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5 Unmissable Experiences in Porto

Portugal’s second largest city, Porto, is built on a hill that descends to the broad, beautiful, winding Douro River. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, the historic center of Porto has much to offer visitors. After enjoying the views from the top of Porto’s 75m tower, visiting the 12thcentury cathedral, or tasting some fine port wine  –  why not seek out these five unmissable experiences?

Dom Luis Bridge

Cross Porto’s Famous Iron Bridge and Enjoy the City’s Legendary Sunset Amongst Stunning, Hilltop Gardens

Porto’s iconic Ponte de Dom Luís I (Dom Luís I bridge) dominates the horizon with its beautiful angles and curves. Designed by Théophile Seyrig (student of the famous Gustave Eiffel) in 1886, the parallel-tracked bridge connects the main city Porto, with Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite side of the Douro. At the time of building, it was the longest iron arch in the world.

The upper level has pedestrian and railway access, the lower level is open to cars and foot traffic. One interesting way to experience the bridge is by taking Metro Line D – trains slow to a crawl as they reach the center of the river, offering wonderful vistas across the water.

Morro Gardens

Porto’s Atlantic coastal skyline makes a perfect canvas for colorful sunsets – each night crowds of locals and visitors gather at Jardim do Morro’s hilltop gardens in Vila Nova de Gaia, to watch the sun dip below the glowing horizon. Bars, musicians, and snack vendors lend the area a festive atmosphere. Alight the metro at Jardim do Morro and join the party.

Butter selection at Antiqvvm. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

Combine History and Gastronomy at a Michelin-starred Fine Dining Restaurant

One-Michelin-starred restaurant Antiqvvm enjoys a magical location – it lies next to the Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha (Romantic Museum), a sensitively restored historic mansion that was the last refuge of exiled King Charles of Piedmont and Sardinia. Both museum and restaurant are set in the equally romantically named Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens)

With an elegant dining room that opens onto a clifftop terrace overlooking the banks of the Douro, Antiqvvm offers guests classic Portuguese dishes with a touch of modernity. Acclaimed chef Vitor Matos’ cooking is imaginative, balanced, and beautifully presented. Think risotto, infused with ocean flavor from plankton and seaweed, rich, caramel-colored bread that hails from a nearby village Avintes, and a surprise dessert that riffs on one of Portugal’s favorite snacks, the Marie biscuit.

Porto-Mira. Photo by Daniel Eime.

Admire Colorful Street Art Across the City

Art flows through Porto’s streets – from fascinating tile art found inside Sao Bento station to  important museum collections. Walls, houses and parking lots have also become al fresco galleries for a wealth of exceptional street art.  

Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto, better known as VHils, drills through concrete and paint on walls and buildings to create signature bas-relief murals. Rua da Atagona is home to one of his works called “Look at Porto”: a portrait of a face looking out over the waterside streets. Nearby, in Rua Nova da Alfândega,another homegrown artist, Daniel Eime, has used the side of a large building to display a stencil piece called “Mira”. It features a smiling woman, reputed to be a local resident. Fellow Portuguese artists MrDheoHazul, and Costah have also made their mark on the city.

Smaller scale artworks can be found scattered around the city and along the popular Rua das Flores – an initiative by Porto Council, inviting artists to decorate the many metal electrical boxes found in the streets. See how many you can find.

Tram Museum

Ride a Vintage Streetcar to Discover Porto’s past at an Unusual Museum

Porto boasts an excellent and efficient public transport system. Three of its lines are served by antique streetcars that run on overhead cables – dating from the 19th and 20th century.

Line 28 follows a delightful route that runs in a loop from the heart of the old town along the Douro River in the west of the city and back. Streetcars stops at the Museu do Carro Eléctrico (Porto Tram Museum) housed in a vast, former electric power station. This huge airy space is home to beautiful examples of streetcars, including those from the inception of the system in 1872, when mules pulled Porto’s first trams. In 1895 an electric system was introduced, and the mule-drawn cars were gradually phased out. The range of vehicles in the exhibition is extensive; signage is informative and interesting. 

Porto Serralves building. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

Discover a Classic Art Deco Mansion Hidden in a Landscaped Sculpture Park

One of the most beautiful places in Porto – the Serralves museum has it all. Meticulously landscaped gardens filled with mature trees and plants form an outdoor sculpture gallery; a modernist building is home to an important collection of contemporary art from the 1960s to the present day. There is even a center of excellence for the moving image – Casa do Cinema Manoel de Oliveira (House of Cinema). But the jewel in the Serralves crown may just be the gorgeous pink art deco villa tucked away in a corner of the park. Serralves Villa was built in the 1930s, with input from highly respected designers like Marques da Silva, René Lalique, and Edgar Brand, making it a prime example of architectural and decorative design of its time. As well as being an artwork in its own right, the house is an extension of the contemporary art museum and is used to host temporary exhibitions

Porto temporary exhibit in Villa Serralves. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

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