Porto has never been more accessible. It’s barely 2 hours’ flight time from the UK, and budget airlines are continuing to open up more flight routes into the city. Why? Because it’s the hot choice for a weekend getaway.
Porto? Isn’t that just Portugal’s second city?
Technically yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s the second best city. It’s Lisbon’s quieter, edgier, artsy sibling.
What makes it so special?
Despite growing tourism, Porto has managed to retain its colourful character. The crumbling, mosaicked facades that line the old town (Ribeira) appear unchanged in centuries, old trams still rattle along the snaking streets, and you can find 3-course lunches for less than 10 EURO per person (look for signs advertising menu do dia – menu of the day). That said, Porto is just as famous for its hip cafes and boho boutiques nowadays, which line the backstreets and the trendy Rua de Miguel Bombarda (the art quarter). The old and the new exist here in perfect harmony.
Everyone drinks port wine there, right?
It’s correct that all of the world’s port is stored here – although technically it’s stored in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is on the other side of the river to Porto – but, in fact, port is favoured more by the Brits than the Portuguese. That’s why lots of port brands are British – Taylors, Offley, Grahams, etc. Most of the port houses offer informative tours and tastings.
I loved Grahams. The tours are a little expensive compared to some of the other port houses, but you get what you pay for. Plus, the setting is beautiful: higher up on the riverbank than most, with dreamy views over the Douro. You’ll visit the cellars where you can look for vintage ports from your year of birth, and in the tasting at the end you get a selection of ruby, tawny and vintages to try. There’s also a really pretty terrace covered in weaving vines that’s the perfect spot to enjoy a Porto Tonico in the sunshine.
Ok, so the drink is good. What about the food?
Just as good! We started our day with brunch at Rosa et al Townhouse, where the menu is as hipster as a Hoxton coffee shop. The millennial in me went for poached eggs on sourdough with avocado, spinach and roasted peppers. If you want something more traditional, the Porto specialty is the Francesinha, which you’ll find on most restaurant menus. Strictly for carnivores, this mega sandwich is filled with steak, smoked meat and cured ham, and topped with melted cheese and a warm tomato and beer sauce. Plus French fries on the side. Yikes!
I’m more of a sweet tooth.
No problem. Pasteis de nata – everyone’s favourite Portuguese custard tarts – can be bought for less than a euro in any bakery. Or, if you fancy a treat, elegant Café Majestic is the grandest place in town for coffee and cake. The café dates back to the 1920s, and its Belle Époque interior is well worth seeing even if you’re not stopping for a caffeine hit.
What other historical sights are there?
Have a quick peep inside the main train station: São Bento. Its interior is a true marvel; every wall is covered floor-to-ceiling in beautiful mosaics, which depict ancient battle scenes and the history of transportation. There’s also the Clerigos Tower, which boasts stellar views, and, of course, the Dom Luís bridge, which was inspired by Gustave Eiffel – the engineer behind Paris’ famous tower.
Any other recommendations?
Catch tram no.1 for the short, scenic ride along the coast to Foz. This seafront suburb is a refreshing break from the bustle of the city, and boasts lovely beaches – like Praia da Luz – as well as a number of buzzy restaurants. You could choose to base yourself here; Boutique Apartments Porto offers some of the trendiest self-catering accommodation in the area, and its arty interior is right up there with some of Porto’s most stylish hotels.
And if I want to stay in the centre?
Make the most of the magnificent Douro views at 1872 River House, which occupies the perfect location, slap bang in the middle of the Ribeira. Or, for something a little more private, cross the bridge into Vila Nova de Gaia and climb up the hill to The Yeatman. This luxurious spa hotel is wine-themed, its layout an imitation of vineyards and its infinity pool shaped like a wine decanter. And to top it off, its restaurant has been awarded 2 Michelin stars – welcome to heaven, foodies.
To see more recommended places to stay in Porto, click here.