While Portus Cale (the Romans’ “sheltered port”) has a long history, modern PORTO largely eschews its distant past and presents itself to visitors as a busy commercial city rather than a prettified tourist destination. If that puts you off, it shouldn’t, because commerce is written into Porto’s DNA, from the great trading river at the heart of the city to the Baroque churches and Neoclassical buildings funded by merchants who made good. If it’s never quite what you’d call gentrified – especially in the old riverside back-alleys – modern Porto does at least look better now than it has done for decades. Since 2001, when it was declared European City of Culture, many of the streets and squares have been reconstructed and historic buildings restored, particularly in the riverside bairro of Ribeira – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – where the waterfront cafés and restaurants are an obvious attraction.
Once you’ve scooted around the commercial centre and seen the cathedral, the only two essential cultural attractions are the applied-art collections of the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis and the world-class Fundação Serralves museum of contemporary art. Otherwise, tourism in Porto generally consists of lounging at a dockside café, enjoying a cruise on the Douro, swigging port across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia or taking the antique tram out to the local beach at Foz do Douro, at the mouth of the Rio Douro.