Porto Travel Guide: A City Break In Portugal

Porto is defined by its orange-tiled roofs, stately bridges, and excellent port wine. It’s steeped in Portuguese history and tradition without the tourist crowds of Lisbon (yet). It has charming architecture, an indulgent food and drink scene, and a vibrant culture. Connected to most of Europe by budget airlines, Porto is an outstanding destination for a short getaway.

This Porto travel guide will tell you everything you need to know about the city, including how to get there, where to stay, and what to do, eat, and drink.

Porto Travel Guide: Dom Luis I Bridge at night

Getting to the city from Porto Airport

It’s easy to fly to Porto, with many airlines offering direct flights from all over Europe. There are several cost effective ways to get to the city from the airport once you land:

Metro

Porto is well connected using the Metro transport network. To use the Metro you will need to buy a rechargeable paper ticket, known as an Andante Azul, which costs €0,60. These are available at the airport. A journey to the city centre will take about 30 minutes. It costs approximately €2, although the fare will change depending on the distance travelled.

Bus

There are local bus stops at arrivals, and you can pick up a route map and timetable from the information desk in the airport. The bus will accept cash for the journey, which costs €1,80 (or (€1.20 if you use an Andante card).

Uber or taxi

An Uber to the city will take about 20 minutes from the airport, costing around €10. This is the most convenient option, and cost-effective if you are travelling with a group. Alternatively, if you prefer a regular taxi, it will cost €20-30.

Where to stay in Porto

Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal. Despite this, it’s still fairly easy to walk around, and retains a small city feel.

If you want to be in the centre of all the activity, stay in the Ribiera. It’s Porto’s riverside quarter, and is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. Along the riverfront is a long strip of cafes, restaurants, and shops in brightly coloured (albeit a little faded) buildings.

Vila Nova de Gaia

Immediately opposite Porto is Vila Nova de Gaia. The Douro River runs between the two cities, which are connected by several bridges.

Although not technically in Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia is where all of the port wine cellars are. It also arguably has superior views, looking across the river towards Porto.  It’s a good option if you plan on spending a lot of time exploring the wine cellars.

It’s easy to get between the two cities via the Dom Luis I Bridge. Whichever you choose, stay as close to the river as possible, as you will likely end up spending time in both.

Douro River and the Vila Nova de Gaia riverbank

Things to do in Porto

There are plenty of things to see and do in Porto, many of them free.

One of the things we did pay for was this combo ticket, which was excellent value at £22.50 per person and included a two day hop-on-hop-off bus tour, a river cruise, and a wine cellar tour and tasting session.

Douro River and Porto bank, with the Dom Luis I Bridge in the background

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

We love these bus tours. They are a great way to get your bearings in a city and plan where you want to spend more time. You also learn about the history of the city throughout the guided tour. There are two bus tour routes in Porto; one that explores the historical centre of the city and one that goes further out to nearby beaches. Your ticket will get you on both routes.

Watch out – there are three bus companies offering similar tours, and for the most part they use the same stops. Just make sure you are getting on the right bus!

River Cruise

Take a guided cruise along the Douro River to truly admire the impressive bridges that Porto is known for, while also learning about their design and construction.

Port Wine Cellar Tour and Tasting

Port wine is a sweet and delicious fortified wine that is native to Porto. You can visit one of the many wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia for a tour of the facilities and a tasting.

We’ve put together a whole guide with everything you need to know about port wine.

Walk the Dom Luis I Bridge

Dom Luis I Bridge is one of the most famous sites in Porto. It’s a double decker arched bridge that spans the Douro River, connecting Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Walk across the top deck for fantastic views of the cities on either side of the riverbank. At the time of construction, it was the longest bridge of its type in the world.

Dom Luis I Bridge going across the Douro River to Porto

Miradouro da Vitória

Miradouro da Vitória is an excellent viewpoint. Head there to see how many of Porto’s famous landmarks you can spot. There’s the Dom Luis I Bridge, Sé Catedral, the large glass dome of the Palacio da Bolsa, and the port wine lodges across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Frustratingly, the viewpoint closes in the evening. This means you can’t be there for sunset in the summer when the sun sets later in the day.

