Overlooking the Douro River, Porto is one of the most ancient European cities.
The historical center, which presents a frame of rare beauty, boasts a rare variety of periods and styles from Medieval, to Baroque, Art Deco and Contemporary, that makes the city so unique. Another element not to be missed is the ever-present English influence still palpable in the streets and buildings of Porto, as well as in the city’s way of life. From examples of Palladian architecture to the uncommon way in which buildings are numbered, English inspiration is definitely in the air!
But what’s really special about this northern city is that it also has a vibrant contemporary side. With art galleries, designer stores, top restaurants and some of the finest examples of contemporary architecture popping up all throughout the city, expect the unexpected!
We start our visit to Porto at the heart of the city: the old city, or Baixa, is where it all began and was classified as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1996. In the morning we will have the opportunity to admire famous examples of Porto’s Baroque architecture …
Porto is the perfect starting point for a day trip to the fabulous Douro Valley to explore the first demarcated wine region of the world, and the uniqueness of human and natural landscape. As an alternative, you might want to take a trip …
We start our visit to Porto at the heart of the city: the old city, or Baixa, is where it all began and was classified as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1996. In the morning we will have the opportunity to admire famous examples of Porto’s Baroque architecture such as the elegant silhouette of the Torre dos Clérigos and the S. Francisco church with its shining, gilded wood-carved interiors. The Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace), built in the second half of the 19th century in the neoclassical style, it is definitely worth a visit, to see the magnificent Salão Árabe (Arabian Hall) designed in neo-Moorish in style. Afterwards we will reach the upper part of the city by taking the funicular to visit the Romanesque cathedral with its baroque interiors and magnificent surroundings – notably, the impressive façade of the Paço Episcopal.
Nearby is the Ribeira area, the old riverside whose old stones have been beautifully restored to their former glory. Here we will enjoy another perspective of the ancient part of the city, set along the banks of the Douro River.
To complete our picture of Porto’s fascinating history, we will visit the cellars of Gaia, on Porto’s south bank. Here we will discover an impressive collection of warehouses built during the course of the 17th and 18th centuries in an area chosen for the perfect climate for the maturation of wine. Visiting these old cellars is truly an experience for the senses. You will taste the famous Port wine and learn about its history and alchemy in the company of a wine maker.
Whilst discovering Porto, you will find many surprises. Besides its welcoming yet rather conservative atmosphere and look, Porto is also a very much contemporary and even artistic city. This is visible a bit everywhere, in the streets, architecture, art galleries and museums but also in the terraces, restaurants, and all the leisure and shopping facilities the city has to offer. Porto is world famous for its renowned Architectural University (Escola do Porto – School of Porto), where Pritzker-prize winners Siza Vieira and Souto de Moura studied and later taught. You will feel this “special touch” as you stroll around the city, and this gets even better when your cicerone is a local architect! This special guide will lead you to the ultimate contemporary buildings in the city, such as the Serralves Museum (Siza Vieira) and Casa da Música (Rem Koolhaas). Porto’s architects are specialists in giving new functions to old buildings while staying true to their original spirit. You will catch an insight of these works, during the visits to the Cadeia de Relação, Alfândega, and other intriguing edifices.
To truly feel the pulse of Porto you have to walk its narrow, often steep streets. A walk around the city center is the perfect way to do this, especially if you make a stop at the famous Majestic coffee shop for a coffee, a drink and some pastry. It was established in 1921 and was a favorite meeting place for artists and writers. From here, we will go on exploring the traditional shopping area, by visiting iconic shops such as the Pérola do Bolhão or the old market before we take a last stop at the train station of São Bento to admire the tiled entrance before walking through the Rua das Flores .
Porto is the perfect starting point for a day trip to the fabulous Douro Valley to explore the first demarcated wine region of the world, and the uniqueness of human and natural landscape. As an alternative, you might want to take a trip to Medieval Guimarães, a UNESCO World Heritage site whose origins trace back to the founding of Portugal itself. Guimarães is not only one of the prettiest towns in the North of Portugal, it’s also a city glimmering with artistic and historical treasures.
Less than an hour drive from Porto is another historical city, Braga, which was once the Roman town of Bracara Augusta, capital of the Roman province of Gallaecia in 250BC. Braga is a piece of living history, known for the sumptuousness of its ecclesiastic buildings and the richness of its Baroque architecture. The historical heritage of Braga is immense, as can be seen in our next stop, the 11th-century cathedral, where the gilded choir stalls and Baroque double organ are two unmatchable masterpieces, to name but the most famous examples.
The day ends at the Bom Jesús do Monte sanctuary, where the tradition is to climb the 170 steps to the Neoclassical church in time for sunset. You will get to the church by taking the famous water elevator.
If you wish to tailor this tour, you might be interested in knowing all the experiences and travel ideas we have tought of for you: please have a look and let us know if you have any different ideas in mind!