The River Douro flows through Porto and there are five bridges fairly close to each other to enable one to cross the river. The oldest is Ponte Maria Pia, a rail bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel and named after the queen of Portugal at the time it was built, in1877. Although it has been out of service since 1991, it has not been demolished as it’s a National Monument. The replacement rail bridge is the Ponte São João, a complete contrast to it’s predecessor, white and made of concrete.
The most striking of the bridges is Ponte D. Luis I, designed by a partner of Eiffel, Téophile Seyrig, which accounts for the design similarity to the Ponte Maria Pia, it opened in 1886. There are two levels, the top is for the metro and pedestrians and the lower level is for motor traffic and pedestrians.
The Ponte de Arrábida is the last bridge before the river meets the ocean, made of reinforced concrete it carries six lanes of traffic over the Douro. At the time of completion, 1963, the bridges main span, was the largest concrete arch span bridge in the world, 270 meters. It was declared a national monument in 2013. The most recent bridge is the Ponte Infante Dom Henrique, which opened in 2003.
Although Vila Nova de Gaia is just a short walk across one of Porto’s bridges, it is not actually part of Porto, it’s a separate town. Gaia is home to more than fifty port wine labels, and it is here that the Caves do Vinho do Porto, (Port Wine Cellars) are. The cellars, most of which are centuries old, are where the wine is brought to age.
Cais de Gaia was where the rabelo boats would dock, offloading their cargos of barrels of wine, it is also where Port Wine was shipped to the rest of the world. Today it’s a promenade with restaurants, bars, and where humans depart for Douro River cruises. Bobbing about on the river are the traditional rabelo boats. A cable car runs along the shoreline and up to Jardim do Morro, a hilltop park which provides views across the river to Porto.
Next to the park is Mosteiro da Serra de Pilar, a 17th century monastery with a circular cloister, if the climb up to the winding streets behind the river isn’t an option, one can always stroll across the top level of the Ponte D. Luis I.