What to see and do in Porto. Plus where to stay in Porto
Porto was voted as the Best European Destination for 2017. And this spring, I got a chance to find out why. Actually, I visited at the cusp of winter and spring, so the weather was a bit unpredictable – cloudy, windy, and cold with a touch of rain. But that didn’t stop me from exploring the city and experiencing its delights.
Here’s a quick guide to Portugal’s second city.
What to see and do in Porto
Get lost in Ribeira’s maze of medieval alleys lined with ageing, pastel houses, and tiny tascas (taverns). Explore the shops on Rua das Flores, and then get a cup of coffee and people-watch on the Douro riverfront promenade as the Dom Luís I Bridge lights up at dusk.
The contemporary art museum showcases both Portuguese and international artists. The Modernist museum building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira blends seamlessly with the surrounding garden and parkland; don’t miss a visit to the Art Deco ‘Pink Villa’.
São Bento Train Station
The impressive Beaux-Arts building is even more stunning on the inside, with its vestibule covered with magnificent azulejo (blue and white tile) panels depicting landscape scenes and important events in the history of Portugal.
Often listed as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, Livraria Lello’s most striking feature is its curving crimson staircase with a gilded design on the underside. The bookshop clocked more than 1 million visitors last year, and now has an entry fee of €4 (€5 when bought online), which is adjusted against a purchase.
Douro River Cruise
The best way to see the pretty Douro riverfront is to get on a boat. The 50-minute cruise (with guided commentary) on board a traditional Rabelo boat goes right up to the mouth of the river, passing the colourful fishing village of Afurada.
Where to eat in Porto
The Yeatman Restaurant
The 2 Michelin-starred restaurant combines a panoramic view over the river Douro with an inventive menu. Savour the huge range of seafood that Portugal has to offer, everything from cod to clams, and get a taste of Northern specialties like suckling pig, all presented in a contemporary manner, and skilfully paired with regional wines.
Located in a 16th-century building on the Ribeira riverfront, Chez Lapin has been around for more than 70 years. This rustic restaurant offers traditional Portuguese dishes such as chorizo asado (sausage flambéed at the table), bacalhau (salted cod cooked in a variety of ways), grilled sardines etc.
Vinum’s light-filled terrace dining room sits pretty overlooking the River Douro. Feast on Portuguese specialties such as caldo verde (potato soup with kale and sausage), grilled alheira sausage made with game meat, and pears poached in port wine.
Casa De Chá Da Boa Nova
Portugal’s superstar chef Rui Paula’s Michelin-starred Restaurante DOP in Porto is a must-visit, but his other restaurant at Casa De Chá (in Matosinhos, just 12 km north of Porto) is also guaranteed to blow your mind. Set on a rocky outcrop with the Atlantic crashing at its doorstep, the restaurant (designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira) serves Paula’s interpretation of classic Portuguese cuisine.
Where to shop in Porto
A Vida Portuguesa
A Vida Portuguesa on the first floor of a 19th-century fabric store is a great place to pick up Portuguese souvenirs – locally made Brito soaps in vintage packaging, colourful Bordallo Pinheiro tableware, woven bags from the north of Portugal, and more.
One of Portugal’s oldest and most famous porcelain brands, Vista Alegre’s flagship store near Clerigos Tower has everything from the iconic blue-and-white azulejo-inspired pieces to limited edition artist collaborations. I absolutely loved the chess set made up of hand-painted porcelain pieces.
Where to stay in Porto
Pestana Palácio do Freixo
An 18th-century palace converted into a luxury hotel, complete with ornate interiors and French style gardens, the hotel has a prime riverfront location near the Freixo Bridge. The rooms, housed in a former warehouse next door, are spacious and comfortable. Breakfast is served in a bright, airy restaurant with restored 1850 frescoes on the ceiling.
Pestana Vintage Porto
Occupying six historic buildings on the Ribeira riverfront, Pestana Vintage Porto is a trendy, design hotel. Choose a room overlooking the river for unparalleled views of the Dom Luís I Bridge, the hilltop Serra do Pilar Monastery, and the port caves of Gaia. The restaurant Rib, led by acclaimed chef Rui Martins, serves high-quality meat dishes paired with excellent local wines.
Where to sample port wine in Porto
Graham’s 1890 Lodge
Graham’s Lodge commands a spectacular view of the Douro River and Porto. We recommend a tasting in the Vintage Room where you can sample their premium port selection.
Taylor’s Port Cellars
Taylor’s newly refurbished 300-year-old cellar has an innovative museum space, which takes you on an audio-visual tour of the history of port wine and its production.
So if you’re planning a summer in Europe this year, make sure you add Porto to your itinerary!
This feature was commissioned by Travel+Leisure India and was published in their May 2017 issue. Read it here.