I always knew that I wanted to include Portugal in this trip, though early on my focus was mainly on Lisbon. However, after reading/hearing from so many people raving about Porto and seeing its stunning views in photos, I just had to squeeze it into our already packed itinerary. And the fact that it can be reached under 7 hours via a direct flight from the US east coast (we flew out from Newark) really was a no-brainer to make Porto the starting point of our travels.
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city after Lisbon, and it sits along the banks of Duoro River. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and its settlement dates all the way back to the Roman Empire times. The historic center of Porto was in fact designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996, according to the inter-webs.
One of the most iconic sites in Porto has to be the Dom Luis I Bridge. According to Wikipedia, the bridge was designed by a German engineer Théophile Seyrig, who was a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. It is a double-deck iron arch bridge that sits high above Duoro River and connects the historic Porto center to Vila Nova de Gaia on the south side. The top deck is reserved for the pedestrians and metro, while the lower deck is for pedestrians and all other vehicles. After dropping off our bags in the AirBnb located in Vila Nova de Gaia and finding some quick breakfast, we immediately set out towards the bridge.
One good thing about staying on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river is that we can see the famous Porto view from almost everywhere. However, the best spot would be from the view point in front of Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, a round church high up on a cliff on the south bank on the Duoro.
Next we walked across the bridge to the north side of the river. It was a lot colder and very windy on top of the bridge.
We did not venture too far away from the bridge this time as we had planned to do most of the sightseeing in historic center the next day. We crossed the bridge again back to Vila Nova de Gaia after stopping by the Porto Cathedral.
Porto is of course what the famous port wine is named after. The port wine was produced in nearby Duoro Valley and then transported to Porto for packaging and exporting. Vila Nova de Gaia on the south side of the river is where all of the wine cellars are located. It’s almost impossible to not see a wine cellar when walking around in Vila Nova de Gaia. There seems to be one in every corner or down every alleyway. Many cellars offer tours and wine tastings. As part of a tour it usually comes with basic tasting with regular wines. Rich as the wine drinker he is, opted to skip the tour and paid a bit more in order to sample a variety of vintage port wines.
Other than the wine tasting and walking across the Dom Luis I Bridge, we spent the rest of our first day just aimlessly wandering through the many narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets in Vila Nova de Gaia, and up and down their many very steep hills. Oh our sore legs!
When we were all tired and hungry from all this walking, we just randomly picked a restaurant by the river for dinner. Probably not the best move as I’m sure all of the restaurants at the riverfront are all overpriced due to the abundance of tourists. Our food was just ok though the kids’ meals actually turned out to be pretty great and they even came with dessert! Jealous!