Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city – is rich in architecture, museums and wine. It’s a lively city built on the steep granite rising above the Rio Duoro with a UNESCO World Heritage listed old town of cobbled streets tumbling steeply down to the medieval waterfront – the Ribeira district. Famous as a wine district for centuries, this is a place to imbibe in good tastes and great sights.
Day 1: Explore Porto
Porto is full of great buildings with a couple of contemporary gems amongst the very Portuguese tiled facades and older Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and neoclassical styles. Take a panoramic tour of the city to get your bearings then wander at your own pace, stopping at the cafes and bars along the way so you don’t just see Porto but live its lifestyle as well. Head up to Taylor’s with its wonderful views of the city; cross the river on the Ponte de Dom Luis I designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel; visit Casa da Musica, the new opera house designed by Rem Koolhaus and described as ‘insane’ yet ‘brilliant’; wander the Avenida des Aliados and look at the Beaux Arts facades; climb to the hilltop cathedral and visit the many churches of Porto. Along the way you’ll find Roman ruins, azure-blue-tiled buildings and museums galore – including one full of trams (Museu do Carro Electrico), and the Museu de Arte Contemporanea, another modern architectural masterpiece.
Day 2: It’s All About the Wine
For centuries, this area has produced wines – port anyone? Take a day trip to Duoro where vineyards cling to the stunningly beautiful steep cliffs. Back in Porto learn the history of wine-making in the area at the Museu do Vinho do Porto. Head down to the lively, historic port area of Ribeira, see the barcos rabelos (the traditional wine-ferrying boats). Then head across the river to Villa Nova do Gaia for wine cellars and museums. In the evening you have your choice of traditional fish soups in family-run cafes, or, in summer, European DJs playing music into the wee hours of the morning at the riverfront clubs and bars – you can even do both!
Day 3: Further Afield
You know Porto, now get to know the rest of Northern Portugal. Start with Braga, the fifth-largest city in the country and a mixture of the old and new eras. Visit the cathedral, the sanctuaries, the magnificent church of Bom Jesus do Monte, and the nearby National Park of Peneda-Gerez. Then head to Guimaraes, one of the most historic cities and often said to be "where Portugal was born." Wander around the medieval city and visit the Guimaraes Castle and the Dukes of Braganza Palace. Climb or catch an elevator up Penha Mountain for views of the city. Other places of interest are Solar de Mateus, a villa outside Vila Real that is the actual 1740 house depicted on the label of the Mateus Rose bottle! For folk dancing, head to the town of Miranda do Douro.