Why is it Portugal’s City of Bridges? Porto’s iconic bridges earn it this title. It prides itself in its six iconic bridges which are all above the Douro River making it a spectacular attraction respected in Europe and worldwide.
Besides the bridges, Porto has unique treats. It is famed for Port wine, UNESCO World Heritage Centers, a vibrant music scene, and much more. Take a look below.
Here are the 20 Unique Facts About Porto, Portugal’s City of Bridges
1. Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal
The largest city in the country is Lisbon which serves as Portugal’s capital. Lisbon is famous for its historical highlights, stunning architecture, colorful ceramic tiles (azulejos), and great food. The city also enjoys a rich historical background spanning rulers, invasions, destructions, and re-constructions.
Moreover, likewise for Porto. It is Portugal’s second-largest city. The city boasts of a rich historical and cultural scene. The city is also known as Oporto and its location in the northwest part of the country makes it a commercial and industrial center for this region.
If you wish to visit Porto here are some reasons why you should.
2. The name Porto has its roots in the Latin language
The origin of the city’s name is from Latin. It dates back to the era of the Roman Empire when it was known as Portus Cale. “Portus” means “port” while “Cale” is a reference to the inhabitants of this region before the Romans took over leadership. These indigenous natives were known as the Celtic people.
Additionally, over time the name Portus Cale evolved to become Portugal after the formation of the Kingdom of Portugal. Starting from the north, the kingdom spread southward.
3. Porto is also dubbed “Invicta” city
This city has several titles and one such is the name, “Invicta” city. Porto received this name during the Liberal Revolution around the early 19th century. The city resisted D. Miguel’s troops who were pushing for his brother D. Pedro IV to seize power.
Subsequently, after the throne was succeeded by D. Maria II, who was the daughter of D. Pedro IV she issued the name “Invicta” which translates to invincible or undefeated. This title is still denoted in Porto’s municipal coat of arms motto. The motto reads,”ANTIGA, MUI NOBRE, SEMPRE LEAL E INVICTA CIDADE DO PORTO“. It means ancient, most noble, always loyal, and undefeated city of Oporto.
4. The iconic bridges make it Portugal’s City of Bridges
Porto established itself as an important commercial center during the Middle Ages period. This was propelled by its strategic location on the Douro River. Thus the city became a crucial part of Portuguese shipping and maritime trade and has developed the same to date.
Furthermore, this city is held in high regard because it’s the only European city with 6 bridges, all running above the Douro River. These structures showcase Portuguese architectural brilliance as well as serve as a connection between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia city (a hub of the port wine industry).
These six bridges include Maria Pia, Dom Luis I, and Arrabida. Part of this list is also, Infante D. Herique, Sao Joao, and the Freixo Bridge. These bridges are a huge support system for the Port wine trade activities.
Wondering what to do in Porto, check our guide here.
5. The Porto bridges share an Eiffel connection
One of the most prominent of these bridges is the Dom Luís I Bridge. It stands at a height of 591 feet or 180 metres and it was built in 1881 and operationalized in 1885.
To boot, the design of this bridge is associated with a disciple of the French architect cum engineer Gustave Eiffel. Gustave is the one who designed the renowned Eiffel Tower in Paris which is named in his honor.
Besides, there is a greater link of Porto’s bridges to Eiffel. The Maria Pia Bridge which was constructed between 1876 to 1877 is credited as the design work of Gustave Eiffel himself. These bridges offer picturesque backdrops for photo lovers. You can also immerse yourself in breathtaking views of the Douro River and Porto’s historic city center from these bridges.
6. No city beats Porto in Port wine production worldwide
This fortified drink is richer, sweeter, heavier, and has a higher alcohol content than the unfortified wines. This is because the wine-making process involves the addition of distilled grape spirits which ensure fortification.
Better still, these spirits at the same time halt fermentation before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. Hence leading to flavors that contain about 19% to 20% alcohol content. Their tastes exist in several categories such as Ruby Port, Tawny Port, White Port and Rosé Port.
The wine was named Port after Porto became Portugal’s hub of transportation for the wine trade. To boost this export, the wine was named Port in 1757, to protect its identity. This was pushed by the then Secretary of State of Internal Affairs Marquês de Pombal.
More to it, Port is produced in the Alto Douro Wine Region which has seen this production for over 2000 years. Thus cementing this location as a Unesco World Heritage Site. After production, storing and aging of the wine takes place in cellars within Ribeira in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is a District in Porto. From there it is exported across the globe.
7. Porto has one of the world’s most magnificent bookstores
The Livraria Lello & Irmão (Lello Bookstore) has been voted as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world by many internationally recognized publications. The bookstore doubles as a library and serves as a historical monument of Porto with an excellent neo-gothic façade display. Thus making it Portugal’s most beautiful bookstore and among the most glorious worldwide.
On top of that, Lello Bookstore is the inspiration behind JK Rowling’s Hogwarts scenery in the Harry Potter book series. Rowling got the motivation when she worked as an English teacher while living in Porto. She was a frequent visitor of the bookstore over weekends.
8. Porto’s historical center is a World Heritage site
The Historic Center of Porto is home to some of the most significant monuments of the city. A perfect display of Portuguese architecture, culture, and history. Some of the most important districts that are part of the historic center are Sé and Ribeira. Both districts have been UNESCO World Heritage Centers or Sites since 1996.
Over and above that, “Sé” is respected as the oldest district of Porto. The area is climaxed by the Cathedral of Porto, which is also called Sé and is the highest point in this part of town. Thus providing spectacular views of the city. Ribeira is also on record as one of the most visited locations in Porto.
