As the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, Porto (or “Oporto,” as the English call it) is sometimes lovingly referred to as the capital’s step-sibling, a nickname referring only to its size because though Porto’s beginnings may be humble and the facades decaying, it holds a colorful and gastronomic charm that its Romanesque walls can barely contain…
The history of Porto is more often than not, the history of its conquerors. Following Roman and Celtic settlements in the 4th century, the Moors briefly conquered the Douro Valley where Porto lies before it fell back into Christian rule in the 11th century, due to the efforts of the Portuguese count, Afonso Henriques, and the British during the Reconquista. This “re-conquering” finally established Portugal as an independent kingdom and made Alfonso its first king. The relationship between the two kingdoms was cemented when in the 14th century, Joao I and Phillipa of Lancaster married in Porto. This relationship was furthered by the Methuen Treaty, a 1703 trade agreement which paved the way for Portugal’s most famous export, Port wine, to move into the hands of a few select English labels.
The comings-and-goings of myriad empires, the various rebellions and the wine rest apparent in the Douro River Valley and have provided Porto with a depth of history, an edge in its art scene, and a culture of acceptance and political-activism still accessible today.
Street art is a logical extension from the Porto spirit, particularly along Miguel Bombarda Street (the strip dedicated to art galleries and local design shops). Examples of some contributors include Porto artist Costah as well as Ricardo Dias, whose “1000 Tsuri Project” sprinkled the city with images of cranes as a symbol of rebirth. Last we checked, he was at around 800.
For the more traditionally-minded, Porto’s museums and galleries, and its Rem Koohass-designed concert hall, are well worth visiting.
Museu Serralves, Rua D. João de Castro, 210, +351 22 615 6500
Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis [website unavailable], Rua D. Manuel II, +351 22 339 3770
Galeria 111, Rua D. Manuel II, 246, +351 22 609 3279
Graca Brandao, Rua Miguel Bombarda, 410A, + 351 21 887 4323
Pedro Oliveira, Calçada de Monchique, 3, +351 22 200 7131
Andre Viana, Rua Cândido Dos Reis, 30, +351 22 204 6440
Casa da Musica, Avenida da Boavista, 604-610, +351 220 120 220
Just as Chianti in Italy and Bordeaux in France come under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin rules, only the fortified wine from Porto’s Douro River Valley can be called port, and to the Portuguese, making port is considered an art form. Visits to the wine cellars in Villa Nova de Gaia and the dedicated museum are necessary detours.
Port Wine Museum, Rua de Monchique, 45-52, +351 222 076 300
Taylor’s Port Winery, Rua do Choupelo 250, 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, + 351 22 374 2800
Porto is the main transportation hub in Northern Portugal. Express buses are available from Lisbon (3.5 hours), and there are both domestic (3 hours from Lisbon) and international trains that run to Porto’s city center. Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport is located 20km northwest of the city center and is serviced by Portugalia and TAP, as well as Air Berlin and Ryan Air. There is non-stop service to London, Madrid, Paris Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels from Porto.