Sightseeing and excursions
In the city:
The historic center of Porto is compact, and you can easily visit the major sights on foot. You might want to begin your walking tour at the main Tourist Office on the Rua Clube dos Fenianos, on the west side of the city hall, where you can pick up maps and brochures. Head downhill to the Praça da Liberdade and the São Bento railroad station, which opened in 1910 and has huge murals of azulejo tile in the main lobby. (If you need to use the toilets, they're just beyond the entrance to the train platforms.)
Nearby is the Teatro Nacional San João, which is worth a glance as you head for the Church of Santa Clara with its gilded interior of carved wood.
Continue west, and you'll run into the Sé, or Cathedral, which has a Gothic cloister and a viewing terrace that are worth seeing after you've made the obligatory tour of the sanctuary with its silver altar. If you still have an appetite for churches, walk toward the Douro and the Igreja de San Francisco, which is famous for its polychromed and gilded "Tree of Jesse" woodcarving.
There's plenty more to see in central Porto, but don't limit yourself to a guidebook-imposed walking tour: Allow time to wander around, visit the shops, and sample a café or two. Finally, when you're ready for a change of pace, walk across the Ponte de Dom Luis I to the Douro's south bank.
In Vila Nova da Gaia:
The south side of the Douro is lined with a riverfront park, and traditional port-wine boats are anchored just offshore. Behind the waterfront are port lodges (see 0ur Cálem article) where you can learn how port wine is made, taste the finished product, and--if you wish--purchase a bottle or two for the road.
Along the seashore:
If you can spare the time, head out the Avenida da Boavista to the Forte de São Francisco Xavier, more popularly known as the Castelo do Queijo ("Castle of Cheese"), where pensioners play cards at the base of the fortress walls while Atlantic breakers kick up spray on the rocks. Then take the bus or walk along the coastal avenues to the Castelo de São João da Foz and Portugal's oldest lighthouse at the mouth of the Douro. (In summer, locals flock to the beaches between the two forts.)
Another option is to take the Metro to or from the harbor suburb of Matosinhos, north of the Castelo do Queijo, which is known for its seafood restaurants. (During the season, you're likely to see cruise ships tied up at the quays just west of the Metro station.)
In the region:
Porto is the gateway to the Douro Valley wine district, which you can easily reach by car, by the railroad that follows the river, or by excursion boat. For example, you could take an excursion boat to Pinhão, the town closest to the leading quintas or wine estates such as the Quinta Nova de Sonna Senhora do Carmo, then spend the night at a hotel such as the Vintage House and return to Porto by train the next day.
Many other interesting towns in Northern Portugal are within an hour or two of Porto. For more information on the region and how to get around it, browse the itineraries at VisitPortugal.com and consult the Portuguese Railways (CP) timetables.
Viator, our sightseeing-tour partner, offers guided all-day tours to the Douro wine region and the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. See Viator's Porto Tours and Excursions for prices in the currency of your choice.
Alternatively, you can book tours locally when you're in Porto, which is a good idea if you're on a leisurely schedule and don't need to plan ahead.
Next page: Museums and culture
Top photo copyright © Valdemir Cunha.
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