For one of the oldest cities in Europe, Porto is remarkably forward-looking.
Street art and contemporary architecture typify Porto as much as Gothic-baroque churches and fortified wine, while laidback locals and waterfront bars make for one very welcoming city. Throw in outdoor adventures in Peneda-Gerês National Park, and Portugal’s second city is a fantastic all-round destination.
If you only have half a day to play with in Porto, make for the town's historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where many of the city's prime attractions are concentrated in one place. A good place to start would be with the Sé, Porto's famous cathedral. The largest church in the city, this impressive Romanesque Gothic structure dates back to the 1700s - there's been a church here since even further back, in the 12th century. The Sé is particularly famous for its azulejo tilework and the views it affords over the city. Next, make the 10-minute walk from the Sé down to the Douro River, and the Igreja de Sao Francisco. This may be Porto's most impressive church: while from the outside it's a little drab and dour, the interior is almost impossibly ornate, with carved woodwork covered from floor to ceiling in gold leaf. Now that you're down by the river, enjoy a waterfront stroll through the Ribeira, Porto's old town, which is usually thronged with tourists and locals but very pretty. The area feels much as it would have done in centuries past, and its uneven, brightly painted houses are picturesque; keep an eye out for the traditional boats that dock at this part of the river with their cargo of port wine. If you've worked up an appetite with your sightseeing, this is also a great place to enjoy a meal in a traditional Portuguese restaurant; afterwards, check out some fado music in one of the area's bars.
If you're here in summer, make an unusual start to your city break by heading to the beach. Praia de Matosinhos is a beautiful stretch of golden sand easily accessible from the city centre, and is a fantastic place to flop down in the sun and recover from your journey. If you're feeling more energetic, it's also a popular surfing spot, and its consistent waves make it a safe and fun place to learn, even if you have no surfing experience. Surf'in Monkeys, a surf school on the beach, is a great place to start. For lunch, head to one of the many restaurants lining the beach and try out some traditional Portuguese food: if you like seafood, bacalhau (salt cod) is a must. In the afternoon, enjoy a walk through the Ribeira neighbourhood, Porto's atmospheric old town, and nestle down in a fado bar to see the evening through with some traditional Portuguese folk music. The next morning, make your way to Porto's historic centre to do some sightseeing. Top of the list should be the Igreja de Sao Francisco, the city's most eye-catching church. Its Baroque gilded interior isn't to everyone's taste, but it's certainly impressive, and cuts a striking contrast with the grey, Gothic exterior. In the afternoon, devote some time to exploring Porto's famous wine scene. Cross the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia - this is port central, home to the city's cellars. Many producers offer tasting sessions and the opportunity to tour the historic warehouses and learn more about wine production. Heading back into town for your final evening, make for the Praça de Gomes Teixeira, a relaxed square where you'll find countless bars and cafés where you can enjoy a few quiet drinks and some traditional Portuguese food.
Days one and two Spend your first couple of days settling in and enjoying some sightseeing in the city's old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begin at the Sé, the city's cathedral, which has stood in one form or another since the 12th century and boasts some impressive azulejo tilework. Also not to be missed is the Igreja de Sao Francisco, a gilded baroque church a short walk from the cathedral.
Having got your bearings in Porto proper, spend a day visiting the unspoilt countryside outside the city. A little over an hour's drive from the city centre lies Peneda-Gerês National Park, a beautiful region of pristine wilderness comprising forests, lagoons and valleys. It's a great place to spend a day exploring in the great outdoors, with no end of hiking trails and canyoning routes; horse-riding is also on offer, and wild swimming in the park's many lagoons is refreshing in hot weather. Oporto Adventure Tours is one of many tour operators that run guided trips to the park.
Day four After the previous day's adventures in Peneda-Gerês National Park, you'll have earned a rest, and there's nowhere better to take one than Praia de Matosinhos, Porto's best beach. This long stretch of sand is a popular place for locals and tourists to do little more than relax on the sand and eat at beachfront restaurants. But if you're feeling a little more energetic then it's also a fantastic place to surf. As a fairly sheltered beach break, it's a good spot for beginners.
Day five You'll want plenty of time to explore the city's fantastic culinary scene, and today you'll get really stuck in. Begin by browsing the Mercado do Bolhao, the city's best food market, where you'll find the region's finest cheese, meat and all manner of other produce - be sure to try Portuguese classics like bacalhau. Spend the afternoon exploring all things port wine in Vila Nova de Gaia, south of the Douro River. Atmospheric old wine warehouses line the riverbank, and host tasting sessions and tours.
Days six and seven Spend your final couple of days taking it easy and soaking up Porto's relaxed ambience. If you haven't already, set aside some time to explore the Ribeira, the picturesque old town, with its historic, brightly painted houses lining the Douro River, and traditional boats carrying shipments of port. This is a great part of town to hear some fado, a traditional form of Portuguese folk music. If you have time, make the short trip to the nearby city of Braga, where you'll find yet another impressive church in the form of the Bom Jesus do Monte.