Stretched out along the eastern shore of the Rio Guaíba, the prosperous Gaúcho capital of 1.5 million resembles a somewhat generic European or North American city. Although it has a reputed gastronomic scene (particularly if you’re a card-carrying carnivore) and a very dynamic cultural life for a Brazilian city its size, in terms of attractions, Porto Alegre is not really worth going out of your way to visit.
However, as a departure point for excursions into the Serra Gaúcha , or as a stopover on a Brazil–Argentina journey, there is definitely a day’s worth of sights and activities to keep you agreeably occupied.
Founded in 1755, “Porto”—as it is fondly referred to by its inhabitants—began life as a Portuguese outpost whose mission was to defend the Brazilian colony from its Spanish rivals to the south. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when the commercialization of Rio Grande do Sul ’s vast cattle herds became a serious business, that the city began to thrive. Soaring demand in exports led to the development of a port on the giant Lagoa dos Patos, a deep freshwater lagoon fed by the Rio Guaíba.
Throughout the 20th century, the city grew at breakneck pace, becoming the largest and the most economically important of Brazil ’s southern capitals. More recently, as host of events such as the controversial World Social Forum—which has provided a counterpoint to the First World elitism of the World Economic Forum—and the distinguished Bienal de Artes do Mercosul, Porto Alegre has proved itself to be a progressive and cosmopolitan place.
Porto Alegre is directly connected to Rio , São Paulo , Curitiba  and Florianópolis  by air. There are also flights to Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Montevideo. The swish, ultramodern Aeroporto Internacional Salgado Filho (Av. Severo Dulius 90010, tel. 51/3358-2048) is only 8 kilometers (5 miles) northeast of the city center. Taking a prepaid taxi into town will cost around R$30. There is also a executivo minibus airport shuttle service for only R$4. An easy alternative (if you don’t have much luggage and are staying in Centro) is the Metrô, which will take you to the Mercado Municipal.
Buses from around the state and country arrive at the rather forlorn Estação Rodoviária de Porto Alegre (Largo Vespasiano Veppo, tel. 51/3210-0101). For schedules and prices of bus services throughout Rio Grande do Sul , log on to www.rodoviaria-poa.com.br . Although the bus station is within walking distance of the Centro, the fact that it’s surrounded by highways and bypasses means it’s easier (and safer) to take a taxi, bus, or the Metrô to your destination.