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South of Porto (Vila Nova de Gaia, Canidelo, Oliveira do Douro)

Automatic translation

Porto south or south of Porto? Because we are no longer in Porto! On the south bank of the Douro river, here we are in Vila Nova de Gaia! We sometimes think that it's a neighborhood, but it's beautiful and a city in its own right. From Vila Nova de Gaia (Gaia for short), tourism often only retains the old quays for unloading wine barrels, which have become very touristy and festive places, and the cellars. This is indeed where your steps will be headed if you only have a few days or a weekend to discover Porto. From here, these are the most beautiful views to enjoy over the Ribeira and the historic center. We will also invite you to discover Gaia for its river and seaside side. There are beaches on this side of the estuary too! They are less frequented and known than those of Porto Plage to the north, but still attractive.

Gaia has winding and steep streets, where wine cellars appear on every street corner. Although it was inhabited and occupied since the Roman period, Gaia took off between the 17th and 18th centuries, thanks to the wine trade. The English are looking for an alternative to French wines and Gaia benefits from climatic and hygrometric conditions, proximity to the river for delivery... They then install aging cellars, for the import of wine from the Douro Valley in upstream and shipping via the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The port of Porto has developed on the opposite bank thanks to its greater depth. The history of the two cities is closely linked and today, the vacationer does not differentiate, he appreciates one as much as the other!

Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia from Dom Luis Bridge

The unmissable attractions of Porto Sud

  1. Visit a Port cellar (Port aging to be precise!)
  2. Admire the views starting with the Serra do Pilar
  3. Stroll along the quays of Gaia and have a drink at sunset
  4. Escape to the east towards Oliveira do Douro to admire the bridges upstream of the river
  5. Then escape to the west towards Canidelo, its marina, nature reserve and beaches

Sunset over the Douro
Sunset over the Douro

Walking around Porto Sud

Vila Nova de Gaia, its cellars and docks

You won't have far to walk, just cross the Dom Luis Bridge to get to the town of Vila Nova de Gaia. Dynamic, attractive and perfect for an evening admiring Porto from the opposite bank, it is a popular getaway for tourists! First of all, the bridge, you can cross it by taking the lower deck, which leads you (just at the exit on the right), to a magnificent viewpoint at the entrance to the quays. You can then make your visits and return to the historic center and downtown Porto by walking on the high apron which also offers remarkable views. At sunset or at night, it is a magical spectacle on the river which stretches to the ocean, its multiple bridges on both sides, and the sparkling Ribeira. A metro stop is at the entrance to the high apron: Jardin do Morro near Serra do Pilar.

Sunset from Jarim do Morro
Garden of Morro

Early evening on the heights of Gaia and festive Jardim do Morro

We return to the quays: This is where the rabelos (gabarres , flat-bottomed boats) unloaded and loaded their precious cargo of wine barrels. These were transported from the vineyards of the Douro Valley and were carefully deposited in the assembly sites and aging cellars of Gaia. Here, the sun is less direct than on the opposite bank (the Ribeira) and the humidity linked to the river provides perfect environments to achieve optimal conditions for barrels to settle. Port is a blended wine, which is combined with brandy. At the beginning of its creation, it was to guarantee its conservation that eau-de-vie was added, today it is to respect the specifications of this wine (which we say "cooked", wrongly) which is eaten as an aperitif, used in cooking and also tasted with cheese or chocolate (wine pairings that you will find when visiting the cellars!). The quays are very pleasant for walking. They are even more so at the end of the day, when the low rays of the sun highlight the curves of the historic center and the architecture of the buildings, churches and monuments. Lined with restaurants, cafes, lively by numerous street musicians in the summer and a craft market on certain days, you feel good there and perfectly on vacation! Take the time to wander around, visit the little shops, sit down for a drink or eat, or sit on the bank to admire the landscape.

