World, Economy, Europe

Porto, city of the golden river, shines along Portuguese coast

Picturesque city renowned for treasures from 3 eras of architecture as well as Douro River winding its way to the ocean

Tuba Sahin   | 08.03.2020
Porto, city of the golden river, shines along Portuguese coast


Stretched across the Atlantic coastline, the picturesque Portuguese city of Porto is renowned for treasures from three eras of architecture – gothic, baroque, and modern – as well as the Douro River winding its way down to the ocean.

Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, lies just a four-and-a-half-hour flight from Istanbul to the Francisco de Sa Carneiro Airport, some 11 kilometers from the city center, serving 10 million passengers annually.

Venetian Gondolas, meet Porto’s rabelos

The Douro River, a once-busy transport artery also known as the “golden river,” snakes its way through the city to meet the Atlantic shore, and now is famed for its sightseeing boat tours.

The tours are given by local wooden boats called rabelo, vessels which once ferried crates of wine from the lush Douro Valley to Porto. Much like the romantic gondolas of Venice, these boats are also a tourist favorite.

The 19th-century Dom Luis Bridge, one of six bridges over the river that enlivens the city, links the neighborhoods of Gaia and Ribeira and also serves as one of its iconic symbols, with its distinctive single-arch shape.

The bridge, designed by Gustave Eiffel before tackling the spired Paris tower that bears his name, took 3,000 tons of iron to build and helps light up the city at night.

Located on the northern shore of the Douro, the neighborhood of Ribeira, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built on a steep slope and serves as a picturesque silhouette of the city.

Tourists flood the narrow streets of Ribeira, drawn by its historical buildings, colorful houses, cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops.

When you veer off the riverbank and venture inside to explore the old city, the magnificent architecture of the Bolsa Palace is a top destination. The most remarkable place in the palace, a mid-nineteenth century former stock exchange, is the Arab Room. The room’s stunning gold leaf ornaments are a must-see site for visitors to the city.

The central Aliados Square, the city’s neoclassical Parliament building, the Baroque Clerigos Church, and the bell tower, visible from almost every part of the city, are also among Porto’s shining gems.

Artistic train hub

Porto is truly a city where ceramics come to life, as the glazed tiles known as Azulejo can be seen in many buildings, from churches to train stations. The distinctive blue and white Azulejos make the city into a kind of open-air museum.

The early 20th-century Sao Bento Train Station, a hub for regional and intercity trains, looks almost like an art gallery with its dazzling ceramic surfaces. In addition to bringing people together, the train station also serves as the link between the artisan past and the faster-moving present.

Concert hall with a view

Porto boasts exemplars of both medieval and modern architecture, and Casa da Musica, built in 2005, is famed as the latter.

Designed as a performing space for the Porto Philharmonic Orchestra, the hall offers audiences the opportunity to watch the city's landscape while listening to music, thanks to the its stunning glass panels. The distincitive Azulejo ceramics also lend the building a unique richness.

Modern art in enchanted garden

Another specimen of modern architecture in the city is the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, one of Porto’s most-visited museums. Situated in an 18-hectare garden with thousands of species of trees, rose gardens, and camellia trees, last year the museum drew nearly a million visitors.

Another favorite destination for art lovers is Casa da Arquitectura (Architecture House), with a large archive including the works of three architects awarded the Pritzker Prize, often called architecture’s Nobel.

The building, which was completed in 1901, was later restored by the city and quickly became a tourist attraction.

Harry Potter’s haunt?

The neo-Gothic Livraria Lello – the city’s oldest bookstore, built back in 1906 – is a favorite haunt for book lovers, famed especially for its twisting, branching wooden staircase and rich red steps.

Angling for a chance to snap pictures on the stairs, every day long lines of tourists form before the fairy-tale bookstore can even open. The store’s exterior features two facing female figures representing science and art, and its stained-glass skylight never fails to dazzle visitors.

In the early 1990s famed writer J. K. Rowling, then an English teacher, lived and worked in Porto, and was reportedly a regular at Livraria Lello.

The bookstore’s dazzling interior, with its sky-high wooden shelves, glass door, and intricate carvings, is said to have inspired Rowling in writing her bestselling Harry Potter series.

Popping cork production

Tourism and Porto wine are the city’s top sources of income, followed by sectors such as textile, shoes, furniture, and food processing. Porto also boats the country's largest oil refinery.

Like much of the rest of Portugal, olives, olive oil, and bottle cork are produced in Porto, and the city is the most important producer of bottled cork in the world.

Products such as wallets, jewelry, shoes, and bags, all made of bottle cork, also decorate the shelves and countertops of gift shops. These products are available in a range and prices fitting most every budget.

Men at sea while women hawk fish

As fishing is a top industry in coastal Porto, tuna, sardine and cod are top products for the city.

The most delicious seafood around Porto is sold in restaurants in the nieghboring fishing town of Matosinhos. While the men set sail to catch fish, their wives leave early to work at the Matosinhos fish market and at canned sardine and salt-dried cod fisheries called Bacalhau.

Matosinhos, whose long beaches make it a favorite for sunbathers and swimmers alike, has also become a magnet for surfers worldwide seeking the perfect wave.

Attracting about 2.4 million tourists last year, Porto is also looking to get a larger slice of the congress and convention tourism pie.

After emerging from the 2008 global crisis, Portugal has begun seeing the fruits of its efforts to boost its tourism earnings. In 2019 its tourism revenues reached €18.4 billion ($20.8 billion), and the country attracted nearly 27 million tourists.

Two prominent Turkish companies have also supported the country's tourism sector through carrying some 1 million passengers by both air and sea.

Servicing both Lisbon and Porto, Turkey's national flag carrier Turkish Airlines carried 285,908 air passengers to the country, most of them from Asia, Far East and the Middle East. The airline this year aims to break its record by carrying 300,000 air passengers to Portugal.

Turkish run Global Ports Holding, the world's leading cruise port operator, attracted nearly 570,000 passengers to Lisbon in 2019, and the company expects a 20% rise in cruise passenger numbers this year.

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