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Porto (Leixoes) (Photo:ESB Professional/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Gabriella Le Breton
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Porto (Leixoes)

One of Europe's oldest cities, Porto dates to the 4th century, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire and served as an important commercial port where the Atlantic Ocean and Douro River converge. As a thriving boat-building hub, the city served as the starting point for Prince Henry the Navigator's exploration of the western coast of Africa in 1415, initiating the Portuguese "Age of Discovery."

About Porto (Leixoes)


Pro

The second-largest city in Portugal is known for its wine and eclectic mix of architecture

Con

If you're considering a pre-cruise stay in Lisbon, it's a three-hour journey; budget your time

Bottom Line

Porto is located at the mouth of the Douro River, and included on virtually all itineraries here


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The old town area of Porto, registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, encompasses Ribeira within 14th-century Romanesque walls, as well as the city's many architectural landmarks, ranging from the gothic Igreja de Sao Francisco to the baroque Torre dos Clerigos (Clerics Tower) to the neoclassical Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace).

On the southern bank lies the Vila Nova de Gaia, an amphitheater-shaped slope densely populated by port warehouses emblazoned with Hollywood-style white letters that spell out familiar names: Grahams, Taylors, Sandeman. The warehouses continue a tradition dating to the 13th century, with wine produced in the Douro Valley transported there to mature in giant oak casks.

Rich in history, littered with architectural treasures, home to delicious wines and melt-in-the-mouth pastries, and bristling with lively street markets, cafes, bars and restaurants, Porto is a tourist's delight. It is worthy of at least a full day's exploration, even if only to sip a glass of chilled white Port in Gaia and soak up the views of Porto opposite.

Where You're Docked

River cruise ships invariably moor on the Cais de Gaia, alongside Vila Nova de Gaia opposite Porto. A number of modern restaurants, bars and shops line the waterfront as you stroll to the Dom Luis I bridge, which you can walk over to reach Porto in less than 10 minutes.

Good to Know

Porto locals clearly can easily handle heights -- walking across the top tier of the Dom Luis I bridge appears to be a stroll in the park for them. If, however, you prefer to keep your feet on more solid ground, steer clear: The walk is undeniably scenic, but even for somebody who rarely notices heights, it is quite disconcerting being a lofty 146 feet above the Douro. Similarly, some people find the gondola ride unnerving, particularly those with little experience riding such lifts.

Another thing to be aware of is the local beer: Brewed just outside of Porto since 1927, Super Bock is the most popular beer in Portugal. However, a Super Bock Classic (lager) weighs in at a hefty 5.7 percent alcohol by volume and is typically served in a pint-sized bottle, packing quite a punch. Don't say we didn't warn you!

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Portugal's currency is the euro. Visit or www.oanda.com for current rates. There is an ATM on the waterfront in Vila Nova de Gaia and a number of ATM's and banks in central Porto, particularly on and around the Avenida dos Aliados.

Language

Portuguese is the local language. English is fairly widely understood, with French appearing to come more naturally to locals than Spanish. A few handy phrases in Portuguese will always enamor you to the locals though, so try these:

Hello/good morning: Bom dia (bom DEEa)
Good afternoon: Boa tarde (boa TArday)
Please: Por favor (Per fevUUr)
Yes/No: Sim (sim) / Nao (now)
Excuse me/Pardon: Com licenca (com liSENza) / Perdao (perDOW)
A beer please: Un cerveja por favor (oon serVEdja per fevUUr)

Shopping

When in Porto, buy Port. Visit one of the warehouses in Vila Nova de Gaia to taste before you buy -- the Ferreira Cellars are an excellent choice, with guided tours available for a nominal fee, which include a small yet fascinating museum.

Alternatively, visit Solar do Vinho do Porto, a former manor house with a small formal garden and terrace located just by the Jardim do Palacio Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens), which overlook the Douro. There are some 120 Ports available to taste (and buy) by the glass and an abundance of bottles of vintage Port for sale (Rua de Entre Quintas 220, Quinta da Maceirinha, Jardim do Palacio de Cristal; +022 609 4749).