You’ve never been to Porto, unless you have spent a day at the Ribeira.
It is where you will find the quintessential image of Porto, the one worth mentioning as the postcard perfect image that entice travelers across the world to visit this second largest city of Portugal.
Ignore the fact that you dislike touristy area for a minute, walking the Ribeira is and shall always be a must do for every visitor of Porto. It is the place to do long, slow walks along its quaint streets.
Certainly, it is not a destination for those who wants fast-paced approach of seeing things, but for those who take their time to let the faded Medieval grandeur ambiance of the city gets under their skin, and if you really do savor every minute discovering its sleepy streets, you will be surely rewarded with a unique experience that can only be found in certain cities around the world that celebrate classical, dilapidated beauty.
The UNESCO World Heritage area of Cais da Ribeira, or the riverfront promenade is truly beautiful in every angle, with the stacks of colorful houses built like Lego bricks as its most prominent feature.
The ambiance of the promenade is relaxing, encouraging and always filled with festive spirits, particularly at night when the crowd gathers for drinks and laughter. At daytime, the Ribeira is bustling yet serene, filled with the occasional city explorers like me and visitors from huge cruise ships, usually congregating at the square, Praça da Ribeira.
From Praça da Ribeira, take any one of the hilly laneway and extend your walk towards the area of Infante, and visit some of its celebrated monuments- the medieval history museum of Casa do Infante, the under-renovation (during my visit) Igreja de Sao Nicolau (the Parish Church of St. Nicholas), the gothic church Igreja de São Francisco (Monument Church of St Francis) and its intricate interior with gold carvings, and the statue of Prince Henry The Navigator, Monumento ao Infante Dom Henrique.
With the Douro River, dividing the Ribeira area into two banks, exploring this alluring district can be overwhelming at first. To see the district, some visitors opted for a paid boat cruise combined with wine tasting, while others opted for a cable car ride, though the best and definitely budget-friendly approach to appreciate the nostalgic charm of the Ribeira is to simply walk and discover places on your own.
My personal approach to exploring not only the Ribeira but the iconic Ponte Dom Luís I (Dom Luis I Bridge) at the same time, is to start from Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral) area, then take the upper deck walkway of the magnificent bridge.
The Dom Luis I Bridge, a double-deck metal arch bridge, is said to be the longest of its type in the world. Spanning 172 meters long, it connects the area of Casa da Ribeira and the winery district of Vila Nova de Gaia.
Beautiful is the best word to describe the view of the city and the Douro from the Dom Luis I Bridge upper level. It is amazing to see the panorama view of layers upon layers of colorful houses divided by steep alleyways and the distant image of the equally fascinating iron arch bridge of Dona Maria Pia.
Immediately exiting the Dom Luis I Bridge, on the other side of the town, is the Cais de Gaia, a riverside promenade similar to Cais da Ribeira, but less crowded and is often visited by tourists who wanted to visit several wineries.
Though, it is worth noting that in order to really appreciate the one of a kind Porto skyline is to spend time at Cais de Gaia, for here where you will see in one frame, the stunning image of Ponte Dom Luís I, the Ribeira, the Douro River, accentuated by the lines of old Rabelo boats loaded with Porto cellars.