Comfortable Urban Living in Portugal’s Second City

Imagine living in a chic, historic European city with a vibrant restaurant scene, a seaside ambience, mild weather, friendly locals, and great (and inexpensive) food and wine. That description fits Porto, Portugal‘s second-largest city, to a “T.” And, after spending time in the city earlier this year, I could definitely imagine living there.

You may know Porto as the home of port, the fortified wine beloved for centuries by the British. And yes, the famous port companies—Cockburn’s, Graham’s, Sandeman’s, and many more—are still here, right across the river from Porto’s historic center, in Vila Nova de Gaia. (You can do a tour of the caves, or wine cellars, including tastings of several ports, for as little as €5: about $5.60.)

But they’re far from being all that Porto offers these days. The city is newly chic, and has a lovely historic center. Wine bars (serving Portugal’s very quaffable, inexpensive wines, as well as its ports) and cafés dot Porto’s streets and squares. And beautiful churches, leafy parks, and elegant public buildings are everywhere.

The old city sits on high cliffs above the Douro, a bridge connecting old Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia. Head west, and you can stroll for miles along walking paths that follow the Douro all the way to the Atlantic…and to sandy beaches. The city lies along the Douro River, right where it flows into the Atlantic.

Many of the city’s upscale residential neighborhoods border the water. These include Foz do Douro and Matosinhos. Boavista, another upscale neighborhood popular with expats and with Porto’s prosperous residents, lies slightly inland. All are easily accessible by metro and bus.

Real estate prices and rental rates have risen in the last few years, thanks to Porto’s popularity as a business city. But this city is still very affordable. For example, in an upscale residential neighborhood just north of Boavista, an elegant, modern, three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with lots of light, a huge living room with balcony, hardwood floors throughout, and a full 1,722 square feet of space was recently for sale for just €159,900 ($178,600).

Prefer to live in central Porto? If you just want a well-located pied-à-terre, a small (just under 400 square feet) one-bedroom, one-bathroom in the upscale Aliados area was recently on offer. With wood floors and a small balcony, this apartment puts you near all the action in Porto. And its asking price is just €52,000 ($58,000).

For much more space—and luxury surroundings—there’s Boavista. A 1,108-square-foot apartment just south of Boavista was recently for sale. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room, plenty of light, and luxury fittings throughout. You’re a half-hour walk or an easy bus or metro ride to the heart of Porto, yet are located in a tranquil residential neighborhood near major parks. It’s yours for €200,000 ($223,350).

Central Porto is home to only about 250,000 people, giving it a small-city, manageable feel. (The greater Porto area is home to 1.5 million.) And the center is genuinely compact. You can stroll from the outskirts of the old city down to the waterfront quay, the Cais da Ribeira, in as little as 20 minutes. The Cais is home to pleasant waterfront restaurants and upscale hotels that keep it busy until the wee hours.

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