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Compared to Lisbon’s urban cool and the Algarve’s surf-perfect waves, northern Portugal gets overlooked.

But here you can find a whole new side to the country, filled with colourful, ramshackle houses, quirky bookshops, serene rivers and, most importantly, bottles and bottles of port. Here’s our top tips for what to do when you get there. 

Cruise the River Douro

Need to get your bearings? A Douro Azul river cruise down the Douro, which divides the city of Porto from neighbouring Gaia, is a great way to get a sense of what the place is all about. On any other scenic river in the world, the banks would be lined with wildly expensive five-star hotels.

But here in Porto, due to strict property laws (and the recession) this has been avoided, so instead you’ll see brightly-painted houses, some smart, some completely unkempt, some tagged with graffiti – it’s a refreshing, down-to-earth sight. The cruise will also take you under historic bridges such as the Luiz I, a design collaboration between Théophile Seyrig and his teacher Gustave Eiffel, of Paris fame. 

More: Cruises start from £8.50.

Get arty

You could love or hate contemporary art and you’d still enjoy a visit to the Contemporary Art Museum of Serralves. The spacious gallery itself is interesting – there are no permanent exhibitions here, but a series of installations by Portuguese and foreign artists.

The real draw is the salmon-pink art-deco mansion, Casa de Serralves, which sits inside an 18-hectare park. The Jacques Gréber landscaping around it looks like a painting, so carefully crafted that even the colours of the gravel on the paths and water in the pond have been adjusted to make them complement each other. Look out for the gigantic shovel installation by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen in the grounds too.


Climb a tower

It’s got to be done – all 240 steps of the winding staircase to get to the top of the Clérigos Tower, one of Porto’s most iconic monuments, attached to the 18th-century Clérigos Church. From the top you can get a 360-degree view of Porto. 

More: Entrance £2.50.

Go shopping

Porto has hundreds of tiny boutiques, vintage shops and general knick-knack stores, but the most interesting has to be Livraria Lello in Porto. Frequently topping ‘world’s best bookshop’ lists, it’s been trading since 1881 and has the kind of old musty paper smell that you should be able to bottle and buy.

It’s got a more recent claim to fame, too – the winding red staircase in the centre of the store is said to have inspired JK Rowling’s description of Hogwarts school in the Harry Potter series, as the author lived in Porto teaching English for a couple of years. 

If you’ve managed to hang on to any of your holiday spending money after a visit here, hit Porto’s Saturday flea market. This city tradition draws out all of Porto’s hipsters, who you’ll find rummaging through baskets of Seventies platform shoes, old vinyl records or snacking on fresh cakes. It takes place from 2.30pm at Rua Alvares Cabral. 



Northern Portugal uncovered: From the trendy city of Porto to the Douro Valley wine country
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