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What is the crown jewel of Portugal? Many will answer this question with: Lisbon. But Portugal’s second largest city is quickly gaining popularity. And deservedly so because Porto is stunning. Port houses, restaurants, winding shopping streets and ancient monuments are stacked against the hills on both sides of the Douro river. Let's have a closer look at the 3 most beautiful attractions in lovely Porto.
Porto is actually one large open-air museum: the entire historic city centre has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, including the picturesque waterfront neighbourhood Ribeira and the port houses in Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the river. 2 monuments deserve a special mention: the striking Luís I double-decked bridge that spans the Douro, and the 16th-century Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, the monastery with the round church. Porto attracts around 3 million visitors a year who find plenty to see and do.
Just a year or so ago, the natural stone houses with red roof tiles were crumbling away but today the waterside neighbourhood of Ribeira has been beautifully restored. This historic district has been transformed into Porto’s top attraction, with its wrought iron verandas full of drying laundry and narrow stairways and alleys with bodegas, bars and boutiques. A visit to Ribeira doubles as a great workout: it’s quite a climb from the terraces by the Douro to the square of the Sé Cathedral. Once you reach the top, recover for a moment at the wine bar Arco das Verdades.
Porto’s most eye-catching landmark is the enormous arched bridge Luís I that connects Ribeira to Vila Nova de Gaia. Named after King Dom Luís I, the bridge was designed by a former partner of Gustave Eiffel. The bridge has 2 decks; the lower one is for cars and the upper one for the metro. Pedestrians can use both decks, although the upper one sits 60 metres above the river and is less suitable for those with a fear of heights. Admire the steel behemoth from the patio of Bar Ponte Pensil, built on the foundation of a former bridge.
Although everyone can see it, the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar is still off the beaten track. The fortified monastery towers high above Vila Nova de Gaia, but is rarely visited. The army still uses the facilities but there are daily tours for visitors. The architectural style of this 16th-century monument makes it a worthwhile visit: both the cloister and the church are round. From the chapel, the view stretches far beyond the shores of the Douro. Board the cable car and sip a glass of chilled port on a patio along the Cais de Gaia.