The docks of Gaia
The docks of Gaia
The quays of Gaia and its restaurants
The quays of Gaia and its restaurants

The docks offer departures for boat trips, like at Ribeira. You can leave for an excursion of approximately 1 hour, which will allow you to discover the 6 bridges. First going upstream of the river: Dom Luis Bridge (the unmissable), Infante Dom Henrique Bridge (modern design with its large arch), Dona Maria Pia Bridge (metallic and designed by Eiffel), São João Bridge (simpler which serves the railway) and in the distance the Pont de Freixo, modern which allows the highway to span the Douro. The rabelo will then turn around to take you towards the ocean where you will pass under the Arrábida Bridge (located in Porto west and which you can climb with a specialized service provider, it's great fun!). Then it's the estuary, the Douro joins the Atlantic Ocean and the boat will turn around. Note that rabelos also serve as taxis to go to Ribeira on the other side of the Douro.

Boat trip on the Douro
Boat trip on the Douro
Dom Luis Bridge by boat

Do you prefer to fly through the air? Take the Gaia cable car (Teleférico de Gaia): from the Cais de Gaia station, you will take a 5-minute ski resort-style ride to reach the Jardim do Morro (you can do the trip in the other direction). An ascent which, in addition to being a tourist activity and offering superb viewpoints, allows you to avoid a walk of around 30 minutes to reach the top of the city and the metro.

Gaia Cable Car

It is from the quays that visits to the Gaia cellars begin. Some are well established, they are the most popular and offer you tours that are not very personalized but very interesting. The cellars are numerous, around 200 different brands of port are prepared in Vila Nova de Gaia, which represents around 90% of the ports in the appellation. Some wineries are further away, offering the opportunity to walk in the steep and popular streets of Gaia (up to 30 minutes on foot from the quays).

Please note: Do you like street art? Come observe the Rabbit, a structure created by artist Arthur Bordalo on the corner of the Palacio dos Almanas. Made entirely of recycled elements, it denounces planned obsolescence in our society, it is underlined by the yellow of the wall which supports it.

The Gaia cellars
Visit to the Gaia cellars

Focus on the WOW World of Wine: In the middle of the small and large cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, hides a UFO, the World of Wine. It's a space of around 35,000m2, with several districts, museums and endless corridors (with staircases and marble columns!). You will be amazed by this truly oversized place (free entry, but fees for the museum-attractions) which is worth the detour (on a rainy day) and if you like museums. The prices are higher than in the city's other museums, but the offer is qualitative and a card, as well as combined tickets can lower the bill. Everything is new, spotless, well-documented and interesting, but the corridors of WOW are often surprisingly empty (maybe because it's big?).

Go back up to the heights of the city, towards the Serra do Pilar (Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar). It is an ancient monastery that overlooks the Douro. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It dates from the 16th century and its round architecture is quite characteristic. Fortified in a military manner in the 19th century (and deconsecrated), it is still today a troop barracks, under the responsibility of the Serra do Pilar Artillery Regiment. The view from its square is absolutely magnificent, we understand its strategic location for monitoring the banks of the river and the Ribeira! You can visit its church and its cloister with its circular courtyard.
The monastery is currently under renovation in 2023 (but you can access the square for free)! Then go down to the Jardim do Morro, an urban garden with children's games and a landscaped mound of palm trees, which Portuenses love to join at the end of the evening, with some refreshments and friends. A trendy café is located on its esplanade with a superb view. Settle into the green theater, which hosts concerts and other festivities in the summer. Further south of the city, there are fewer tourist places… Vila Gaia de Nova is a practical city, with many shops for the daily life of residents and it is above all a place to live. There are shopping centers if you feel like shopping on a rainy day (Corte Ingles on Avenida da Republica or the gigantic Arrábida Shopping, Praceta de Henrique Moreira).

