From its stunning Beaux-Arts station to its cool bars serving Porto’s signature drink, this charming city combines the best of old and new.
Stunning 18th- and 19th-century buildings, new indie bars and restaurants and a laid-back vibe, facilitated by the excellent wine — it’s hard to find anything to dislike about Porto. Its walkable center is crammed with cobbled streets and balconies adorned with flowerpots, and the city’s love of food and design is apparent in concept stores and trendy restaurants offering innovative small plates. An ideal day in Porto combines both the grandeur of its history and its very up-to-the-minute cool.
1. Trains, Tiles and Treats, 3 p.m.
Most visitors arrive by train, and it’s worth taking the time to examine the São Bento station. Over a century old, the interior of the Beaux-Arts building is decorated with azulejos, the exquisite blue and white tiles for which Portugal is famous. A short walk from the station are two establishments patronized by Porto’s sweets-loving citizens. Confeitaria Serrana, a family-run bakery for over 40 years, serves the city’s best bola de Berlim (1.10 euros, or $1.16 at $1.06 to the euro), a dose of custard sandwiched in a sugar-dusted roll. At nearby Cremosi, the superb local gelato comes in boozy flavors, including port and gin and tonic. Combine the two to make the frozen version of the city’s signature drink, the porto tónico.
2. Port Shopping, 4:30 p.m.
Major port producers have their warehouses in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the south side of the River Douro, but you’ll get a more thorough grounding in the local tipple by delving into the wine shops on the Porto side. Run by the knowledgeable and friendly Marco Ferreira and Célia Lino, Porto in a Bottle specializes in port from small producers. Touriga Vinhos de Portugal is another worthwhile stop, offering samples of three ports for five euros and a good selection of Portuguese wines. For those who are more interested in sampling than shopping, Vinologia offers a choice of port flights (35 euros) that come with a short introduction to the many varieties.
3. Modern Portuguese, 8:30 p.m.
As one of Portugal’s rock star chefs, José Avillez is a household name. His first Porto venture, Cantinho do Avillez, draws tourists and locals for its creative dishes that combine techniques drawn from molecular gastronomy with the ingredients that define Portuguese cuisine. The lascas de bacalhau is a deconstructed fish-and-chips, the cod flaked and mixed with eggs cooked at low temperature and “exploding” olives that melt in the mouth. Dinner for two, 75 euros.
4. Shop Local, 11 a.m.
Grab a coffee and pastry at one of the city’s myriad confeitarias and save room for an early lunch. Check out the excellent local design at Feeting Room, a chic concept store selling clothes and accessories, including beautiful leather goods by the Porto brand Maria Maleta. Up the stairs at A Vida Portuguesa you’ll find colorful, nostalgic Portuguese products, from notebooks to cans of sardines, all with retro-style packaging intact. Half living room, half shop, Mercado 48 has the kind of souvenirs that you’ll be proud to show off at home, like the modern cork-and-ceramic teapots and mugs, glazed in a variety of colors, that give a nod to Portugal’s history of cork production. The Centro Comercial Bombarda doesn’t open until noon, but this collection of small shops and restaurants on the gallery-thronged Rua da Bombarda is heaven for shoppers looking for boutiques crammed with goods from homegrown designers.
5. Champagne Tastes, 1:30 p.m.
If dinner at the Michelin-starred Pedro Lemos restaurant will break the bank, it’s still possible to try the eponymous chef’s food. Along with his wife, Joana Espinheira, Mr. Lemos opened Stash, a sandwich shop, in 2014. Break here for a sandwich of black Iberian pork cooked for 12 hours and slicked with basil mayo, or a barbecued chicken sandwich with homemade pickles or French fries garnished with rosemary, and throw in a glass of wine for 2 euros. Lunch for two, around 18 euros.
6. Cathedrals and Cloisters, 3 p.m.
A Porto landmark, the twin-towered cathedral, Sé do Porto (free admission), is a gorgeous amalgamation of architectural details from multiple centuries, beginning in the 12th. The result is a historic building that’s Instagram-worthy inside and out. Be sure to explore the hauntingly atmospheric 14th-century Gothic cloister (3 euros), with its exquisite stonework and decorative azulejos. The plaza on which the cathedral sits leads to a perfect view over the sea of picturesque red-roofed houses that slope down to the river.
