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PORTO REGION

situated in a region of rich history, stunning scenery and glorious beaches

Stunning Porto Region

It was in Porto and in the North regions that Portugal was founded in the 12th century and the Portuguese became a people and a nation.Porto, a World Heritage city, is the gateway and departure point for a journey across the natural and cultural diversity of the region.

THE AREA

The District of Porto (Portuguese: Distrito do Porto [ˈpoɾtu] is located on the north-west coast of Portugal. The district capital is the city of Porto, the second largest city in the country. It is bordered by the Aveiro and Viseu districts to the south, Braga district to the north and Vila Real district to the east. The region is crossed by the River Douro which enters Portugal between the ravines and mountains of the interior to flow through the entire World Heritage landscape where the Port and Douro wines are produced.

RESTAURANTS

Porto’s dining scene revolves mainly around fresh sea produce and succulent local meats, with regional delicacies such as francesinhas and bacalhau, the local salted cod, taking center stage. We explore ten of the best Portugese restaurants to sample the local cuisine, from traditional family run Portuguese restaurants to fine-dining establishments and riverside venues.

Porto Region Activities

Clérigos Tower: Baixa

This ornate, 75-metre bell tower, which watches lovingly over the city of Porto, is arguably the city’s most iconic silhouette. It was opened in 1763 and is blessed with a beautiful barrage of Baroque motifs thanks to its Italian designer Nicolau Nasoni. Given its prominent position, you can get some amazing 360° views of the city from the top, but you’ll have to climb 225 steps to get there.If you’re only visiting the Douro Valley on a day trip, many tours go one way by train, and the other by boat, so you get to experience the majestic scenery from two distinctly different viewpoints. There are plenty of other river cruise options, however, including multi-day trips where you spend the night onboard. Shorter boat trips starting in the valley are also available and are ideal for those planning to spend one or two nights in the region.

Crystal Palace gardens: Massarelos

When Googling this park, if you’re faced with a bunch of fiberglass dinosaurs, then you’re in the wrong Crystal Palace. Despite the lack of prehistoric models, these gardens are somewhat more exotic than what London has to offer. Not only does this verdant paradise have a maze of walkways, tree-lined waterways, sculptured topiary and a huge domed pavilion (all thanks to German landscape architect Emile David), but it overlooks the Douro River too. Well worth the hike up there.

Serra do Pilar

The Serra do Pilar is a jagged hill above the Douro river on the Gaia side. Needless to say, the view is spectacular, especially at sunset. Visit the thirteenth-century monastery to find out more about the four World Heritage sites in Portugal’s northern region: the historic centres of Porto and Guimarães, the Douro wine region and the Côa Archaeological Park.

Porto Wine Cellars

Porto’s sister city Gaia has beaches and those famous Port wine cellars. They’re gorgeous, with guided tours to teach you the history of the stuff and the distinguishing features of each variety (there are many varieties of port). Every tour has a happy ending: a Port tasting. We recommend the Sandeman Cellars (Largo Miguel Bombarda, 3; the ones with the chap in the black cape), which include a museum; Taylor’s (Rua do Choupelo, 250), featuring the highly rated O Barão de Fladgate restaurant; and Cockburn’s (Rua Serpa Pinto, 346), where you can enjoy a picnic with some lip smacking Portuguese delicacies.

Livraria Lello: Galerias

The Guardian and travel website Lonely Planet picked this as the world’s third most beautiful bookstore. Are they having a laugh? It’s gorgeous! More than a century old, Lello is an art nouveau pearl with gothic details, stained glass and a fabulous red staircase, said to have inspired the one in Hogwarts (JK Rowling once lived in Porto). Harry Potter fans: make a beeline here immediately. There are so many visitors these days that you are now charged to enter, but this is discounted from any purchase. Plenty of tours go to the Lello Bookstore.