The Serra do Pilar
Garden of Morro

Walk east of the Dom Luis Bridge, on the Oliveira do Douro side

A neighborhood to discover when you have time (allow 1 hour by bike or scooter or several hours by walking). We suggest you walk along the bank of the Douro, passing through the small streets of Gaia, until you reach the Freixo bridge. It is a very untouristed area, which nevertheless offers superb panoramas of the city. We rented an electric scooter to be faster, but you can definitely do this walk on foot. The starting point for this landscape excursion is the recently renovated Lord of Além Chapel (Capela do Senhor de Além). Walk up the Douro, towards the previous bridges, along Rua Cabo Simão, a very picturesque cobbled street. Choose your time of day carefully (not in the morning, the light is best at the end of the day). Be careful of the slope of the road if you are on a scooter, the motors are not made to climb big slopes! Walk along the parapet in this popular area. Opposite are the gardens of Fontainhas, another popular district in Porto, in the historic center. At the Pont do Infante, the path turns into a small path until reaching the next bridge (São João Bridge), then you will take a wooden footbridge on stilts which passes over the water. There are fishermen and families walking, before reaching the river beach of Areinho, an original place (but not necessarily great for swimming, but it is still supervised by a lifeguard in summer...). Here you are in the Gaia of the inhabitants, there are very few tourists! We turned around at the small grassy area suitable for picnics, but you can continue along the river to a second path, which offers a more natural aspect of the river: Passadiços Encosta do Douro. All along the walk from the Dom Luis Bridge, small, simple but friendly cafes and restaurants!

Walk east of the bridge
Walk east of the Dom Luis Bridge
Wooden footbridge east of Porto

Seaside Gaia: between Marine, Nature Reserve and Beaches!

Let's now go to the other side of the Dom Luis Bridge, towards the west and the ocean. Vila Nova de Gaia still has many surprises to offer! Still by bike or scooter (or on foot, but it takes around twenty kilometers round trip), continue along the quays along the Cais de Gaia, this road runs along the Douro, changing its name, but the idea , is to continue following the bank. There is a cycle path and a secure crossing for pedestrians. The views of Porto are fantastic! You will recognize all the neighborhoods and buildings visited, it's a new and enchanting perspective.

You arrive at the Afurada district, a popular place full of character, an old-fashioned fishing village where you can stroll and have a very economical fish feast! The slightly askew houses are decorated with azulejos, the inhabitants are affable and smiling. When it is lamprey (eel) fishing season, the place is overflowing with life. Afurada is also (a little further, after the kindergarten and the giant clothes drying racks), a modern and bright marina. There you will find providers for cruises on the Douro of several circuits and durations. You can also rent a stand-up paddle or a kayak/rower or take windsurfing lessons. If you are looking for new and unusual experiences, this is the place!

Douro Marina

Continuing the walk, you arrive at the Douro Estuary Natural and Local Reserve (Reserva Natural Local do Estuário do Douro). You didn't expect to find this natural space so close to Porto, did you? Hundreds of species of birds can be observed, it is the presence of the estuary that attracts them here. Two footbridges, an observatory and all the explanations are available for ornithology enthusiasts. We arrive at the estuarine beaches and further south, towards the ocean. The beaches here are wilder than on the other side of the shore, at Foz do Douro and Matosinhos. It's still very pleasant (and less crowded) for walking, swimming, sunbathing and having lunch or dinner by the sea. The cycle path continues and you can continue south along the beaches to enjoy a beautiful sunny day!

Note that you can come by bus to the beaches of Gaia! Line 902 takes you there.

Douro Natural Reserve
Douro Nature Reserve

What we prefer about Porto Sud

We loved the Mercado Beira Rio, a gourmet market located in an old warehouse. It is the ideal place to come and eat, drink and discover the culinary specialties of the region. You can choose from the vendors and stalls the food of your choice and enjoy it on the tables in the center of the market or on the high balconies all around the building. A must-try!

Mercado Beira Rio

Our advice for discovering this area of Porto

There are two aspects, on the one hand Vila Nova de Gaia very touristy in a fairly small area around the quays and on the west side of the Dom Luis Bridge. This is the essential part, to visit the cellars and appreciate the view of Porto. On the other side, there is the more intimate Gaia, the everyday life of the inhabitants! Towards the east or the west, by pushing your explorations a little further, you will not be disappointed. Allow a real day, or even two, to explore Gaia, if you stay 1 week in Porto, it's worth it! Don't hesitate to take public transport (buses) or even better, rent a bike or scooter. You will go faster, while covering a good area and stopping when you want to take photos and forays into the city towards the south.

Garden of Morro
Scooter to visit

The unmissable visits of Porto Sud

Serra do Pilar (Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar)

The Serra do Pilar is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Porto. On the bank opposite the Ribeira, you enjoy a 180-degree view on both sides of the bridge and it's magical! The church and its cloister are currently being renovated in 2023, but it is still worth going up.

