“Wet or fine, the air of Portugal has a natural happiness in it, and the people of the country should be as happy and prosperous as any people in the world.” - H G Wells
The Iberian Peninsula is home to both Spain and Portugal and although Portugal is smaller than its larger neighbour, the country is home to plenty of wonderful things to visit. While a lot of people go to the Algarve or Lisbon when they travel to Portugal, the largest city in the north of Portugal is a fantastic destination for travellers!
With Azulejo, traditional Portuguese streets, wine cellars, etc., Porto is one of Portugal’s unmissable cities. It’s the country’s second city and is located in the north of the country at the mouth of the River Douro.
According to Turismo do Porto e Norte de Portugal, the north of Portugal is attracting more and more tourists, adding up to 6.6 million nights stayed. Additionally, the city of Porto has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996!
So how can you get the most out of your time in the city? Which are the different areas of Porto?
In this article, we're going to be looking at Porto's historic centre, Ribeira (the old town), Vila Nova de Gaia, São Nicolau, and Boa Vista, which are some of the most important areas in the city.
Porto’s Historic Centre
Of course, when you visit Porto (or any other city), you’ll probably visit the city centre. In Porto, the city centre is also the historic centre where you can find many points of interest, places to go, and things to see.
Firstly, when you visit Porto, you need to see the Bolhão Market (Mercado de Bolhão). Here you’ll find an authentic atmosphere and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of local produce. With medieval streets, Portuguese businesses, and small restaurants, this area has everything you’d expect to see on a postcard on sale in Porto.
You could also head to the Rua do Almada (near Rua de Santa Catarina), for some of the best parts of the city.
Of course, we couldn’t mention the historic centre without mentioning the Lello Bookstore. You’ll find this place in every guidebook and for good reason! This is one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world thanks to its Gothic Revival style. It was built in 1906, is the symbol of the area, and even inspired J.K. Rowling’s descriptions of architecture in the Harry Potter series. You have to see it!
Finally, the Clérigos Tower is an architectural symbol of the city of Porto. This 18th-century Italian Baroque style building is an unmissable sight in the historic quarter.
The historic centre of Porto is a great base for visiting the city and enjoying the city’s vibe. The next neighbourhood is the Old Town, just next door.
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Ribeira, Porto’s Old Town
Porto’s old town is in the geographical centre of the city and allows quick access to the River Douro that runs through the city. This neighbourhood is the heart and soul of the city and where you can find most of the monuments. It’s worth a visit!
Firstly, the São Bento Railway Station is a great place to enjoy the Azulejo on the walls. There are images of everyday life and Portuguese transport throughout the ages.
Interesting, isn’t it?
The Stock Exchange Building (Palácio da Bolsa) is also in the heart of the old town. This Neoclassical building from the 19th century is representative of Portugal through painting, architecture, and furniture. It’s an unmissable monument and quite romantic!
Talking of romanticism, the Church of Saint Francis (Igreja de São Francisco) is a Gothic building in the old town. This architectural gem, which was built in 1425, is decorated in a Baroque style. It’s in the heart of Ribeira and the tram runs right by it.
Given that the neighbourhood is so central, you can simply take the Line 1 tram to Passeio Alegre to see the Douro river or jump in the Atlantic.
Speaking of the Douro, you should know that the old town runs along the river, which is crossed by 6 bridges in total. The Ribeira quayside (Cais da Ribeira) is a wonderful place to walk and you can’t go to Porto without visiting it. You can also enjoy the typical houses with their coloured walls by the Douro River.
The old town is where most walks around the city will lead you.
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Vila Nova de Gaia
On the other side of the River Douro, you can find Porto’s wine-tasting neighbourhood. After all, Port wine is from Porto so it's no surprise that you can attend plenty of wine tastings and see all the winemakers in the city.
If you cross the Dom Luís I Bridge, you’ll end up in Vila Nova de Gaia. This area of Porto is famous for its Port and a lot of tourists go just to taste it.
It’s home to paved streets, staircases, and, most importantly, Port. There are around fifty wine cellars in this neighbourhood, whereas some are more famous than others. Among the most famous, there are:
- Cockburn’s Port Lodge
Finally, with Vila Nova de Gaia being very close to the banks of the Douro, why not visit the river by boat?
This is a great way to see the different neighbourhoods of the city!
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The São Nicolau neighbourhood provides a nice contrast to Porto’s old town and the River Douro and still has plenty of great monuments.
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The Soares dos Reis National Museum, which is Portugal’s oldest museum, is home to some fantastic permanent collections and Portuguese sculptures and paintings and only costs €3 to visit! It’s a good way to learn about Portuguese culture.
The Palácio de Cristal is home to great gardens and breathes life into the area. This is a great place to relax and it’s a stone’s throw from the old town. You can also visit the Quinta da Macieirinha romantic museum in the heart of a park for just €1.
Finally, São Nicolau is also famous for its wine museum, which is free to visit. From its history to its manufacturing, this is a great way to find out about an important part of Portugal.
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Did you think that Porto was just an old city with plenty of traditions?
It’s not! You can find the Boavista area in the northwest of the city. It’s a modern neighbourhood but it’s also very Portuguese.
Boavista, even though its home to fewer monuments and points of interest than other areas, is a city within a city and is a way for tourists to head off the beaten path.
It’s home to plenty of bars and restaurants as well as modern businesses and shops. In short, Boavista is where you should go if you want to meet locals.
You can find the Casa da Música, a concert hall, in this area of Porto. You can also head to Foz do Douro, a residential neighbourhood by the sea and home to a modern art museum.
Even though there are shopping centres, Porto is a great city where each area has its own identity. You can find examples of the city’s history everywhere!
Getting lost in Porto is one of the most enjoyable things to do. The areas in Porto are great for relaxing and walking about. Whether you’re visiting for a couple of days or a week, you’ll have a great time in Porto!
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