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Blick auf Porto, Bild: Aliaksandr Antanovich / shutterstock

In Love with Porto – The Tangled Gesamtkunstwerk

In Porto, it smells of incense and money. In almost every corner you can feel the rule of canons and merchants, while long-established patrician families set the tone. Henry the Navigator was born here. At a historical moment, he acted as the director of world history. However, you will look in vain for feudal palaces. The king left behind neither castle nor castle. Only the merchants’ stock exchange palace granted lodging to visitors to the city. Porto is not a city of eye-catching individual buildings, but a confused work of art in Portugal.

Porto – between “scraped” beauty and creation

Porto, Duero
The Douro River flows through Porto, Image: Sean Pavone / shutterstock

Porto, the secret capital of Portugal, was named European Capital of Culture in 2001. At the same time, it stepped out of the shadow of its rival sister city of Lisbon. Traditionally, the relationship between the two cities is cool – Porto has always been the “eternal second”.

If you like Lisbon , you can’t love Porto? Wrong: The fling to Portugal’s north is worth it! Porto also has it – this extraordinary dilapidated charm.

The location directly on the water gave the city in the north of Portugal its name: Porto – in Portuguese port – is located on the right bank of the Douro, only a few kilometers from the mouth of the river. The old merchant town is built into the narrow steep bank of the Douro. Wedged between the river and the rocks, the city initially gives its visitors the cold shoulder. The second largest city in Portugal stretches terraced along two mountain slopes. Medieval alleys lead down to the river. The Ponte de Dom Luis I, completed in 1885, spans the river.

Like Lisbon, Porto rises on the banks of an estuary, is located by the sea and is home to charming old houses. There are historic trams, glass elevators, good food, cute cafes and a casual scene. The prospects are no less magnificent. From the Ponte de Dom Luis I. alone, the view is spectacular.

Warm colours, small alleys, crooked steps and a history that is reflected in the architecture give the city its very special charm. Strolling through the medieval streets of the old town makes you feel like you’re in another century. Visitors immerse themselves in an old world that also has a modern side.

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A stroll through the city, casual and relaxed – simply Porto

Porto, City Hall
The City Hall in Porto, Image: saiko3p / shutterstock

The city of Porto is not rushing – it strolls, seems relaxed and calls for a leisurely arrival. Sloping winding alleys lead from Cais da Ribeira, the idyllic river port, up to the adventurously high old town. The bridges over the river valley to Vila Nova de Gaia, the seat of the Port wine cellars, are an attraction.

A good starting point for a stroll through the city is the church tower Torre de Clérigos. It is the tallest church tower in Portugal and a landmark of Porto. From the top of the tower, there is a magnificent view of the city. Meanwhile, in the park of the Palácio de Cristal, the peacocks wrestle with the seagulls over discarded breadcrumbs. The tree-lined avenue of the impressive park has grown strangely and attracts attention again and again. Just opposite is a small church decorated with tiles all around – the Capela das Almas. Downhill we go to Praca da Liberdadem, the center of the city with the impressive town hall. Behind the town hall is a little gem – the Igreja da Trindade church with a stunning altar.

From here, the path leads along the boulevard to the Mercado do Bolhao market.

Passing noble boutiques and houses in Art Nouveau style, you touch what is probably the most beautiful façade of the city, that of the Caperola do Bolhão, a traditional grocery store from 1917. Soon a blue church building with two mighty towers stands out: Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, built between 1709 and 1739.

No less impressive is the Teatro National São João on Praça da Batalha. The classic building is based on an original building from 1794.

Porto, Ribeira Square
Ribeira Square in Porto, Image: vidalgo / shutterstock

From there it goes down to the train station. São Bento Station is considered one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. The walls are decorated with impressive tile painting with scenes from the history of the city and the country. The new concert hall “Casa da Música”, on the other hand, reflects the modern face of Porto – designed and built by the Dutch star architect Kolhaas. We go back up to the cathedral of Porto. The originally Romanesque fortified church from the 12th/13th century. Today it has numerous Baroque elements.

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The Sacrament Chapel is remarkable. From the cathedral it is not far to the upper part of the Ponte Luis I bridge. There is a magnificent view of the waterfront promenades downstream. To the left are the port wine cellars and to the right rises the charming old town with its many small restaurants. Back down to the old stock exchange palace and the original market hall with a cultural center. Below the bridge, on the river promenade, many traditional restaurants invite you to take a break.

Between wine tastings and coffee house culture

For more than 300 years, the city has been famous for the port wines named after it. For years, the delicious drops are stored in wooden barrels and develop their typical fruity-sweet taste. Rustic port wine cellars invite you to taste.

A magnificent bookstore goes beyond all ideas of a library. The “Cathedral of Books” is hidden behind a neo-Gothic, narrow façade and is one of Porto’s main tourist attractions. A special eye-catcher is the opulent, curved staircase with red steps that leads to the upper floor. The writer Joanne K. Rowling was once inspired here – this is how the swinging stairs of “Hogwarts” wizarding boarding school were created.

Porto also has a long coffee house tradition. The Majestic is the most famous café in the city. It has been restored true to the original. Today it shines in the old/new face with the interior of 1921.

Magnificent views in Porto

Porto Douro
Image: ESB Professional / shutterstock

Viewed from the banks of the Douro, Porto has the charm of a dreamy holiday resort. And yet the enchanting city is a lively metropolis. Jugglers perform tricks, musicians drum and tourists from all over the world jostle on the Douro quay. A boat trip on the Douro rounds off your stay in Porto. In a ravishing harbour setting, viewing Porto from the water is a real treat. The gigantic bridge construction spans above everything.

In the sound of the surf, surrounded by the smell of sea water: an evening walk along the riverbank of the estuary and the long promenade along the Atlantic Ocean provides a beautiful end to this wonderful city trip. By the way: At nightfall, the view from the Ponte de Luis I bridge is breathtaking.

Last but not least, the wonderful realization remains: This city is a total work of art, is full of magic and takes hearts by storm – you are in love with Porto.

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