The Teleférico de Gaia (Gaia Cable Car), which opened in 2011, may be a touristic indulgence, but it does offer some truly spectacular views over Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia and the River Douro. We took the cable car from the station on the Vila Nova de Gaia quayside to its terminus near the top level of the Ponte de Dom Luís I (Dom Luís I Bridge). Yes, we could have walked up the hill and saved ourselves €5 each, but we got a unique view of the activity on the Vila Nova de Gaia quay and the river below and the opportunity to approach the church of the Serra do Pilar Monastery from the air. Most of all it allowed us time to really appreciate the tiered old town and the distinctive buildings on the Porto side of the river.
The journey started with a photographer taking a photo of us inside the cabin of the cable car and then the cabin door closed and it began its smooth ascent, accompanied by some light classical music. We were soon able to look down on the Avenida de Ramos Pinto where street vendors had laid out their wares and then over the port lodges, with the company names spelt out in large letters on the roofs (names such as Barros, Borges, Cálem, Cockburn, Croft, Ferreira, Fonseca, Graham, Kopke, Offley, Quevedo, Ramos Pinto, Sandeman, Taylor and Vasconcellos). We had a wonderful bird’s-eye view down onto the wooden barcos rabelos on the River Douro, still loaded with port barrels as they were in the past, but now for the benefit of tourists rather than as cargo. As the cable car climbed, the views of the Porto side of the river changed aspect and from various angles we were able to see the Cais da Estiva, the churches of São Francisco, São Bento da Vitória, Paroquial da Vitória, São Lourenço and Nossa Senhora da Lapa, as well as the Clérigos Tower, the Palácio da Bolsa, Porto City Hall and the pretty 19th-century buildings on the Avenida dos Aliados. Dominating the view was Porto Cathedral and the Paço Episcopal (the former Bishop’s Palace) standing proudly above the charming coloured houses on the Cais da Ribeira. The Ponte de Dom Luís I was imposing with its two-tier metal-arched structure which links the lower and upper parts of Porto with the lower and upper parts of Vila Nova de Gaia. The bridge was designed by Théophile Seyris, a former partner of Gustave Eiffel, and was opened in 1886. Its total length is 385 metres and it is 44 metres high. As we approached the cable car station at the top of the hill we could see one of Porto’s modern Metro trains running across the upper deck of the bridge.
Five minutes after leaving the ground the cable car arrived at the end of its 600-metre journey and we climbed out of the cabin, deciding not to buy the photograph taken of us at the start, and continued on foot to the Serra do Pilar Monastery a little further up the hill. The monastery is another distinctive landmark, best seen from the Porto side of the river, particularly at night when it is lit in shades of gold. The monastery was completed in 1670 and is now used as army barracks and is not open to the public. The perfectly circular Serra do Pilar Church, at the very top of the hill, is, however, still used as a place of worship and is open to the public, boasting a heritage room, a pretty cloister and a dome, the top of which can be reached by climbing 100 steps. We didn’t visit it on this occasion but instead enjoyed the views of Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto from the viewing area in front of the church. From here we could have caught the Metro from the nearby Jardim do Morro Metro station back into Porto, but we chose to make the easy walk back to Porto along the upper deck of the bridge enjoying more spectacular views, this time for free and without a glass panel between us and the view.
Watch the video here.
Teléforico de Gaia (Gaia Cable Car), runs between Avenida de Ramos Pinto and Calçada da Serra, Vila Nova de Gaia
Runs 10am-7pm daily, except 26th April-24th September 10am-8pm and 25th October-23rd March 10am-6pm
One-way ticket: €5 (as of June 2016)
Serra do Pilar Church, Largo de Avis, Vila Nova de Gaia
Open Tuesday-Sunday (not public holidays) 9.30am-5.30pm, except March 9.30am-6.30pm and July-August 9.30am-7pm
Entrance fee: Heritage Room and Cloister €1; Dome €2