Long regarded as Lisbon’s quieter sibling, Portugal’s second city is currently undergoing a magical moment of rejuvenation. Centuries ago, British merchant ships would cluster in Porto’s medieval harbour to ferry the region’s eponymous port wines back home. Now, the city’s river banks are crowded with hip new bars and cool pavement restaurants. Helping drive Porto’s transformation is its resurgent cultural scene, from world class concerts at Casa da Música to exciting art exhibitions along Rua de Miguel Bombarda. But this ancient metropolis is not about to tart itself up and pimp itself out for the tourists like so many other popular European destinations. Portugueses love their old world ways too much to give them up. So staying put are the city’s cobbled streets and beautifully tiled churches, its lazy lunchtimes and touching friendliness. In short, what’s on offer is the best of both worlds.
Porto’s more obvious charms – the river, the port lodges, the alley-woven historic centre – it’s the city’s soulfulness that makes it that bit special. Revealing itself little by little, Porto is made for exploring on foot, and you never know quite where those thigh-challenging steps or back alleys will lead you. The laid-back vibe, ludicrously beautiful viewpoints and relentlessly hospitable locals make this an easy city to love. High-spirited nightlife, outstanding food, wine tasting, street art, avant-garde design, mood-lifting ocean views – you name it, Porto pulls it off time and again.
Whatever it is, it certainly has to do with its people, known to be generous and easy-going, as well as the River Douro and its heritage on both banks, with its bridges and monuments, the tiles, the flowering balconies and the shopping streets. The historic centre of Porto and the River Douro on the Gaia side, where the Port Wine lodges are located, are classified as World Heritage.
The architecturally imposing Casa da Música, with its full programme of cultural events, is on Rotunda da Boavista, an area that is good for shopping. There are also good shops to be found around Avenida dos Aliados.
For more information, please visit Porto.