Portugal’s enchanting second city, Porto, has gained much attention over the last few years, and it’s easy to understand why. From hip bars to ancient cobbled alleyways, Porto has finally hit the travel headlines and become one of Europe’s hottest destinations. The architecture is diverse and eye-catching, whether it’s the colorful, intricately designed tiles (azulejos) or the abundant ornate churches.
Located on the hills of the Douro River, the city retains a gritty quality that adds to its charm, but it has more than its fair share of buzzing bars, tempting restaurants, and chic accommodation options these days. Home of port wine, Porto brims with wine bars and cellars, where visitors can sample the city’s main export. Alfresco wining and dining is popular, and revelers spill into the streets from the bars and eateries.
Hit the Streets
One of the most appealing aspects of the city is that it’s easy to explore on foot. Although many of the streets are steep, none are excessively demanding for anyone with a reasonable degree of fitness. As a bonus, most of the main attractions are within walking distance of one another. One of the joys of exploring the city is discovering hidden treasures. From stumbling across cool street art to encountering an authentic slice of local life, there’s a surprise around every corner.
The Ribeira, adjacent to the river, is a fascinating neighborhood full of narrow, twisting lanes which bustle with activity day and night. Cruises embark from the riverfront, and in addition to passing many of Porto’s major sites, they follow the route of the merchants who transported port wine back in the day.
Considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, Livraria Lello is famous for being the inspiration behind J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts Library. In fact, despite living in Porto from 1991 to 1993, J.K. Rowling never set foot in the bookstore, but this hasn’t stopped a long line from forming every day an hour before opening time. Even without the literary connection, it’s well worth a visit in its own right. Neo-Gothic/Art Nouveau in style, the plush interior has a sweeping red staircase at its center, a stained glass skylight, and grand bookshelves lining the walls – not your regular bookshop by any means.
Porto is home to a bounty of museums focusing on everything from football to photography.
Previously a prison and courthouse, this underrated museum dates back to the 18th century. It hosts temporary exhibits as well as a permanent collection of photography. The atmospheric museum also has an extensive range of camera equipment, including a camera disguised as a Pepsi can and tiny spy cameras. As a bonus, there’s no entrance fee, and the views from the barred windows on the top floor are splendid.
Transport enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to this museum which is housed in an ex-powerplant. The tram is an iconic sight on the streets of Porto to this day. A large selection of the historic vehicles which once rattled through the city is on display, having been restored to their former glory.
Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art
This magnificent art deco house is set in a beautiful park and is home to a permanent exhibition of artwork from the sixties to the present day. The park is scattered with sculptures, and one of the highlights is a treetop walk that winds its way over the landscape.
Museum of the Holocaust
Recently opened, this modern museum does an excellent job of conveying the horrors of the holocaust. In addition to photographs and films, there’s a remembrance room and a poignant reproduction of an Auschwitz dormitory.
A must for military aficionados, this museum features a collection of 16,000 miniature soldiers from the Roman Empire to World War II.
National Museum Soares do Reis
The National Museum houses the city’s oldest and most extensive art collection. Artifacts such as paintings, sculptures, glassware, and pottery date back to the 1700’s.
FC Porto Museum and Stadium
This contemporary, well-presented museum is dedicated to Porto FC and charts the club’s history from its beginnings to the present. With interactive exhibits, it’s a slick setup, and soccer fans will be in their element.
Take a Walk across Dom Luis I Bridge
Visitors should take advantage of the opportunity to stroll on the Douro River’s other side. Not only are there a plethora of wine houses lining the Vila Nova de Gaia promenade, but the view across the river of Ribeira is the most spectacular site in the city. There are over sixty wine houses to choose from, including such stalwarts as Graham’s Port Lodge and Sandemans. Most of them offer guided tours explaining the history and production of port wine, and of course, tastings are offered.
For a birds-eye view of both sides of the river, take a ride on Teleferico de Gaia, the cable car which has become one of Porto’s most popular tourist attractions. Before heading back to Ribeira, mosey along Guilhereme Gomes Fernandes, one block back from the river. Half Rabbit, a striking piece of street art, is situated on a corner and was created from trash by street artist Bordallo II. His work effectively draws attention to waste and the effect it has on wildlife.
Living the High Life at Café Majestic
Once the hangout of Portuguese high society, the elegant Café Majestic transports visitors back to the 1920’s with its grand Nouveau interior, glittering chandeliers, and smartly attired wait staff. During the day, it’s the perfect spot for afternoon tea and scones. At night, it’s the swankiest joint in the city for a cocktail accompanied by some live piano music.
Treat yourself to a Delicious Pastry
Porto is known for its tempting pastries, and Confeitaria do Bolhao is the place to try them. Art Deco in style, the bakery is around 120 years old, and the range of pastries is impressive. Their biggest seller is the local favorite, the ambrosial Pastel de Nata, a creamy custard tart dusted with sugar and cinnamon.