Porto, still sometimes known in English as Oporto, is not only the second largest city in Portugal but also a city of great historical past and listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage. The narrow and labyrinthine streets of the old city centre will take you back in time while the cool and vintage neighborhoods will make you discover the new trends and the unique atmosphere of this historical yet modern city.
Winner of the “Best European Destination Award” in 2012, Porto is a city of contrasts: authentic and historical in its legacy, traditional and cosmopolitan in its attitude, adventurous and warm in its spirit. This is the city made famous by its nectar: the Port Wine.
Porto’s Cathedral (‘Sé’) is the city’s most important church. Built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it’s a national monument. Look out for the gothic cloister, the chapel frescoes, the Teixeira Lopes sculpture in the baptistery and the medieval portrait of Our Lady of Vandoma, the city’s patron saint. When locals talk about the ‘Sé’, they don’t just mean the cathedral: the name also applies to the historic district at Porto’s heart. Wander its streets, keep Google Maps turned off and you’ll thank us for it.
Palácio da Bolsa
Opposite the side wall of Hard Club, Palácio da Bolsa deserves a special chapter. Built between 1842 and 1910, the building, which belongs to Porto Commercial Association, is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and offers guided visits.
The visit starts at the beginning, in the old cloister of Convento de S. Francisco – named today as Pátio das Nações – , whose ruins were donated by the Queen D. Maria II to the association founded in 1934, so that the town businessmen might have a place to meet.
Leave the best to the end. The Salão Árabe was built as an Arab balls danceroom, very fashionable in the 19th century, and inspired by Palácio de Alhambra in Granada.
This ornate, 75-metre bell tower, which watches lovingly over the city of Porto, is arguably the city’s most iconic silhouette. It was opened in 1763 and is blessed with a beautiful barrage of Baroque motifs thanks to its Italian designer Nicolau Nasoni. Given its prominent position, you can get some amazing 360° views of the city from the top, but you’ll have to climb 225 steps to get there.
Crystal Palace gardens
When Googling this park, if you’re faced with a bunch of fiberglass dinosaurs, then you’re in the wrong Crystal Palace. Despite the lack of prehistoric models, these gardens are somewhat more exotic than what London has to offer. Not only does this verdant paradise have a maze of walkways, tree-lined waterways, sculptured topiary and a huge domed pavilion (all thanks to German landscape architect Emile David), but it overlooks the Douro River too. Well worth the hike up there.
Porto Wine Cellars
Porto’s sister city Gaia has beaches and those famous Port wine cellars. They’re gorgeous, with guided tours to teach you the history of the stuff and the distinguishing features of each variety (there are many varieties of port). Every tour has a happy ending: a Port tasting. We recommend the Sandeman Cellars (Largo Miguel Bombarda, 3; the ones with the chap in the black cape), which include a museum; Taylor’s (Rua do Choupelo, 250), featuring the highly rated O Barão de Fladgate restaurant; and Cockburn’s (Rua Serpa Pinto, 346), where you can enjoy a picnic with some lipsmacking Portuguese delicacies.
Bacalhau sits right along the Douro River and, unsurprisingly, serves a wide array of bacalhau (cod). Cod chips, cod pate, grilled cod, fried cod, and more are served alongside salads, soups, and pasta. Because of its prime location on the water, Bacalhau can get very busy, so go in the late afternoon outside of peak hours to ensure you don’t have to wait long for a table.
ODE Porto Winehouse
Tucked down a side street in Porto, ODE Porto Winehouse has an impressive wine list, and a decor that is heavy on wine barrels and crates. The beautifully cooked and carefully arranged Portuguese dishes are all made with ingredients sourced from selected farmers, producers and suppliers. This is in keeping with the Winehouse’s aim to provide an authentic Portuguese menu of organic, locally produced ingredients.
Casa d’Oro sits on the river in Porto and has an airy terrace with panoramic views. Owner Maria Paola Porru serves classic Italian dishes like Roman artichokes and some of the best pizza in Porto. On a summer evening, sip Lambrusco while taking in the tiled houses and gliding riverboats along the Douro River. In chillier months, the interior of the restaurant has a cozy vibe, but views can still be seen from the large windows.
In the center of the city, Camafeu is filled with antique mirrors and paintings, beautiful wooden chairs, quaintly mismatched tables, lots of candlelight, and has large French windows looking out on Carlos Alberto Square. It feels like you’re dining in someone’s home, and is perfect for an intimate date night. Like many restaurants in Porto, the menu is seafood heavy, and the scallops and octopus are favorites.
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