City of Porto: much more than Port wine

From the moment we utter its name, the city of Porto reminds us of the fortified wine that made it famous world-over and the importance actual ports had in its history. A short flight away from the country’s capital, makes a Porto city break possible in almost any Portuguese itinerary.

Surely a large number of visitors to Porto plan to learn about and, more importantly, taste Port wine, the star on Portugal’s wine firmament. Foodies dream of finding the best bacalhau (salted cod) dish and pesticos (local tapas) spot, and all look forward to a smooth boat ride down the Douro river to marvel at unrivaled sights of the city of Porto from the water. But Porto has lots of (semi) hidden gems to offer to those looking to discover a less known side to Porto city.

Colors and azulejos

The city of Porto is colorful and vibrant: from the typical blue and white combination on the traditional Portuguese azulejos (“tiles”) to the red, orange, yellow and purple façades, colors are everywhere! And you can (try to) take them all in from the heights of two must-see viewpoints: the famous Louis I bridge -that crosses to Vila Nova de Gaia, where some of the most celebrated Port cellars are, and the almost 80m-high tower at the Clérigos Church -you will forget about the 240 steps you need to climb once you get to admire the gorgeous views of the city of Porto from the top.

As for the blue and white tiles, you can find a magnificent example featuring over 20,000 hand-painted azulejos at the São Bento Railway Station: this remarkable panels depict significant events in the history of Portugal, like the Battle of Valdevez and the Conquest of Ceuta.

Wizards and books

here is one place in the city of Porto where bookworms, Harry Potter fans and Art Nouveau aficionados alike are guaranteed to enjoy themselves, the Lello & Irmão bookstore. J. K. Rowling, the world-famous author of the boy wizard’s adventures, lived in Porto for two years in the early 90s and was, reportedly, a very loyal customer of this bookstore. Rumor has it that the interior of Lello & Irmão -its sculpted wooden panels, stained glass and bookshelves piled high from floor to ceiling, and specially its magnificent staircase, served as inspiration to Rowling when she imagined Hogwarts, the Wizardry School in Harry Potter’s seven-volume blockbuster. All ages will see the magic in it… Abracadabra!

Rabelos boats and Saint John’s

One of the most recognized symbols of the city of Porto are the Rabelo boats, which used to carry barrels of Port wine from the Douro Valley vineyards to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia for centuries, when there were no suitable roads and railways hadn’t been built yet.

Nowadays, they lay quietly by the riverside, from where they unassumingly pose for visitors’ pictures. There is, however, one day every year when they navigate the Douro waters once again: St. John’s Festival. This annual Midsummer celebration that takes place on the night of June 23, is one of Europe's liveliest street festivals, although it remains relatively unknown outside of Portugal. Saint John is not the patron of the city of Porto, yet his is the most important night of the year: locals and visitors eat, dance and watch the fireworks by the river. If you are planning a Porto city break in summertime, keep this festival in mind: it will make for an unforgettable and insightful experience into Porto’s culture.

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