey by public transport. Hotels generally have a private car park.
The Porto Airport is officially called Francisco Sá Carneiro and is located 11 kilometers northwest of the city. You can easily reach the airport via the highway IC-1 between Lisbon and the Spanish Vigo.