Where do I start? Porto is quite simply beautiful and it’s unlike anywhere else you’ve ever been. Situated on the northwest coast of Portugal, with its own airport, it’s such an easy hop from the UK, it’s the perfect weekend break. Spring and Autumn are probably the optimum times to visit but with winter daytime temperatures of 12-15 degrees the city is absolutely an all year-round destination. Porto is so relaxing that you could just spend your time eating – Francesinha, cured ham, smoked sausage, steak, melted cheese, tomato and port salsa- and drinking, port of course; but that would mean you’d miss out on so much. So, find yourself a rental apartment in the centre of the city and explore.
The Ribeira district
The mercantile heart of the old city, this waterfront area with its narrow- cobbled streets and pastel houses is now a World Heritage site. There are bars and restaurants a plenty and for 15 euros you can pick up a boat from the quay and enjoy an hour’s boat trip down the Douro. In the evening, enjoy a drink and watch the sun go down over Porto’s six stunning bridges.
There’s actually so much spectacular architecture in Porto that you’ll probably get gilded out, but there are some buildings that you really should not miss. The Church of Saint Francisco is a wonder of carved gilded wood and next door the Palacio da Bolsa, Porto’s old Neoclassical stock exchange has an even more astonishing interior of impossibly decorated carving, plasterwork, frescos and chandeliers. By contrast, the 12th century cathedral feels rather austere. If your tastes run to more modern styles, the Casa de Serralves, west of Porto, is a deliciously cool Art Deco house set in ordered, terraced gardens of topiary and pergolas. For a real shock of the new, visit the Casa da Musica, a concert hall built in 2005 which features two entirely glass walls, if you can catch a concert there, so much the better.
Porto is a city of vistas and it’s well worth seeking out the especially great views. Clerigos Church was once the tallest building in Portugal and it’s still clearly visible from most parts of the city. Climb its 240 steps and reap your visual reward. Running alongside the city’s funicular, great views without exertion, is the Muralhu Fernandina, a section of 14th century city wall from which you get great views of the Douro.
The Jardins do Palacio de Cristal were originally the site of Porto’s long-gone Crystal Palace, fortunately the landscaped gardens remain. For some real countryside in the city, lose yourself in the immense Parque de Cidade, the largest urban park in Portugal.
And for Harry Potter fans
The bookshop which inspired J.K. Rowling, when she worked in Porto as an English teacher, Livraria Lello is an Art Nouveau gem. Spanned by an internal bridge, filled with gothic traceries and lit by a stained-glass skylight, it must surely be the dreamiest of all bookshops.