7. Photo Break, 4 p.m.
Housed in a former jail, the Centro Português de Fotografia (free) has an unusual setting as well as impressive temporary photography exhibitions. The building dates to the 18th century and held prisoners until the Carnation Revolution in 1974; grills still cover the windows. On the third floor is a hugely impressive collection of cameras from every decade, including some fabulous “espionage” cameras from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that are disguised as rolls of sweets, cans of Pepsi and packets of Marlboros.
8. Clerics’ Tower, 5:30 p.m.
Unbeatable panoramic views of Porto’s churches and rooftops, its historic port warehouses, the curve of the Douro River and the seagulls sweeping over the waterfront Ribeira neighborhood may be had from the belfry of the Torre de Clérigos (admission 3 euros), 225 steps up a narrow spiral staircase. The rooms off the stairs are home to an exhibit documenting the history of the 18th-century tower’s inhabitants and architects; the adjacent church (included in the admission fee) is also worth a look.
9. Tapas, Portuguese Style, 7:30 p.m.
A delightful trend that’s ramped up in Porto is petiscos, the Portuguese version of tapas. Instead of a sit-down dinner, try out a few of the newest places. On Rua dos Caldeireiros, a handful of restaurants have recently appeared, of which Caldeireiros is the standout. Stop here for the alheira de caça, a sausage made with white meats like rabbit and chicken, and served with garlicky spinach. Or try the pork loin sandwich, topped with melted local cheese (wine and small plates for two, around 25 euros). One street over, Trasca offers treats like tiny roasted green chiles (3.50 euros) with a glass of vinho verde (3.50 euros). The casual ambience and plentiful outdoor seating at Porta’O Lado are attractive, but dishes like the mini version of the francesinha, a local sandwich of sausage, steak, cheese, egg and tomato-beer sauce, are the real draw. Pair with wine from the Douro Valley (wine and small plates for two, around 20 euros).
10. Late Night Tipple, 11 p.m.
Porto’s best bars are also its most relaxed. Garrafeira AMS is a dimly lit wine shop with a few simple tables and a menu of carefully selected Portuguese wines sold by the glass (you can also pull a bottle from the shelves and drink it there). Walk down the block to the most effortlessly cool bar in town. It’s smoky and crowded inside Candelabro, but you won’t find relief on the sidewalk, where patrons congregate, bottles of Super Bock beer (1.60 euros) in hand.
11. Lunch, Local and Rustic, Noon
Book ahead for lunch at Brasão Cervejaria. The rustic tiled floors, wooden accents and stone walls make it look as if it’s been around forever, but it opened in 2014 and has had the locals lining up for its well-executed Portuguese cuisine ever since. Meals begin with bread and butter flavored with Iberian ham; follow this with the steak tartare and fresh potato chips, or stewed gizzards. Add the whole fried onion served with black garlic mayonnaise. Lunch for two, around 30 euros.
12. Over the Water, 1:30 p.m.
The bilevel Ponte de Dom Luís I stretches from the Ribeira section of Porto over the River Douro to Vila Nova de Gaia. Stroll over the bridge, with its exquisite views downriver, to the port warehouses that dot the opposite side. Nearly all offer tours, but it’s the views of Porto and the bustling Ribeira waterfront that are the most spectacular feature. Wander along the riverbank, or go for the tour at Sandeman or Taylor’s, then hop on the teleférico (5 euros), which will carry you back to the bridge.
13. Arts and Crafts, 3:30 p.m.
One of Porto’s newest multipurpose spaces, Armazém is a (barely) converted warehouse just off the river, west of Ribeira. Housing a cafe-bar, gallery and shops selling everything from vintage furniture to artwork to colorful clothes and handbags by the Portuguese design brand Mexxca, this space has something for everyone. After shopping, grab a drink and head to the deck chairs on the patio in the summer, or the picnic tables in front of the indoor fire in the winter.
Less than two years old, the Mercador Guesthouse (Rua Miguel Bombarda 382; mercadorguesthouse-hotel.guestcentric.net; doubles from 78 euros, including breakfast) is on the artsy Rua Bombarda and offers seven comfortable and pleasing rooms (ask for a superior with a balcony). The White Box House (Rua de Santa Catarina 575; the-white-box.pt; doubles from 50 euros, including breakfast) is within walking distance of the city center. Each of its five rooms is different, but all feature wooden floors and a modern aesthetic.
By NELL McSHANE WULFHART - The New Work Times
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