Three days are more than enough for anyone to fall in love with Porto. This city in the North of Portugal carries with it centuries of history, but it has the dynamics of one of the most modern European capitals. On the same narrow streets of the historical centre where you can see century-old buildings, there are wine shops and gourmet groceries where you can buy souvenirs for those at home. The city’s downtown is a flourishing area, day and night, with its shops, restaurants and bars.
Walk around in the evening in Santa Catarina, the busiest street in downtown Porto during the day, and if you’re already hungry but it is still early for dinner, go to the Majestic and ask for French toasts wrapped in segredos e ovos-moles, one of the specialties of this café, open since 1921. Ask for a glass of Port wine and enjoy this nectar and the architecture of one of the best examples of Art Noveau in the city.
In the last five years, the Porto’s nightlife has suffered a revolution, and its offer now is concentrated downtown. In the area around Torre dos Clérigos, have dinner at the Book, a modern restaurant occupying the space of an old bookshop. Ask for an aperitif while you wait for a table. The açorda de camarão com ovas (shrimp and roe) and the escondidinho de ossobuco are two of the specialties.
Walk down to Rua Cândido dos Reis and have a Port wine cocktail at the bar Porto Tónico. Stick around until sleep wins you over or explore the downtown streets and see how after midnight – or even before – these streets belong to fun-lovers.
In the morning, visit Mercado do Bolhão, a building designed by architect António Correia da Silva and inaugurated in 1914.
Go down to Avenida dos Aliados and to Praça D. João I. Marvel at the “visiting room” of Porto and have lunch at the luxurious InterContinental Hotel, which has, on the ground floor, the renovated iconic Café Astória.
In the afternoon, venture through the so-called Quarteirão das Artes. On Rua Miguel Bombarda, but also on the adjacent alleys, there are several contemporary art galleries and, at least six times a year, with a frequency of about a month and a half, these spaces inaugurate simultaneously exhibitions of national and international visual artists.
Besides holding more art galleries per square metre than in any other area in the city, Quarteirão das Artes is also an excellent place for shopping, getting a haircut or drinking an exclusive tea.
Visit the Bombarda Shopping Centre, where you will find the national designer shops – meet the creations of Storytailors, the duo composed by fashion designers Luís Sanchez and João Branco – vintage clothes and accessories, signature craft, design furniture and several shops with alternative clothes. On Rua Miguel Bombarda, get a haircut on Lab Sixtyone, a hairdresser with an innovative concept, unique and stylish, reminding us of the ones in London’s Soho.
Within a 5 minute walk, downtown, there are other places you will love. Still in fashion design it is worth going by the shop of Luís Buchinho, a Portuguese fashion designer known for his national and international work. It is located at 122 , on Rua José Falcão.
Vida Portuguesa, on the first floor of number 20 on Rua Galeria de Paris – the core of Porto’s nightlife –, is a shop selling the most beautiful Portuguese design and old manufacturing products, where you can buy the famous Ach.Brito soaps, poncha from Madeira Island or decorative porcelain from the Fábrica de Faianças Artísticas Bordalo Pinheiro.
Nearby, on Rua do Almada, go inside the Arcádia, a family business bakery founded in 1933, and buy chocolate línguas de gato, the house’s signature product, or the chocolate and Port wine bonbons, perfected in partnership with Calém. These are sold in packages of 100 or 400 grams, or in a parcel including the bonbons and a bottle of 750 ml of Port Calém 10 years. Prices range from 2.10 to 45 euros.
Finally, still downtown, at Bonitos, on Rua 31 de Janeiro, you can buy truffles with Port Ferreira. The prices of the chocolates with Port wine range from 5.5 and 64 euros.
In the evening, when you have already walked on some of the city’s streets, try to guess what is what in the sea of little lights illuminating Porto by night from the windows of the restaurant Barão de Fladgate, Taylor’s scenic restaurant, on the south bank of the river, more precisely in the area of the Port wine cellars. It is an excellent choice for a refined dinner and a superb view.
