Oporto (known as Porto in Portuguese) on the Douro river estuary is one of Europe’s oldest and most spectacular cities and Portugal’s second largest. Its historic centre has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Oporto’s old Roman name, Portus Cale, was the origin for the name for Portugal.
Oporto’s wonderful and healthy climate features relatively warm, dry summers, usually sunny with average temperatures between 15°and 25°C, and mild, rainy winters with temperatures typically ranging between 5° and 15°C, very rarely dropping below 0°C, so Oporto’s a pleasure to visit all year round.
The complex history of Oporto dates it back to Celtic ruins, a 4th century AD Roman occupation, invading Moors, later Christian warlords and even an 1387 alliance between Portugal and England through marriage. The Portuguese Age of Discovery started here in 1415, via the occupation of modern day Morocco. This history explains the presence of many wonderful buildings and other architectural treasures including the Cathedral, the Romanesque Cedofeita and Gothic Igreja de Sao Francisco churches. The city wall remnants are some of the oldest surviving structures. The modern (2005) Casa da Musica concert hall is also pretty grand.
Oporto is the birthplace of one of Portugal’s internationally famous exports, the fortified port wine (Vinho do Porto). In 1717 the first English trading post was established here, with port wine production gradually passing into English hands. The left margin of the river Douro with its amphitheatre-shaped slope is home to the port wine cellars.
Oporto is a very cultural city with has several art galleries, libraries, some famous book shops (e.g. the “Lello”), museums (e.g. Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis and Museum of Contemporary Art), concert halls, theaters and cinemas. The annual International Film Festival, the Queima das Fitas (a May student festival next to the city park) and St. John’s festival on 23 June, are all great fun.
There are many lovely day trips from Oporto. The beautiful promenade along Avenida Brasil is reached either by bus no.1 or tram no.18. Vila Nova de Gaia with its pretty red-roofed houses and winding streets is the heart of wine production and right next to Oporto. How about a tram ride or river cruise along the river Douro, right from the city centre? The Douro valley is itself a gorgeous World Heritage Site – try the train for Vila Real, returning down the Corgo Line to Regua, then on the Douro Line back to Porto.
Car hire is strongly recommended, as you can drive along peaceful roads by the Atlantic coast. Oprto is the gateway to the famous pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela and several attractive Portuguese and Spanish cities like Vigo, baroque Braga and medieval Guimaraes are all accessible.
Posted : Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 at 09:30
Karen Bryan is the founding editor of the UK based, multi author Europe a la Carte Blog which features Europe travel tips about the best places to visit in Europe.