If your interests veer towards history, culture, architecture, food and/or wine, Porto, Portugal will not disappoint. The city is eminently walkable, with something to catch the visitor’s eye and fancy at every turn. But it’s equally as beautiful viewed from a boat on the Douro River. As the second largest city in Portugal (after Lisbon), Porto is vibrant (with about 28,000 university students) and always lively. Here are just five of many reasons to visit Porto:
Savor the red port wine
Port, the sweet, red dessert wine enjoyed throughout the world, derives its name from the city of Porto (Oporto, in Portuguese). The grapes used for the wine are exclusively grown in Northern Portugal, which became the very first regulated wine region in the world (in 1756). The best-preserved area of the demarcated region, the Alto Douro Vineyards, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
The famous “caves” or cellars, where the wine is still stored in wooden barrels, are located just across the Douro River from Porto in the municipality of Gaia. Many of the Port wine producers housed there offer guided tours and tastings (http://www.savoredjourneys.com/2014/11/10-port-wine-houses-visit-porto/) to familiarize visitors with the different varieties of Port.
Sip coffee in elegance
Porto also offers a rich architectural landscape. One of the best examples of the architecture of the art nouveau period is the magnificent Majestic Café (http://www.cafemajestic.com/en/Utilities/Homepage.aspx) on Rua da Santa Catarina.
When it first opened in 1921, the café was simply called “Elite,” part of the coffeehouse culture in Porto that drew artists, writers and intellectuals. Designed by Portuguese architect Joao Queiroz, the building fell into terrible disrepair over the years but was given a second life, reopening in 1994 after a two-year renovation. For the sheer beauty of its period furnishings and art nouveau architecture, the cafe is one of the most popular and instagrammable spots in the city.
Sleep in a former palace
Accommodations in Porto are far more affordable than most other European cities. Because the city wasn’t always the tourist mecca it has become, development of the hospitality infrastructure has proceeded slowly with only a limited number of five-star hotels.
The newly renovated Intercontinental Porto (http://www.savoredjourneys.com/2014/11/10-port-wine-houses-visit-porto/), ranked #1 on TripAdvisor of all hotels in the city, is housed in a former palace that was a monastery in the 15th century. The central location in the heart of the historic district is unbeatable; it’s a short walk from the Sao Bento railway station (known for its azuelos, tile panels), is close to the main Cathedral in Porto (Sé) and overlooks Liberty Square. In addition to all the palatial-like in-room amenities, many guestrooms offer French balconies with views of Avenida Dos Aiados, one the most important streets in the city.
Taste a Francesinha
The Francesinha sandwich (http://visitportoandnorth.travel/Blog/Francesinha-the-most-typical-dish-of-Porto) is ubiquitous throughout Porto — it originated here and is a favorite among locals and a must-taste for tourists. Although there are many variations, typically, local meats are placed on toasted bread that is smothered with cheese on top and a special sauce that’s concocted with tomatoes and beer. As if the cholesterol and calorie counts aren’t high enough already, it’s served with a hefty side dish of fries and can be topped with an egg. The bottom line: It’s absolutely decadent and delicious. If you’re traveling with a companion, order one sandwich to share and you still may have some to take home. According to legend, the first Francesinha was invented at Regaleira on Rua do Bonjardim.
Visit JK Rowling’s bookstore
With a neo-Gothic façade and ornate art nouveau elements inside, Livraria Lello (http://www.livrarialello.pt/en/) is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. More than a century old, it’s one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and many say it inspired JK Rowling to write the Harry Potter stories. The author lived in Porto for ten years, was married to a Portuguese man, and is said to have drafted her first notes for the story on a napkin here. It’s the perfect place to purchase a book or other keepsake of your visit to Portugal.
IF YOU GO
Official Porto and Northern Portugal Tourism Official Website