Cobbled streets, tiled façades, laundered clothing hanging from balconies, hole-in-the-wall bars… and a touch of decadence. Old Porto conserves its old-port town charm, a town infused with the salty air of the Douro River. But in recent years, a new Porto is beginning to flourish through the cracks. A cosmopolitan city filled with tiny cafés, restaurants, art galleries and boutiques for the contemporary visitor. The old town of Porto has reinvented itself; this transformation into a more open and inviting city culminating with the opening of the imposing Casa da Música by Rem Koolhaas and the elegant Museum of Contemporary Art designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, which is surrounded by evocative gardens.
A walk along the elegant Avenida dos Aliados up to the Sao Bento Train Station will transport you to a typical Parisian boulevard. A visit to the Mercado de Bolhao is a journey back in time, a trip inside an old-fashioned post card that can only be capped off by a glass of wine and preserved sardines. The shops and art galleries of Rua Miguel Bombarda and its surrounding streets are proof positive of Porto’s desire to be modern, dotted with spots steeped in tradition such as the Lello bookstore (many say that this shop served as an inspiration for the writing of J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series) and the design and handicraft store A Casa Portuguesa – which occupies a gorgeous old tailor shop – are all well worth a visit. The Cedofeita area is where you’ll find the city’s nightlife. For dinner and cocktails, try Galeria de París street or the old Jewish quarter. This is where you’ll find Miss’Opo, a charming restaurant which is also a guest house.
In Porto there’s always a church worth paying a visit to, such as the Igreja do Carmo, which boasts a spectacular side façade covered with tiles, or the Igreja de Sao Francisco, which enjoys an impressive Baroque interior. If you find your way to this last church, you’ve entered the Ribeira district, the part of the city that opens out onto the Douro. A stroll along this river offers excellent views of the Dom Luís I Bridge, a colossal iron structure designed by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. The best spot for viewing the sunset from Porto is the Nova Vila de Gaia, at the other side of the river. Just cross the bridge on foot, and watch the colours of the city slowly turn into shades of pink and gold. This pleasant stroll comes with a sweet prize: Gaia is where you’ll find the large cellars where Port wine is sold, that delicious brandy-fortified wine that has made this beautiful Portuguese town famous. It would be a sin if you didn’t try it.