Loved for its medieval riverside living, kaleidoscope-coloured cobbled streets and world-famous port wine industry, the coastal city of Porto is one of the most vibrant and interesting destinations in Europe. Here’s why you really need to visit this romantic Portuguese metropolis.
Because it’s Unfathomably Old
Perched atop the grassy hillsides that hug the Douro River, Porto boasts some 2,000 years of cultural and historical heritage. In fact, it’s so old that the blue-tiled and terracotta-roofed historic centre, known as the Ribeira, is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Whether you’re into architecture from the Baroque, Neoclassical or Belle Epoque periods, sites like the Torre dos Clérigos, the Palácio da Bolsa and Sé do Porto are sure to take your breath away.
Because it’s Heaven for Foodies
With its own signature dishes to nibble your way through and all sorts of trendy restaurants and hipster bars to explore, the food itself is enough of a reason to visit this Portuguese paradise.
Start with essential native flavours of “Francesinha”, a deeply decadent meat feast of cured ham, smoked sausage and steak slathered with melted cheese and a rich tomato and beer/port sauce. As the signature dish of the city so you won’t have to go far to find it.
Porto’s dining scene is progressive too, with a slew of celebrity chefs, like José Avillez, that are elevating classic Portuguese cuisine with molecular gastronomy techniques and earning more than their fair share of Michelin-stars along the way. If you’re lucky enough to get a table at Cantinho do Avillez, you can taste it for yourself.
Because it’s the Birthplace of Port Wine
Ruby red and seductively sweet, if Porto is famous one thing above all else it’s its thriving port industry. Head over to the Vila Nova de Gaia area on the other side of the river and you’ll discover countless cherry and oak scented warehouses nuzzled up next to each other along the riverbank. Big names include Cockburns, Taylor’s and Sandeman, although this port swilling writer can personally vouch for the Ferreira cellars, where you can sample many different types of port and learn about how they are produced.
Because it’s Overflowing with Art
From the technicolor street art that adorns the city’s phone boxes, metro and medieval walls to the world-class art galleries, Porto is literally brimming with colour.
Stroll down the cosmopolitan Rua De Miguel Bombarda for instant immersion into Porto’s contemporary art scene, and if you’re interested in modern architecture you won’t want to miss the spaced-aged Casa da Música concert hall.
Because it’s Wildly Romantic
Porto’s hills are alive with the scents and sounds of nature, with regal gardens like the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal that are filled with blossom and captivating “miradouros” (lookouts) offering sweeping views over the glowing river below. For postcard-worthy views of the bleached-mustard and spearmint-blue old town, head to the Sé Cathedral terrace and take in the views with a glass of something refreshing.
Need to see the sea? Ride the rickety old tram to Foz do Douro and enjoy the Atlantic-salted coastal path walk to Matosinhos, where you can watch surfer carve and seagulls swoop among the waves.
Because You’ve Never Seen Bridges Like This Before
Though there are six mighty bridges spanning the Douro River, Porto’s most iconic is the Dom Luis I bridge. This colossal two-level feat of engineering was built to connect the old Ribeira district to the Vila Nova de Gaia area and, when it opened in 1886, it was the longest of its type in the world. Other arcing beauties include the 270 m concrete Ponte da Arrabida, and the 280 metre Ponte do Infante, which to this day is the largest single span concrete bridge on earth.
Because it Inspired Harry Potter
Before she became a billionaire author, J.K.Rowling lived in Porto and taught English for a number of years. Rowling started writing the Philosopher’s Stone at the gilded 1920s style Café Majestic, and if you visit the Livraria Lello bookstore, you’ll see the place that inspired the Flourish and Blotts bookshop. Oh, and you might notice that the cloaks worn as part of the local high school students’ uniform look ever so slightly familiar.