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Cities In The Spotlight: Porto, Portugal

Updated: Mar 11

In today's installment of Cities in the Spotlight we are heading back to Europe and we are looking at Porto, Portugal.


Porto City Informtation

Porto or Oporto is the second-largest city in Portugal, the capital of the Porto District, and one of the Iberian Peninsula's major urban areas. Porto city proper, which is the entire municipality of Porto, is small compared to its metropolitan area, with an estimated population of just 231,962 people in a municipality with only 41.42 km2. Porto's metropolitan area has around 1.7 million people (2021) in an area of 2,395 km2 (925 sq mi), making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. It is recognized as a global city with a Gamma + rating from the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. Port wine, one of Portugal's most famous exports, is named after Porto, since the metropolitan area, and in particular the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, were responsible for the packaging, transport, and export of fortified wine. In 2014 and 2017, Porto was elected The Best European Destination by the Best European Destinations Agency. Porto is on the Portuguese Way path of the Camino de Santiago.


Porto Historical Significance

Located along the Douro River estuary in northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European centres, and its core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996, as "Historic Centre of Porto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar". The historic area is also a National Monument of Portugal. The western part of its urban area extends to the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. Its settlement dates back many centuries, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire. Its combined Celtic-Latin name, Portus Cale, has been referred to as the origin of the name Portugal, based on transliteration and oral evolution from Latin. In Portuguese, the name of the city includes a definite article: o Porto ("the port" or "the harbor"), which is where its English name "Oporto" comes from.


Travel to Porto

*taken from Lonely Planet*

Opening up like a pop-up book from the banks of the Rio Douro, edgy-yet-opulent Porto entices with its historic centre, sumptuous food and wine, and charismatic locals.

Porto’s charms are as subtle as the nuances of an aged tawny port, best savoured slowly on a romp through the hilly backstreets of Miragaia, Ribeira and Massarelos. It’s the quiet moments of reflection and the snapshots of daily life that you’ll remember most: the slosh of the Douro against the docks; the snap of laundry drying in river winds; the sound of port glasses clinking; the sight of young lovers discreetly tangled under a landmark bridge, on the rim of a park fountain, in the crumbling notch of a graffiti-blasted wall…

Beyond Porto’s alley-woven historic heart, contemporary architects have left their idiosyncratic stamp on the city’s skyline. Winging Porto into the 21st century is Álvaro Siza Vieira’s crisply minimalist Museu de Arte Contemporânea and Rem Koolhaas’ daringly iconic Casa da Música. Public art is everywhere, from azulejos (hand-painted tiles) glamming up the metro to street art tattooed across crumbling medieval walls. Costah and Hazul, who always work incognito, have blazed their patterns along the streets of the Aliados, Miragaia and Massarelos.

With much-lauded chefs like Pedro Lemos, Ricardo Costa, Rui Paula and José Avillez shaking the pans, the city's culinary star continues to rise. Take Vasco Coelho Santos at the new Euskalduna Studio, for instance, wowing with highly experimental 10-course menus, Vítor Matos at Michelin-starred Antiqvvm, or José Cordeiro at The Blini, an upscale marisquería putting stunning riffs on Atlantic-fresh seafood in Gaia. Petiscarias (Portuguese-style tapas bars), gourmet steakhouses, brunch cafes, hallowed port cellars, craft beer bars, food markets – you name it, Porto nails it. Bom apetite!

Porto holds you captive at its sky-high miradouros (lookouts) and on-trend roof terrace bars. From the Sé cathedral terrace and Gaia’s hilltop Jardim do Morro, the city is reduced to postcard format: a colourful tumbledown dream with soaring bell towers, extravagant baroque churches and stately beaux arts buildings. Equally ravishing is Jardins do Palácio de Cristal’s palm-fringed, fountain-speckled gardens. Even in the city's heart, seagulls soar on Atlantic breezes, and a rickety ride on tram 1 trundles to the wide open ocean in Foz do Douro in minutes.


Must See Sites

Igreja de São Francisco; Igreja de São Francisco looks from the outside to be an austerely Gothic church, but inside it hides one of Portugal’s most dazzling displays of baroque finery. Hardly a centimetre escapes unsmothered, as otherworldly cherubs and sober monks are drowned by nearly 100kg of gold leaf. If you see only one church in Porto, make it this one. High on your list should be the nave, interwoven with vines and curlicues, dripping with cherubs and shot through with gold leaf. Peel back the layers to find standouts such as the Manueline-style Chapel of St John the Baptist, the 13th-century statue of St Francis of Assisi and the 18th-century Tree of Jesse, a polychrome marvel of an altarpiece. The church museum harbours a fine, well-edited collection of sacred art. In the eerily atmospheric catacombs, the great and the good of Porto were once buried. Look out for sculptural works by Italian master Nicolau Nasoni and prolific Portuguese sculptor António Teixeira Lopes.

Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis; Porto's best art museum presents a stellar collection ranging from Neolithic carvings to Portugal’s take on modernism, all housed in the formidable Palácio das Carrancas. Requisitioned by Napoleonic invaders, the neoclassical palace was abandoned so rapidly that the future Duke of Wellington found an unfinished banquet in the dining hall. Transformed into a museum of fine and decorative arts in 1940, its best works date from the 19th century, and include sculptures by António Teixeira Lopes and António Soares dos Reis – seek out the latter's famous O Desterrado (The Exiled), and the naturalistic paintings of Henrique Pousão and António Silva Porto.

