The cosmopolitan city of Porto, home to the fortified wine named after it, is a popular draw for tourists and locals alike. Visitors can tour old port warehouses on one side of the Douro in Vila Nova de Gaia as well as the winding streets and historic buildings on the other side designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
In Porto, find lavish churches, ornate edifices and six bridges — all providing stunning views from wherever you may be perched. It is the second largest city in Portugal (after Lisbon), and one of the oldest cities in Europe.
Hotel Teatro Porto is a contemporary property conveniently located in Porto’s historic center and within walking distance of monuments, restaurants, the old market, the Douro, and Gaia. Destroyed by fire in the late 1800s, the hotel was once a famous theater and has now taken on the theater personality following a major refurbishment. Approach the front desk (box office) and get the “ticket” to your room; pass racks of costumes on the way through the lobby; hallways are lined with theater lights and images on the carpets, and velvet curtains adorn the lobby and guest rooms.
Our spacious room overlooked an interior terrace. The large bathroom had a rain shower and ample amenities. A friendly staff helps guests navigate the sights. A huge buffet breakfast, served in the restaurant, includes fresh meats, cheeses, fruits, breads and pastries, and delicious cappuccino (hotelteatro.pt/en).
Just around the corner, the Grande Hotel do Porto is a throwback to the 19th century when it was a Mecca for the elite as well as notorious spies. Today, it maintains some of the same look and feel with marble columns, ornate chandeliers, intimate salons, and hallways lined with framed letters from famous guests.
Our room overlooked Rua Santa Catarina, a main shopping street. The hotel offers breakfast similar to other buffets (grandehotelporto.com/en).
If you don’t mind commuting to the city center by taxi or metro, then the Vila Galé Porto is a good choice. The modern hotel is located in a quiet neighborhood and provides essentials for a comfortable stay. Posters inspired by the cinema, movie scenes, and filmmakers adorn the lobby. Breakfast is a typical buffet. (vilagale.com/pt/hoteis/porto-e-norte/vila-gale-porto).
PLAY & SHOP
Porto is a great walking city (even on cobble-stone streets) that combines historic buildings, narrow alleys and Old World charm with an active river scene, the Port culture, knock-out views, and modern attractions.
“Must sees” include:
Ribeira Square: Located in the historic riverside (Ribeira) district, the buildings around the square were destroyed by fire in 1491. Rebuilt with colorful facades and arcades on the ground floors, the area is now a destination for restaurants and shopping along the Douro.
Porto Card: Makes visiting museums, touring historic buildings, and riding public transportation easy. The card offers options depending on your length of stay (visitporto.travel/Visitar/Paginas/PortoCard/PortoCard.aspx).
São Bento Train Station: Discover murals of the history of Portugal created in more than 20,000 magnificent tile (azulejo) panels.
Bolhão Market: 25 years ago, the market was bustling. Today, less so, but you’ll still find passionate vendors selling fish, vegetables, Port wine, and more in the beautifully designed building.
Casa da Música: This state-of-the-art concert hall is home to three orchestras (casadamusica.com).
Sé Cathedral: The church in the center of town is one of the oldest monuments in Porto and significant because of its Romanesque design.
Clérigos Church: A salute to Baroque architecture, the church is best known for its Bell Tower, which can be seen all over Porto.
Palácio da Bolsa: Better known as the Stock Exchange, tour this grand building and explore the Hall of Nations and famous Arab room.
Douro Azul Cruises: The Six Bridges cruise is a serene way to take in the beauty of Porto and Gaia as you float up and down the Douro in an open air boat. Discover the architectural styles of the bridges, including the famous Dom Luis I Bridge, the double decker, metal-arched beauty (dourocruises.com/Default.aspx?ID=1396).
Casa da Serralves: This contemporary art museum houses important works from Portuguese and international artists. The museum is set on 45 acres in a magnificent park that combines formal gardens, woodlands, and a farm. (serralves.pt/en).
Trams: Not as abundant as in Lisbon, but a great way to get around — ride along the waterfront or get an insider’s view of the neighborhoods, the monuments, and local life.
Wines of Portugal Tasting Room: A convenient place to learn about Portuguese wines and taste several on tap (winesofportugal.com/us/travel-wine/wine-travel/wines-of-portugal-tasing-rooms).
Ramos Pinto: Located in a beautiful building in Vila Nova de Gaia, this Port house was founded in 1880. Known for its quality and innovation, visitors can tour the original offices from the 1030s (now a museum) and learn about the history of the wines, the bottle labels, and how the space was converted into a showcase for clients. Afterward, taste an array of Ports and still wine. Favorites include the LBV 2011, the Non Vintage Collector Reserva, and the 2013 Duas Quintas Red (43 percent Touriga Nacional, 37 percent Touriga Franca, and 20 percent from other typical Douro grapes) (www.ramospinto.pt/default.aspx).
Founded in 1790, Sandeman Cellars is widely recognized for the famous “Sandeman Don” as its brand image. Take a tour, learn about their history and sample Port. There are many to choose from, like the 2011 Vintage Port and the Vau Vintage 2000 Vintage Port.
Then head to their patio — it’s the perfect place to take in the Gaia scene (and Porto across the river). Port cocktails are the rage, and you won’t be disappointed: Try the Splash (white Port and tonic), Bliss on the Rocks (Tawny Port, orange slices, cinnamon and sparkling lemon water), or the Fizz (White Port and lemon gelato). Choose petiscos, salads, sandwiches, canned fish specialties (like cod, mackerel, sardines), gelato, and more to accompany the cocktails and still wines (sandeman.com).
Terreiro is a fantastic restaurant in the Ribeira district, but away from the crowded tourist center. It sits right by the river so you don’t miss the nonstop views of the Douro and all the action. A table on the terrace is ideal to linger over a meal. Choose from a variety of petiscos, seafood dishes, and Portuguese wines.
The Wine Quay Bar is a popular gathering spot with a commanding view of the Douro. Sitting atop the second floor, a narrow walkway for your chair and ledge for your drink and petiscos provide all the space you need to sit, enjoy, and let time go by (winequaybar.com).
Porto Cruz, on the Gaia side of the Douro, showcases an interactive multimedia exhibit to explain Port. The best part is the rooftop bar with its panoramic views (especially at sunset), specialty Port cocktails, and petiscos (myportocruz.com).
Casa Guedes is a must for the best pork sandwich with melted cheese on a crunchy roll — all with a great neighborhood vibe.
Every visitor has to try a francesinha. This popular snack food consists of several meats (think ham, pork, sausage) covered with melted cheese and a special sauce you’ll never get the ingredients for.
If you’ve got time, head to Matosinhos, where the Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean. It’s here at this beachfront location that seafood abounds, right off the fishermen’s boats. Try O Valentim (ovalentim.com/?page=restaurante) and Marisqueira de Matosinhos (amarisqueiradematosinhos.com).
Porto Tourism Office: visitportoandnorth.travel
Visit Portugal: visitportugal.com/en
Wines of Portugal: winesofportugal.info