Home to vibrant cities, a beach-lined coast, and a top-notch food and wine scene, Portugal is finally starting to get the tourism recognition it deserves. For a trendy scene, head north to Porto, the country’s second largest city and one of the oldest in Europe. Located on the Douro River, Porto (also known as Oporto) boasts a beautiful historic center with a wealth of painted, tile-covered buildings. Porto is also famous for its liquid gold — namely, award-winning red, white and port wines made in the nearby Douro Valley.
Photo Credit: Emilia Romagna Region Tourist Board
Get a feel for the city by strolling though Old Town, taking in the famous tiled facades and the unique mix of architectural styles; stop at the Ponte Luis I bridge for the best views over the Douro River. Top visitor sites include the Cathedral de Porto, the San Bento Railway Station (with its stunning tiled walls), the Torre dos Clerigos tower, and the Solar do Vinho do Porto, an 18th-century manor house where you can learn about port wines (and sample a few, along with snacks).
Available at hotels and tourist information centers, the 1-, 2- or 3-day Porto Card offers free access to museums, unlimited use of public transportation and discounts for shops, dining, events and river cruises. Soak up the sun and sea at the free beach at Matosinhos, accessible from the city by metro.
Where to eat:
Sample the best Portuguese specialties — fresh seafood dishes and the regional favorite francesinha (a decadent sandwich combo of bread, four types of meat, melted cheese and a thick tomato-and-beer sauce, served with fries).
Join locals at spots like the casual Café Aviz, where you can get everything from toasted sandwiches to full meals (fillet of sea bass and a glass of wine will run you around 10 Euros or about $13), and Restaurante Zé Bota, with raucous atmosphere and affordable traditional plates like duck with rice. The Galeria de Paris street is lined with cafés, bars and restaurants serving inexpensive lunch buffets, many set in cool converted warehouses and former shops.
Opened in 2010, The Yeatman offers both style and comfort, with 82 rooms with Douro River or Old Town views and free WiFi, plus stunning pools and a pampering Roman-inspired wellness complex on site. The hotel also stocks the largest collection of Portuguese wines in the world; the cellar is open daily for sommelier-guided tours, and the bar serves over 80 vintages by the glass (room rates for the wedding night package start at about $435 a night and include an in-room spa service, late checkout, access to the wellness complex and breakfast; theyeatman.com).
While the Douro Valley is home to some of Portugal’s best vineyards, you don’t have to leave Porto to sample the bounty. In the Gaia neighborhood, just across the river from Old Town, there are more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms where you can learn about the wine and port-making process, see the aged wooden barrels where port is aged and enjoy a free taste or two.