With its rich architecture, fine port wines and delicious Michelin-rated restaurants, Porto should top your European bucket list
“In Porto, there’s something beautiful around every corner,” says my guide as we gaze in amazement at the blue-and-white tiled facade of a striking Baroque-style church famously attached to another church by a narrow house. Located in northwest Portugal, Porto has become an “of-the-moment” destination for travelers and the design-obsessed who come to admire the coastal city’s architectural marvels from palaces to churches.
Compact in size, visitors can spend a few days wandering the city’s cobblestone streets that wind high into the hills and overlook the picturesque Douro River to appreciate a wealth of buildings swathed in colorful azulejos (painted ceramic tiles) and historic landmarks, as well as taste delicious seafood and port wine.
Porto’s city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and some of the must-see attractions are the Bolsa Palace, where lavish rooms are dripping in gold and vivid frescoes; and the São Bento train station is worthy of a stop (even if you’re not traveling) to see its walls draped in 20,000 magnificently painted tiles that tell a story about Portuguese life. Another gem is the Livraria Lello, one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful bookstores with a dramatic, red-carpeted staircase and stained-glass windows. Bridges define Porto’s backdrop, and visitors should book a “Six Bridges Tour” on a rabelo (wooden boat) to sail down the Douro River to gawk at the city’s arching bridges like the iconic Dom Luis I Bridge.
Cross over to Vila Nova de Gaia to taste your way through its many port wine cellars, including Ferreira, which was founded in 1751 and is the last Portuguese-owned port house. Venture through the historic caves to learn about the port-making process and then sample their white, ruby and tawny ports. Changing the dynamic of Gaia is WOW, The Cultural District, a massive complex with 12 restaurants and seven museums that dig deep into the Portuguese culture in a fun, interactive way. Drop in for an in-depth wine tasting at The Wine School; learn about how chocolate is grown and made at The Chocolate Story; sip a variety of rosé wines at The Pink Palace filled with fun, photo-worthy backdrops; and at Planet Cork, you’ll learn all the fascinating ways cork can be used—and why you see it all over Porto from handbags to wine stoppers.
Retreat to The Yeatman, a luxury wine hotel and spa perched on a hill that flaunts unrivaled views of Porto and the river. Every guest room offers a balcony or terrace boasting those epic views, and days should be spent floating in the infinity pool overlooking the river or being pampered at the Caudalie Spa. For a different perspective, move to Vila Foz Hotel & Spa, a regal 19th-century mansion nestled in a posh seaside neighborhood. Savor an unforgettable meal at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant that’s beautifully adorned in gold and ornate details worthy of a palace. It all makes for a perfect Porto getaway.