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Iron Man: Dom Luís Bridge, a Porto icon, spans the Douro River. (Photograph by Michele Falzone/AWL Images)

Europe’s Rising Star: Porto

It’s the start of a dazzling sunset in Porto, a sequence that will throw the iron arch of Dom Luís Bridge into silhouette, make the Rio Douro look like treacle, and finally turn the riverside town houses the color of tawny port. Which is appropriate because Portugal’s Douro Valley is renowned for its fortified wines—those unique white, ruby, and tawny ports created by arresting the fermentation process with the addition of brandy (which sweetens the results).

You can’t visit Porto without noticing the warehouses, restaurants, and bars emblazoned with names such as Quinta do Noval, Taylor’s, Croft, and Ferreira. So go ahead and taste the port. It’s good. But that’s just the beginning.

Porto’s real thrill lies in the magnificent mash-up of traditional and modern—for example, those brand-name boutiques next to stores selling wax body parts, which are left in churches as pleas for divine intercession.

At the art nouveau Majestic Café, the endless mirrors are starting to age. The clientele read newspapers, keeping one eye on the tourists ogling this belle epoque beauty.

If Lisbon is the meal, Porto is the sweet and storied digestif.

  • Best For: All things port. The drink is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley.
  • Main Event: Fireworks-filled Festa de São João (June 23)
  • Also Try: Faro, another underrated Portuguese city, with a charming old center

This piece was adapted from a story that originally appeared in the UK edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine.