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Porto - The Heart of the North


Landing at the airport Francisco Sá Carneiro, the city of Porto starts to show its beauty and colours for those who wish to visit it. It`s only a short distance, by metro or bus, between the airport and the historic centre, classified by UNESCO, in 1996, as World Heritage.

When we arrive at the main metro station – Trindade Metro Station – we can already see the urban canopy around the city’s Town Hall with its grandeur and marvellous Neoclassical facade, emphasising Porto’s uptown area, as well as its hustle and bustle between tourists and residents. Being a native – a Tripeiro (an informal name which derives from its ancient pork guts dish) or Portuense (the official name to call a local from Porto) – is quite easy; a small city with friendly locals, always eager to help those who are lost or want to find where the famous Harry Potter Bookshop is, or even recommendations of the top-notch restaurants to eat a really good Francesinha (a huge calorie bomb, packing over than a thousand calories of meat, bread, melted cheese and sometimes egg on top).


Strolling down the main Avenue of Aliados, with the Town Hall behind us, we will start to notice the hotel cluster on both sides of the avenue. Names such as “Hotel Pão de Açúcar”; “Hotel Monumental”; “Hotel Aliados” – dedicated to avenue who got this name due to the Portuguese who participated in the First World War – and so on embellish this area with four and five-star hotels. In the end, lies The Intercontinental, fully refurbished from an 18th-century old monastery showing us its open wide square.

Mandatory to see, even if it’s for the second or third time, the São Bento Railway Station, is considered to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. Also part of an old monastery, nowadays demolished to serve public transport, going inside feels like entering another dimension; the 20.000 tiles, decorated by Jorge Colaço, show us the history from the Dark Ages of Portugal, passing by the Age of Exploration and Siege of Ceuta (1415), encompassing the beginning of Portugal as an empire. This astonishing train station, built by a renowned architect – and also portuense name José Marques da Silva – was heavily inspired by the Parisian train station Gare du Nord.

On the way towards the Ribeira, where the Douro River colours this city with a light Turquoise blue, we can see on the horizon a castle-shaped figure. Nevertheless, Porto represents one of the few Portuguese cities without a castle. The city grew around the Cathedral Quarter, around the 12th-13th centuries, and then moved towards the river, a huge connection with the Atlantic. Old houses from medieval times, with yellow and scarlet colours, covered by terracotta, in order to flow the water from the heavy rain or seize the natural sun from summer days, show us how locals live nowadays, especially the elderly people. Renting an apartment or even buying is becoming pricy and quite expensive in Porto. To fight against the previous economic recession in 2008, locals decided to remodel their old apartments for Airbnb and making a business out of it. Today, Airbnb or short-term rental apartments took over Portugal and turned this country into a huge tourism industry.


As we approach Ribeira Square – the heart of the city – we witness a huge wall, taking us back again to the Middle Ages. This is the only remnant from the 14th-century Fernandina wall (finished by King Fernando), that survived to a huge Civil War in the 19th century. It’s a habit to say that the Tripeiros are resilient and never give their own freedom. This happened during this Civil War between two princes, where King Peter won and decided to proclaim the ideals of Liberalism and his daughter Maria nicknamed Porto “Invicta” – Unvanquished city that never gave up.

With all this walking, it’s time for a great meal. The restaurants facing the waterfront serve really good bacalhau (codfish) with potatoes and salad. For those who are really hungry, you can try the Tripas (pork tripes. Hence the name Tripeiros) or the Francesinha sandwich. At the same time, while we’re waiting for our deserved meal, sitting by the waterfront and watching the Douro facing us, foreign and English names such as “Dows”; “Sandeman”; “Taylors” are noticed. These are the famous wine cellars where Port Wine, after being made in the Douro Valley and transported to Porto, it’s stored in Gaia, once a small fishing village. Drank as an aperitif, we cannot leave this city without trying a Ruby, White or a Tawny, after visiting where the wine is stored and matured.

An elegant city, combining timeless architecture with great and unique food, friendly locals and transients, mild weather and really good transportation. Northern people refer to Porto as the heart of the North, curiously because the name originated in Portugal as a kingdom and later as a country. Today, we witness Porto – or Oporto as the British nicknamed it 200 years ago – as a city of opportunity and to live. Tourism rapidly changed the city, but it’s up to the locals never forget never to change its old traditions.

porto foz

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