It’s funny, Porto seldom figures on most people’s mental hit list of city breaks but it really should. To me it’s probably one of the most delighting cities in Europe with its friendly vibe and unique personality so often lacking in many of the more homogenised Euro-towns. And, with Easyjet starting new flights to the city from Manchester in May, there's no better time to plan your visit.
Set on the banks of the Douro River, Porto is in fact a city of two sides linked by no less than 6 bridges, including the Eiffel inspired Ponte Dom Luís, from where you get fabulous views of the old town with its maze of steep cobbled streets, higgledy piggledy colourful buildings piled on top of each other and Baroque churches with soaring bell towers.
Cross the river to Vila Nova de Gaia - the traditional home of Port - and riverside wine cellars jostle for your time. When we visited, Julian and I opted for our Port tasting to be accompanied by traditional Portuguese Fado at Cálem. Gaia also has some great bars where you can drink in the views over the hypnotic river along with your Port.
Porto is perfect for walking, mooching around shops and markets and taking in the playful wall art.
To wander the old town neighbourhoods such as the Ribeira is like stepping back in time with its faded facades, wrought iron balconies strewn with washing lines and old ladies pottering around in their aprons.
Tiled buildings abound (as they do all over Portugal) but blue and white azulejos are the Porto ceramic of choice and can be found adorning everything from churches to the inside of the São Bento Railway Station where 20,000 tiles depict the history of Portugal.
Ancient trams clatter their way along the Douro to the beaches at Foz. Here you can walk along the elegant promenade to the harbour town of Matosinhos and Rua Heróis de França where the air is thick with smoke from the barbeques of roadside fish restaurants.
What’s great is that after a bit of a cultural renaissance, there’s a youthfulness and arty feel to Porto and its antiquated charm sits very comfortably next to modern pieces of architecture, trendy boutiques, hip bars and fabulous restaurants.
Relaxed and compact, Porto is a great alternative to the usual suspects for a European city break. For a longer stay, combine the city with the stunning Douro Valley sampling some fine wines along the way. Equally, do as Julian and I did, and catch the train from Porto to Lisbon (2¾ hours) and combine 2 cities in one trip.
If you'd like any more information on Porto then please do get in touch.
[Images: Julian's own]