Porto is Portugal's second largest city.
Porto is Portugal's second largest city, and a very busy industrial and commercial centre. The city itself isn't very populous (about 350.000 inhabitants), but the near metropolitan area ranks some 1.800.000 inhabitants in a 50 km radious. The city was built along the hills overlooking the Douro river estuary, and its historical centre was awarded World Heritage status in 1996.
The downtown core of Porto consists of 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 labourous but rewarding walking tour. Across the river from Porto proper, in the suberb of Gaia, are located the warehouses of notable companies dealing with Port Wine, such as Fonseca, Sandemans, Kopke, and others.
Sá Carneiro Airport is about 15 km from the city centre, and there are regular flights from and to almost all major worldwide cities. Just outside of the airport is the AeroBus which for 4 Euro - 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 Euro.
The city is served by two major train stations, the "S. 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.
The city is served by three major highways: A1, which connects Porto to Lisbon, A3, which connects Porto to the northern Portuguese border, and A4, which goes eastwards from the city. Generaly 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.
There is a cargo and recreational harbour called Leixões in the neighbouring city of Matosinhos. There is also a very small recreational harbour in the river Douro.
The Porto metro is being gradually built right now, adding lines and causing major hurdles to the city's traffic... More info at Metro do Porto
The Ribeira, which is also a good place to start visiting the World Heritage area; the São Francisco church; the Stock Exchange palace; the Modern Art museum at Serralves, the "Casa da Música" (House of Music) concert hall; the port wine cellars; the amazing ocean front drive, known as "Foz"; the 6 bridges connecting Porto to Gaia over the Douro river, etc.
You may also like to see the City Hall (Câmara Municipal) and the vast square in front of it.
There's also a multi purpose pavilion with nice gardens to rest which is called "Pavilhão Rosa Mota", also known as "Palácio de Cristal".
For shopping I advise you to take a stroll around the Mercado do Bolhão which has a food market and handycrafts stores, and Santa Catarina street, which is near Bolhão.
You won't regret from these sites ;)
Take a cruise upriver. Go at least as far as Pinhão - the landscape is absolutely stunning. If you choose to do this in the Summer, don't forget your factor 30 sun screen!
Port wine, of course. This is the right place for it. You can also find great deals in clothes and shoes, especially during discount seasons.
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. It's a kind of French toast with cheese and a spicy sauce on top. This city is just about the only place in the world where you can find it!
A very interesting cafe to visit is located between the Cordoaria park and the Praça dos Leões. The third oldest cafe in Porto, it is officially named "Âncora d'Ouro (the anchor of gold) but 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 ealry 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.
Porto is famous for the eponymous port wine, a fortified wine (20%) made by adding brandy to the wine before distillation is complete. The end product is strong, sweet, complex in taste and if properly stored will last 40 years or more.
There are many, many grades of port, but the basic varieties are:
There's residential homes all around the city. there's also a lot of 3 star hotels which affordable prices. In the entire city there's only one camping site (Prelada), but it's a bit far from the centre. Since Porto is not a touristic city compared to Lisbon or Algarve there aren't many family houses with rooms to rent, however there are some!
112 is the number to call when you're with an emergency in hands. Be careful with pickpockets in heavily crowded areas and on public buses and tram. 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.
There is one part of Porto that often has drunk people that could possibly be trouble, it is near the Tourist Information Office between the cathedral and the steps to the small church. I would recommend not walking through 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. If you take a shortcut from the tourist information center down stairs, it's the alley near where there are a motley bunch.
Money scams involving currency changing are inexistent because no one on the street will change money with you (people aren't aware of currency rates...) so your best try is the bank!