Opening up like a pop-up book from the banks of the Rio Douro, edgy-yet-opulent Porto entices with its historic centre, sumptuous food and wine, and charismatic locals.
Snapshots of Local Life
Porto’s charms are as subtle as the nuances of an aged tawny port, best savoured slowly on a romp through the hilly backstreets of Miragaia, Ribeira and Massarelos. It’s the quiet moments of reflection and the snapshots of daily life that you’ll remember most: the slosh of the Douro against the docks; the snap of laundry drying in river winds; the sound of port glasses clinking; the sight of young lovers discreetly tangled under a landmark bridge, on the rim of a park fountain, in the crumbling notch of a graffiti-blasted wall…
Street Art & Cutting-Edge Architecture
Beyond Porto’s alley-woven historic heart, contemporary architects have left their idiosyncratic stamp on the city’s skyline. Winging Porto into the 21st century is Álvaro Siza Vieira’s crisply minimalist Museu de Arte Contemporânea and Rem Koolhaas’ daringly iconic Casa da Música. Public art is everywhere, from azulejos (hand-painted tiles) glamming up the metro to street art tattooed across crumbling medieval walls. Costah and Hazul, who always work incognito, have blazed their patterns along the streets of the Aliados, Miragaia and Massarelos.
Foodie Porto: Port Wine & Beyond
With much-lauded chefs like Pedro Lemos, Ricardo Costa, Rui Paula and José Avillez shaking the pans, the city's culinary star continues to rise. Take Vasco Coelho Santos at the new Euskalduna Studio, for instance, wowing with highly experimental 10-course menus, Vítor Matos at Michelin-starred Antiqvvm, or José Cordeiro at The Blini, an upscale marisquería putting stunning riffs on Atlantic-fresh seafood in Gaia. Petiscarias (Portuguese-style tapas bars), gourmet steakhouses, brunch cafes, hallowed port cellars, craft beer bars, food markets – you name it, Porto nails it. Bom apetite!
Miradouros, Gardens & Coastal Walks
Porto holds you captive at its sky-high miradouros (lookouts) and on-trend roof terrace bars. From the Sé cathedral terrace and Gaia’s hilltop Jardim do Morro, the city is reduced to postcard format: a colourful tumbledown dream with soaring bell towers, extravagant baroque churches and stately beaux arts buildings. Equally ravishing is Jardins do Palácio de Cristal’s palm-fringed, fountain-speckled gardens. Even in the city's heart, seagulls soar on Atlantic breezes, and a rickety ride on tram 1 trundles to the wide open ocean in Foz do Douro in minutes.
Why I love Porto
By Kerry Christiani, Writer
Beyond Porto’s more obvious charms – the river, the port lodges, the alley-woven historic centre – it’s the city’s soulfulness that makes it that bit special. Revealing itself little by little, Porto is made for exploring on foot, and you never know quite where those thigh-challenging steps or back alleys will lead you. The laid-back vibe, ludicrously beautiful viewpoints and relentlessly hospitable locals make this an easy city to love. High-spirited nightlife, outstanding food, wine tasting, street art, avant-garde design, mood-lifting ocean views – you name it, Porto pulls it off time and again.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Porto.
Igreja de São Francisco looks from the outside to be an austerely Gothic church, but inside it hides one of Portugal’s most dazzling displays of baroque finery. Hardly a centimetre escapes unsmothered, as otherworldly cherubs and sober monks are drowned by nearly 100kg of gold leaf. If you see only one church in Porto, make it this one.
This fabulous cultural institution combines a museum, a mansion and extensive gardens. Cutting-edge exhibitions, along with a fine permanent collection featuring works from the late 1960s to the present, are showcased in the Museu de Arte Contemporânea, an arrestingly minimalist, whitewashed space designed by the eminent Porto-based architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. The delightful, pink Casa de Serralves is a prime example of art deco, bearing the imprint of French architect Charles Siclis. One ticket gets you into both museums.
From Praça da Ribeira rises a tangle of medieval alleys and stairways that eventually reach the hulking, hilltop fortress of the cathedral. Founded in the 12th century, it was largely rebuilt a century later and then extensively altered during the 18th century. However, you can still make out the church’s Romanesque origins in the barrel-vaulted nave. Inside, a rose window and a 14th-century Gothic cloister also remain from its early days.
Porto's best art museum presents a stellar collection ranging from Neolithic carvings to Portugal’s take on modernism, all housed in the formidable Palácio das Carrancas.
This splendid neoclassical monument (built from 1842 to 1910) honours Porto’s past and present money merchants. Just past the entrance is the glass-domed Pátio das Nações (Hall of Nations), where the exchange once operated. But this pales in comparison with rooms deeper inside; to visit these, join one of the half-hour guided tours, which set off every 30 minutes.
Sitting atop a bluff, this gorgeous botanical garden is one of Porto's best-loved escapes, with lawns interwoven with sun-dappled paths and dotted with fountains, sculptures, giant magnolias, camellias, cypress and olive trees. It's actually a mosaic of small gardens that open up little by little as you wander – as do the stunning views of the city and Rio Douro.
At once minimalist, iconic and daringly imaginative, the Casa da Música is the beating heart of Porto's cultural scene and the home of the Porto National Orchestra. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas rocked the musical world with this crystalline creation – the jewel in the city's European Capital of Culture 2001 crown.
One of the world's most beautiful train stations, beaux arts São Bento wings you back to a more graceful age of rail travel. Completed in 1903, it seems to have been imported from 19th-century Paris, with its mansard roof. But the dramatic azulejo panels of historical scenes in the front hall are the real attraction. Designed by Jorge Colaço in 1930, some 20,000 tiles depict historic battles (including Henry the Navigator's conquest of Ceuta), as well as the history of transport.
The 19th-century, wrought-iron Mercado do Bolhão closed its doors in spring 2018 for a major restoration project. No fixed date had been given for its reopening at the time of writing.