Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, is a step back in time. Amid the ancient buildings, old world charm and local traditions, visitors are treated to a unique and captivating experience they shall treasure for years to come.
Along the banks of the Douro, and stretching into the hills behind, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Portugal. The winding cobblestone streets are a pathway into the past, the days when this port city bustled with cargo ships eager to make their way to the city center. Unpack the fascinating treasures of the Ribeira, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Life in The Ribeira
Many of the structures in the Ribeira district are businesses, housed in single story warehouses from days gone by, you will get a glimpse of older buildings which serve as homes for local residents. It’s not uncommon to witness daily family life unfolding, see laundry drying on the balconies, or children playing.
Buildings along the Douro waterfront display colorful facades that invite visitors to come and have a look inside. Shops, cafes and restaurants beckon. You can browse unique treasures, enjoy a meal or sip your favorite beverage as you gaze across the river toward the Vila Nova Gaia and watch the colorful boats glide past.
For a stunning view of the Ribeira, stroll the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge. The pedestrian access takes you nearly 200 feet above the river atop one of the famed bridges of Porto, and designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel.
A Trip Back in Time and a Little Local Fare
Behind the riverfront the steep slopes of the hillside offer a captivating stroll back in time. The maze of streets and alleyways lead you to the heart of the district, and the city of Porto. There you’ll find a lovely, if austere, fountain dating back to the 1600s. Behind the fountain is an imposing three story wall made of granite and bearing the Portuguese coat of arms. Standing guard over the old city is a statue of John the Baptist.
Juxtaposed to that somber and serious nature of the Ribeira Square, across from the wall, is a string of bars and nightclubs. The locals and visitors alike flock to the square to enjoy classic Portuguese fare, lively entertainment, a few drinks and an evening to remember. This is where the city comes to life after the sun sets.
Untouched by Time
To the east of the square the authentic tale unfolds. Medieval alleyways lead to an area of the Ribeira which to this day maintains a decidedly old world ambience. In fact these ancient cobbled alleys, footpaths and streets provide such an authentic atmosphere you may feel as though you’ve been transported back to the Middle Ages.
This ancient area of the Ribeira holds a wonderful “secret” known to local residents and a few fortunate guests-some of the very best and most authentic restaurants in all of Porto exist along these avenues to the past.
A Taste of Port
Across the river, on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the bridge, you’ll find an assortment of places which purvey one of this country’s claims to fame, Port Wine. Although a separate municipality, a stroll across the Ponte Dom Luis I is considered one of the highlights of a visit to Ribeira.
The port wine houses, or lodges,of Vila Nova de Gaia are the end point for this luscious product as it makes the journey from the wine estates, or quintas, up in the Douro Valley. These colorful lodges offer tastings, tours and the opportunity to take home a bottle or two of your favorites.
Unpack The Treasure Box of the Ribeira
Losing yourself for a day in the old city district of the Ribeira feels much like unpacking a treasure chest, one surprise after the other, each unique in its own way and telling a tale from days long ago, and not so long ago. The riverside treasures of the Ribeira should not be missed.
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