Forget Lisbon - Here's a slice of Portuguese perfection for your next city break
Cascading down towards the Rio Douro, Porto makes a tasty alternative to Lisbon, says Brendan Daly
"Welcome to my office," says our beaming tour guide Sérgio as he gestures towards Porto's cobbled streets.
We're about to start a 10km running tour (portorunningtours.com), charting Porto's history through the buildings we pass, while Sérgio adjusts his pace to match mine. As we return over the entrancing Dom Luís I Bridge, the early-morning fog over the Douro River burns off to reveal a glistening city.
You can't fully experience Porto without visiting a cellar producing the drink with which the city is synonymous.
Perched on the Douro River, the hilly Vila Nova de Gaia bank of Porto is dominated by famous cellars making port from grapes harvested in the nearby Douro Valley.
A guided tour of Graham's (grahams-port.com) - official supplier to Queen Elizabeth II - takes me through their darkly-lit, sweet-smelling cellar. I amble along narrow cellar paths flanked by 600-litre barrels (piled four-high) and 50,000-litre vats filled with maturing port before the tour's finale: tasting, and learning to distinguish between a heady mix of ruby, tawny, and vintage ports.
Tours range from €15 to €250.
Within the thick walls of Porto's former prison, the captivating Portuguese Centre for Photography (cpf.pt; free) contains eerie sepia photographs of former prison inmates and a fascinating collection of antique cameras.
Enjoy juicy clams and crunchy langoustines - a hallmark of the Atlantic Ocean's culinary influence on the city - with a fruity red wine from the Douro Valley on the terrace of the unhurried, raspberry-coloured Dourum (dourum.pt) bistro. The twinkling lights of the Dom Luís I Bridge form a majestic backdrop, and it won't break the bank, either. Dinner and drinks came to around €35 on our visit.
Livraria Lello’s twisting crimson staircase supposedly inspired the library staircase in Hogwarts — Harry Potter author JK Rowling was a regular visitor when she lived in Porto from 1991 to 1993. Skip the queue for the invariably crowded bookshop by buying your ticket online (livrarialello.pt/en-us; €5).
Porto's francesinha is a signature dish - a gut-clogging pork, sausage and beefsteak sambo doused in cheese and beer sauce. Avoid!
Ryanair flies direct from Dublin to Porto year-round (ryanair.com). The Metro (metrodoporto.pt) takes about 45 minutes from the airport. Stay at the minimalist Gate Hotel (gatehotel.pt) near the old town. Rooms start from around €71 per night.
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