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Porto is the second largest city of Portugal, located near the coast in the north of the country. It is built into hills overlooking the Douro river estuary. The city proper of Porto is fairly small, with approximately 240,000 inhabitants, but the greater metropolitan area is quite large, with more than 1.5 million inhabitants. While the official name of the city is Porto, it has become common recently for people from other parts of the country to refer to it as "Oporto". This is due to its close and lengthy association with port wine and the reference to the actual product, "o porto". The people of Porto are also known to consider themselves as culturally distinct from the rest of Portugal, and they often say “o Porto é uma nação,” or ‘Porto is a nation.”
The city and its surrounding offer many things to see from Portugal’s rich history, which goes back to the Romans who settled here in the 4th Century. The city is full of interesting architecture from many periods, with medieval and modern buildings side by side. The buildings and atmosphere of Porto are distinct from other Portuguese cities, mostly due to its strong mercantile roots. The downtown of the city is characterized by impressive, monumental granite edifices that also have something elegant and ornate about them.
Porto has a semi-Mediterranean climate, although it''s strongly affected by the Atlantic ocean, which makes it cooler than other Mediterranean cities. However, temperatures can rise as high as 40ºC (104ºF) in August during occasional heat waves. Normal summer temperatures average around 24 ºC (75 ºF), however. Summers are very dry in Porto meaning that the heat rarely feels opressive even when it does get unusually hot. Winters are mild and more humid, with occasional cold nights when temperatures can drop below 0ºC (32 ºF.)
The language spoken in Porto is Portuguese. Spanish is widely understood and spoken by almost all Portuguese as a second language, and many can also speak English and/or French.
The most common religion in Portugal is Roman Catholicism, with approximately 84% of the population declaring itself part of this religion. Only about 19% of those people are actively practicing Catholics, however. A small percentage of the Portuguese population is Protestant, about 1%. There is also a small number of Muslims, and very few Jews, as Jews had long been persecuted in Portugal.
Tipping is important in restaurants in Porto, and it is also customary to tip hotel staff. Service charges are not included in restaurant bills, and it is common to tip 10% or possibly more if the service was really excellent. In hotel rooms, it is customary to leave a tip for the room service, figuring a euro or two for each day of your stay if the service was decent. It is also nice to give a tip of € 1 - 2 to porters who carry luggage to your room.
In taxis, you can tip whatever amount you think is appropriate, and don’t have to give a percentage. Some people round up the bill to the nearest 5 euro and others tip 10% of the fare.
Value added tax (called IVA in Portugal) ranges from 8% for books and food to 17 - 19% for luxury goods. Usually the tax is already added in the displayed price of items and services.
The value-added tax can be reclaimed by visitors from outside the EU as long as the purchase is more than € 60 (VAT included) and was purchased at one store on the same day. In order to do that, look for shops displaying the sign “Europe Tax - Free Shopping Portugal.” Ask in the store for a tax refund cheque, which displays a description of the goods and the personal information of the purchaser. At the airport, your purchased items need to be taken to the customs clearance before checking the luggage in. The cheques are stamped by customs and cashed on the spot by Global Refund Tax - Free Shopping staff at the airport.
To call Porto from abroad, first dial +351 for Portugal and then 22 for Porto, followed by the local number. There can be high charges on calls made from hotels, restaurants and bars and it is generally cheaper to use a calling card. Public telephone boxes take coins or phone cards for local and international calls and in some cases also credit cards.
Internet cafés are plentiful in Porto, often located in communication centres where you can also phone, fax and make photocopies. Other internet cafés are regular cafés or restaurants that offer free wifi to their customers. Many shopping malls, hotels, and libraries also have wifi.
Shops in Porto are generally open Mon - Fri from 9 am - 1 pm and from 3 pm - 7 pm. Larger stores such as supermarkets, department stores and shops in malls will usually stay open all day without the lunch break, and also stay open later in the evening, closing at 9 or 10 pm. On Saturdays small shops are usually open from 9 pm - 1 pm, while bigger stores stay open until 5 or 7 pm.
Bank hours are generally Mon - Fri from 8.30 am - 3 pm, and post offices Mon - Fri from 8 am - 10 pm and Sat from 9 am - 6 pm.
On the following days, most shops, banks and museums will be closed, and public transport is likely to be more limited.
January 1, New Year’s Day
April 25, Day of Liberty
May 1, Labour Day
June 10, Day of Portugal
August 15, Assumption Day
October 5, Day of the Republic
November 1, All Saint’s Day
December 1, Restoration of Independence
December 8, Day of Our Lady
December 25, Christmas Day
In Porto, as in any other city, you need to be alert for potential pickpockets, and take good care that your valuables are always secure. The places where most pickpocketing occurs are usually at busy tourist attractions or on crowded public transport. Also be careful at night to walk on well-lit streets and not to walk alone if possible.
Driving in Porto can be very dangerous as the laws are different from other places, and the local drivers can be rather reckless. So if you plan to drive in the city, make sure to learn the important traffic laws and try to be alert at all times.
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