From left: Baixa, Porto’s downtown district; surf’s up at Matosinhos beach, about a 20-minute drive from Porto’s center. Credit Luis Díaz Díaz

In recent years, however, the city has fallen on hard times. (Portugal was, along with Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain, one of the European countries pummeled particularly hard by the global recession.) But these challenges have, ironically, helped preserve Porto’s narrow, colorful streets, which the city’s forward-thinking new mayor, Rui Moreira, is doing his best to protect from the global march of coffee shops and fast-food chains. The city has seen an explosion of small, innovative businesses appealing to an influx of visitors — significantly, architecture-obsessed tourists who come to marvel at Porto’s mosaic of medieval, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, neo-Classical and Brutalist architecture, all built on Roman foundations. Long a creative hub, Porto now has serious cultural centers such as Rem Koolhaas’s Casa da Música and the contemporary art museum Fundação de Serralves, as well as a flourishing design scene. The highly walkable city also has a new breed of hotels reinvigorating some of those medieval townhouses with minimalist décor, restaurants riffing on the country’s hearty cuisine and spirited bars. And despite the rise in tourism, the city still feels self-effacing, a reflection of the modest, slightly melancholic character of its denizens. Here, a few of our favorite places.

Rosa et al Townhouse


A room at Rosa et al Townhouse, a boutique hotel housed in a 19th-century building. Credit Luis Díaz Díaz

Ideally situated right in the middle of the arts district, Rosa et al Townhouse, located in a 19th-century building, is among the best of the city’s new breed of townhouse hotels. Here, seven bright, high-ceilinged suites decorated with midcentury Danish furniture and claw-foot baths fan off a vertiginous winding staircase. (If you’re traveling à deux, be warned: The facilities are part of some bedrooms.) Downstairs, there’s a small store selling local wines, soaps and sardines, and a narrow, blowsy garden.



The cafe-bar-guesthouse gallery Miss’Opo. Credit Luis Díaz Díaz

A raw concrete space with mismatched furniture and chalk scribbles on the walls, this lively cafe-bar-guesthouse-exhibition-space has an ever-changing roster of shows spotlighting designers in different disciplines — such as an exhibition of work by the architect Gustavo Guimarães and another by the fashion designer Estelita Mendonça — and is in many ways the clubhouse for the city’s new generation of designers and artists. Have a late dinner at the restaurant/bar, which serves a daily-changing menu of small plates (melon and ham soup, veal stuffed with dry fruit and fennel) before heading upstairs to one of the six minimalist studios, which have plywood beds, polished concrete floors and views of the higgledy-piggledy tiled houses outside.



Grilled deer loin at Traça. Credit Luis Díaz Díaz

Located in a 17th-century building at the top of Rue das Flores, where the city’s gold and jewelry dealers have clustered for the past few hundred years, Traça is a laid-back spot decorated with the international totems of hipsterdom — wall-mounted antlers, hanging pendant lamps — that serves traditional comfort food. Go for lunch and order the excellent (and cheap) set menu, which might include the superb oven-roasted bacalhau, and don’t pass up the bread, which comes with a dish of deliciously salty spiced butter.

Café Candelabro


The bookstore coffeehouse Café Candelabro is made for all-day lounging. Credit Luis Díaz Díaz

A sneaker-wearing creative class congregates under the pendant lamps of this cornerside cafe-bookshop-bar for cortados, bruschetta and broa — dark Portuguese bread, served here with olive oil and prosciutto — during the day and drinks until 2 a.m. at night. Do as the locals and order a glass of Alvarinho, arguably from one of Portugal’s best terroirs, or a mixed drink such as almond liquor with freshly squeezed lemon juice or white port with tonic, and browse the cafe’s extensive collection of books on film, theater, photography and music, before things get livelier later on.

A Pérola do Bolhão


Any Portuguese culinary specialty imaginable, from tinned sardines to local cheeses, can be found at the century-old A Pérola do Bolhão. Credit Luis Díaz Díaz

There’s a virtual encyclopedia of Portuguese produce behind the ornate Art Nouveau facade of this almost 100-year-old grocery store a few feet from the city’s main food market. Browse fruity wines from the nearby Douro Valley, salty cheeses, smoke-cured sausages and bacalhau, and don’t leave without a few cans of Porto’s best edible souvenir: beautifully packaged tins of locally caught sardines. 011-351-22-200-4009

Ó! Galeria


Whimsical prints at Ó! Galeria. Credit Luis Díaz Díaz

It’s not high art, but for a fun, silly souvenir you can’t do better than picking up one of the whimsical illustrations — Pop Art-y portraits, beach scenes — that crowd the walls at this tiny space on the main drag of the Arts District, where galleries sit alongside vintage stores and speakeasy-style bars.

