Perched on the steep banks of the River Douro, Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city. It became a modern city with plenty to offer beyond its best-known wine exports.
We had the change to visit Porto, while we were in Spain. From Vigo, our camp base, it took us only two hours, by train, to reach Porto.
So we had two day to explore and to enjoy the city.
There are so many places to visit in Porto but I want to share our personal itinerary with you.
1. Sit on the river banks in the Ribeira district.
Grab a book, drink a glass of wine or simply enjoy the moment. We bought some traditional Portuguese farturas, some drinks and just sat next to the river enjoying a lovely afternoon.
2. Experience the new and the old
Porto is a city with a huge amount of history that can evolve to a modern European hub and find itself as an attractive destination without losing its authenticity.
This place has charisma.
Everywhere you look, you can see the charm of Porto untouched in the buildings, in the artistic life and even on the people. Through the maze of its streets, Porto is filled with not only cafes, art galleries and vintage stores, but also with an impressive collection of historical building of exquisite façade.
3. Go to the ocean
Get a ride from the Sao Francisco Church station all the way to the beach in an old-fashioned tram. Once at the ocean, you can choose to walk all the way to the Lady of Light lighthouse.
The ocean is cold and restless in winter, putting on a spectacular show of waves breaking on the lighthouse wall as well at the rock formations near it. The world felt like a much better place after some wild ocean therapy.
This nice old little tram stops at the river bank in a central, Ribeira. and takes you long the river till Foz do Douro (line 1) where the river meets the ocean. It deserves a ride for its atmosphere and once at the Ocean you’ll find a breathtaking view.
4. Take a boat ride down the Douro River
From the Ribeira square, you can take a 50-minute river cruise up and down the Duoro River. It gives you the chance to see beautiful views and the magnificent bridges linking the riverbanks.
5. Get a bird’s eye view of Porto from Dom Luís I bridge
The bridge opened in 1886 and, at the time, it was the longest of its kind in the world. The upper deck is put to use for pedestrians and light rail while the bottom deck is open for pedestrians and general traffic. Walk this 385m long bridge for magnificent views of Porto.
6. Eat lots of seafood
Porto is a city on the Atlantic Ocean so it would be a pity not to try as much fresh seafood as you can. Most restaurants offer fresh clams, octopus, codfish, mussels and many more delicious choices.
7. Have a stroll in Sao Bento Railway Station
It is one of the most beautiful railway station in Europe. Completed in 1903 and the real attraction is the dramatic azuleijo panels of historic scenes in front hall. The use of ceramic tiling has been popular in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries.
8. Have a Port wine and chocolate tasting
To drink wine when in Porto it’s a must. If you decide to try it, you have to do so at the oldest Port wine house, C.N. KOPKE, established in the year 1638. There are different ways to enjoy a tasting, from selecting just one or two glasses to trying the entire suite of house wines. The atmosphere is relaxed; you can stay as long as you need. I recommend you do this in the afternoon when you are done sightseeing.
9. Visit Clerigos Church and Tower
This incredible structure quickly became the symbol of the city. A visit only costs 3 euros and it grants you access to the church and the 75.6m tower. At the end of the 240 steps awaits gorgeous views of the city. This tower is in fact the bell tower of the Clerigos Church and once was the highest building in Portugal.
10. Buy a book from Livraria Lello & Irmao
It is a bookstore in central Porto, just up the road from the Clerigos Church. This Art Nouveau bookstore is beautiful and worth a visit. JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, also frequented the bookstore when she taught English in Porto and the shop is reported to be an inspiration for her writing. It costs 3€ to get in, but you get your money back if you buy a book.
11. Iglesia de los Carmelitas
It is one of the most beautiful and important churches in Porto. Like the Lello & Irmao bookstore, Iglesia de los Carmelitas is a short walking distance from the Clerigos Church. It’s worth the visit to admire its striking architecture. The outside is beautifully decorated with azulejo tile.
The inside, while not large, is elaborately decorated in the Rococo style. Entrance is free of charge.
12. Don’t miss Palacio da Bolsa
The Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) is a 19th century Neoclassical building which was built to impress and earn the credibility of European investors. Inside it could be mistaken for a royal palace.
How to get
In recent years, Porto has increased significantly its airline connections. This was majorly fault of the low-cost airline Ryanair, who managed to put Porto in the route of many European travelers. Make sure you use Skyscanner to compare the price of the flights. While you can still reach the city by car or train (even though Portugal has poor railway connections), being in the western most country of Europe makes flying the best option to get to Porto.
We flew to Vigo and from there took the train to Porto. It was an easy ride.
By car – can be difficult to drive in, especially that touristic parts of the city can be a maze of narrow streets with paved cobbled lanes. It is better to walk in spite that everything is very hilly.
By metro – although metro is still under construction, still has 6 lines that runs across the center of Porto. It is the most efficient way to get around. You should ask for advice before buying the ticket. It seemed very complicate to us.
By bus – you will use STCP which is the only bus operator in the region. It is a good way to go around.
Where to stay
Accommodation in Porto is generally inexpensive. Starting with hostel where you can find a 9 euros bed in a room with 12 beds to 40 euro/night in a hotel with breakfast included or not. You shouldn’t worry there are plenty cafeterias where you can have a tasty breakfast.
Here are the top three neighborhoods to stay in Porto:
- Ribeira – Best neighborhood in Port and the most picturesque one. By the riverside with tiny houses painted in colorful tones, close to the most of touristic attraction, bars and restaurant but it is also the most expensive one.
- Baixa/Se – It is a neighborhood just above Ribeira. At this place you will have plenty of monuments like Sao Bento train station or Lello Bookshop. It’s also the best place for eating and drinking on a low budget.
- Cedofeita – It is the trendiest neighborhood as it has an art district full of art galleries. It is the perfect place for those who want to be close to the city attraction but on a quieter location.
Best time to visit Porto
June is definitely the best time of the year to visit Porto due to the Sao Joao Festival.
But you can visit Porto from May to September when the weather is often sunny and warm. Overall, Porto experiences a moderate climate. In summertime temperatures are high but bearable and the nearby breezes will help to stay cool.
The fall brings lower temperatures and occasional drizzle while in winter you will encounter rain.
What to eat
When it comes to great food, Porto has only few rivals in Portugal. With the Atlantic Ocean on its doorstep, the Douro vineyards rolling down the ocean and the Tras-os Montes that produce amazing smoked meats and Cheese; it is difficult to compete with. There’s a great eating and drinking all over Porto. Expect hearty meals and try Tripas a moda do Porto and pay attention that is a tripe dish.
Try the salty codfish Bacalhau.
Don’t miss Francescinaha a huge filling sandwiches which is Porto specialty. It is literally translated: little French lady. It is considered one of the 10 best sandwiches in the word. And…it is a must to try Pastel de Nata. It is crazy!!!
We spent only two days in Porto and I can say that it is not enough. This city has much to offer. Maybe next time we will be able to stay longer.