Sitting on the north bank of the River Douro, the charming and historic city of Porto is a commercial hub in the north of Portugal. Narrow lanes rise steeply into the hills on both sides of the river, creating a beautiful valley.
Porto is full of pastel-shade abodes, rising like steps up the hillside, grand Baroque churches and azulejo-tiled cafés. Famous for its port wine, you will find many world-renowned names along the south bank of the Douro, in Vila Nova de Gaia. But that isn’t all it is famous for, with its honest and humble populace, lots of cultural highlights and an ever-growing foodie scene. Street art flourishes alongside traditional galleries, Roman ruins sit next to modern accommodation and hip bars and chic restaurants can be found across the city. Don’t miss a trip to the UNESCO-certified Ribeira district, before heading to the more cosmopolitan Baixa. Find out for yourself by booking flights to Porto now.
Porto’s historic district of Ribeiro (the Riverside) is made up of medieval streets and dark nooks, but its charm comes from the tumble-down houses painted in pastel colours. During the day, you’ll find traditional Rabelo boats cruising down the river now laden with sightseers rather than barrels. Then in the evening, it comes alive with merrymakers searching out popular bars in the archways and alleys. You will also find the Casa do Infante on Praça da Ribeira, birthplace of Henry the Navigator, and a fantastic gilded church interior at the Igreja Monumento de São Francisco.
The centre is a mishmash of architectural styles and eras, from the grandiose and imposing Avenida dos Aliados – home to the Praça da Liberdade and the InterContinental Porto – to the magnificent Carmo Church. You will find amazing and varied shops along the Rue Santa Caterina, as well as the famous Café Majestic, whose Belle Époque interior has seen many romantic trysts over the decades. Visit the spectacular São Bento Station, whose atrium is covered in around 20,000 magnificent tiles, by artist Jorge Colaço, showing the history of Portugal.
Just west of Avenida dos Aliados you will find an area full of shops, cafes and restaurants, away from the crowds. This part of the centre is where the hipsters gather, meaning independent art galleries, cool bars and affordable hangouts. Travel down Rua Miguel Bombarda to discover galleries, sculptures, street art and eventually the romantic Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, which has great views of the Douro. Check out the Centro Comercial Bombarda, a department store dedicated to vintage design classics.
On the southern banks of the Douro, across the double-decked Dom Luís I Bridge, you’ll find Porto’s famous port caves (cellars). From big British names like Taylor’s and Cockburn’s to the Portuguese-owned Ferreira, these wineries produce the best port wine in the world. A tour of one of the cellars comes highly recommended, and after a fascinating history lesson, you are able to sample some of the ports on offer. The street along the riverfront is also worth visiting in the evening, when the bars and restaurants become a hub of activity and the views across the river to Porto are spellbinding – a very romantic city.
Take the antique tram out to Foz do Douro, at the point the river mouth meets the sea, and be pleasantly surprised by this affluent suburb’s Blue Flag beaches. Originally the fisherman’s quarter, you can eat some of the best fish in Porto in the beautiful promenade’s cafés. Further up the coast, facing the powerful swells of the Atlantic Ocean, Matosinhos is an ideal beach retreat. People flock here for its long stretches of golden sand, and don’t miss the natural Piscina das Marés (saltwater pools) just north of the famous Boa Nova tea rooms.