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Porto Spotlight

Go for the port – stay for the art, architecture, and Old World ambiance

By Anja Mutic

ShermansTravel.com

June 20th, 2005

It may have taken 3000 years, but Porto has finally caught up to Lisbon as a must-visit destination in Portugal. And it’s all happened in the last decade.

After years of being known predominantly as an industrial Portuguese outpost – whence the Portuguese saying, "Lisbon shows off, Porto works" – this northern hamlet perched over the Douro River has received a series of kudos of late that have transformed it into one of the most enchanting small cities to visit in Europe.

First came the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, in 1996; second, the opening of the country’s finest contemporary art museum; and, most recently, the vaunted title of European Capital of Culture. And this, in addition to Porto’s well-established heritage as the birthplace – and continued source – of port, the fine fermented wine that bears the city’s name and which many of us are known to enjoy on a cold winter’s night or after a terrific meal. While the port made here has always been reason enough to visit – and the dozens of port lodges here would certainly tempt a teetotaler – the ambitious urban renewal that resulted from its recent accolades has given Porto more to boast about than wine-tasting. Indeed, visitors nowadays will find emergent arts, nightlife, and restaurant scenes that are so happening, even the rival citizens of Lisbon are coming to town. What’s more, Porto has also managed to achieve all of this while maintaining a refreshingly undiscovered feel that’s uncommon in such an atmospheric spot with so much going on.

While visitors used to come the city for just one day – to sample the port and move on – Porto is now better appreciated in three days, which will give you plenty of time to explore the protected sites, enjoy the Old World vibe, and try some renowned port labels like Sandeman, Taylor Fladgate, and Graham’s. If you can afford a longer stay, wonderful surprises also await nearby, including trips to the scenic Douro Valley, where port grapes are grown, and the cities of Braga and Guimarães in the Minho province, where Portuguese sights of significant religious and historical import are found.

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