During a lull in the pandemic we spent a precious month in Porto and may have captured nearly every moment.
This writing counts as our sixth and final blog about this northern Portuguese city, nicknamed the ‘City of Bridges’.
Today there are 6 bridges that cross the Douro River connecting Porto with Gaia. Gaia is where the majority of the port wineries can be found and the very best views looking back and up towards the city. There are any number of boats specifically offering tours to all the bridges.
- Ponte de D. Maria Pia
- Ponte Luís I
- Ponte de Arrábida
- Ponte de S. Joāo
- Ponte do Infante
- Ponte do Freixo
The very first permanent bridge built in Porto was in 1806 and it was named the Ponte das Barcas. Sadly, 3 years later, during the Peninsular War, the bridge collapsed causing thousands of fugitives to drown when they all crowded onto the bridge in their attempts to escape Napoleon’s invading cavalry. In 1841-43 the next bridge to be built was the Ponte D. Maria II, referred to as the Ponte Pênsil (suspended bridge). All that remains visible today of the suspended bridge are it’s supporting pylons.
A second Maria Pia Bridge (in Portuguese ‘Ponte de Dona Maria Pia’), a railway bridge designed and built by Gustave Eiffel, the architect of Eiffel Tower fame, was also built in 1843. At that time it was the longest single-arch span in the world. The bridge has been classified as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark but today it is considered unsafe and closed to all forms of traffic, including pedestrian.
The Ponte Dom Luís I was built between 1881 and 1886 to replace the old suspended bridge, the Ponte Pênsil. This bridge was built by Teophile Seyrig, a former partner of Eiffel and has similar lines to the Eiffel built bridge that had been erected 40 years earlier.
The Luís I Bridge is a striking double-decker metal arch bridge that spans the graceful Douro. The top deck today is used by the metro with pedestrian sidewalks extending its length on both sides. The bottom deck accommodates both pedestrians and vehicle traffic.
We walked both levels of this bridge on multiple occasions, each time drinking in the captivating views and activities of the rabelo boats on the river and the life on both banks. On one side of the river is Porto’s dazzling cityscape fronted by the colorful district of Ribeira. This neighborhood sits right next to the river and is full of quaint cobblestone streets, outdoor bars and cafes and 18th century townhouses, painted with various pastel colors that line it’s main square, Praça da Ribeira. This romantic area of Porto is a part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and a treasure to behold.
On the opposite side of the bridge, is Gaia, where dozens of port wineries and cafes neatly line the banks of the Douro. On a sunny day there is nothing better than sitting in a cafe, on either side of the river, sipping a port or a bica (espresso) and immersing oneself in Porto’s unique ambiance.
Jardim do Palácio de Cristal
For nearly a hundred years (1865-1961) this site held Porto’s Crystal Palace, which had been modelled after the Crystal Palace in London. In the center of the park today, where the crystal palace once stood, is Pavilhão Rosa Mota, a sports and cultural arena. Although the palace is no longer, this lovely park retains the name.
We strolled past fountains, ponds and monuments; wound our way through colorful gardens sidestepping peacocks, black and red chickens and various wild birds. Tucked into one corner we found a small memorial chapel that had been built for and dedicated to, an exiled Italian, the King of Sardinia. As we walked the perimeter of the park we discovered a handful of fantastic peek-a-boo views of both the city and the Atlantic beyond.
Parque da Cidade do Porto
One morning we hopped a metro out to the coast to visit Parque de Cidade (City Park), a large 200 acre urban greenspace nestled right next to the Atlantic Ocean.
Filled with miles of pathways, picturesque lakes and streams, dozens of species of trees, and abundant photo worthy scenes, this park is a quiet haven away from the city. Visitors are invited to bring along a loaf of bread to feed the park’s very attentive bird life.
We passed an interesting, suspended-in-air looking building called “Pavilhão de Água” with a cool water feature out front. It had been featured at Expo 98 in Lisbon and afterwards was donated to Porto’s City Park. The water feature is a science meets art type of structure. Closed during our visit but apparently visitors are able to create music, witness optical illusions, watch waves and tornados forming and much more.
Jardins da Avenida de Montevideu
After strolling through City Park for a few hours we needed a break and a pick-me-up bica. We found a cafe right across from the Forte de São Francisco Xavier, a beautiful 15th century historical fort perched on the edge of the cape watching out over the Atlantic.
After our break we turned south and walked along the seaside street, Avenida de Montevideu. The wind was starting to pick up creating larger and larger waves. There is nothing as refreshing as cool, negative ion filled air at a windy beach.
We passed a number of azulejo covered concrete benches dotted along the ocean front gardens, all part of a 1914 remodeling, rejuvenation project of the maritime waterfront.
Praia do Molhe is a beach in the Foz district of Porto and it was here we decided to stop for dinner at a beachfront cafe. Once again, we were one of only two occupied tables and we chose a seat facing the sea. By then the swells were spectacular and we were able to capture beautiful photos of the crashing waves in that magical evening light. This is what we witnessed while at our table. See more in the links at the bottom.
Parque de Serralves
Serralves Park consists of more than 40 acres and dates back to 1923. Almost a hundred years later this urban park continues to offer visitors such diversity that everyone can find an area in the garden to appreciate and enjoy.
From the stunning Art Deco architecture of the pink villa (being renovated during our visit), to the temporary art exhibits at Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, to the two distinct gardens; one with more than 8000 specimens of woody plants; some quite rare, the second garden designed with an art deco flare and providing a perfect backdrop to the contemporary garden art throughout, to the amazing and surprising working Serralves farm.
Cemitério do Prado do Repousa
We spent an afternoon quietly exploring Porto’s 18th century cemetery and chapel.
In 1835, regulations were instituted in the city prohibiting burials inside churches and private cemeteries and this plot of land, once a seminary, was selected as the cemetery because it was, at the time, far outside the city limits.
An interesting, beautiful and peaceful place to visit except in one corner where we came face-to-face with the reality of the current pandemic. There were dozens of freshly mounded graves as if there hadn’t been time to bury them in the traditional dignified Portuguese custom.
However the rest of the cemetery was not at all disturbing and the old crypts were particularly attractive. We found this quaint old cottage style crypt and thought, who wouldn’t want to choose this idyllic setting as their final resting place?
Wrapping up our experiences in Porto, we may have mentioned that like Lisbon in the south, Porto has been built on a fairly steep hill. After walking for hours, by days end we often began searching for alternative modes of transportation to get us back up the hill and to our apartment. The city provides antique cars, tuk tuks and of course Uber and taxi options. However it was the funicular, vintage trolleys and cable car that were the most fun to ride.
The weather in Porto changes often and we discovered one saying used to describe a fairly common weather phenomenon. “A widow’s going to remarry” refers to whenever the sun, rain, wind and fog all happen at the same time. Quite sure there was at least one widow remarried during our stay.
We said farewell to this lovely city and after filling our days like we did, (6 blogs worth) there was still a day trip or two that we had wanted to fit in. Next time…
Saúde from these Portuense,
Ted + Julia