River Douro, Porto
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River Douro, Porto

© 123rf.com / Ana De Sousa

Porto travel guide

Port-tippling and charismatic, Porto is a city that wins hearts with its laidback charm, medieval cobbles and cavalcade of bridges, but it's more than just a place of pilgrimage for port wine lovers.

Portugal's second city is wonderfully picturesque: a higgledy-piggledy pile of red roofs, azulejo-tiled restaurants and pastel painted buildings that straddle the river Douro, admiring their own image that’s mirrored in the water.

Nuzzled in the northwest of the country, Porto is closer to Spanish Galicia than it is Lisbon, gifting the city an appealing pan-Iberian atmosphere that complements its historic and artistic charms.

For a relatively small city, it’s easy to fill a weekend. World-class museums intersperse with port wine cellars; lavish baroque churches loom over incredible seafood restaurants.

The old city centre, found in the Ribeira district, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Part of its charm is that it hasn’t been shined and spruced for tourists, it remains crumbling and untouched.

Buildings gleam with distinctive blue-patterned tiling, preserved as some of the nation’s best examples of its azulejo (painted ceramic tilework) tradition. Its medieval streets are architecturally fascinating too: lanes snake up and down hills, creating a cubist landscape of myriad angles.

Talking of which, Rem Koohaus’ geometric architectural masterpiece, the Casa della Musica, shows off progressive Porto; the city now bequeathed with one of the greatest concert venues in the world. Álvaro Siza Vieira’s space age Museu de Arte Contemporânea illustrates its advancement too.

If that sounds like it’s running off the rails, it’s not. Many visitors just step back and enjoy a glass of port, the fortified wine that gave the city its name. Since the 18th century, wine lodges here have been obliged by law to be based on the city’s south bank and all open their doors for tastings. Sip away looking for a souvenir, whilst nibbling on a fine accompaniment of local cheeses and cured meats.

Good things, they say, come in small packages, and Porto is the perfect size for a long weekend away.

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