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Portugal is a destination that while seemingly small on the European stage is packed with marvels and delights at every turn. The Northern city of Porto is no exception. It is a city with a strong history, proud artistic and architectural achievement and the center of a world famous sweet wine industry that bears the same name. Many are beginning to explore the affordable and fascinating cityscapes of Portugal and Porto is certainly a place full of cultural zest that’s attracting attention.
The city is logistically very well connected. If driving from within Portugal or Spain rest assured there are excellent highways all around. One can take trains from Lisbon, buses from many places and the airport is a gem. There are flights to all over Europe on regular and low cost airlines. The airport is newly renovated and modern. It is directly connected to the city’s metro and buses, either of which will get one in the area of Praça da Liberdade, the historic center for just a few Euros.
Before deciding what to experience it is good to know the city is quite hilly so keep that in your walking and transit plans. For its size and importance the city does not have a huge population, so this means things will generally be uncrowded. It is fairly easy to explore the historic center on foot. The best orientation one can have is the famed Douro river which cuts a wide gorge in the city’s landscape on its way out to sea. This river is spectacularly lovely and it is the source and lifeblood for the city’s mercantile history and prosperity.
The city has a striking array of historic buildings, which reflect a long romance with art and architecture. Be sure and visit the Sao Francisco Church, the Bishop’s palace, The stock exchange and the Avenida dos Aliados for a look at the unique facades and expressions of ingenuity. There are various encounters with historic displays like the museum of sacred art and archeology at the local seminary and the lively Mercado do Bolhão where daily shoppers have gathered for centuries. There are plenty of modern marvels too. Casa da Música and the Museum of Modern Art of Serralves are wonderful expressions of the continuing creative legacy. There is the bridge designed by the architect Eiffel which stands out among the six famed bridges that span the Douro.
A city with a strong artistic vibe, a penchant for business and a focus on wine production begs to be explored in the most leisurely way. That in fact is the best way to explore Porto. Soak up the sights of the outdoor café’s, stroll along the Ribera riverfront walkway, explore and taste in the various local Port wine caves on the Ribeira de Gaia and Vila Nova de Gaia waterfronts. One will especially appreciate the iconic port wine boats parked out front of the wineries as they have been for centuries bringing the treasures of the vine all down the Douro river.