Portugal is an altogether different experience than most other western European countries, and Porto epitomizes this feeling. A confused mixture of old and new world, it’s hard to put a pin on this cultural gem. Porto, Portugal is a wash with historical buildings and world class museums. In fact, a large section of the city’s historic center is considered a UNESCO world heritage site. However, there are other parts of the city that seem quite run down.
Much of the city is built on a steep hillside over looking the river Duoro, with large overgrowth giving it an almost third world feel. I’m glad that I spent several days here to really understand what the city has to offer. Not only can you find historic beauty in abundance, but the food and connection to Port Wine is one of the city’s lasting foundations.
Experience the Port Wine
As the name may suggest Porto is where Port Wine originated from. This area of Portugal is the epicenter of all things Port Wine, and the city embraces this culture. Do not miss visiting a Port Wine cellar as part of your experience! According to one of the locals I befriended while there one of the oldest and greatest of the wineries to visit is Grahams. This place was a full on factory and store house of the finest Port Wines in the world. You can get a full tour of the origins and history of Port Wine, the process by which they make it, and a special wine tasting after the tour. Not to mention the wine tasting room is on a hill with a large patio garden overlooking the city. Loved it!
Soak up the History
The historical center of Porto is an urban set of untold history and incalculable value. Dating back to Roman times, and saturated with Medieval architecture, a large portion of the historic district was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Despite all the changes over the years, the Historic Center of Porto maintains its unique urban characteristics, which are a world apart from other European cities. Located on the south hillside of Porto, the neighborhood of Ribeira makes up the UNESCO site with its winding streets and tiny alleyways.
Tip: Spend some time simply wandering these little streets on your way to visit Porto Cathedral and the city’s other beautiful historic monuments.
Get a View
There a lot of opportunities to get great views of Porto, but one stands out above the rest. Torre dos Clérigos is one of the main attractions in Porto and offers one of the best view the city. Clérigos church tower was the tallest structure in Portugal when completed in 1763, and as the main feature of the city’s skyline, ships used it as a guide when coming into Cais da Ribeira. It has since become a popular tourist attraction for the aerial view of the city from the top. The viewing platform sits at 249 feet up after a steep flight of 240 steps. Be brave to group and enjoy the spectacular view!
Take a Ride
Renting a moped in any European city is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to experience the place. You can simply see more in less time, and you can experience the city from an entirely different perspective. There is nothing quite like zipping past cars on a scooter while being surrounded by thousand year old buildings and historic monuments. Some cities are better for others for this, but Porto was one of my favorites to date. I rode it everywhere, parked it anywhere, and traffic was very reasonable. I felt like I was able to get a lay of the city much quicker by being needing to navigate the streets. I was also able to jump around from point to point without needing a cab or walking several miles.
Tip: If you’re up for it, I would highly recommend getting a scooter in pretty much any major European city.