the sunday guide to // porto
Our Sunday Guide series travels to Portugal’s second largest city, Porto to discover why many travellers flock here for a relaxing alternative to a traditional city break. Unwind with a glass of port whilst enjoying the thermal spas, prolific arts scene and quiet beaches that Porto has to offer.
Located at the mouth of the Douro River, Porto may be famed for its bustling nightlife and vibrant music scene, but there are many ways to unwind within the city and its surrounding area. Alongside thermal spas, an intriguing creative arts scene and an abundance of important architecture, you’ll discover a city that thrives on its reputation as the home of port. Take a tour of the surrounding vineyards, or visit one of the many port houses that line the riverbank to spend a day learning about the production of the sweet wine and sampling the best variations.
Rather than checking in to an impersonal chain hotel, spend your time in Porto residing in the exclusive yet relaxed 4rooms B&B. Located between the Douro River and the coast, the 19th Century building is situated on a small winding street, away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. The hotel only has four rooms, furnished simply yet stylish to reflect the modern renovation of the building by renowned local architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. Due to the small amount of guests, you can expect more privacy than in larger hotels, and the secluded location allows for a restful stay.
Take to the water on a Douro Azul cruise, winding down the river to witness the riverside sights of the city before leaving the city to explore the surrounding countryside and vineyards. The Alto Douro Wine Region was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, and it is here that you can disembark the boat and spend a couple of relaxing hours sampling the port that the region is famed for.
photo: cantinho de portugal
It’s not often that we will recommend visiting a university campus on your travels, but the building housing the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto (also known as FAUP) is renowned for launching the modernist movement known as the School of Porto. Designed by Porto’s own award-winning architect, Alvaro Siza Viera, the dramatic structure looks out over the city with excellent views of the river.
photo: solo 3d
Porto is renowned for its art scene, particularly around the area of Rua de Miguel Bombarda, where you will find an array of contemporary art galleries and studios. If you only have time to visit one gallery, don’t miss Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, possibly the most important gallery in the country. The gallery is worth visiting simply to admire its modernist structure (designed by local architect, Siza Vieira), and contains a cinema and performance space alongside a comprehensive collection of interesting art.
photo: port magazine
If wandering around the city has left you in need of a little pampering, the region surrounding Porto is home to numerous thermal spas. With a choice of city centre spas and mountainside resorts, you’ll be spoilt for choice with options for unwinding in naturally warm and healing waters. To truly get away from it all, head 45 minutes inland to Guimaraes, where the spa waters are renowned for treating respiratory, muscular and skin conditions. Here you will find both a classic thermal baths and the Taipas Termal Spa, where you can enjoy a hydro or geothermal massage in between soaking in naturally heated pools.
One of the main benefits of visiting Porto compared to other European cities, is the proximity of the sea. Just a few minutes short walk from the centre, you will stumble across a selection of beaches catering for all crowds. From secluded beaches ideal for surfing to rustic coastline frequented by fishermen, Porto is famed for its beaches. Take a picnic and a bottle of port down to the beach and spend an afternoon relaxing with a good book or watching the surfers among the waves.
Porto cuisine centres on fresh seafood and delicious locally sourced meat, both of which are showcased at Pedro Lemos. One of the most distinguished chefs in the country, Lemos offers a classic al a carte menu alongside an exquisite eight-course tasting menu, both of which feature classic Portuguese dishes with a focus on simplicity. Choose to dine in the cosy dining room or up on the roof terrace on warmer evenings. Just ensure that you book in advance, as this Michelin-Star eatery is very popular with both locals and travellers.
photo: trendy pt
You can’t visit Porto without sampling a couple of glasses of the city’s finest port. Made by adding brandy to the wine (which stops the fermentation early and gives the drink it’s naturally sweet taste), port is the national drink of Portugal and port cellars are in particular abundance in and around Porto, especially along the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro River. There are many port houses to choose from, but we recommend Graham’s, for its spectacular views over the river and extensive selection of wines.
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