ABOUT THE NORTH OF PORTUGAL
Norte is a region in the northern part of Portugal. It is a land of dense vegetation and profound historic and cultural wealth. Its capital is the city of Porto. The region has 3,689,173 inhabitants according to the 2011 census, and its area is 21,278 km² (density of 173 inhabitants per square kilometre). It is one of five regions of Mainland Portugal (NUTS II subdivisions). Northern Portugal is a culturally varied region, thus historical rivalries between different neighbouring cities and towns are common, unlike other Portuguese regions where every city and town is culturally very similar.
The region has a number of manor-houses and castles featuring coats of arms as an indication of a very intense medieval period. Regional cuisine is renowned and varied offering products such as light wines (vinhos verdes) and rich wines, and a variety of handicrafts that mingles the shine of filigree with the colour of the local embroideries. Northern Portugal is also very rich in folklore and traditions dating back to antiquity.
Porto, a World Heritage City by UNESCO, is the capital of northern Portugal and it was here that Portuguese became a nation in 12th century. The city serves as a gateway to the cultural diversity you will find in this region. Today, the urban area of Porto, which extends beyond the administrative limits of the city, has a population of 1.4 million (2011) in an area of 389 km2 and so being the second-largest urban area in Portugal after its capital.
One of Portugal’s internationally famous exports, port wine, is named for Porto, since the metropolitan area, and in particular the caves of Vila Nova de Gaia, were responsible for the packaging, transport and export of the goods. But beyond port wine, Porto will dazzle you with a rich culture, geography and endless heritage varying from medieval times to modernity. Learn some of our recommendations below:
PORTO WINE VALLEYS AND CELLARS
Douro is the name of the river thats flows through Porto: on the northern side you will find Porto and on the southern Vila Nova de Gaia. On its hillsides and slopes the Porto wine is produced. To visit the vineyards you will need the cross the river and you can do this by road, train, a cruise and also by helicopter. Whatever your choice of transportation is, you will find peculiar breathtaking landscapes and villages along the way until you see Miranda do Douro, the region where the river first enters portuguese territory.
After your visit to the production sites, we recommend you to head to Port and Douro Wine Institute, in Ribeira. There, more than just visit the shop and have a tasting, you can take a guided tour of the laboratories responsible for the quality certification and monitoring and experience the diversity of wines produced in the region.
Last but not least, take a stroll through the Dom Luis Bridge and visit the lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia where the Port wine is aged by many different wine companies. Enjoy a tasting usually combined with cheese, chocolate or dried fruits.
THE CATHEDRAL & SAN FRANCISCO CHURCH
The city’s cathedral (called Sé in portuguese) is located in the historical centre with is towers easily visible from most points downtown. It dates back to 1100 when its construction began under the patronage of Bishop Hugo only being completed in the 13th century although the first Romaneque building has undergone many different alterations in different periods and styles.
But, even though the Sé is Porto’s largest church, San Francisco Church is with no doubt the most impressive religious building in the city. In a gothic style dating back to the XIV century part of a Franciscan convent, the church has later suffered some modifications like the Baroque gilt wood work (talha dourada) interiors. In 1833, the convent is destroyed by a massive fire started by shootings from the Liberal Revolution of Porto outside. On that area would later be built the Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace).
PALÁCIO DA BOLSA
Palácio da Bolsa (portuguese for Stock Exchange Palace) was built in the 19th century in the areas once occupied by the Franciscan convent in the city’s historical centre. It was built under the patronage of the city’s Commercial Association after the Queen donated the lands to the merchants who, after the closing of the Exchange House were left to doing business out on the streets. The building works began in 1842 following the Neoclassical design of the arquitect Costa Lima Junior also influenced by the neo-palladian styles and though most of the building was finished in 1850, its interior decorations were to be later developed by different artists until 1910. The highlight of the Palace is the Arab Room (1862-1880) by Gonçalves e Sousa designed in the Moorish Revival style and it’s still used today as reception hall for heads of state visiting Porto.
SÃO BENTO TRAIN STATION
Inaugurated in 1916 in Almeida Garret Square, São Bento Train Station is one of the city’s hallmarks and still used regularly serving its original functions. Its name derives from a Benedictine Order monastery that once stood on its place around the XVI century, however, like the Franciscan convent in Ribeira, the monastery fell victim of a fire. The monastery was rebuilt but again near the end of the XIX century it was in a bad state and King Carlos I decided to redirect his attention to the expansion of the portuguese railway system. Architect José Marques da Silva was responsible for the design coming up with a Beaux-Arts architecture building.
The station is famous for its tile work interiors entrusted to the artist Jorge Colaço between 1905 and 1906. The area of around 551sqm is specially dedicated to depictions of Northern Portugal triumphs.
CLÉRIGOS CHURCH AND TOWER
The Clérigos (Clergy in Portuguese) Church is a Baroque church in the city of Porto and along with its bell tower is one of its main icons designed by Nicolau Nasoni, an italian architect who left extensive work in the north of Portugal. The building was one of the first baroque churches in the country to adopt a typical elliptic floor plan.
The construction of the building dates back to 1732 only to be finished in 1750 for the Brotherhood of Clérigos.
