Difference between revisions of "Porto"
Revision as of 17:51, 3 August 2010
Porto is a busy industrial and commercial center. The city itself isn't very populous (about 240,000 inhabitants), but the Porto metropolitan area (Big Porto) ranks some 1,500,000 inhabitants in a 50 km radius, with cities like Gaia, Matosinhos, Maia, Gondomar and Espinho.
The city was built along the hills overlooking the Douro river estuary, and its historical center was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1996. It has been continuously inhabited since at least the 4th Century, when the Romans referred to it as Portus Calle
Porto has a semi-Mediterranean climate, although it's strongly affected by the Atlantic ocean, which makes it cooler than other Mediterranean cities. However, temperatures can rise as high as 40ºC in August during occasional heat waves. Winters are mild and humid, with occasional cold nights where temperatures can drop below 0ºC.
Porto has always been a mercantile city, and this is evident in the style of buildings that front onto the Avenida dos Aliados, the core of the downtown area. The center of town, unlike other major Portuguese cities, which tend towards the baroque, is granite and monumental. Residents of Porto are known as Tripeiros (tripe eaters) allegedly due to the fact that the city went without meat in order to provision the the fleet that left to conquer Ceuta in North Africa in 1415 (which left from Porto) and had to subsist on tripe soup, still a specialty of the city.
Citizens of Porto, while definitely Portuguese, hold themselves apart culturally from the rest of the country, as is expressed in the often heard phrase "o Porto é uma nação" (Porto is a nation). Outsiders often consider Porto to be more crass and mercantile than the rest of the country, and less lacking in social graces. This is likely due to the fact that the city has historically been dominated by Portuguese bourgeoisie and English trading factions rather than the nobility. Tripeiros of course, disagree, regarding themselves (with some justification) as being the economic heart of the nation. As the saying goes, "Porto works, Braga Prays, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon gets the money."
The city is officially styled "a muito nobre, sempre leal e invicta cidade do Porto" (the very noble, always faithful, and invincible city of Porto). This is usually shortened to "a Cidade Invicta" (the invincible city) a title won because of Porto's unparalleled resistance against Napoleonic troops during the Peninsular war.
The city is quite variegated architecturally, with medieval as well as modern living side by side. Porto's geography is hard on the feet, but pleasant to the eye. The city is extremely hilly, with many buildings built into a cliff face that overlooks the river. Stairs cut into the stone run up and down the cliff face and offer a laborious but rewarding walking tour. Across the river from Porto proper, in the suburb of Gaia, are located the warehouses of notable companies dealing with Port Wine, such as Cálem, Fonseca, Sandemans, Kopke, and others.
Whilst the local attitude is friendly, to outsiders it is worth noting that locals can respond literally to questions, which may seem slightly off-putting to the uninitiated. An example of this would be to ask in a bar if they have a menu (for food) and to receive a straight 'no' as a response; it's after further questions that one can find out that the establishment doesn't sell food - such a response is not considered rude, it is merely direct and literal.
If you speak in Spanish to a local, you will be largely understood and as a rule they will freely converse with you, but from time to time, more so with the older generation, you may be politely reminded that you are in Portugal and the native language is Portuguese.
Sá Carneiro Airport, (IATA: OPO), Pedras Rubras,Maia (+351) 229 432 400, . Also known as Aeroporto do Porto or Aeroporto de Pedras Rubras this is the third busiest airport in the country and is about 15 km from the city centre. Just outside of the airport is the AeroBus which for €4 - 2005 - takes you to Praça da Liberdade (city center) or will drop you off at the Pousada da Juventude. A similar taxi trip will cost €20. the Metro line connects the Airport to the city centre, offering a fast and peaceful ride into the heart of the city, for €1,45.
TAP flies from most European airports but tends to be more expensive.
The city is served by two major train stations, the "São Bento" (Saint Benedict) station, and the "Campanhã" station. Trains from and to Madrid and Paris are regular, other non-domestic destinations vary according to demand and time of year. Domestic trains are very frequent and usually on time. Be careful on the train from Madrid. On at least one route, the computer systems will say you need to change trains at Guillarei in northern Spain. However, Guillarei has stopped trains through Portugal since 2004. Instead, you will need to transfer to a station named Tui which is a few miles from Guillarei. The computer system hasn't been updated even though this change occurred in 2004 for some reason. You can go into Guillarei but you will need to take a taxi (cost me €5) to Tui to connect.Sao Bento station is right in the city center.