9. Portugal’s city of bridges beckons strolls
Porto’s historic center features narrow and winding streets that are filled with colorful buildings. This scene creates a sightseeing delight to explore on foot. Along the streets are charming cafes and restaurants you can stop over for refreshments. There are also stores where you can pick up mementos or any other preferred items.
10. Porto is among Europe’s hotspots for graffiti and street art
This city prides itself in top-tier graffiti and street art acknowledged throughout Europe and the world. The city has many creatives involved in different forms of art such as murals, graffiti, poetry, and music. Rua de Miguel Bombarda is famed as the center of art in Porto thus its nickname, the “Art District”. Sometimes it’s also referred to as the “street of the galleries” or the “street of the arts”.
Moreover, this street is known for hosting countless art galleries that bring together art fans, investors, artists, and a vast range of followers from around the world. Besides, street art and graffiti are scattered all around the city.
If you wish to travel from Lisbon to Porto, see how to make the connection here.
11. The city’s Stock Exchange headquarters are in a historic building
Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) is a historical structure that was built around the 19th century. It is celebrated for the neoclassical style of architecture.
Porto’s Commercial Association spearheaded its construction and sitting within the city’s historical center, it also serves as a national monument. This aspect has not hindered the purpose of its construction since it still houses the city’s Stock Exchange (Commercial Association).
12. Porto has a deep-rooted maritime tradition
The robust maritime culture dates back to the Age of Discovery whereby Porto served as a hub for Portuguese exploration. The maritime culture was fostered by the city’s location along the Douro River. This enabled easy access to the Atlantic Ocean for Portuguese navigators to go on exploration voyages.
What’s more, these port activities sparked a thriving shipbuilding industry in Porto. This facilitated vessels worth enduring long oceanic journeys. The ripple effect was a flourishing trade network that saw the economic prosperity of Porto.
Further, the city’s wealthy merchants and investors supported acclaimed explorers like Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, to go on expeditions. To continue this maritime tradition is the modern-day port wine exports which take place in Porto.
13. Henry the Navigator was a son of Porto
Prince Henry the Navigator was a renowned Portuguese navigator born in Porto on 4 March 1394. He is acknowledged for assembling learned designers and maritime experts to come up with navigational instruments such as ships and maps. He used these vessels to journey on the high seas.
Additionally, he is remembered for setting the stage for modern-day sailors. He identified new trade routes which connected people from different parts of the world. He was also the one who started the process of European colonization and propelled the transatlantic slave trade. He passed on aged 66 years while in Sagres, Portugal on 13 November 1460.
For a great experience of the best things to do in Porto, check our listing here.
14. Porto’s ceramic tiles are adorable
The azulejos as they are locally known are derived from the Arabic word azzelij, which translates to “little polished stone”. The ceramic tilework in Porto goes back to the 13th century, not far from when Portugal was taken over by the Moors.
To add on, the Moors brought along their culture to the areas they conquered. In Portugal, these unique tiles were part of their cultural influence. São Bento railway station is the best display of these artistic creations in Porto.
The São Bento railway station has more than twenty thousand azulejo tiles which cover about 551 square meters. The Portuguese painter Jorge Colaço is the person behind the painting of these railway station tiles.
Besides the beauty, these tiles serve as a historical mark. The murals speak of Portugal’s crucial historical moments. The multicolored panels paint the picture of rural life as depicted by people from different regions in the country.
15. The historic tram system provides a glance at Porto
Porto’s historic tram is commonly known as the ‘Electrico’. It goes around the city’s historic center, navigating through the narrow streets offering outstanding views of the area and its landmarks. Bear in mind that this tram system is more of a novelty or originality feeling than it serves convenience.
16. The Clérigos is Porto’s tallest tower
The Torre dos Clerigos (Clérigos Tower) is an iconic landmark in Porto and the tallest tower in the city. This baroque bell tower stands 75 to 76 meters high and is part of the facilities of the Brotherhood Church. It was constructed between 1763 to the late 19th century and prides itself as the tallest structure in the historic center of Porto.
Furthermore, it is built of granite stone and it has a spiral staircase of between 225 to 240 steps which allows visitors to reach the top of the tower. There is a balcony that serves as the observation deck offering mind-blowing views of the city as well as the Douro River.
There are more spectacular towers, discover the world’s most famous towers.
17. Porto’s beaches are golden
The location of Porto makes it a bliss for beach lovers. Found between the meeting point of the Douro River and the Atlantic Ocean, Porto is within the Costa Verde coastline. It is along this rugged coastline that you find beautiful beaches, rocky headlands, and outstanding natural scenery.
Better yet, many of these beaches can be accessed via public transport. Praia de Matosinhos (Matosinhos Beach) and the Praia de Leça da Palmeira are some of Porto’s famous beaches with a huge buzz about them, especially during summer.
18. Porto has a must-see historic market for fresh products
This market is lively and one of the most popular in Porto. It is known as the Mercado do Bolhão or Bolhão Market. It was opened to the public in 1914 and focuses on vendors selling meat, fish, fruit, flowers, vegetables, and any other form of fresh produce.
19. The city enjoys a vibrant music scene
Fado dominates the music space in Porto. It is a type of traditional Portuguese music genre and is at the core of Porto’s nightlife. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the city’s culture and lifestyle.
To add on, this type of music is a symbol of Portugal, and there are several Fado Houses in Porto where Fado shows are hosted. This is a chance to indulge in this music that comes along with authentic performances.
20. Porto houses the Portuguese Centre of Photography
This unique historic center is based in an old prison within Porto. It has a collection of the country’s photographic heritage that dates to over 100 years old.
These facts about Porto are a treasure trove of the city’s insights. From its famous bridges, historic center, and vibrant music scene to the port wine, these truths speak of the heart of Porto or better yet where the river meets history.