The name of Portugal’s second-largest city can bring about many associations. Omit the first and the last “o” in Oporto, and the first association could be a city where ships have been calling for a good many years.
The Romans referred to Oporto as Portus Cale, meaning “the port of Cale.” Historians, in fact, trace the name of Portugal from this Roman name. Oporto was a part of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.
Over the centuries, ships continued to call here. The result was that the city developed into an important seaport. In 1415, Prince Henry the Navigator departed Oporto on a conquest of the Moorish port of Ceuta, in northern Morocco. As he continued to explore the coast of Africa, the inhabitants of the city that he left behind sent their best meat to the sailors while they settled with tripe. Hence the ”tripeiros” soubriquet that the Oporto inhabitants still have.
Trade, of course, was a main reason for the Portuguese to explore new continents. From the 18th century onwards, an important produce has been, and continues to be, port wine – the fortified wine produced exclusively in the nearby Douro Valley (which can be experienced from the comfort of a river cruise ship).
Port wine is, consequently, another association that might spring to mind when Oporto is mentioned – and for good reasons. Over the last five years (since 2005), the worldwide export of port wine from the Douro Valley has kept stable at roughly 2,650,000 gallons (US, liquid)/10 million liters (according to the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto). This is truly a product that is well known all over the world.
It is possible to experience the port wine produced in the region even without continuing to the Douro Valley. Tours of the many wine cellars at Vila Nova de Gaia are available. When in central Oporto, Vila Nova de Gaia is situated on the other side of the river Douro.
Another area of the city that is definitely worth a visit is the historic area of Ribeira, which has been classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sometimes referred to as “a living museum,” this area of Oporto features alleys and stone paved roadways, bars and restaurants, traditional cafés and much more.
With 1.4 million inhabitants, Oporto is Portugal’s second largest city.
Cruise ships dock at the port of Leixões, 2.5 miles/4 kilometers north of Oporto. The terminal is a wooden structure that is considered an important architectural heritage – not least because it resembles the hull of a ship. A new cruise terminal is under construction at the port. Taxi stands and bus stops can be found close to the pier area.
- Casa Serralves is one of many magnificent buildings. Designed by the architect José Marques da Silva, this museum of contemporary art is located close to the city center (in the Parque de Serralves).
- Go for a walk in downtown Oporto and experience this city of architectural contrasts. A couple of suggestions include the Praca de Gomes Teixera, where stone palaces intermingle with buildings in the art deco style. At Praca da Batalha, functional style and art nouveau are contrasted with neoclassicism.
- The city features a number of shops and cafés that have not changed in 100 years or so. Examples include Café Majestic with its Belle Epoque style, and Lello, a bookshop with art nouveau interiors. The Guardian, a UK newspaper, featured Lello in third place on a list of the world’s top bookshops.
- Rua de Santa Catarina is the number one shopping street, featuring a big mall and many smaller shops selling everything from clothes to consumer electronics.
- The Ponte de Dom Luis I is a bridge that seems to be an engineer’s dream: the double-decked metal arch construction connects the northern part of the city with the southern part, stretching across the river Douro.
- Most Oporto visitors will probably want to visit a port wine producer. There are several to choose from on the southern bank of the Douro River. Over fifty wine companies can be found in the Vila Nova de Gaia area. The real upsurge in demand for port wine came when the Brits banned French wine at the end of the 17th century
- The Palacio da Bolsa is one of Oporto’s main symbols and attractions. The construction of this richly decorated Trade Exchange started in 1842. It is now considered a National Monument.
- The Igreja de São Francisco (the Church of St. Francis) is one of Oporto’s most prominent monuments (situated close to the Palacio da Bolsa, above). Built in Gothic style, the church features Baroque interiors. The tomb from the 1500s is a thrill.
- Sé do Porto, or the Oporto Cathedral, is one of the city’s oldest buildings. Overlooking Oporto, the history of this church can be traced to the early 12th century.
- Torre dos Clérigos is a 246 feet/75 meter tower from the 18th century. It offers splendid views of the city once you’ve climbed the 200 steps leading to the top. The adjacent church is the Igreja dos Clérigos, or the Clérigos Church.
- Coach tours of the city will take in many of the highlights mentioned above, such as the Oporto Cathedral and the Palacio da Bolsa.
- For a somewhat different perspective on Porto, try a cruise on the Douro River. A river cruise is sometimes combined with a coach tour of the city.
- Situated some 33 miles/54 kilometers northeast of Oporto, the town of Guimaraes is considered the cradle of the Portuguese nation. The mediaeval King’s Castle and the Palace of the Dukes of Braganca are worth experiencing.
Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is situated some 198 miles/318 kilometres south of Porto. The distance to the northern border with Spain is 72 miles/116 kilometres.
[googleMap name=”Oporto” width=”520″ height=”520″ directions_to=”false”]Oporto, Portugal[/googleMap]
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