This charming portuguese city combines the best of old and new.
Stunning 18th- and 19th-century buildings, new indie bars and restaurants and a laid-back vibe, facilitated by the excellent wine — it’s hard to find anything to dislike about Porto. Its walkable center is crammed with cobbled streets and balconies adorned with flowerpots, and the city’s love of food and design is apparent in concept stores and trendy restaurants offering innovative small plates. An ideal day in Porto combines both the grandeur of its history and its very up-to-the-minute cool.
Most visitors arrive by train, and it’s worth taking the time to examine the São Bento station. Over a century old, the interior of the Beaux-Arts building is decorated with azulejos, the exquisite blue and white tiles for which Portugal is famous. A short walk from the station are two establishments patronized by Porto’s sweets-loving citizens. Confeitaria Serrana, a family-run bakery for over 40 years, serves the city’s best bola de Berlim (1.10 euros, or $1.16 at $1.06 to the euro), a dose of custard sandwiched in a sugar-dusted roll. At nearby Cremosi, the superb local gelato comes in boozy flavors, including port and gin and tonic. Combine the two to make the frozen version of the city’s signature drink, the porto tónico.
Major port producers have their warehouses in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the south side of the River Douro, but you’ll get a more thorough grounding in the local tipple by delving into the wine shops on the Porto side. Run by the knowledgeable and friendly Marco Ferreira and Célia Lino, Porto in a Bottle specializes in port from small producers. Touriga Vinhos de Portugal is another worthwhile stop, offering samples of three ports for five euros and a good selection of Portuguese wines. For those who are more interested in sampling than shopping, Vinologia offers a choice of port flights (35 euros) that come with a short introduction to the many varieties.
A Porto landmark, the twin-towered cathedral, Sé do Porto (free admission), is a gorgeous amalgamation of architectural details from multiple centuries, beginning in the 12th. The result is a historic building that’s Instagram-worthy inside and out. Be sure to explore the hauntingly atmospheric 14th-century Gothic cloister (3 euros), with its exquisite stonework and decorative azulejos. The plaza on which the cathedral sits leads to a perfect view over the sea of picturesque red-roofed houses that slope down to the river.
Unbeatable panoramic views of Porto’s churches and rooftops, its historic port warehouses, the curve of the Douro River and the seagulls sweeping over the waterfront Ribeira neighborhood may be had from the belfry of the Torre de Clérigos (admission 3 euros), 225 steps up a narrow spiral staircase. The rooms off the stairs are home to an exhibit documenting the history of the 18th-century tower’s inhabitants and architects; the adjacent church (included in the admission fee) is also worth a look.
The bilevel Ponte de Dom Luís I stretches from the Ribeira section of Porto over the River Douro to Vila Nova de Gaia. Stroll over the bridge, with its exquisite views downriver, to the port warehouses that dot the opposite side. Nearly all offer tours, but it’s the views of Porto and the bustling Ribeira waterfront that are the most spectacular feature. Wander along the riverbank, or go for the tour at Sandeman or Taylor’s, then hop on the teleférico (5 euros), which will carry you back to the bridge.
By Nell McShane in The New York Times