Ribeira, the authentic soul of PortoUpon your arrival in Porto, you will naturally be drawn to the city’s beating heart: Ribeira. The epicentre of the city, this area occupies the right bank of the Douro River. Forget about maps and GPS coordinates as you lose yourself amidst the narrow medieval streets of this colourful neighbourhood filled with famous azulejos, the traditional Portuguese earthenware tiles that embellish the facades. Don’t miss the Gothic facade of São Francisco church, with its Baroque ornamentation, which vies with the Porto Cathedral, the Sé, for the title of the city’s most beautiful church. Make sure to visit the Stock Exchange as well. Built in 1842, it represents the crossroads of business, a testimony to Porto’s prosperous past and strategic position in trading and commerce at the time it was built. Here you will fall for the charm of the city’s comfortable lifestyle as you observe scenes of everyday life: the Ribeira neighbourhood, a UNESCO-listed heritage site, is far from being a still life. While during the day it is primarily frequented by tourists and busy residents, when night falls its illuminated quays create a warm, energetic atmosphere.Porto revives local traditions and expertiseIf you have managed to pass by without noticing it, the monumental building of the São Bento railway station is well worth visiting. The Hall of the Lost Steps is a masterpiece of minutiae. No fewer than 20,000 azulejos cover the walls, retracing entire periods of Portuguese history from between the 12th and the 15th centuries. It is here that you can take the train to discover Douro Valley and its vineyards, a major source of port wine, the delicious sugary nectar whose production has been perfected since its origins in antiquity. While it’s in the Portuguese countryside that the grapes are grown, it is in the city’s wine cellars that port wine is aged, primarily in the neighbourhood of Vila Nova de Gaia.
For a higher vantage point, climb the 240 steps of the Torre dos Clérigos, a 75-metre high baroque lookout point built in the mid-18th century.Strolling through the Baixa neighbourhoodAs you walk from one street to the next, you will move from one neighbourhood to another without even noticing. Porto is a city that you can enjoy visiting in the open air, graced as it is with a mild climate in both summer and winter. You will come face-to-face with Carmo Church before stopping a few minutes later to admire the splendid Art Nouveau facade of Café Majestic, a city institution. Don’t leave the neighbourhood of Bolhão and its traditional market without stopping by the Chapel of Souls, undeniably one of Porto’s most beautiful churches, built in the 18th century. Serious fans of azulejos will be awestruck before this richly decorated facade.
Porto is easy to get to know as long as you aren’t afraid of walking; exploring by foot is the best way for you to have a superb sense of the city’s true soul.
Porto does offer another option for visiting its steep slopes: the tramway. Route 22 takes you to all the main thoroughfares, while Route 1 follows along the banks of the Douro, the river that feeds into the Atlantic. A trip on this tram is a lovely way for visitors to get a final glimpse of this city in constant renewal.
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