What’s in a name?
We arrived in Porto on a sunny afternoon, eager to explore the city. As we were still riding high on the awesomeness of Portugal we discovered in Lisbon, we were excited to see what the city had to offer. And let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint 🙂
Have you ever wondered whether this place is called Porto or Oporto? You can rest assured that both are correct. Oporto is mainly used in English, while Porto is the Portuguese name. As the popularity of the destination grows, so does the use of the native pronunciation. No matter what you call it, this is an awesome place to discover.
The 5 zones of Porto
Even though I knew that Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city, it still surprised me at how large it actually is. There was no way we would’ve been able to see all of it by foot in the short time we had. Thankfully, as any other touristy city, there are a number of hop-on, hop-off bus tour companies that can make seeing the city a bit more manageable. The city is divided into five zones that offer a little something for everyone.
As the name implies, City Centre is the heart of Porto. As the city is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, here you’ll find numerous architectural gems like the Camara Municipal, Sao Bento Railway Station and the Santo Antonio Hospital. Our Airbnb was in this area so we were able to explore this part of the city quite a bit.
Historical Centre is the oldest part of the city. Porto dates back to the Roman times, when it was a fort for the trading routes. Thanks to the Roman trade and later the Portuguese discoveries in the new world, it prospered greatly over the centuries. Here you’ll find a wonderful blend of streets, buildings and squares that have evolved with the city as it grew over the years.
This is a newer part of the city and is a reflection of expansion. Numerous shops, hotels and tall buildings line the Avenida da Boavista, Porto’s urban centre. They say that some of the best shopping can be done in this area. As we weren’t really interested in shopping, I can’t really attest to that. But I did come across so many nice shoes!
Foz Velha and Foz Nova
The “foz” literally means “mouth.” This part of town extends from the mouth of the Duoro river to the Atlantic ocean. As any other place on the water, this used to be the home of fishermen until the second half of the 16th century when it gave way to military purpose. Along the shores are numerous restaurants, beachfront promenades, bars and ocean front living. The boat tour offers many great views of the shoreline and photo ops.
Definitely not as historical or exciting, the Eastern Side is the newest addition to the city. It really came bout as a result of growth and expansion. It was mostly rural farm lands until the end of the 19th century, when the city’s population grew and expanded. Some of the farm houses are still there, dotting the vista.
I must say we loved walking around Porto. It felt safe, interesting and welcoming. Much like Lisbon, most people spoke English, which made things easier for us, as our Portuguese is non-existent. There were so many little spots here that made us pause.
It’s one of those places that has a laid back feel and embraces you from the moment you set your foot in it. I loved the pretty buildings, decorated with intricate tiles so common in Portugal. Some are painted in pretty colours, others have intricate carvings. There are some hills here, especially in the older parts of town, but overall not too bad to walk.
One must also don’t forget to check out the awesome bridges that Porto is known for.
Busses and boats
We chose to take the hop-on, hop-off bus that gave us two days worth of transportation around town. I really enjoy these type of tours as they offer a chance to see more of a place, especially parts that are too far to walk to. I think there are about three different bus companies, all offering pretty much similar routes, prices and promotions. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.
In addition to the bus tour, we took a boat “cruise” along the waterfront. It was a great way to see Porto from a different angle and perspective. The boat ride is long enough to enjoy and not get bored. I highly recommend it.
Quinta da Boeira
Another perk that comes with the sightseeing bus in Porto, is the opportunity to sample the local specialty – port. Port, more of a liqueur than wine, is sweet and fruity, and made right in here in Porto. We got the opportunity to sample two different distilleries. And we might have brought some home too 🙂
We took the train from Lisbon, which took less than three hours. It was a good alternate to flying as it meant no check-ins, delays and waiting. It wasn’t too expensive and pretty comfortable.
The train dropped us off at the main station and we took the metro to our stop. That was also a short ride and our lodgings were across the street from the station. Even though we didn’t take transportation while in Porto, the infrastructure seemed pretty decent to get around.
As it was a very hot summer, we were running out of clean clothes. Normally we manage to do quick washes while on the road, but that didn’t work out this time. We found a laundromat a short walk away and did our wash there. There are a number of laundromats around town so if you need to use one, you’re good to go.
Have you ever visited Porto? Was there another part of Portugal that you have been to? Let me know!
You might also enjoy reading: The streets of Lisboa