Portugal has become the perfect destination for American travelers who dream of returning to Europe while spending as little time as possible on a flight. However, what regions come to mind when you think of Portugal? You will probably picture beautiful Lisbon and the clear-blue beaches of the Algarve, although the country has much more to offer. The city of Porto is an underrated and sometimes unknown destination that you all need to discover this year! Porto and Northern Portugal stand out not only for its history and architecture, but mainly for its wine tradition, excellent seafood cuisine and fabulous mild weather.
If you are planning a trip to Porto, enjoy these 5 amazing experiences that will ensure you get the most out of the city…
1. Visiting the Historical Landmarks of Porto
Porto is a mecca for design and architecture lovers. Beyond the rough granite in the Boa Vista area and the Avenida dos Aliados Boulevard, Porto remains in the memory of travelers for its colorful tiled facades.
The city’s historical center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. This area is home to stunning buildings such as the Cathedral of Porto, Torre dos Clérigos -a baroque and rococo tower over 75 meters high- and the neoclassical Palacio da Bolsa, which features a fascinating Arab Hall inside. Bolhão Market on Santa Catarina Street, Café Majestic, Lello Bookstore, São Bento Train Station and Dom Luis I Bridge are also must-see sights.
2. Touring Port Wine Cellars
Vila Nova de Gaia is located on the other side of the Douro River. The hub of the Port wine industry can be easily reached by walking from Porto’s historical center. Along the quayside you can find more than 15 wine cellars offering tours and tastings. One of the most famous is Cálem Winery, which offers three different tour experiences. There you will learn about the fascinating Port wine production process from the vineyards to the glass in a unique, interactive format. The tour ends up with a Premium wine tasting plus a finger food pairing and even a Fado show!
3. Cruising Along the Douro River
Taking a scenic cruise along the Douro River is one of the most fun ways to enjoy Porto! The cruise allows you to learn interesting facts about the construction of the 6 bridges that connect the Ribeira and Vila Nova de Gaia, as well as the most relevant buildings that can be seen from the water. There are numerous cruise companies operating on this route. I enjoyed a bridges cruise by Rota do Douro, which offers a 50-minute itinerary departing from Vila Nova de Gaia, although boats rides can depart from both sides of the river.
Wineries also arrange special tours that can include a Port wine tasting. These cruises, also known as “rabelos boats”, revive the city’s winemaking tradition. The tour follows the old route that ships used to take to transport wine from the Douro Valley to the cellars. The fantastic Foz do Douro views, where the river meets the ocean, are completely worth it!
4. Tasting the Exquisite Porto Cuisine
A great part of the cultural and culinary life in Porto takes place by the Douro River, so when you visit this city, I recommend dining in a restaurant with a view. There’s a charming place right in the Ribeira area, which stands out for its unique atmosphere. It’s a narrow stone passage where you will find many restaurants offering traditional Portuguese dishes. Any of these restaurants can be a perfect place to enjoy a romantic dinner with your significant other, while admiring the calm waters of the river.
A Serra da Estrela cheese board, some delicious cod fritters and a traditional green wine (for a change), are the ultimate pairings for a delightful evening! Still, be sure to try other local specialties such as grilled sardines, a famous francesinha sandwich, green broth, and codfish in two different styles, à Gomes de Sá or à Brás.
5. Listening to a Fado Live Performance
Fado is one of the most popular Portuguese cultural expressions worldwide. Although the music genre is commonly associated with Lisbon, in Porto you can also enjoy excellent Fado performances. This nostalgic and melancholic music is quite a spectacle to experience on a trip to Northern Portugal. Fado shows are usually tourist-oriented, but during my visit to Porto, several locals suggested Casa da Mariquinhas. This restaurant and Fado house escapes the tourist crowd and is a great option if you want to experience an authentic Portuguese dinner to the beat of a touching artistic expression. The live performance is absolutely superb!
Especially during the summer, all of these experiences in Porto can be complemented with one-day excursions to nearby places throughout North Portugal. You can definitely discover Matosinhos Beach, visit cities such as Aveiro, Braga and Viana do Castelo, or explore the countless Portuguese vineyards and quintas in the Douro Valley. Finally, those who decide to stay for at least a week have the option to take a one-hour flight to Lisbon and continue exploring Portugal’s beautiful gems!