Porto is best known as the center of Portugal’s port wine production, and that’s probably what most visitors come for. Yet this charming city on the Douro river, with its colorful houses stacked seemingly on top of one another as the climb the city’s steep hills, is worth a visit even if you aren’t a wine-lover. For a quick taste, plan on 2-3 days, plus another if you plan to take a day trip to the nearby Douro Valley.
Museums and sightseeing
Start in the Ribeira, the riverfront of Porto, with its sidewalk cafes and plenty of tourists. Head up into the city center to see the Centro Português de Fotografia (Portuguese Photography Museum), the Fundação de Serralves modern art museum, and the Casa da Música (House of Music) concert hall. Take a stroll through the Mercado do Bolhão, a traditional market and stop for a photo op (or to shop) at Livraria Lello, one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.
For art and history buffs, there’s even more to explore. Check out the Casa do Infante, where Prince Henry the Navigator was supposedly born (now a museum), the beautiful Palacio da Bolsa (19th century stock exchange) and the Museu do Carro Eléctrico (transit museum). For one of the best views in the city, climb the 200 stairs of the tower of the Torre dos Clérigos church. Finally, see more of the river on a short cruise of the Douro. These cost only 10 euros and last about an hour.
Even if you aren’t a wine connoisseur, don’t miss a visit to at least one of Porto’s port wine cellars. Some offer tours and tastings, others just offer tastings or wine flights. Some charge a fee while others are free. At at some you’ll be the only person in the room while others will be packed with tourists. Sample from a few different places, or head to the Port Wine Institute to take your pick from hundreds of options in all styles and price ranges.
>> Read more on port tasting in Porto
From Porto, you can take a cruise upriver to the Douro Valley. Full day cruises range from 50-100 euros per person and may include lunch or a tour and tasting at one of the valley’s wineries. Visit the town of Guimarães (about 30 minutes away by train) which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was chosen as a 2012 Capital of Culture for its many art galleries and museum and lively art and music scenes. Closer to the city, you can visit Foz, a sophisticated seaside village with lots of cafés and restaurants a short bus ride away from Porto.
As in Lisbon and the rest of Portugal, cuisine in Porto relies heavily on fresh fish. Try bacalhau (cod) grilled, broiled, poached, or in a soup, or opt for other popular fish like grilled sardines, horse mackerel, cuttlefish, grouper, turbot, or mullet. Portuguese food also uses a lot of pork and sausage. Try the suckling pig or sausages like “chouriço” or “linguiça.” Alheira, a smoked sausage made of pork, poultry meat, wheat bread and olive oil, seasoned with salt, garlic and paprika, can also be found on menus all over Porto. For a splurge meal and a modern take on traditional local food, make reservations for the dining room at the beautiful Yeatman Hotel. And if you tire of Portuguese food, check out Sitar (one of a handful of restaurants offering international food) for excellent Indian food.
If you try no other Portuguese food though, make sure you sample a Francesinha (or Little Frenchie). The slightly monstrous-looking Francesinha is the artery-clogging Portuguese version of the croque monsieur. A sandwich of wet-cured ham, linguiça, and steak or roast meat, covered with melted cheese and topped with a thick tomato and beer sauce, it’s served with french fries for 7-11 euros each and can be found all over Porto.
As elsewhere in the country, breakfast is a very light meal – coffee and bread or pastry – usually had in a cafe. Lunch may be served between noon and 3pm and dinner is generally between 8 and 11pm. When you sit to eat, a plate of sausage, cheese or bread may be brought; just be aware that this is not free and you will be charged for what you eat.