The city is served by five major highways: A1, which connects Porto to Lisbon, A29 which connects Porto to Aveiro, A3 connects Porto to Braga, A28 connects Porto to Viana do Castelo and the northern Portuguese border, and A4, which goes eastwards from the city towards Vila Real. The IC29 connects Porto to the neighboring city of Gondomar. The city is also served by 2 ring highways, the A41 (still incomplete) which is the outer ring, and VCI/IC23 or A20 which connects all the main places inside the city. The A20/VCI, A28, A29 and A41 are all free highways at the moment, but there are plans to install tolls in the the latter three, sometime in the future. Generally speaking, the traffic is usually chaotic and very intense, especially during rush hours.
There are many companies providing direct bus trips from major European countries and also for most of the northern cities of the country. Try Rodonorte  for timetables. Visit also Porto Bus Service .
There is a cargo and recreational harbor called Leixões in the neighboring city of Matosinhos. Modest-sized cruise ships can dock just outside a drawbridge to the inner harbor. Beneath the south approach to the bridge is a station for the light rail system (see "By Metro" below) that goes to Oporto.
There is also a very small recreational harbor in the river Douro. As far as a major method of getting to the city, however, sea transport is not really feasible. However, you can use tour boats based along the river (especially in Oporto) to go up the Douro River, one of the most scenic short trips you'll ever make.
Porto, like most Portuguese cities, is a nightmare to drive in. Roads vary in conditions - from fully paved to cobbled lanes that can make even the most shortest of distance seem like a go-kart rally. With that said, keep in mind that the touristic part of the city (the Ribeira and Baixa) are a never ending maze of narrow streets, short tempered drivers and snakelike alleys. Better to walk (despite the fact that it's very hilly). Also, drivers seem to have forgotten how to drive (apart from pushing the pedals) - therefore, they make their own rules of the road (however, this generally does not apply to young drivers). Be prepared to lose your patience several times whilst driving.
The Porto Metro is an incredibly advanced, state of the art light rail / subway system. Developed in 2001 (for the Porto2001 - European Capital of Culture), the metro is still under construction. It has 5 lines, that run across the center of Porto, and down to some suburban areas. It is quick, and probably the most efficient way to get around Porto. Some major areas of the city, however, are not that well served by the metro, although a new lines will be opening soon. Tickets must be purchased beforehand. They can be sold at the machines in the station (note: if there are no tickets in the machine that day, take the metro to the next station and buy it there!). The ticket is printed in a card called "Andante", and you can purchase as many rides (or travels) you want, in the zone you are staying in (Porto and surrounding are Z2. Matosinhos Z3. Airport Z4). One travel will take you anywhere your zone, and you can travel as many times as you want within one hour. If you plan on using it again, Do Not throw away the card! The card can be re-charged (the card itself costs around €0.50). You can also buy daily passes, which is more convenient. If you plan on living in Porto, or staying for more than three weeks, it is recommended you get the "Andante Gold". The card costs €5, and will allow unlimited travel, without time limit. However, the zoning system is a lot different in the "Gold" version then in the "Blue version". There around around 11 zones in Andante Gold (C1, C2, S11, etc.) The centre is C1. When you buy the card, you must purchase another zone (C1 is automatically included). The Andante Gold can be used in all metro lines, the funicular and all buses . When you are buying the Andante Gold, you must have a picture of yourself (your passport photo will do. They can amplify the image from the passport to the card in seconds). An important note: your andante must be validated before you enter the metro, bus or funicular. There are no barriers to stop you at the metro, but the Metro police enter the cars and check your Andante to make sure you have validated it, and are travelling within your zones. More info at Metro do Porto 
STCP  Porto has many lines and buses, which are modern and comfortable. However, they are not very reliable in terms of timetable, and the bus drivers tend to go on strike from time to time, which can leave you waiting for a bus up to an hour!. However, the lines serve every alley in the city, so you can be sure that wherever you are, there is a bus stop. If you do not have the Andante (see "Metro" above), then the tickets can be purchased on board, for €1.45 or cheaper on most any newspaper seller.
