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So many interesting things to know about Porto

Chances are you’ve figured out Porto is the world-renowned port wine capital and that it’s the second largest city in Portugal.

However, do you know that Gustave Eiffel is thought to have contributed to the design of the city’s famous Dom Luis I Bridge, and as he really? And do you know why there’s such a wide array of delicious yellow-golden pastries in Portugal? 

During my fabulous stay in this Unesco World Heritage Site, I found many interesting facts about Porto that weren’t readily available in guides books or on the web so I wanted to share them with you here. And also because I’m kind of a trivia geek and love finding quirky information, the more detailed the better. So I figured, who knows, maybe other inquiring minds such as mine would care about these lesser-known facts about Porto. 

While some are these facts about Porto are quirky and others of a cultural nature, many will surely surprise you.

So let’s see if you know about these 10 facts about Porto, shall we?

Here’s what you will get from this post

Table of contents

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Fun and interesting things to know about Porto

From Portus Cale to Portugale, Porto’s name carries a lot with it

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The port of Cale, a settlement during Roman times located at the mouth of the Douro, is said to be the source of the country’s name Portugal. The morphing from Porte Cale to Portugale is an easy transition while eventually resulting in the present name of Portugal.  And what about Porto and OPorto? The mispronunciation- or misunderstanding of the town’s appellation of O Porto by the English – which means The Port – evidently led it to be referred to as Oporto. Nowadays both versions of Porto and Oporto are frequently used.

There’s a train to get to the Douro Valley

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It’s somehow little known about Porto that you can take a local train to the Douro Valley which runs along the shore of the magnificent river. Departing from Porto, this 3-hour train ride will get you to the cute village of Pinhao from where you can visit a few port wine cellars accessible on foot. For budget-conscious travellers, while the train ride doesn’t compare to a scenic river cruise, like the many you can catch from Porto, you will enjoy some pretty scenery along the way and it makes for an epic day trip at a reasonable cost. Talking about trains….

The major railway hub of Porto is not the beautiful São Bento train station

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Whilst the Azulejos covered station of São Bento gets all the glory, the true railway hub of the city is the Campanha Station offering connections to many intercity train routes and Lisbon’s main railway stations. This means that if you plan to go North or South from Porto, chances are you’ll have a transfer in Campanha before making your way to your destination, a 10-minute connection from São Bento.

Port wine was invented by accident and is, in fact, an English creation

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History claims that port wine was invented by mistake. As the story goes, Britain turned to Portugal for its wine supply after putting an embargo on France’s products during the (17th-18th century) war times. As Portuguese wine shipments didn’t tolerate well the seafaring journey to England, the idea of adding brandy to fortify the shipment was introduced to preserve the quality of the cargo during the long trips.

The Brits took a liking to the new recipe and, in fact, went on to perfect the process to what is now known as port wine. This also explains the many British names in the port producing industry such as Dow, Taylor, Croft and Graham.

The flat-bottomed Rabelos boats used to carry the port wine to Gaia’s port cellars

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The Rabelos flat-bottomed boats, now popular emblems of Porto were not initially meant for river cruising but to freight the precious port wine production of the Douro Valley to the cellars of Via Gaia. Back in the days when the roads were unsuitable for delivering the valuable liquid cargo, the Rabelo proved the most efficient. You can still see them moored along the shore of the river depicting a quieter era before power engines came along. Nowadays, you can enjoy a so-called Six Bridges cruise aboard a Rabelo replica, a scenic and gentle ride along the beautiful Douro River.

Porto is called the City of Bridges and one of them involved Gustave Eiffel

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Counting 6 bridges connecting the cities of Porto and Via Gaia, calling Porto the city of bridges is an easy claim. Although the name Eiffel probably doesn’t bring up the image of a bridge in your mind, in Porto his name is mentioned in many conversations about bridge building. Particularly with the design of the Dom Luis I bridge for which he proposed the concept of in a bridge contest.

His proposal was refused and the winning design went on to be administered by Théophile Seyrig, the author of the project but also a student of Gustave Eiffel. Hence some of the confusion about Eiffel being responsible for Dom Luis’s design. Nonetheless, Gustave did work on the construction of Porto’s Maria Pia Bridge and that, while he was overseeing the building of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Starching clothes, making mortar and gilding churches created the Pasties de Nata recipe

Portugal is deeply set in Catholicism, with churches and monasteries at almost every corner. Back in the days, it was typical in Portuguese convents for egg whites to be used for starching their habits. But that’s not all, egg whites were also used for the gilding process and mortar concoctions of those numerous churches, making egg yolks more than readily available.

It didn’t take long for the nuns to figure out many delicious recipes in order to make the best use of all those egg yolks. Therefore the incredible variety of custard or other delightful convent sweets (known in Portuguese as Doces Conventuais) in Portugal and moreover the creation of the infamous Portuguese tartlet, Pasteis de Nata.

The Francesinha sandwich was invented in an attempt to replicate the Croque Monsieur

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There are many debates about the why and where of Porto’s iconic sandwich origins, while most agree on the following fact about regarding the gargantuan creation. The story goes that a young chef coming back from working in France, conceived the then-novel sandwich, in an attempt to recreate the French Croque-Monsieur explaining why he named it Francesinha, which means Little Frenchie in Portuguese.

If you wonder on the composition of the sandwich, it consists of multiple layers of pork, sausages and beef, between two thick pieces of bread – the thicker the better- the whole apparatus wrapped with cheese and drizzled with a tomato beer gravy. Yep, it’s a mouthful. Many versions also include a fried egg over it and let’s not forget the obligatory serving of fries to complete the deal. Bon appétit.

JK Rowling lived in Porto for two years

Surprised right! J.K. Rowling lived in Porto between 1990 and 1993 while teaching English as a foreign language, believed to be the formation time of Harry Potter’s world. During her stay in Porto, she favoured a few establishments such as the Majestic Cafe and the Livraria Lello shown in the picture above. Portuguese university student’s strolling by in their black cape traditional uniform and the rich mahogany interiors of the library have certainly contributed to the inspiration of Hogwarts and the HP characters. 

You can now take a direct flight to Porto

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Great news! Long gone are the days when you had to make your way by air to Lisbon or Spain first to then travel by land to Porto. With international and domestic flights to Portugal now regularly flying into to Porto’s local airport, travelling to this fantastic destination (can you tell how I love Porto?) is now easier than ever. Browse through Skyscanner, my first go-to search engine to find the best airfare prices, and plan your visit to Porto today. A city that is sure to leave you with great memories and surprise you with its interesting and rich heritage.

Learn anything new with these facts about Porto?
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