At the scenic viewpoint over Porto, Miradouro da Vitoria

Livraria Lello

Livraria Lello might be the world’s most beautiful bookstore. The store has a sweeping spiral staircase, carved wooden decor, and a stained glass ceiling that illuminates the entire store. Rumour has it that JK Rowling frequented Livraria Lello when she lived in Porto, and it inspired the depictions of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

It costs €5 to enter the bookstore. Your ticket can be used as a voucher towards the cost of a book, although they are generally marked up pretty high. It gets pretty busy in the tight space, but is worth visiting to admire the magnificent decor.

Historical Landmarks

Sé Cathedral

The Sé Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church originally built in the 12th Century. It has been rebuilt and renovated several times since, hence the addition of Gothic and Baroque architecture styles . The viewpoint just outside the cathedral features spectacular views of the city.

São Bento Train Station

São Bento Train Station is a fully functioning train station, often bustling with commuters and travellers. The main attraction are the azulejos in the grand hall; over 20,000 blue and white tiles arranged to form beautiful images. The work of artist Jorge Colaço, they depict Portugal’s defining historic moments.

Azelujos and clock at Sao Bento train station

What to eat and drink in Porto

There are two things that you simply must try while in Porto.

The first is port wine, named after the city itself. We’ve put together a guide with everything you need to know about port wine in Porto.

The other is a pastel de nata, a tasty Portuguese egg custard tart that will keep you coming back for more. We’ve also put together a guide on where to find the best pastel de nata in Porto.

Here are some of our favourite places to eat and drink in Porto:

Confeitarias

There are many excellent confeitarias, or bakeries, in Porto. Head to one for the aforementioned pastel de nata, a ham and cheese (mista) croissant, or a fresh bread roll. Our favourites were Confeitaria do Bolhão and Manteigaria.

Lado B Cafe

Visit Lado B Cafe for a francesinha; a traditional Portuguese sandwich made with bread, ham, bacon, sausage, and beef, smothered in tomato sauce and melted cheese, and topped with a fried egg. It’s as hearty as it sounds, and can be washed down with a ‘diesel’ – a mixture of beer and coke, that is.

The cafe was founded by the owner of a now-defunct record store in Porto. It has decoration linked to the world of music, with vinyl records, posters, and the names of famous rockstars on the walls. It’s affordable, and highly praised by customers and various culinary professionals. So much so, in fact, that it has registered the trademark for ‘Best Francesinha in the world’.

Paganini’s Pizza Cone food truck

I previously didn’t know that pizza cones existed or that I needed them in my life.

Once I found out, I ate at Paganini’s food truck twice in one week.

These cones were delicious. The chorizo flavour was delectable, and you can also get traditional Portuguese flavours such as bacalhau (salted cod) or francesinha (assorted meats).

The truck is right next to the Douro River, so sit on the bank and watch the boats pass as you enjoy.

The menu at Paganini's pizza cone truck in Porto

Bugo Art Burgers

For something a little different, try Bugo Art Burgers located in the arts district (naturally). The decor is modern and sophisticated, and they do a great lunch menu. Pick your burger, toppings and sauce, fries, and a drink for about €8.

The burgers are grilled to perfection. There is a unique selection of toppings and sauces to choose from, inspired by different cuisines from around the world.

Base Porto

Base is one of the coolest bars in Porto. Located in the Passeio dos Clérigos urban park, it’sa great spot to people-watch and admire the surrounding Portuguese architecture. Grab a drink and relax under an olive tree on the well-kept lawn, or sit on one of the comfy cushioned picnic benches.

Porto Cruz Space

Porto Cruz Space is a port wine multimedia centre in Vila Nova de Gaia, with a fantastic 360º rooftop terrace. They make delicious port wine cocktails using produce from the wine cellars below. It’s a little more expensive than other bars in Porto, but worth it for the views across the city and the Douro River.

Esplanada de Teleferico

Esplanada de Teleferico is a terraced wine bar with excellent views of the city of Porto and the Dom Luis I Bridge. It sits above the station for the cable car that runs along the riverbank in Vila Nova de Gaia. You’ll relish a nice, cold drink after the steep trek to the top from the riverbank.

Esplanada do Teleferico wine bar and terrace

 

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1 Comment

  1. Donetta Dalman on 18th June 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Makes me wish I was back there! So many amazing things to see and do! And of course the prices were amazing and the food was great. 🙂

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