The best place to grasp the lay of the land in Porto is from the Miradouro do Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar on the south bank of the River Douro. The broad, clifftop terrace gives a panoramic view over the city. Technically it isn't actually in Porto. This side of the river is Vila Nova de Gaia, a separate city, but effectively a suburb of Porto. To the west, you see the overlapping jumble of red-tiled roofs over the port wine lodges that are Gaia's main attraction.
Connecting the right bank to the port-wine center of Vila Nova de Gaia and the lands south is the Ponte de Dona Maria Pia, an architectural feat of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). Another bridge spanning the Douro is the Ponte de Dom Luís I. An iron bridge of two roadways, it was completed in 1886 by Teófilo Seyrig, a Belgian engineer inspired by Eiffel. Another bridge, Edgar Cardoso's Ponte de Arrábida, which opened in 1963, is bright and contemporary. Totally Portuguese in concept and execution, it's one of the largest single-span reinforced-concrete arches in Europe.
The way back to Porto proper lies across the vertigo-inducing upper span of Dom Luís I Bridge. Below is the tightly packed Ribeira district, Porto's most characteristic neighborhood. Behind the colorful facades of riverside merchant houses is a maze of narrow streets where urchins kick around soccer balls while their grandma's string out the washing from window to window in the upper floors. Beyond Ribeira, other medieval neighborhoods cling to hillsides rising up from the river, like Sé, Miragaia, Barredo and São Nicolau where among the tangle of lanes you find hip bars, timeless old stores and churches filed with gold-covered woodcarvings. Many of Porto's once-rundown central neighborhoods are undergoing a regeneration, thanks in part to the surge in tourism.
At the top of the hill is Porto's commercial center, oddly called the Baxia, which means "low." The heart of Porto is Avenida dos Aliados, with its parklike center, where families sometimes go for a stroll. It's bounded on the south by Praça General Humberto Delgado. Two major shopping streets lie on either side of Praça de Liberdade: Rua dos Clérigos and Rua 31 de Janeiro. Rua Clérigos leads to the landmark Torre dos Clérigos, which some consider the symbol of Porto. L
Outside the center, the posh western district of Boavista has leafy boulevards, modernist villas, spacious parks and two top cultural attractions: the Serralves art center and the Casa da Musíca concert hall, both icons of modern architecture. Beyond Boavista is the seaside suburb of Foz do Douro. Set about 5km (3 miles) to the northwest of Porto, it stands adjacent to where the River Douro empties into the sea. Foz is scenic, calm, and mostly residential, a verdant, middle- and upper-class suburb whose income level is in distinct contrast to the grinding poverty of some neighborhoods in downtown Porto. Foz (that's the way its name is shortened by most residents of North Portugal) is known as a "green lung" for Porto, with a rather high percentage of nightclubs and restaurants.
Presently, the most obvious means of public transport between downtown Porto and the oceanfront of "downtown" Foz do Douro is via tram no. 1E, and that is the time-tested traditional means that everyone uses. But in the making are two additional routes. Both are in their infancy, and both might be completed late in 2010. They include a metro line that will run immediately parallel to Avenida da Boavista, presently the "motorists' favorite route," between historic Porto and Foz. The other metro line will be an extension of the "yellow line," a metro line which presently stops in Gaia, across the river from Porto.Matosinhos is set about 11km (7 miles) to the northwest of Porto, beyond Foz. It is metallic, industrial, intensely commercial, and dominated by the heavy machinery that's in place to unload some of the biggest transport ships in the world. Much of it is devoted to vast warehouses, unloading docks, and cranes.
Vila Nova de Gaia -- For more than a century, the "other" bank of the Douro has sheltered representatives of the port-wine industry, many of which maintain a sales outlet and, in most cases, warehouses. It lies just across the river from Porto, within a very short walk from the Praça de Ribeira, but spiritually, it's a long way away. Poverty is a little more obvious on this side of the river, and the buildings are a bit less well maintained. Hotels are extremely limited here, and only a few of the restaurants are oriented to the tourist trade. The port-wine lodges are by far the most visible entities here. Despite occasional flashes of bravura from the local tourist board, the mostly residential district has far fewer monuments and attractions than Porto. To reach it from Porto, take bus no. 57 or 91.
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