Porto On the Road

Porto, Portugal
Oporto is like an old, faded 50’s film, complete with noir characters, surreal neon lighting and cozy cafes hidden in steep, windy streets. It has a faded glory, a timeless style and grandeur which harks back to colonial success, to days when Oporto was once a great city of Europe.

Today it may be a bit faded, a bit rusty, but the essence of Oporto is still the same: elegant, unrushed, unselfconscious - and just a touch melancholic. Oporto is Portugal’s second largest city, once the seat of great Portuguese kings and the home of her famous academics. Wandering her streets, passing through the ramshackle old town to her central square and the wide streets of the commercial area, you’ll be spellbound by her timelessness. In fact, Oporto seems to have been frozen in time, on that cliff edge just before Europe got caught up in the industrial frenzy.

This city caught in time will also capture your fantasy immediately. They say that her bigger sister city, Lisbon shows off. Well, Oporto works – but you wouldn’t guess it, with the clearly relaxed pace of her inhabitants. The old-world charm, medieval treasures and long lunch hours would trick you into believing that it’s all just about enjoying the sunshine, fresh seafood and long afternoon tea breaks. Don’t be deceived – Oporto just wants to seem relaxed, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be left with nothing to do.

There are the hilly cobbled streets, hidden restaurants in windy alleyways, or the sunny, dazzling riverside Riberia area, filled with bars and restaurants. For fresh produce, and a glimpse into everyday life, wander around the markets under iron roofs with produce from Brazil and ladies watching soaps behind the counters. Or, visit the Sé Cathedral, with is medieval origins and changing architectural styles from Baroque to Romanesque. Attached, there’s the stunning cloister decorated with beautiful detailed azujelos (painted ceramic tiles). For something energetic, try climbing the Torre dos Clérigos and its 225 steps for a dazzling birds-eye of the city.

In the afternoon, you’ll be enticed by the smell of seafood wafting from the restaurants. Sit under one of the umbrellas to protect your eyes, and watch the old ladies peeling potatoes by the fountain, or the youths jumping off the nearby bridge into the sparkling waters below. For something more active, try crossing the iron bridge in Riberia, and hop from one Port Winery to another. You’ll taste the wine that Oporto is famous for, and get to know what the fuss is all about.

Remember: to really enjoy Oporto, don’t rush too much. There’s a lot to do in Oporto, but it doesn’t mean you need to conquer her all in one day! Put time aside to take in a traditional Portuguese tradition: tea time in the afternoons. Spend an hour or two enjoying your sweet, delicate pastry and make friends with the waiters… who, in typical Oporto style, will probably still sport a neat bow tie.