Portugal has enticed more and more travelers in recent years, and no wonder -- it’s affordable, it’s adventurous, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Most first-time visitors focus on the capital, Lisbon, so for better or worse, other areas have remained somewhat sheltered. That’s changing now. Lisbon continues to be fantastic (and still a relatively under-visited European city) but if you’re thinking about traveling to Portugal, you should be thinking about Porto.
The country’s second largest city is a long-time Lisbon rival. The difference between the two is probably most tidily summed up in the nicknames of their citizens: people from Porto are tripeiros, meaning tripe-eaters; Lisboans are alfacinhas, meaning little lettuces. Tripe, for those of you who have thus far led disappointing lives, refers to the filling, cheap, unpretentious stomach lining of (usually) sheep or cows; little lettuce refers to lettuce that is small. The idea here is that Porto is a working-class town while Lisbon is ~fashion~.
“We used to say that Porto works and Lisbon has fun,” says Mónica Marabutt Nogueira, a tour guide who’s worked all over the country for more than 20 years. “But today it’s completely different. There’s a big, big change in Porto nowadays, it’s becoming so popular. There are more restaurants, more people going out -- more life, more living.”
Porto is generally a more budget-friendly destination even than Lisbon, and you’re in luck if you’re coming from around Newark -- United Airlines recently launched the first direct route from the US to Porto, out of the NJ/NYC airport. Otherwise, you’ll have to fly into a larger European hub and transfer from there -- this might cost a little more upfront, but your day-to-day budget will be lower than in the big-hitting European capitals. If you can, plan your visit for late spring or early autumn, when the weather is at its most lovely and the tourists are at their most… elsewhere.
Porto gives you as much cobbled-street charm and dazzling ancient architecture as you’ll get anywhere else in Europe, and it’s nestled in one of the world’s leading wine regions -- yet it’s still affordable and uncrowded. And right now, it’s more accessible, exciting, and alive than ever before.