Serra do Pilar
Serra do Pilar

WOW World of Wine

35,000 m2 of sensory and museographic experiences (7 museums), 9 restaurants, a wine school and immaculate, new corridors, this is the identity card of this astonishing and even curious place. For the record, it is a financial group (which also powers the Porto house of Taylor's) which is at the origin of this place. Everything comes from a very good intention to give Gaia back her skills as a port expert. First the Wine Experience museum, then all the other museums around wine, Portuguese specialties and culture, which have joined together to represent a real district with 3 independent entrances. Ask for the leaflet at the entrance so you don't get lost (yes!) and don't plan to do all the museums, 2 or 3 with a wine tasting type experience and your day will already be full! The museums are recent, modern, with a very complex educational visit, fun and with a thought for Instagrammers since it is very aesthetic and photogenic. You will find there: The Wine Experience (wine museum with tasting), the Pink Palace (rosé museum, with an attractive museography and lots of cool photos to take), The Chocolate Story Museum (on chocolate with factory, shop, tasting), Planet Cork (to know everything about cork), Porto Across the Ages (a museum on the History of Portugal and Porto), The Bridge Collection Museum (9000 years of containers to discover, materials, evolution of shapes), Atkinson Museum (a modern art museum). In short, it’s the Disney of wine!

The Wow
The Wow

Casa Museu Teixeira Lopes

It is a house museum in honor of the work of the eponymous sculptor. Entrance is free (accessible to PRMs) and tours are available in several languages including French. Exhibitions which change regularly, you will also admire paintings. A museum which also pays homage to Portuguese culture. A very beautiful place!

Activities to do and beautiful views in Porto Sud

Garden of Morro

Located at the foot of the Serra do Pilar, the Jardin di Morro is a beautiful green space, well integrated into this bustling square of life. It is a magnificent view of Porto, sitting on the steps of the green theater, you will enjoy magnificent sunsets in the middle of the Portuenses. Dating from the early 1930s, it is a landscaped garden with palm trees and a holiday feel... Promontory, small caves, kindergarten, it is the meeting place for young people, there is often music, little concerts and events.

Garden of Morro
Garden of Morro

Walks on the Douro

Rabelos walks are done from the historic center, but also from Vila Nova de Gaia. Several companies offer roughly similar services. The difference will be made on the possibility of making packages with other visits (cellars, museums) and on the quality of the visit. Some will have a soundtrack, others will include a guide to whom you can ask questions. The prices are almost all the same, count on less than 20 euros for around 1h30 of walking. Book your tickets in advance and be there on time. Our advice: at the end of the day, it’s a treat!

Boat trip
Boat trip in Gaia

The Gaia Cable Car (Teleférico de Gaia)

The Gaia cable car goes back and forth between the end of the docks and the Jardim do Morro. This is the best way to go back to the top of the city (to avoid around 20-30 minutes of walking uphill) and also to enjoy a sumptuous panorama of the city. It is a tourist attraction and a means of transportation. The ticket can be a one-way or round trip. It's not really a must, because other very beautiful and similar viewpoints exist, but it is a unique and very original experience for a few euros.

Marina da Afurada or Douro Marina

Accessible on foot, by scooter or by bike, it is an astonishing place, because it is close to a pretty little fishing village type neighborhood: Afurada. The Marina is also for boaters who boast a warm welcome and quality services. Are you coming by boat to Porto? This is where you can request a break. For tourists, it is a place worth visiting if you have more than 3 or 4 days to spend in Porto. This visit should be included in the exploration of this entire side of the estuary, pushing as far as the Reserve (see below) and the beaches. Allow half a day on foot and a few hours on two wheels.

Marina da Afurada
Marina da Afurada

Gaia Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural Local do Estuário do Douro)

In the Canidelo district, there is a Nature Reserve on the edge of the estuary which allows bird observation (around a hundred listed species, observable depending on the seasons and migration). It is accessed by road or cycle path, it is located after the Marina. Visits are organized with a naturalist, you will find information at the reception desk installed at the entrance. It's free and you walk on 2 wooden footbridges on stilts.

Do Douro Natural Reserve