The hub of Portugal's northern region, Porto has a magnificent setting on the River Douro. Sophisticated, confident, outward-looking, Porto represents a wonderful blend of tradition and cultural dynamism.
You can see this energy everywhere, from the street art in neighborhoods like Miragaia to the chic creations of local design boutiques like scar-id. Even food is an outlet for the city's creativity, with Portugal's food capital attracting talents like Pedro Lemos (at the Boa Nova Tea House).
And you can sense history everywhere too. Whether it's in the sweet perfection of a glass of Port wine, the twisting streets of the waterfront neighborhood, or the views from the soaring Clérigos Tower, Porto has a magical, timeless feel.
From bacalhau (salt cod) and enormous garlic sausage sandwiches known as francesinha, to fish grilled straight from the net and decadent éclairs with a subtle fennel flavor, Porto's bakers, charcutiers, and chefs turn the region's famed produce into culinary delights. There's no better dining destination in Portugal, period.
The center of Porto has retained its 18th-century feel with remarkable success, so much so that it is now a UNESCO-protected heritage site. Tour local gems like the Romanesque cathedral and Case da Prelada, before checking out the current crop of spectacular postmodern creations like the striking Casa da Música.
Artists, musicians, dancers, sculptors, designers all of them gravitate towards Porto. You can catch fine musical performances at the Casa da Música, assess Portugal's rising artistic stars at the Galeria Nuno Centeno, and tour the ebullient murals by street artists like Hazul.
Porto and Port wine go together, and you can bookend a meal in style at the port lodges on the Vila Nova da Gaia. If you fancy something more energizing, the bar hopping scene is Portugal's liveliest, and you can party the night away at highlights like Passos Manuel and Baixa Bar.
Porto is blessed with a beautiful location on a crook in the River Douro, just before it opens out into the Atlantic Ocean, and it's one of the most photogenic cities you could wish for. Even better, stunning beaches like Praia da Granja are an easy drive away, and offer great surf, safe swimming, and atmospheric seafront bars.
One of the most visible landmarks in Porto is the Clerigos tower, located adjacent to Clerigos Church in the center of the city. The Torre dos Clerigos is a prominent symbol in the city of Porto and was one of the first churches in Portugal to use a baroque elliptic floor plan in its design. Both the Church and the Tower were built in the 18th-century and feature ornate carvings, statues, and spiraling pillars. This Roman-Catholic church was only recently open to the public in 2015, when the Clérigos Brotherhood finally began allowing visitors access during nighttime hours.
For those who love people watching, Ribiera square is the perfect place to kick back and observe modern Portuguese life. The historical square suffered a huge fire in the 15th century and was afterwards outfitted with a pavement made of more durable stone slabs. Today the site features many small cafes, boutique shops, and open-markets selling souvenir trinkets and gifts for visitors. The square also hosts many cultural activities and concerts in the summer months, as well as a Christmas market in the winter.
Art reflects nature, and nature is closely entwined with the contemporary art at the Museum Serralves. It's location within the larger Serralves Park offers a unique glimpse into the history of landscape gardening, complete with woodlands, a small farm, and a formal garden area. Step inside and you'll find an ever changing mix of eclectic art from artists around the world. The contemporary museum also hosts many theater, dance, and musical performances by famed artists like Laura Cannel and Joana Guerra.
Not sure whether to drive or walk? In Porto, you don't have to choose. The metal arch bridge of Ponte de D. Luis connects the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia over the River Douro. The upper section is designated for pedestrians and the lower section for cars, with room underneath the to accommodate the river's boat traffic. The pedestrian path offers great views of the river and the Old Town down below, giving you a unique perspective of the city of Porto.
Music buffs will love the aptly named "House of Music" concert hall on the outskirts of Porto. The building's ultra-modern design took 4 years to complete as engineers struggled to realize the inventive architecture, finally opening it's doors in early 2005. The concert hall is now home to three indigenous musical groups: the Orquestra Nacional do Porto, Orquestra Barroca, and the Remix Ensemble, and puts on regular concerts, dance recitals, and theatrical performances. There are also several smaller areas in the building which are used for workshops, speaker series, and other educational aims. Visitors flock to Casa de Musica not only for its rich musical merit, but also to basque in the structure's artistic decor.