Porto Cathedral

Porto’s Cathedral (‘Sé’) is the city’s most important church. Built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it’s a national monument. Look out for the gothic cloister, the chapel frescoes, the Teixeira Lopes sculpture in the baptistery and the medieval portrait of Our Lady of Vandoma, the city’s patron saint. When locals talk about the ‘Sé’, they don’t just mean the cathedral: the name also applies to the historic district at Porto’s heart. Wander its streets, keep Google Maps turned off and you’ll thank us for it.

São Bento

It’s been voted one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations. The outside is super-cool, in a Belle Epoque Parisian kind of way, but it’s the interiors that will really knock you out: the station lobby walls are covered with 20,000 decorative tiles, which took painter Jorge Colaço 11 years to complete, portraying scenes of Portuguese history, daily life and transportation (for the trainspotters). Catch a train from here to nearby towns such as Miramar (with its beautiful beaches and mansions), Braga or Guimarães. And if you miss your train, so what?

Foz

Foz is almost a mini-city within Porto. In the nineteenth century it was a seaside resort where Brits and well-heeled Porto residents went on holiday. Nowadays, visit it for its beaches (several of them have a blue flag), seaside-y outdoor cafés (try the ones at the Praia da Luz and iBar’s, located among the rocks), or a stroll in the sun along the Avenida do Brasil with its view of the Atlantic. Nearby is the Queijo Fort, the Passeio Alegre Fountain, the Felgueiras lighthouse, the Molhe Breakwater and Old Foz (a quainter part of the district). You can eat very well around here: try chef Pedro Lemos’s eponymous restaurant (for a splurge), Casa Vasco, Cafeína or a burger at Peebz.

Ribeira

If you’re in Porto you absolutely, positively must visit Ribeira. This old city district located by the Douro is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Yes, it’s swarming with tourists, but don’t let that put you off. Cross the river in a rabelo boat; go wobbly looking at the Luíz I, D. Maria II and Arrábida bridges (great backgrounds for dramatic photos); visit the Bacalhoeiros Wall, the Casa do Infante museum, the Rua da Reboleira, Cubo square, São Nicolau Church and the ‘Alminhas da Ponte’, a sculpture by artist Teixeira da Lopes. Eat at the Adega de S. Nicolau (they sometimes have fado nights), have a drink at the Pestana Vintage Hotel’s amazing RIB bar, then head up to the heights on the Guindais Funicular Railway. Phew!

Marés Swimming Pool: Leça da Palmeira

Just you try and resist diving straight into this breathtaking pool. Go on, we dare you. Designed by famed Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, Marés Pool is quite literally built into the rocks that divide the land and the ocean and is quite a sight to behold, let alone swim in. Although do be sure to take a dip, as it's filled with salty seawater and is great for floating your cares away.

Travel to Porto Region

AIR TRAVEL

Porto Airport has a station on the Metro do Porto light-rail system. Metro from the airport runs to TRINIDAD station every 15 minutes for most of the day every day from 05.56 until last train at 00.42 every night. (Trains run only every 30 minutes before about 08.15 and after 21.15hrs.)

BUS

The long-distance bus (coach) timetables do not usually tell you which bus station is used, which in larger cities with more than one (such as Porto!) is a bit of a problem. There are several long distance bus stations in Porto, used by the different companies. The BATALHA bus station has been closed and replaced by a new facility at Campo 24 de Agosto, about 1km away.

RAIL

Intercity and Alfa Pendular trains arrive at the Porto Campanhã station. This is on the eastern edge of the city, about 2km or 1¼ miles from the city centre. If you have booked online to Campanhã, you can connect with local 'Urbanos' trains free of charge for the 3 minute run to the city centre station of São Bento. There are also local trains to the eastern suburbs.

VIA PORTO METRO

The Metro do Porto is not an underground railway like London, New York or Lisbon. It's a network of six tram or light-rail lines, running on the surface in the suburbs, then converging to run under the city centre in tunnels. The website has comprehensive information, much of it in English.

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