Nearby, in Cais de Gaia, you will find several bars where you dance the night away and drink a 10 year Port or a LBV (Late Bottled Vintage).
Plano B (Rua Cândido dos Reis, 30) or Pitch (Rua Passos Manuel, 34-38) are good options to “digest” dinner. The former is close to Torre dos Clérigos and is a multipurpose space, a venue for concerts and art exhibitions, but it also works as a club. The latter is a distinct club, sought by young adults with eclectic musical tastes. It is located on Rua do Coliseu do Porto, the city’s most prominent concert hall, where, with a bit of luck, you may attend a show by a Portuguese artist, for e.g., one of the new generations of fado singers.
Spend the morning in Parque de Serralves. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art for free (on Sunday mornings entrance is free), designed by Siza Vieira and inaugurated in 1999, and stroll in the gardens of the estate, which once belonged to an important Earl of the city of Porto. When leaving, visit the shop of the foundation running the museum and the park. It is a reference in the areas of contemporary design and creation.
Speaking of Serralves and the Pritzker Prize, did you know there is an official glass to drink Port wine? The idea came from the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto and Siza Vieira designed a glass with a higher tulip, narrower on the top, a square foot and a recess in the middle to help the consumer hold the glass. It was presented in 2001 and it is for sale in the Shop of Serralves.
Leave Serralves and head towards Avenida da Boavista. Near Casa da Música, have lunch at the VIP Lounge, on the top floor of the luxurious Porto Palácio Hotel, which offers an incredible view over the city and a selective and exclusive environment. From the menu, you will enjoy the tenderloin tournedo au gratin with the sublime cheese from the island of São Jorge on migas de feijão rajado, turnip greens and corn bread. For 30 euros you may also choose a complete brunch, with hot and cold meals, salads and tasty desserts.
Have a cup of coffee in Casa da Música and, if you have time, take a guided tour of the building. You can choose from a casual visit while sipping your Port wine (tourist visits) or you can visit backstage and every technical area of the building (technical visits).
The weekend at Porto is not over without a visit to the Port wine cellars. Visit the Ferreira cellars, carrying the name of D. Antónia Adelaide Ferreira (a famous lady with a unique personality, who faced the adversities of the Douro region in the 19th century), which have some of the largest barrels – of some thousands of litres each – of all cellars.
Sandeman also offers an interesting visit. With a logo among the most iconic images of Portugal – a man in black with a glass in his hand, he was baptized as “Don”.
In the museum of the Ramos Pinto cellars there is a commemorative porcelain plate with the face of Napoleon Bonaparte.
With the money left in your pocket, have a glass of wine at the Yeatman and say goodbye to the city, resting your eyes on the living postcard that is the view from this wine hotel. With 5 euros you can drink a good Douro wine, but if you have 100 euros and you are an enthusiast, here is a tip: the Yeatman serves by the glass Scion Port wine, from Taylor’s, the oldest one for sale, over 150 years old and made before the phylloxera period, a plague that ruined the vineyards of the Douro region. At Dick’s Bar you may also embark on a wine flight, a taste of three wines, costing 37 euros, and including appetizers by chef Ricardo Costa and a visit to the wine cellar of the hotel.
How to get there
There are flights to Porto, low cost , for example, London (Stansted and Gatwick), Paris (Beauvais, Orly and Charles de Gaulle Vatry), Marseille, Lille, Tours, St. Etienne, Bologna, Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat , Tenerife, Valencia, Venice and Palma de Mallorca.
In the summer there are low cost companies flying from Liverpool, Las Palmas, Carcassonne, Rodez and Nantes.
With normal fares from London - Gatwick, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris - Orly.
The best way to reach the center of Porto from the International Airport Francisco Sá Carneiro is by metro. The trip takes about 30 minutes.