However, the 75.6m famous tower was built in the back afterwards, between 1754 and 1763. At that moment, the tower was the tallest building in Portugal. Its six floors can be climbed through its 240 steps and a visit will lead to a breathtaking panoramic view of Porto.
In Rua das Carmelitas, right next to Clérigos Tower, Livraria Lello is one of most paradigmatic buildings of the portuguese Neo-Gothic style of the XX century. Designed by the engineer Xavier Esteves the bookshop was inaugurated in the winter of 1906 in an important event for both Portuguese and Brazilian societies.
The store has a magnificent façade where you can check two figures painted by José Bielman representing Art and Science, but its interiors are dreamy. According to rumors, this bookshop was a major inspiration to J. K. Rowling for writing the Harry Potter series.
Lonely Planet has considered Lello Bookshoop as the third most beautiful library in the word, while in 2014 CNN claimed it to be the most beautiful. The policy regarding photography is strict inside the building so make sure you remember and the details without the aid of a camera.
Bolhão Market (translating to Mercado do Bolhão in portuguese) is one of the most iconic markets of the city dating back to 1914, even though the site was dedicated to commerce since 1850. The market is almost entirely dedicated to the commerce of fresh foods with the merchants divided in different sections like fishmongers, fruits, flowers and butchery between the two floors.
The market is known for the monumentality of its Neo-Classical architecture right in the heart of Porto — and also for the not-to-be-missed flamboyance of its fishwives, famous throughout the country as the real Porto spirit. The market is actually in a bad state of decay however 2015 saw the approval of a new project to restore it.
In the commercial area of Santa Catarina Street, a café called Elite opened for business in 1921, designed by João Queiroz in an Art Nouveau style. The city’s intellectuals, bohemians and ladies of high society would sit, drink tea, have icream or tertulias. The glamorous french cultural elite was the main reference for portuguese in those days, and although the café had a successful opening, it was decided to change the name to Majestic more well-suited with the republican and bourgeois atmosphere of Porto at the time. The café is still one of the most beautiful and examples of Art Nouveau in the city, definitely worth a cup.
DOM LUIS I BRIDGE
One of the symbols of Porto next to Clérigos Tower, the Dom Luís I Bridge (Ponte Dom Luís I in Portuguese) is a metal arch bridge spanning between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia over the Douro River.
The commerce was improving in the city in the second half of the XIX century. Factories and warehouses were being built along the city and the traffic towards Gaia and Lisboa was becoming more than the old Pensil bridge could handle. So in 1879 the government held a competition for the construction of a metallic bridge over the river. Teophile Seyrig had engineered the earlier Maria Pia rail bridge nearby, as a partner of Gustave Eiffel. He later took sole responsibility for the new Luis I bridge which started construction in 1881, inaugurated in 1886. At the time of construction its span of 172m was longest of its type in the world.
Serralves is a cultural institution and one of the most important in all the country. The foundation includes the Contemporary Art Museum, the Villa and the gardens/park.
In an area originally the summer residence of the Cabral Family, the foundation grew to become one of the most important cultural institutions in Europe of its kind and the most visited museum in Portugal. Through its collection, exhibitions, collaborations and public programs, the museum contributes for the understanding and appreciation of contemporary culture, while strengthening ties with local communities. A dynamic programme of cinema, contemporary dance, music and performance is also presented in the Auditorium.
CASA DA MÚSICA
Designed by the dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in the context of Porto — European Cultural Capital in 2001, Casa da Musica (portuguese for House of Music) is a concert hall which houses the cultural institution of the same name with its three orchestras. The building was only finished in 2005 but is contemporary traits and engineering instantly made it an icon.
Eventhough Porto is not renowned for having the most splendorous nightlife, it still manages to deliver a broad range of possibilities from theater to bars and clubs. Recent years have seen the proliferation of bars and cafés everywhere, from places who target rock fans, electronic music, etc. The paradigmatic spot for the start of a night out is the Galerias de Paris and Candido dos Reis streets. These are filled with bars and clubs every door and are usually super crowded at weekends. The best way to find the right one for your taste is to walk around and check the atmosphere. From there you call stroll down to Praça Filipa de Lencastre also usually crowded and with a diverse multiplicity of bars and restaurants. Other refence spots include José Falcão, Almada, and Passos Manuel streets. For commercial house music, the industrial area of Porto is a hive of discos. The best way to get there is to take a taxi or a bus.
PONTE DE LIMA ONE DAY TRIP
The town is located in one of the most beautiful portuguese landscapes, rich in monuments, manor houses and mansions.
Narrow alleys with restored properties to their original state will let you amazed.
Its gastronomy is rich and diversified, and its white wine wordly famous.
- Bus: Departure from Porto and arrival at Ponte de Lima at 10.00
- Coffee break in one of the most iconic manor houses of the Minho region — Solar de Calheiros. Guided visit with the Calheiros count
- Visit to Igreja Matriz/Mother Church, which dates back to the Portuguese Restoration period and fortification of the town by D. Pedro I em 1359
- Walk through the typical alleys and lanes of manor houses
- Lunch in Fornelos in the restaurant “Carvalheira” famous by its tradicional cuisine
- Guided visit to the Adega Cooperative de Ponte de Lima
- Departure from Ponte de Lima and arrival at Porto at 18.00