A fast way of getting around the city, although traffic congestions near the city center might be a problem. However, be expected to pay a high price for these services, especially compared to the other public transportations such as bus and subway.
There are ferry boats that connect Porto to the neighboring city of Vila Nova de Gaia, although you can easily walk or travel by car, metro or bus to the other side. Also the are numerous tourist boats which travel up the Douro river, where you can get fantastic views of the green landscape the region has to offer.
Not exactly a public transportation, but its a wonderful way to see the city from above. Near the Douro there is a heliport with a helicopter available for people to use to get to know the city as a whole. Travelling accompanied will make the flight cheaper.
By Funicular dos Guindais
This is a cable railway system. Use this if you don't wish to walk up the steep streets of Porto. This system connects the Ribeira to the Batalha square, in the city centre, it also has a panoramic view of the River Duoro. As of February 2007, a single trip cost €1. However, if your Andante card (see "Metro" above) has been recently validated (in less then one hour), that you can ride it for free
By Ascensor da Ribeira
This panoramic elevator runs from the Largo da Lada, and is visible behind the buildings of the Ribeira, close to the Ponte D. Luís.
The first place to begin with is the Ribeira, the part of the city near the river, which is also a good place to start visiting the World Heritage area; to the other side of the river you will see the Ribeira de Gaia, a similar area from the city of Vila Nova de Gaia (the two are only separated by the river) and where you could find the Port Wine Cellars. Next go up to the São Francisco church and the Stock Exchange palace nearby, where you can visit the most impressive Arab room in the country. The world known Modern Art museum at Serralves and the Casa da Música (House of Music) concert hall live in the area known as Boavista. From there you can reach the amazing ocean front drive, known as "Foz". Go back to the center of the city and visit Mercado do Bolhão, a traditional market of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Next the Aliados and the City Hall and finally the 6 bridges connecting Porto to Gaia over the Douro river, many of them providing an excellent view to the river. Porto is a mysterious city that reveals its charm to the visitor through time. Take your time, wonder through the mazes and alleys of the city. Take in the old, bohemian spirit of the city. Hike through the Ribeira and Foz do Douro regions (the latter, at sunset). Porto may not be in every tourist's Iberian Peninsula itinerary, but it's well worth a visit if you want to see a city that has changed economically, but that has kept its old traditions, something that is being forgotten in Europe today.
Basic Portuguese language is very much appreciated. English, French, Galician, Catalan, Italian or Spanish may be spoken or understood at major hotels/resorts. For major tourist attractions such as river boat rides or Port Cellar tours, generally the chosen language for a given tour slot is granted on a first-come-first-served basis, if you want a tour to be guaranteed to be in your language, turn up early and request it.
The Fast Forward Language Institute, in the centre of town, offers a variety of courses in Portuguese language and culture including 3 hour "Portuguese for survival", aimed at foreign visitors to the city.
Porto is a business/financial centre. Some hotels have conference rooms, some with internet.
For shopping, take a stroll around the Mercado do Bolhão which has a food market and handicrafts stores, and Santa Catarina street(highly recommended, even if only to stroll), which is near Bolhão. Cedofeita street is also a busy shopping street, as well as Boavista. Porto and the suburbs have plenty of shopping centers, including Norte Shopping, Cidade Bom Sucesso, Arrábida Shopping, Parque Nascente, Gaia Shopping, etc. These are open every day, but are usually overcrowded during the weekends and rainy days.
Port wine, of course. This is the right place for it,in the city of Gaia,just south of the Douro river. You can also find great deals in clothes and shoes, especially during discount seasons.
MUUDA, Rua do Rosário, 294-4050-522, (email: Info@muuda.com), . "Art, food and design". This concept store offers a great variety of products signed by Portuguese designers. Fashion, objects, books, jewelery, shoes, gourmet and arts. You can have lunch at MUUDA, experience a wine or sushi workshop, learn how to make tricot, the newest painting techniques, photography... and much more.
Porto has some of the finest restaurants in Portugal.
