Porto is Portugal's second city to Lisbon and is often referred to as the capital of the north. It is a bustling city renowned for being the business and commercial centre for Portugal.
For the visitor it combines historic monuments and churches with a vibrant day and nightlife. With the Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport just 12 miles to the north serviced by the Metro that takes you right into the city centre, Porto is a great city break with historic attractions, beautiful scenery and easy access to the Douro wine region, northern coast and countryside. There are plenty of shops and combined with the port and wine tours of the area there's enough to keep most people occupied for a weekend break or longer stay.
Oporto, as it's also referred to, spreads out from the Ribeira, the old medieval town that lines the River Douro, up the hill and becomes increasingly modern as it spreads out eleven kilometres to the north and west.
The old town, the Ribeira, retains its medieval feel with lots of steep, narrow, cobbled streets lined with tall brightly painted houses all topped in terracotta roof tiles. These streets all eventually wind down to the river Douro - once the main focal point for trade to the region.
It is within the old town that the majority of tourist sights are located. The striking bridge Ponte de Dom Luis I connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia across the river. The characteristic waterfront that has been featured in many a picture of Portugal, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is fantastic that these higgledy piggledy streets have not been lost to modern regeneration of which there has been a lot since the end of the dictatorship in 1974. Much of this was needed as Porto had become rundown, but today Porto has been carefully renovated preserving many of the medieval buildings and city layout.
Porto is often famously associated with port wine having given the drink its name, but it's across the river at Vila Nova de Gaia that is actually the port centre of Portugal.
Vila Nova de Gaia is found across the River Douro from Porto, but it is often treated as part of the city of Porto. This is the port (as in wine) centre of the world and with its characteristic port wine lodges is also one of the most frequently photographed waterfront scenes of Portugal.
The views of Gaia from Porto evoke a very different time and place. However, whereas much of the most historic parts of Porto and Gaia have been preserved, the waterfront at Vila Nova de Gaia is receiving much regeneration attention. There are now modern glass fronted buildings housing restaurants and bars with fabulous views of the river and Porto. These don't look out of place and are an interesting contrast with the traditional views. What better way to drink in the sights of Porto than sitting on a terrace sipping wine watching the lights twinkle on as sun sets.
All the famous port companies display their names in big letters on the terracotta tiled roofs over the lodges evoking many an advert memory. The scene is set off by the traditional barcos rabelos moored at the river s edge. These are the boats that used to transport the port in barrels up the river, but today ferry visitors up the river for scenic tours. There are a multitude of lodge tours you can take that include tastings and explanations on how port wine is made and stored.
Porto makes something of a specialty of exhibiting its home-grown talent particularly from its many 19th century artists. Surprisingly it's only recently that a formal Port Museum was opened, but with all the wine lodges open to tours in Gaia they're like living museums.
The piece de resistance has to be the contemporary art museum at Serralves which has made great inroads into bringing contemporary art to the masses. The whole museum and the gardens it's set in show how design and art can be at one with the environment. It's a fantastic place to while away a day and there's enough to keep you going back for more.
Porto is Portugal's second city so it's got a wide range of shops for those industrious city folk.
The residents of Porto are known as the tripeiros, tripe eaters but you'll find a good range of restaurants catering for all tastes, tripe is not obligatory!
Being so near the coast you'll find a good range of seafood restaurants particularly down the Ribeira and of course the national specialty, salt cod.
As you'd expect from a city that works hard, they can play hard too. The city has lots of bars and clubs ranging from your smokey local in the Ribeira to the serious clubbers district in the heart of industrial Ramalade. Next to Lisbon Porto has the most vibrant gay and lesbian scene in Portugal. An annual Pride Festival, "Porto Pride", is held in July with various events associated with the march through the city throughout the day and night. There are several specifically gay friendly bars and restaurants all over the city.
Porto Airport or OPO Airport and more formally Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport, is now a modern light and airy airport servicing the northern Iberian Peninsular.
It's easy to find just off the main motorway network with the Porto metro linking it directly to Porto City Centre. Regular buses also come and go from different destinations across the region.
There is a good choice of different shops, restaurants and cafes/bars. Most are open between 7 am and 11 pm but some are open between 5 am and midnight.
Porto's public transport was until recently rather run down, but in recent years a lot of money has been put into transport links in and around Porto. This has meant that Porto's Francisco Sa Carneiro International Airport has had a complete overhaul and the new Porto Metro not only connects you through to most parts of the city centre but also journeys through to the suburbs of Porto including Maia, Matosinhos, Povoa de Varzim, Vila do Conde and Vila Nova de Gaia.
Buses run services all over the city and again its suburbs. The STCP and CP for trains websites are exceedingly helpful for planning journeys and STCP even run a text service so you can find out when buses are arriving at a particular stop.
The Douro region is internationally renowned for its wine making. In fact wine has been made here for nearly two thousand years! As a consequence, the landscape has very much been moulded by man over the centuries typically characterised by the vine growing terraced hillside and quintas (wine producing farm complexes).
The Alto Douro region has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an outstanding example of a traditional European wine-producing region and aims to protect this cultural landscape.