Bem vindo ao Porto!

Portugal will be well served by Midnight Trains: our services will allow you to wake up on both the banks of the Tagus in Lisbon and the Douro in Porto. And while both of the major Portuguese cities have attracted huge numbers of visitors in recent years, many still like to draw contrasts between them. As one common saying has it: ‘Lisboa diverte-se e o Porto trabalha’ (‘Lisbon has fun and Porto works’).

So is it really true that Lisbon is the party hotspot, while Porto is the provincial industrial town? For several years now, the reality has proved very different, with the Capital do Norte punching well above its small size in many respects. Let’s take a trip through its picturesque streets.

You’ve got to start with the obvious: the wine. Porto’s wine cellars have been one of the main tourist draws here for centuries, and so you simply must familiarise yourself with its distinct white and red fortified ports. Visit the cellars, located largely on the other side of the river that separates Porto from neighbouring Vila Nova de Gaia. Tours and tastings are available in several places, and you’ll find most ports have between 18 and 23 percent alcohol content. So drink them before lunch (and a siesta) or at the end of the day.

So one you’re got the booze out of the way, one good way to get to know the city is to walk around the Ribeira neighbourhood, home to the city’s earliest foundations. This area is a tangle of alleyways and passages, beautifully illuminated by the Portuense light. It’s very easy to wander and get lost here, and that’s exactly what we recommend you do.

Not far from there, you should definitely try to take in a jewel of metallic architecture: the Dom-Luis bridge, which was designed by engineer Théophile Seyrig, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel. Now recognised as a world heritage site by Unesco, the bridge is used by pedestrians, cars, and yes, trains.

Of all the great European cities, Porto must have one of the most beautiful train stations. Indeed, we spoke at length about it in a previous edition of Midnight Weekly dedicated to the art of designing a train station. It’s the main hall at São Bento, in fact, that’ll really wow you, done up as it is in myriad azulejostiles in every shade of blue imaginable. Together, they appear to represent the entire history of this brilliant country.

So it’s probably worth planning an excursion from the city in order to justify a trip there (though we’d also recommend jumping on a boat to discover nearby scenery). The region around Porto is incredibly well preserved: just like in neighbouring Galicia, in Spain, the greenery is lush and luxuriant and in perfect harmony with the infinite blue of the Atlantic. The towering Douro Valley is definitely worth the schlep, filled as it is with endless vineyards, and so too are coastal areas, where you can take in the sea breeze, like at the beautiful Praia da Luz.

While you’re in Porto, you’ll also want to hit up the Mercado do Bolhão, a market as vibrant and colourful as they come. The producers and traders showcase the very best of local cheese, charcuterie, fruit and veg, fish and seafood. You can either fill up some bags to make a slap-up meal at home, or perch at one of the small seating areas that’ll allow you to snack in situ, should the hunger pangs become too much.

Now for a few essential food recommendations. Healthy-eating types may wish to start the day at Manna Porto, which serves some of the city’s best lunch. And even if you’re on a diet, you’ll also want to try local speciality, the francesinha, an epic meat sandwich covered in a tomato and beer sauce, then topped with cheese and served with French fries. You should also make sure to visit a churrasqueira (grill restaurant) and load up on local BBQ meat. As for slightly more refined taste buds? Try the ever-dazzling Epoca Café or Euskalduna, where chef Vasco Coelho Santos will delight you from entrée to dessert.

Come the end of the day, you could swerve the port, should you wish, and try something else at the excellent Mariage à trois  bar, whose epic menu of Portuguese wines really does have something for everyone. And if you want to stay out until the early hours, do a bar crawl around Rua Conde da Vizela and Travessa de Cedofeita. Whoever said they didn’t have fun here?

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