The Most Underrated (and Affordable!) European Cities

Explore one of Europe's lesser-known cities for excellent cultural experiences, amazing cuisine and an authentic taste of local life. Bonus: They're blissfully crowd-free.

Porto, Portugal

Set on the Douro River in the northern part of the country, Portugal’s second largest city is also one of the oldest in Europe, with roots going back some 2,000 years. There’s a treasure trove of (often beautifully crumbling) painted tile-covered buildings that line the streets of its old town. if you’re into wine, then you know that this is also the home of Port, the rich wine made from grapes from the nearby Douro Valley, and aged in cellars in the city for which it’s named. whether you’re a foodie or history buff— or just fancy strolling hand-in-hand along cobblestoned streets and sipping affordable drinks in riverside cafés — it’s worth checking out this Portuguese charmer.

porto portugal
Photo Credit: Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau

See & Do: Channel Porto’s history in its old town, at the 12th-century, fortresslike Cathedral, with its Gothic rose window; the Sao Francisco Church, with its ornate, gilded interior; and the Sao Bento Railway Station, covered with beautiful tiled panels. Rua Miguel Bombarda is lined with art galleries, while along the twisting, narrow streets of the medieval Cais de Ribeira neighborhood, you’ll spy colorful historic homes and buzzing bars and restaurants. Stroll along the vibrant Douro riverfront, stopping at the Ponte Luis I bridge for some prime photo ops, then head over to the lush Crystal Palace Gardens for more scenic backdrops. Learn about and sample port at Solar do Porto information center. if you’re up for a day trip, hop a Douro Valley river cruise that glides into the heart of wine country.

Eat & Drink: Porto is booming with trendy drinking and dining spots, many of which are located in some creatively re-purposed spaces. On Galeria de Paris Street, you’ll find tons of affordable eateries set in converted warehouses, while Restaurant Book — set in a former bookstore —presents its menus in old paperbacks. Livraria da Baixa, located in a still-working, nearly century-old shop, is a good spot for tea, tapas and well-crafted cocktails (try the signature Porto Tonico). head over to the Gaia neighborhood on the south bank of the river, where you can while away an afternoon visiting some of its more than 50 traditional wine lodges.

wine barrels
Photo Credit: Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau

Stay: with breathtaking views of the river and old town (particularly from its rooftop pool), the Yeatman Hotel offers chic rooms, a gourmet restaurant and a Caudalie Spa. There’s also extensive wine-based programming and a world-class wine collection. Ask the in-house experts to set up a day trip to area vineyards (room rates start at about $202 a night).