Eating at Porto is no different than elsewhere in Portugal. Expect sturdy meals, and if you can, try "Tripas à moda do Porto". Be aware, however, that this is a tripe dish. Citizens of Porto are called tripeiros (tripe-eaters) on account of this dish.
Also try a typical dish called "Francesinha", which literally translated means little French lady. This city is just about the only place in the world where you can find it. However, in many other northern Portuguese cities you can find a low quality version of it. Essentially it is a toast with a lot of meat inside (beef, pork meat, ham...). It is covered with cheese and a spicy sauce. Most importantly, this dish must be accompanied by beer and not wine.
A good tip is taking the bus or subway to mathosinhos in July, there will be the fish festival. Meaning that freshly caught fish is being served the same day at bbq's lined up in the streets just a few blocks from the main beach. You choose a fish (only whole fish) en they prepare it on the streets for you. Not a fancy restaurant, but together with the local people you are eating the best tasting fish you ever had! Try a dourada, it is delicious.
Another "must eat" is "bacalhau" which is actually salted codfish. It is cooked in various ways but you should try "Bacalhau com Natas".
Porto is dotted with thousands of different bakeries (Pao Quente) and pastry shoppes (Pastelarias). Apart from serving delicious (and quite inexpensive) goods, they are also equipped with a side-cafe that serves all sorts of coffees (Pingo, Meia de Leite, etc.) and sandwiches (Tosta Mista-ham and cheese toastie). Note that, unlike the other river side cafes in the city, these establishments do not have picturesque views of Porto (that's expensive, and in the end, you'd be the one paying for that bill). Instead, they attract tourists by offering good food at very cheap prices.
Most locals drink black coffee (espresso).
The third oldest cafe in Porto, it is commonly known as "O Piolho" (the Louse). The cafe looks out on the street facing a faculty of the Universidade do Porto, and had been a meeting place for students since the 19th century. Plaques donated by graduating medical classes from the early 20th century onward decorate the walls. During the fascist period (1926-1974) it was a regular meeting place of "undesirables" (according to the regimes point of view), and was accordingly under regular surveillance by the secret police. On one occasion it was raided by the GNR (Guarda Nacional Republicana) who have a post nearby, and they charged their horses into the cafe itself. It is uncertain if the place's current disorder results from this or more recent activities. Service is surly, the place isn't at all fancy, but it is usually stuffed to the gills with students. Its also quite cheap.
Located on the other side of the Douro river, is a restaurant that serves generous plates serving one hungry person or two who eat normal.
Excellent Italian restaurant. Wide variety of dishes. Extremely small, so it's best to call ahead and reserve a table.
Great restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese, Italian and "International" food. Nice riverside view.
Located in Matosinhos (norther part of greater Porto), it's one of the best (and at the same time, expensive) restaurants in the city, and in the whole of Portugal as well. Fresh, authentic Portuguese seafood restaurant. Expect to pay around €30-€40 per person. But it's worth it
Beware however of the area, as it tends to be a haven for car-break ins.
Dance clubs here always start very (very) late, around 1AM-2AM, and end up from 6AM-7:30AM. You have a nice choice to pick up from.
There are some glbt clubs/bars in Porto.Late nite scene.
Bars & Pubs
There's residential homes all around the city. There's also a lot of 3-star hotels with very affordable prices. In the entire city there's only one camping site (Prelada), but it's a bit far from the center. There aren't many family houses to rent in Porto, so they'll be difficult to find.
Call 112 if you have an emergency.
Be careful of pickpockets in heavily crowded areas and on public buses and trains.
Porto is generally a safe place to be if you take some precautions like walking in well-illuminated streets, keeping your money to yourself and don't show off.
Carjacking occurrences are on the high, gangs being armed and dangerous. Be extra careful when driving specially at night time. If you are attacked do not react, give your personal belongings as your life is more important than they are.
One part of Porto, near the Tourist Information Office between the cathedral and the steps to the small church, often has drunk people that could possibly be trouble. It is best to avoid that area. If you take the main road from the bus station to the cathedral and tourist information center, walk back to the bus station after you're done and then walk from there to the other sites. Avoid the shortcut from the tourist information center down stairs because near there are many incidents there.