Casa da Música


The interior of Rem Koolhaas’s Casa da Música concert hall is lined with traditional azulejo tiles. Credit Luis Diaz Diaz

You can take a turn around Rem Koolhaas’s magnificent, wonky cuboid concert hall beside the city’s busy Rotunda da Boavista roundabout even if you don’t take in a show: There are guided tours in English every day at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Don’t leave without checking out the views from the 1,300-seat Grand Auditorium, and the diamond-shaped bar gouged into the roof. At night, the space plays host to performances that range from concerts by the Casa’s own 94-member symphony orchestra to intimate jazz shows.

Flores Village


The boutique hotel Flores Village is housed in a converted 18th-century townhouse. Credit Luis Diaz Diaz

This conversion of the azulejo tile-clad Casa dos Constantinos, a townhouse dating to the late 18th century on the Rua das Flores — a street then inhabited by clergy and high society, and later Porto’s main shopping area — has seven double rooms and 13 suites, some of which have balconies with views of Porto’s imposing 13th-century Gothic cathedral. There’s also a gym, a spa with a sauna and hammam, and a pretty garden with sun-loungers, planted with camellia, walnut, persimmon and peach trees.

Six Senses Douro Valley


One of the two pools at Six Senses Douro Valley. The resort is located in one of the world's oldest wine regions, about a 90-minute drive from Porto. Credit Luis Diaz Diaz

A 90-minute drive from Porto, deep in Douro Valley, one of the world’s oldest wine regions, Six Senses’ first European spa resort makes for an ideal side trip. A grand 19th-century terra-cotta-colored manor house on 19 acres near a wide curve of the Douro River, its 57 guest rooms have a serene, contemporary aesthetic —limestone, cork, oak, glass — rectangular soaking tubs and vineyard and river views; some villas have private pools and gardens. There’s an indoor and outdoor pool as well, and a spa with 10 treatment rooms and grape-based therapies. An organic garden supplies the open kitchen, which turns out sharing plates such as chestnut-fed suckling pig and whole, salt-crusted sea bass, and there’s a wine library where guests can help themselves to rare wines and ports — including the resort’s own label — by the glass.

Cantinho do Avillez


Hazelnut mousse at Cantinho do Avillez, which serves innovative updates on traditional Portuguese dishes. Credit Luis Diaz Diaz

The chef José Avillez, whose Belcanto restaurant in Lisbon has two Michelin stars, opened his first Porto outpost in 2014. The contemporary cantina serves creative takes on traditional Portuguese dishes, including the three-meat Francesinha sandwich — the city’s signature cardiac arrest on a plate. (Avillez’s version has truffle sauce and truffle mortadella.) The bright, colorful interiors — a playful blend of vintage kitchenware, including coffee grinders displayed in glass cabinets and wooden chopping boards hovering above red banquette seating — were designed by Ana Anahory and Felipa Almeida, the young, in-demand Lisbon-based studio responsible for Avillez’s five other restaurants.

Fernando Santos


Fernando Santos is one of the city’s premier international art galleries. Credit Luis Diaz Diaz

Along with homespun crafts, Porto has its share of serious contemporary art, including the work on show at this large, raw gallery on Rua Miguel Bombarda. Santos shows an interesting mix of international artists, such as Julian Schnabel and Bosco Sodi, and established local talent, among them the installation artist Pedro Cabrita Reis and the multimedia prodigy João Louro, both of whom have represented the country at the Venice Biennale.



Avant-garde fashion — mostly by emerging Portuguese designers — on display at Scar.ID. Credit Luis Diaz Diaz

A few steps from Rosa et al, Scar.ID opened two years ago in a 1950s building that was once a bustling grocery. Now a serene, minimalist space, the store holds an inspired edit of mostly monochrome clothes for both men and women, many by emerging Portuguese designers. Check out Carla Pontes’ slouchy black-and-gray wood-patterned wool dresses, Cristina Real’s metallic faux leather and fur numbers, and gold-and-silver baubles by the jeweler Lia Gonçalves Joalharia, as well as sublime marbled ceramics from Lagrima Studio.

Fundação de Serralves


The sculpture park adjoining contemporary art museum Fundacao de Serralves has large-scale works by Claes Oldenburg and Richard Serra. Credit Luis Diaz Diaz

This contemporary art museum, a boxy whitewashed structure that contrasts vividly with the invariably pellucid blue sky above and its grassy surrounds, was designed by the noted Modernist Álvaro Siza Vieira, who’s also responsible for the Piscinas das Marés, a saltwater swimming pool built into a rocky outcropping north of Porto near his hometown, Matosinhos. Exhibitions focus on big names from Portugal and beyond; Roni Horn and Luc Tuymans have had solo shows here. But the real joy is in the adjoining 44-acre sculpture park, where you’ll find large-scale works by Claes Oldenburg, Fernanda Gomes and Richard Serra, whose two site-specific monoliths loom over the park’s original entrance.

Correction: February 12, 2016
An earlier version of a picture caption with this post misstated the dish served at Cantinho do Avillez. It is hazelnut mousse, not veal mousse.