It’s hardly surprising that so many photos of Porto focus on the riverfront views of the city. As the name clearly indicates (porto is the Portuguese word for port), the city has long focused on the commercial trade that took place on the Douro river estuary. A defining feature of the city are the six bridges that are in close proximity to each other, each one different and with its own particular history. The short river cruise I took allowed me to learn a little more about them, admire the city from different perspectives, and rest my poor, aching feet from the steep walks around beautiful Porto. It also offered some unexpected surprises along the way.
Taking one of the hour-long river cruises is simple: we didn’t have to book in advance, although perhaps we got lucky. We walked down to the riverfront and bought our tickets at one of the kiosks advertizing cruises. In a stereotypical relaxed (read: Portuguese) manner, they vaguely indicated where to line up to wait for the next boat. I recommend getting there early to ensure you get seats together, especially if you’re more than two people. Otherwise, you may have to sit apart, as everyone scrambles to get to the “good” seats, which makes romantic hand-holding or group selfies (whichever one you’re interested in) impossible.
On the tour, you learn about the history behind each of the bridges, which is actually more interesting than it sounds! The narrative is in Portuguese, English and French. On the boat, you sit there, soaking in the views and the information – it’s very relaxing. My one criticism is that sometimes the recording can be a little difficult to hear with the noises from the boats. Of course, there’s more to the tour than the bridges. You hear about specific buildings located by the river or on the hills, which is great for locating which spots you want to visit next (perhaps some of the port wine cellars).
Of course, it’s not without its surprises. One of the more unanticipated sights I saw was children jumping off the bridges – or sitting on the ledge of a bridge, dangling their legs, unsure whether to jump. If you want to “experience” Porto like a local, I recommend sticking to non-touristy bars and restaurants, not jumping off bridges (your travel insurance probably won’t cover it). We also got a bit of an impromptu show, as some jet-skiers were playing what can only be described as a nautical version of tag, complete with tricks and shouting. All part of the experience!
If you don’t have much time in Porto, I suggest taking one of these boat tours – you see so much in a short space of time! If you love taking pictures, it also provides incredible photo opportunities from angles you would only get on the water.
On a final note: my cousin, a Porto native, took us to Vila Nova de Gaia (across the river) so we could admire the city by night. It was totally worth it: we stood overlooking the bridges we had seen from below earlier that day, all quiet, lighting scintillating paths to beautiful Porto.