Porto, Portugal: Romantic Capital – Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Guide – Travel Bite

Porto, Portugal: Romantic Capital – Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Guide – Travel Bite


The Douro River begins
as a trickle in Spain, runs west through Portugal,
and to the city of Porto, where it spills
into the Atlantic. Porto, the town that gave the
country and port wine its name, is the second-largest
city in Portugal. And like second cities
throughout Europe, Porto is a hardscrabble
town with a rough past. It’s recently emerged
from a postindustrial funk to become trendy, revitalized with a fresh
and creative energy. The city is full
of Old World charm. Prickly church towers
dot the skyline. Houses with red-tiled roofs
tumble down its hills to the riverbank. Porto is a solid city. It seems made
entirely of granite. The main drag,
Avenue of the Allies, is named for Portugal’s
World War I alliance with Britain and America. The wide boulevard watched over
by the huge city hall is lined with
monumental examples of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. As if to counter
all the heavy stonework, inviting shopping
streets are ornamented with playful
architectural touches. There are lots of lovely
blue-tiled facades. Churches that are otherwise
just more blocky granite are beautified by these fine blue
ceramic tiles called azulejos. And for a closer look,
visit the old train station. Storefronts evoke good times
from the early 20th century. Delightful facades
decorate venerable cafés, as Porto seems to cling
to the style of an age gone by. Porto’s romantic riverfront,
the Ribeira district, is the city’s most scenic
and touristy quarter, but before tourism,
this was a hardworking port. As you stroll, imagine
the busy port scene here before this promenade
was reclaimed from the river. Cargo-laden rivercraft
latched to the embankment, off-loading their
produce and wine directly into
14th-century cellars. The old arcades lining
the promenade are filled with hole-in-the-wall
restaurants and souvenir shops. Behind the arcades are skinny,
colorful houses draped with laundry
fluttering like flags. The contrast of today’s tourist
crowds amid these vivid, authentic neighborhoods
is striking. ♪♪ From here, a double-decker iron
bridge crosses the Douro River. Inspired by Gustave Eiffel when
it was built back in the 1880s, it was the biggest
such bridge in the world. Recently, its top deck
was closed to traffic. Now it’s just people and trams.

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