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Porto, Portugal's second-most populous city, buzzes with activity. Its cobblestoned streets are flanked by newly opened independent boutique shops, art galleries, hip restaurants and lively bars and cafes, all of which have sprouted up in the last few years alongside historic Medieval buildings.
After falling on hard times during and after the 2008 recession, Porto is dusting itself off quite well. And this rebirth is attracting hip travelers curious about this cultural movement, which is being cultivated by its younger generation who want to build up the city with their own vision while steadfastly protecting their heritage.
Here’s a roundup of just a few of Porto’s new and hip spots.
WHERE TO SHOP
Almada 13This playful, conceptual, exposed-brick micro mall consists of five boutique shops in one location. Situated in Porto’s historic Invicta neighborhood in the city center, it’s filled with delightfully distinct products designed and produced in Portugal.
Aguas Furtadas sells modern art, home decor and fashion products celebrating Portugal’s heritage. Aldeias Historicas de Portugal features designer Miguel Gigante’s modern fashion products made from traditional wool burel. Cork & Co. is an eco-brand of cork-based design furniture, bags and accessories. Rota do Caha is for tea lovers and The Yellow Boat houses everything from furniture to bags with a beach theme. The last addition to the mall is Miss Pavlova, a cute cafe that offers up beautifully made Pavlova desserts to fuel you for all those hours of shopping.
Bombarda124There’s no signage to suggest that Bombarda124 is a retail outlet, and you’ll need to ring the front door bell to enter this showroom-come-store-come-graphic-design-studio. It features chic, cute and one-of-a-kind baby clothes, as well as neat graphic designs, posters and trinkets that pay homage to the tile-based historic architectural designs in Porto.
No one believes the changes — even Portuguese people don’t believe that Porto would become a travel destination,” said Silvia Pina, Bombarda124’s owner and a former economist who opened the shop with her husband after having a baby. “If you knew Porto five years ago, it would be easier to understand: There was nothing.”
Mercado 48It’s impossible to walk by this storefront without being beckoned inside. The stone walls, tree trunks and bicycles draw in visitors, but the hand-painted ceramics, wooden toys, tote bags with screen-printed designs and Danish furniture make it difficult to leave. Childhood friends Jose Moutinho and Joao Vasconcelos opened this vintage-meets-contemporary design store in 2014.
“Our government thought young people had to go out of the country to bring money back, but we like our country — we don’t want to go away,” Moutinho said. “So, we created what we wanted. You’ll see something very genuine and different in Portugal. In some ways, it’s bad; you need to make a reservation to go to a restaurant two weeks in advance, and our landlord just kicked us out of our apartment so he can Airbnb it, but I still love it here. We are the ones creating a new Porto, too.”
WHERE TO ADMIRE ART
O! GaleriaThis fun gallery features about 70 artists producing whimsical illustrations, pop-art-like portraits, beach scenes and quirky depictions of all things. Located on the main drag of the Arts District on Rua Miguel Bombarda, this narrow space is a wee portal into Porto’s burgeoning alternative creative arts scene. It sits alongside vintage stores and speakeasy-style bars that are also worth checking out.
“Porto has changed a lot since I came in the last five years,” said Tina Siuda, a gallery staffer who moved to Porto from Poland after her illustrations drew the attention of gallery owner Ema Ribeiro. “There was not many tourists five years ago, and the infrastructure has changed a lot. It has improved so much that it’s almost scary. It’s on the edge of turning into something more international.”
WHERE TO GRAB DRINKS AND FOOD
BopBop is lined with a collection of more than 2,500 records, and patrons are invited to spin on one of the communal record players with a set of headphones. The intimate space tends to attract a laid-back crowd of laptop-wielding hipsters by day and small groups by night. Order up a single-origin pour-over coffee or Bop’s own tap beer, and if the munchies hit, burgers and onion rings should be ordered, stat.
Maus HabitosTranslated into “Bad Habits,” this arty haunt hosts a culturally ambitious agenda with changing exhibitions and imaginative installations, while live bands and DJs work the small stage. It also acts as a lounge bar and its restaurant, Vicios de Mesa, serves an Italian-based menu.
Miss’opoThe street Rua dos Caldeireiros has an indie vibe in part thanks to the lively Miss’opo restaurant and guesthouse as well as Uma Certa Falta de Coerencia, the artist-run exhibition space nestled among the crumbling tile facades of neglected apartment buildings.
Miss’opo is housed in a raw concrete space with mismatched furniture and chalk scribbles on the walls. The cafe-bar-guesthouse-exhibition-space has a changing roster of shows featuring designers in different disciplines and is the go-to spot for the city’s new generation of designers and artists. The restaurant/bar serves a daily-changing menu of small plates.