A weekend in Porto
Everything you need to know for a break in Portugal’s enchanting second city
Why you should visit Porto
The home of port wine, Portugal’s enchanting second city also offers a winning blend of austere architecture and cutting-edge design, plus buzzy bars and beaches, just up the Douro river.
Many tourists going to Portugal will choose between visiting the capital Lisbon or Porto, said the Abroad with Ash travel blog, “I would say Porto should be your first pick”. Porto “packs a lot into a small city”, it’s 100% walkable, the entrance to the stunning Douro Valley wine region, has “better restaurants and hotels (in my opinion)”, feels safer, and offers a lot more “old-world charm”. Lisbon is cool but Porto is “more unique and memorable”.
Porto is undergoing a “magical moment of rejuvenation” and helping drive the transformation is a “resurgent cultural scene”, said destination expert Oliver Balch in The Telegraph. But the city is not about to “tart itself up and pimp itself out” for the tourists just yet, Portuenses “love their old world ways too much to give them up”. In short, what’s on offer is “the best of both worlds”.
Top attractions: things to see and do
Buildings and museums
Porto is bursting with beautiful structures: blue-tiled churches here, Eiffel-designed bridges there. Be sure to gasp at twin-towered Sé do Porto cathedral – and climb to its mesmerising miradouro (lookout) – and nearby Sao Bento station’s blue-and-white azulejo tiles. Then, for more modern kicks, admire Casa da Musica, a concert hall hewn from stark white concrete, and the Serralves, Portugal’s finest contemporary art museum. The Clérigos Tower, a 75-metre bell tower, which “watches lovingly over the city”, is arguably Porto’s most iconic silhouette, said Time Out. “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.”
World of Wine
Five years in the making, the World of Wine is, as the name suggests, a homage to all of the elements that go into producing your favourite tipple. The 55,000sqm site sits just below the famous Yeatman Hotel, with an expansive square at its heart and spectacular views down to the Douro river and the Dom Luís I Bridge. There’s museums, restaurants, shops and experiences to enjoy in Porto’s wine district.
On the Douro river’s southern shore, a 15-minute drive from Porto’s centre, is Vila Nova de Gaia (aka Gaia) and the original old port lodges of companies like Cockburn’s and Croft. Take in a tasting or a walking tour.
Potter in Porto
Livraria Lello is one of the world’s oldest bookstores and frequently ranked as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, said Harrison Jacobs on Business Insider. Many say that it was the “direct inspiration” for J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books – the author lived in Porto from 1991 to 1993. Every day thousands of Potter fans flock to Livraria Lello and this “can make the cramped bookstore feel like a tourist trap”. Despite the crowds, “I still enjoyed my visit”.
A glut of design-focused, multipurpose spaces have materialised in recent years, most hawking desirable handmade products. Lobo Taste and Scar.ID are two such, while Armazém is an old wine warehouse turned cafe, gallery and shops, selling everything from vintage clocks to chic handbags.
Hotels and accommodation: where to stay
Porto’s chicest residents clink pink port and tonics at The Yeatman's suntrap rooftop. Set on the calmer side of Porto away from the bustle at the heart of the city, The Yeatman lies on the south bank of the mouth of the Douro river nestled amongst the old port wine warehouses. Its vantage point means it’s blessed with magnificent views across the waters, taking in the spectacular Luís I Bridge and the city itself.
Take a 15-minute drive from Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, Porto’s main travel hub, and you reach the striking Vila Foz Hotel & Spa; it takes its name from the locale in which it sits, one of Porto’s swankier districts.
The Yeatman got a 9/10 expert rating in The Telegraph’s list of Porto’s best hotels. Other properties to get that mark include Torel Palace, “one of the finest examples of Porto’s period of romantic architecture”, and the InterContinental Porto, a five-star “gem” in the city’s accommodation crown.
Transport: flights and cruises
The main international airport, Francisco Sá Carneiro, is located around 12km north of Porto’s city centre. Visitors from the UK can fly into Porto direct from a number of airports, including Birmingham (Ryanair), Bristol (easyJet), Edinburgh (Ryanair), Liverpool (Ryanair and Transavia), London Gatwick (British Airways, easyJet, TAP), London Luton (easyJet and Wizz Air), London Stansted (Ryanair), and Manchester (easyJet and Ryanair).
Porto is also a popular cruise destination – its main terminal is located at the Port of Leixões, less than 5km away from the city. River cruises in Porto and the Douro are also very popular with visitors.
Eating and drinking: restaurants, bars, wine and port
Where to eat
If you want a taste of Porto then head to one of the three restaurants that have been awarded one Michelin star: Restaurant Vila Foz (contemporary cuisine), Antiqvvm (creative) and Pedro Lemos (modern). In Diferente (international) was awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand.
Petiscos (Portuguese tapas) are available in most bars and restaurants, but the classic snack is something saltier. “Being so near to the sea, Porto is famous for its fish,” said Margarida Ribeiro, an editor of Porto Tasty. “I suggest Taberna São Pedro: it’s a very traditional seafood restaurant that few tourists know.”
Where to drink
A bookstore focused on art and cinema by day, Café Candelabro transforms into a bar after-dark, although many guests congregate on the pavement just outside. It’s the kind of place that is effortlessly but unpretentiously hip: everyone’s friendly and welcoming. Bottles of Super Bock beer cost only a few euros and DJs play late on weekends.
Wine and port
The most well-known wine region in Portugal is the Douro Valley – the wines produced here have become “legendary”, said Meagan Drillinger in Travel + Leisure. Here, visitors can taste the esteemed port, as well as other Douro wines, Muscat, and sparkling varieties. Of course, it’s possible to sample local ports without leaving the city of Porto. Cross the river into Vila Nova de Gaia, which boasts a majority of the port storehouses and hosts frequent tastings. “We especially love Porto In A Bottle, Touriga Vinhos de Portugal, and Vinologia, for port samplings,” Drillinger said.
What the locals say…
In his local’s guide in The Guardian, Oliver Balch suggested that if you’re doing a “whistlestop” visit to Porto then a guided tour is probably a good idea. “Porto’s tourist route is now well-worn, but wonderful nonetheless,” he said. The destination expert also gave an insider’s tip in his guide on The Telegraph. One “city hack” is to make use of Porto’s “fantastic” metro that takes you right to the heart of the city for just €2.60 (£2.20). “Most central destinations are then just a short walk or cab ride from Trinidade station.”