Even without its UNESCO World Heritage ranking, Portugal’s second city would be a historic gem in its own right.
Located slap bang on the mouth of the Douro river in Northern Portugal, the city has more than its fair share of antiquities, with Roman, Celtic and Moorish influences along the way. Today, it’s a modern trading city with an ancient heart contained inside a 14th century wall.
Porto’s multi-flavoured character means you’ll find everything from elegant malls to kooky backstreet outlets. Of the former, the most enjoyable is the modish Via Catarina Shopping Centre (Rua de Santa Catarina 312-350), with close to 100 stores, while elsewhere the beautiful neo-Gothic interior of bookshop Livraria Lello (Rua das Carmelitas 144) gives a rich flavour of the early 1800s (and also has a café on the first floor). For a taste of an old-time fresh produce market, fit in a visit to the wrought-iron Mercado do Bolhao, which has been selling olives, flowers and cheeses since the 1800s.
Food & Drink
As the birthplace of port, Porto welcomes no shortage of visitors who have eyes more on the bottle than the dinner plate. The food, however, is superb. High-end restaurants like the Wine Quay Bar (Muro dos Bacalhoeiros 111-112) cover both bases, with the tapas and the wine list sharing top billing, while the ODE Porto Wine House (Largo do Terreiro 7) is another gem with an excellent menu. Local specialties often involve seafood and fish dishes, making a visit to Restaurante Don Tonho (Cais da Ribeira 13-15) a consistently solid bet – its bacalhau (Portugal’s famous dried, salted cod) is particularly good.
An international film festival that’s been a mainstay on Porto’s cultural scene since the early 1980s, the event focuses on fantasy, sci-fi and horror movies, drawing more than 50,000 attendees each year. Concerts, exhibitions, workshops and plays also figure.
Porto a Subir
Translating roughly as ‘Porto on the Ascent’, the annual spectacle sees a select group of runners compete in an extreme inner-city race, with the route leading up the stone stairs of Guindais and Codecal to reach the cathedral.
Serralves em Festa
A weekend of continuous music, theatre, film, dance and performing arts, Serralves em Festa first took place in 2004 and has become an eagerly awaited annual event. Expect anything from hip-hop concerts to photography workshops in the non-stop, 40-hour programme.
Festa de São João
Porto’s main annual celebration, and a time when the entire city seems intent on cranking up the party spirit, the Festa de São João (St John Festival) is a high-paced evening of music, fireworks, food stalls and general revelry.
A less intense – but far longer – alternative to Porto a Subir, the Porto Marathon is held late in the year, escaping the harshest of the summer heat. The route takes runners past many of the city’s main sights.
Portugal's second largest city is a heady, romantic place to visit, its UNESCO-listed core on the banks of the Douro River still a colourful jumble of bell towers and winding lanes. Unsurprisingly, it has some genuinely excellent accommodation to choose from, ranging in size and style from the charming six-room White Box House (Rua de Santa Catarina 575) to the opulent 105-room InterContinental Porto Palacio das Cardosas (Praça da Liberdade 25), set in a converted 18th-century palace. The stylish four-star Hotel Teatro (Rua Sá Da Bandeira 84) offers something more modern, while there’s good value at the Hotel B&B Porto Centro (Praca da Batalha 32-34).