If you want to juggle sightseeing and sunbathing, head to Porto between June and early September, when the temperatures regularly top 85 degrees. October sees warm weather until surprisingly late in the season, and spring offers cut-price accommodation and mild weather.
Portugal's third busiest aviation hub, Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (OPO) is around 10 miles out of town. When you touch down, you can catch the AeroBus to the city center (EUR6) or, even better, take the train for EUR1.80. It makes sense to buy a rechargeable card when you arrive. It's just EUR0.50 extra and makes getting around much easier. Expect taxis to cost upwards of EUR20.
Porto's train station has connections with Lisbon and Madrid, and most high-speed trains arrive at São Bento station. After admiring the station's exquisite tile work, getting into town is simple thanks to the subway station.
You can rent a car at the airport from branches of Europcar or Avis, and getting into the city shouldn't be too hard. Take the A41 westbound and hook up with the southbound A28, which runs directly into Porto. From Lisbon, take the E1 all the way up the Portuguese coast.
Bus companies running intercity services to Porto include Eurolines, AUTNA, and ALSA, with good links to northern Spain, Lisbon, and Madrid. Drop-off points vary, but all are within the city center.
The finest accommodation providers in Porto are clustered around the Old Town and Baixa, and there are plenty to choose from. The Crowne Plaza is a reliable 5-star option, but the InterContinental Palacio Das Cardosas is more luxurious. The Pestana Palácio do Freixo is a less flamboyant, but equally comfortable spa hotel, while the best hotel near the Atlantic coast is the cozy Casa Godninho in Matosinhos.
Baixa - Baixa is Porto's downtown neighborhood. Clustered around the Avenida dos Aliados, it's the city's luxury shopping hub, the location of the Mercado do Bolhão (the main fruit and vegetables market), and is full of restaurants, cafes, and gorgeous churches. At the southern end, the Clerigos Tower offers the best views across the port, and isn't to be missed.
Sé - south of Baixa lies Sé. Named after the cathedral, which is the major tourist highlight, Sé is the oldest part of town. Crammed with attractions like the Palácio da Bolsa, the area flows down to the river in an enticing jumble of ancient streets that are packed with high-quality eateries and lively bars.
Matosinhos - located a few miles northwest of the city center, Matosinhos is something else entirely. The neighborhood is famous for its seaside pools that have been cut from the local rock, offering an incredible setting for a swim. When you've dried off, the area also hosts exceptional seafood restaurants, with the freshest catch imaginable.
Porto has a fast, clean, and ultra-modern Metro (subway) system that covers almost every conceivable attraction. With a rechargeable Andante card, single trips in central Porto cost EUR1.20 and a 24-hour pass costs EUR4.15. Prices rise if you travel further out of town. The card can be used on the buses, where the same fares apply.
Taxis in Porto are convenient, plentiful, and expensive. Expect to pay a meter drop of EUR2.50, surcharges for baggage, pick-ups from your hotel and nighttime journeys, as well as a per mile rate of about EUR2.50.
The traffic in central Porto can get a little snarled up, but it's manageable, and with your own car you can explore the coast at your leisure. Rental outlets can be found all over town, including familiar brands like Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis, and rates drop as low as EUR10 per day, making driving in Porto extremely cost effective.
Porto is a fantastic place to shop. Start in Baixa on Rua Santa Catarina, which is lined with independent boutiques. Then wander into the Mercado do Bolhão to check out the craft stalls. Be sure to head to the Rua do Rosário as well to visit cutting-edge designers like scar-id and the furniture boutique Piurra. Finally, to sample the finest Port in town, cross the river to the lodges of Vila Noca de Gaia.
Porto has all of the supermarkets you'll need to stock a self-catering kitchen during your stay, with options including Lidl, Froiz, and Minipreco. Prices should be reasonable, at around EUR2.15 for a gallon of milk and EUR1.50 for 12 eggs.
In Porto, every bistro or tasca that you wander into feels like you've found a hidden gem. The overall quality of food in the city is exceptional, but stand-outs include the ODE Porto Winehouse, which pairs traditional Portuguese dishes with the perfect wine; Pedro Lemos, who uses the finest local produce; and Casa Guedes, where the roast pork sandwiches are unforgettable. But you won't go too far wrong if you just explore the local neighborhood. Prices won't seem extortionate either, at about EUR25 for a three course meal.