I went to Porto, Portugal this past summer planning to see all of the tiled churches and the wine boats and that is just what I did. I highly recommend visiting Porto if you like old world charm.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. Porto spans the Douro River and reaches out to the ocean. Now fishing towns touch the outer limits of the city. If you visit Porto I suggest staying just outside the historical center and make sure you get a map from your hotel before you venture out and ask for directions as it takes at least a day to get your bearings.
The historical center is on a steep hill that meets the rivers edge. I would recommend getting lost in the historical center and exploring the streets but this will undoubtedly happen anyway.
Main Sites in Porto’s historical center:
1 – Church of San Francisco – To visit the church you buy tickets in the convent right next to it, which is now a museum. What makes this church unique is that the entire interior is completely covered with wood and painted gold! It is truly astounding. No photos are allowed inside so you simply must visit it to see for yourself.
* Side note – There is an adorable English restaurant, Pimms, across the street from the Church of San Francisco that serves wonderful food (a very good vegetarian chilli!) and the all white interior is charming.
2 – Stock Exchange Palace/Palacio da Bolsa – You must be on a tour to visit the palace and when you purchase your tickets you will be given a tour time. This is a must see site and unfortunately no photographs are allowed inside so again you really have to go to see it! The Palace is still in use but you see the main rooms and they are all spectacular and the central courtyard has an exquisite mosaic floor. The palace also has an Arab room, which is breathtaking in all its detail and is shown with great pride as the last room on the tour.
3 – Ribeira – the Riberia is the portion of the city near the river and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will find classic tiled buildings lining the river. There are also boat tour companies along the river walkway.
4 – Ribeira de Gaia – This is the area right across the river from the Ribeira. I suggest walking across the D. Luis Iron Bridge, which is an impressive bridge with two levels to accommodate trains, cars, and pedestrians. Once on the other side of the river you will have a closer view of the old boats once used to transport wine barrels. You can also visit various wine cellars and taste the famous port wine.
After exploring the riverbanks, make your way up the hill to see more – to be discussed in Porto, Portugal Part Two.
Useful Links for Porto, Portugal: