When the Danish architect Signe Bindslev Henriksen first visited Porto a decade ago, she was struck by its neglected grace. Touring late-19th-century houses, she noted the high ceilings, inlaid wood floors and carved moldings, all of which were beginning to buckle. “It felt like there had been a past that was so much more beautiful and vibrant,” Bindslev Henriksen says. That past is now the present: In short order, Portugal’s second-largest city has transformed from a quiet, industrious town into a lively creative hub. It is flush with concept shops and casual fine-dining restaurants. Young winemakers and sommeliers are bringing a fresh perspective to old vineyards. Expats are returning home to be part of the revival. Attribute some of it to the costs and crowds in other European destinations. But chefs and designers are also drawn to the innate charms of the city, whose roots go back thousands of years. The settlement on the Douro River near the Atlantic Ocean became an important port for the Romans, who dubbed it Portus Cale and are believed to have made wine along the riverbanks. The centuries brought other conquerors, including the Visigoths, the Spanish, the Moors and the French, and a wide range of architectural styles. The city’s historic center is a collection of medieval, Baroque, Gothic, and neo-Classical buildings, many with a through-line of local granite that continues into the present day.
These different styles contribute to Porto’s inspiring “unorganized organization,” as the chef Nuno Mendes puts it. “You walk through the streets and you see five, six generations of architecture piled together,” he says. “There are tiles everywhere, cobblestones everywhere.” Porto is also in the industrial heart of the country; shoes, hats, textiles, cork, furniture and ceramics have all been made in the surrounding area. Perhaps as a result, the city values both artistry and practicality, progress and preservation. The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened in 1999, is still a force in the contemporary art scene. Meanwhile, you can find small shops in neighborhoods like Ribeira and Cedofeita that are stubbornly old-fashioned, dedicated to brooms, hats or analog cameras. But maybe the appeal is very simple. As the New York-based wine educator and consultant Nicole Muscari, who recently bought an apartment in Porto with her stylist husband, said, “Creative types like being around beautiful things.”
Signe Bindslev Henriksen, a co-founder of the Denmark-based design studio Space Copenhagen, which conceived the interiors for Porto’s new Largo hotel, has been visiting the city frequently for the past six years.
Armando Cabral, a footwear designer, spends about a quarter of his time in Portugal, where he was raised, and the rest in New York City, where he opened a namesake shop in 2022.
Lígia Guedes, a ceramist and the founder of Fam Ceramics, has lived in Porto since she was 18.
Nuno Mendes, a former executive chef of Chiltern Firehouse in London, grew up in Lisbon, where, this year, he opened a restaurant and bar, Cozinha das Flores and Flôr, at the Largo hotel.
“I stay right in the center of the city. One of my favorite hotels is Le Monumental Palace in Baixa. It’s luxurious, and you have shops and restaurants all nearby.” (Rooms from around $230 a night) — Armando Cabral
“M. Ou. Co., in the neighborhood of Campanhã, is a really nice hotel full of cultural activities. It has a collection of records and books and even a concert space. Go there, have a glass of wine, see a show and spend the night.” (Rooms from around $75 a night) — Lígia Guedes
“On Rua do Rosario in the Bombarda neighborhood is Rosa Et Al Townhouse, a bed-and-breakfast with a bit of a food angle. It serves brunch and tea and hosts supper clubs and cooking workshops. The surrounding streets have a very ‘neighborhood’ feel.” (Rooms from around $130 a night) — Nuno Mendes
Eat and Drink
“One of my favorite places to eat is Yakuza Porto [at Le Monumental Palace hotel], which serves a mix of sushi [and other Japanese cuisine], sometimes made with traditional Portuguese seafood like razor clams and grilled squid. AndDona Maria, which is very Portuguese andjust feels like home. You have meat, seafood and all of the main Portuguese dishes, such asbacalhau and Francesinha sandwiches with cheese and different meats.” — A.C.
“Álvaro Siza, whom Peter [Bundgaard Rützou, a co-founder of Space Copenhagen] andIworked with on the Largo hotel’s Cozinha das Flores restaurant, was an architectural hero of ours when we were students. In the ’60s, he built a teahouse, Casa de Chá da Boa Nova, about 20 minutes outside of the city. It was renovated a few years back, becoming a seafood restaurant for one of Porto’s great chefs, Rui Paula. It’s a beautiful spot on the rocks where you sense the whole Atlantic Ocean and the impact it has on the city.” — Signe Bindslev Henriksen
“There’s a new wave of young chefs in the city, but some of the old restaurants are so nice. O Rápido, Rogério do Redondo and Zé Bota are favorites that serve [dishes like] tripas à moda do Porto, grilled meats with arroz de feijão or cod — a lot of old classic dishes from the area. I also like to go to places where you can just chill out and take in the city. I love getting a hot dog at Cervejaria Gazela and a bifana (pork sandwich) at Conga. It’s not a meal; it’s a pit stop. Passeio das Virtudes [an area that has a scenic overlook and a few small bars] is where the locals meet friends for a beer. And the marisqueiras [traditional seafood restaurants] in Matosinhos, just northwest of the city, like Os Lusíadasor O Gaveto, have amazing seafood; they’re the kinds of places you don’t find anywhere else.” — N.M.
“At Venn Canteen, Monika Bloch, a Polish chef, makes vegan comfort food with unexpected smells and flavors. She has magic hands. Then there’s Gharb, inspired by Portugal’s Muslim heritage, which serves Middle Eastern food but with Portuguese ingredients like a lovely flatbread that’s wrapped around sardines instead of lamb. For drinks, we normally go to Passos Manuel, a bar housed in a beautiful old movie theater. There’s a small cinema inside the bar that screens independent movies.” — L.G.
“Earlymade is like the Opening Ceremony of Porto. It carries new brands, and it’s very cool and very young. Fashion Clinic is like our Bergdorf Goodman on a smaller scale.” — A.C.
“Senhora Presidenta is a gallery that has illustrations, ceramics small publications. The name means “Mrs. President.” You can even buy books for kids with great illustrations. The owner is one of my closest friends, and she also has an interesting project called GUR — beautiful rugs made out of recycled cotton.” — L.G.
“Rua do Almada, lined with specialty shops, is a good street to explore. I really like going to Casa Januário, where they sell vintage-style cake molds, pastry molds and Portuguese pastries.”— N.M.
“There’s a place called Jardim do Morro at the crossing for the Dom Luís I bridge. It’s on a hill overlooking the city and the water. Go to watch the sunset. You’ll see tourists, but it still feels local. The Bonfim area has stunning architecture and great antiques shops. And everybody visits the core wine regions of the Douro Valley, but farther up the river lies Foz Côa Valley — a wilder area where you can see cave paintings [at the Côa Valley Archaeological Park], but where not many people go.” — N.M.
“Rent a boat or go on a half-day boat trip up the Douro or out to the Atlantic. It’s a huge contrast to the density and the intimacy of the city — you’re out in raw nature. Siza also did this complex of filtered-seawater swimming pools, Piscina das Marés, that is more or less integrated into the rocks and is on the way out to Casa de Chá. It’s open June through September, but there are tours at other times of the year. That’s a destination in itself, an out-of-this-world kind of spot.” — S.B.H.
“Pick up a bottle of Nicolau de Almeida Porto Branco, a less common white port you can buy at the vineyard’s shop in the caves at Vila Nova de Gaia. It’s lighter in terms of alcohol and a more interesting way to start a meal.” — S.B.H.
“Brâmicais a ceramics studio in the neighborhood of Baixa founded and run by a friend, Teresa Branco. Portugal has a long, rich history of making ceramics; Teresa’s work celebrates this heritage but also feels incredibly fresh. She designed most of the stoneware of the Largo and Cozinha das Flores.” — N.M.
“What you see in the postcards from Porto is the picturesque riverfront, which is also totally crowded during the day and in the early evening. I have this ritual of running there in the early morning. At that time or in the late evening, it is just crazy beautiful. You almost feel as if you’ve lost track of time and history.” — S.B.H.
“July and August get really busy. Spring and fall are the most beautiful times to visit.” — A.C.
“Don’t discuss football, because everyone is a fanatic.” — L.G.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.