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Porto is Europe’s most underrated city break right now – here’s why

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, old-school taverns and a brand-new Time Out Market makes Porto this year’s holiday hotspot

Written by Ella Doyle in association with Visit Porto.

If Paris is the city of light, and New York is the city that never sleeps, Porto is the most underrated city break you can go on right now. There, we said it. We named Porto the best city break in Europe for 2024, and if you were surprised, well, you’ve got a lot to learn. 

Travellers have slowly but surely been catching on to the allure of this marvellous city, and Porto has stepped up to this new demand: its metro system is currently undergoing a massive overhaul, and a new brand-new Time Out Market has just opened at UNESCO World Heritage site Sao Bento train station, with 11 restaurant venues, a bar, and chefs with five Michelin stars between them cooking up a storm. But there is a whole lot more to cram into a city break here, and we tried and tested the top spots in the city. Here’s why Porto is the place to be this summer. 

The food 

You’ve probably come across the tinned fish trend, but Porto was doing it before it was cool, ever since Portuguese fishermen discovered its wonders in the 19th century. Porto’s first tinned fish factory opened in 1885, and now you’ll find it sold in most shops and delis, as well as at the historic two-floor Mercado do Bolhão, which underwent a €26m renovation at the tail end of 2023. 

But tinned fish is not this city’s most iconic dish. Oh no. To sample that, you have to get your hands on a Francesinha, a kind of croque monsieur to the extreme, brought over from the Portuguese Daniel David de Silva in the 20th century after he visited France. It consists of bread, ham, sausage, steak, roast meat and cheese in between two slices of white bread, covered in a tomato and beer sauce. If you know the right spots for it, it’s unbelievably good. I tried it at the traditional Yuko Tavern, served with possibly the best fries I have ever eaten. 

Photograph: Ella Doyle for Time Out

Continue your journey through Porto’s traditional snacks at old-school ‘Xico’ Casa Dos Presuntos, which serves a (rightly) famous smoked pork loin sandwich, delightfully chewy, meaty and messy, and fantastic pastéis de bacalhau (saltcod fritters). In the evening, tuck into traditional meat and fish dishes at the cosy Solar Moinho De Vento, and make sure to order their octopus fillets and rice. 

But Porto is a city of two sides, and dotted amongst its traditional tabernas, you’ll find some of Portugal’s best fine dining, like Michelin-starred Euskalduna Studio, with an omakase-style tasting menu and an izakaya bar – meaning you watch every dish being prepared before it comes. I was advised not to peek at the menu, and thank God I didn’t; every surprise course from raw fish to dessert was punchy, flavourful and delicate. I wish I could eat it all over again. 

The culture

Another recent renovation is Porto’s Museo de Photography, held in what was a prison until 1970, where you’ll find a huge collection of vintage cameras, photography and rotating temporary exhibitions. 

From there, you’re in a prime spot for the magnificent Clérigos Tower, which you should climb if you can face the 200 steps to see Porto from 249 feet up. If you’re looking at the port town on the other side of the Douro River, you’re not actually looking at Porto anymore – that’s Vila Nova de Gaia across the bridge, which is well worth visiting for a ride on the cable car.

Casa Da Musica
Photograph: Ella Doyle for Time Out

Then there’s the colossal Casa Di Musica (worth a trip just for the building itself), and the newly-renovated Soares dos Reis Museum, the first public art museum in Portugal, now home to some of the most notable works by Portuguese sculptor António Soares dos Reis. Our top tip? While you’re there, check out Velódromo Rainha Amélia, the hidden green area on the second floor that feels like you’ve discovered a secret garden. 

Whether you’re lucky with the weather or not (Porto is notorious for being rainy), you must visit Sao Roque gardens, a park that feels straight out of Alice in Wonderland with a pergoda, trickling fountains, and over 200 camellias in every colour, more than almost anywhere else in the world. Venture further and you’ll find the Centro de Arte in an old eighteenth century house, but before you do, attempt the huge maze outside it. Complete an arty trip with a stay at Torel Avantgarde near the Baixa neighbourhood, a five-star hotel designed by Portuguese artists, where every room is named after an artist, writer or musician. The breakfast here will make you feel like a king. 

São Bento, Porto
Photograph: Ella Doyle for Time Out

The vibes 

Despite the (many) hills, Porto is a fantastically walkable city, and you’ll only see the really good bits if you slow down to match its pace. Check out the chutneys and sauces at Meiaduzia and the charming Oficina dos Violinos & Cia, a musical instrument store and probably the only place to varnish their instruments with, yes, port. For indie clothing shops and bars, head to Rua das Flores, and warm up for the evening at the street food stalls on the Ribeira by the Douro River. The entire Ribeira neighbourhood holds UNESCO status, from the main parade to Sao Bento and the Time Out Market. 

Beyond Porto’s Michelin stars, trendy wine bars and newly renovated museums, the city’s roots are very much present. You'll find elderly locals playing chess and card games in the afternoons on Avenida dos Aliados, Porto’s main square; follow the Douro River past its bustling parade and spot the city’s fishermen community near the Arrábida bridge. 

Hidden behind its main streets are beautiful winding ones, largely residential, full of spots of sunlight and shade and often lined with clothes drying from balconies. You’ll find the odd secret bar or café to sit and soak it in. And if you glance down and see a yellow arrow on a tile, you’re actually seeing the markers of the Camino Portugués Central Route, a 10-day trek from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. The tile’s scallop shell symbolises Camino de Santiago, showing pilgrims they’re on the right path. 

Time Out Market Porto
Photograph: Time Out Market Porto

Why go?

Well, now that the new Time Out Market is in full swing, there’s never been a better time to explore Portugal’s second city. The market, in the south wing of São Bento Station, is smack bang in the historic centre of Porto. You can easily spend a day here, shopping, eating, hanging out in the sunny courtyard or drinking in the views from the tower; a 20-metre-high glass and iron structure designed by Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. But when you're done, make time to explore as much of Porto as possible: backstreets, delis and wine bars included. Trust me, the hills are worth the climb.

Ella Doyle travelled to Porto on a press trip with Visit Porto. For information on our policies around editorial independence, reviews and recommendations, see our editorial guidelines.

📍 Discover more things to do in our ultimate guide to Porto

Our locally approved spots in Porto

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