Palácio da Bolsa; This splendid neoclassical monument (built from 1842 to 1910) honours Porto’s past and present money merchants. Just past the entrance is the glass-domed Pátio das Nações (Hall of Nations), where the exchange once operated. But this pales in comparison with rooms deeper inside; to visit these, join one of the half-hour guided tours, which set off every 30 minutes. The highlight is a stupendous ballroom known as the Salão Árabe (Arabian Hall), with stucco walls that have been teased into complex Moorish designs, then gilded with some 18kg of gold.

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal; Sitting atop a bluff, this gorgeous botanical garden is one of Porto's best-loved escapes, with lawns interwoven with sun-dappled paths and dotted with fountains, sculptures, giant magnolias, camellias, cypress and olive trees. It's actually a mosaic of small gardens that open up little by little as you wander – as do the stunning views of the city and Rio Douro. The park is also home to a domed sports pavilion, the hi-tech Biblioteca Municipal Almeida Garrett and the Museu Romântico.

São Bento Train Station; One of the world's most beautiful train stations, beaux arts São Bento wings you back to a more graceful age of rail travel. Completed in 1903, it seems to have been imported from 19th-century Paris, with its mansard roof. But the dramatic azulejo panels of historical scenes in the front hall are the real attraction. Designed by Jorge Colaço in 1930, some 20,000 tiles depict historic battles (including Henry the Navigator's conquest of Ceuta), as well as the history of transport.


Must Try Food & Drink

Vinho Verde; Vinho Verdes are light, fresh, and slightly sparkling, and commonly served chilled in the summer. Officially, they’re not recognised as sparkling, but they do offer a slight and refreshing fizz at the tip of your tongue. The verde in its name has two conflicting origin stories, neither to do with the colour of the wine itself. One being that its from the Minho region, a region that is lush, green and gets lots of rain. The other refers to its age, and suggests the green means young, and that it is traditionally drank much younger than normal wines from Portugal. Despite the green name, Vinho Verde wine is also available in red (tinto) and rosé varieties.

Caldeirada; The Portuguese caldeirada is a traditional and versatile seafood stew that originated as a humble fisherman’s dish. It consists of various types of fish (which should always differ in taste and texture), numerous shellfish varieties, and, occasionally, squids and octopus. The ingredients are usually incorporated into a rich base of onions, white wine, olive oil, and tomatoes, and all of the ingredients are then generously seasoned with a variety of fresh herbs and spices such as saffron and nutmeg. Today, the dish is celebrated as a national specialty that is often served complemented with slices of crispy toasted bread.

Arroz de polvo; Arroz de polvo is a versatile Portuguese dish consisting of cooked diced octopus and rice, incorporated into a rich base of tomatoes, sautéed onions, garlic, and various spices. It is usually prepared in the traditional malandrinho style, in which the liquid is not completely reduced, and the dish resembles a thick rice stew. Arroz de polvo is a hearty meal that is traditionally associated with colder seasons. It is usually served garnished with fresh parsley or cilantro and enjoyed as a nourishing main course.

Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá; Traditionally prepared for every Christmas Eve dinner in Portugal, bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is a festive dish made with salt cod, potatoes, and onions. Those key ingredients are layered in a pan, topped with hard-boiled egg slices, baked, then garnished with olives and chopped parsley. The dish is typically dressed with olive oil and flavored with chopped garlic. It is believed that the dish was invented by José Luis Gomes de Sá, who was the son of a well-off 19th-century cod trader. The new dish was derived from bolinhos de bacalhau (cod fish cakes), only without the flour, so José, who had financial difficulties at the time, sold the recipe to the owner of Restaurante Lisbonense, and the dish quickly gained popularity throughout Portugal.

Francesinha; Traditionally associated with Porto, francesinha is a unique sandwich consisting of toasted bread, beef or pork, sausages, ham, and cheese, while the whole combination is then doused in a rich beer-infused tomato sauce. The sandwich has different variations that include mushrooms, chicken, or vegetables. Francesinha is not a sandwich you can enjoy on the go or as a quick snack; it is a wholesome meal that is usually found on the menus of traditional restaurants where it is served as a nutritious lunch or dinner. Among the numerous stories about its origin, one stands out, claiming that it was inspired by the famous croque-monsieur, a French sandwich enjoyed by many Portuguese immigrants. According to the story, a Portuguese immigrant Daniel David Silva first served the sandwich at the Regaleira restaurant. He adapted the French version with traditional Portuguese ingredients and created a dish that is today considered as one of the classics of Portuguese national cuisine. The sandwich is usually served with French fries on the side, and it is sometimes topped with a fried egg.

Filetes de polvo; Filetes de polvo is a traditional Portuguese dish consisting of fried octopus tentacles. The octopus is boiled until tender, and it is then often seasoned with lemon juice and pepper. The tentacles are dipped in eggwash and breadcrumbs, then fried in oil until golden-brown in color. This delicious dish is sometimes served with rice on the side, and it is then called filetes de polvo com arroz do mesmo.


Travel Guide Books

Lonely Planet

Rough Guides

Rick Steves


Porto starts at 17:53 but the whole episode is really good.


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