Porto is Portugal’s second city in terms of population and size, but when it comes to culture, history and attractions, it’s second to none.
Founded on the banks of the Douro River, and close to the Atlantic coastline, Porto has played an incredible role in the history of the Iberian peninsula. The city was once a Roman fortress, and over the years grew into an impressive trading port, famed most of all for its excellent, fortified Port Wine.
There’s a wealth of history and heritage waiting in Porto, as well as fine wine, exquisitely fresh seafood, and excellent restaurants. To inspire your trip to Portugal, here’s our ultimate guide to Porto!
This ultimate travel guide to Porto will show you all the most beautiful places in Porto, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Porto and things to do in Porto which will help you in planning a trip to Porto.
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How to get to Porto
Porto is found in the north of Portugal, close to the border with the Spanish region of Galicia, and along the Atlantic coast. As one of the largest urban areas in Iberia, Porto has excellent transport connections.
The local airport has flights internationally, with lots of connections across Europe with TAP Air Portugal and with budget airlines, such as Ryanair and EasyJet. There are also connections further afield to North America, although these are much more limited, and if arriving from outside Europe, you may have to transit through another hub to fly into Porto, rather than flying direct.
Porto has extensive bus and train connections, both domestically, and into neighbouring Spain. You can also travel overland to major cities such as Lisbon, Madrid, Bilbao and many other destinations too.
What to expect in Porto
Porto is a busy and bustling city, and one that despite its wealth of historic attractions, has often been seen more as a business and trade centre, than a tourist destination. You’ll soon realise that Porto is an excellent tourist destination, precisely for these reasons, and it’s never as crowded as Lisbon, or say Faro when it comes to visitors. You’ll be able to see a more unique and local side of Portuguese city life when you visit Porto.
In Porto, they speak Portuguese, but you will also find that many residents are well versed in the English language. Being so close to Spain, and with the Portuguese language being so similar to Spanish, you’ll find that many locals also speak Spanish. But of course, national pride is a serious thing here, so try and make the effort to speak Portuguese if possible.
Portugal is an integral member of the European Union, and the currency in use in Porto is the Euro, while the country is also part of the Schengen Zone too.
How to get around Porto
You can call into the tourist information centre to grab a Porto travel guide and map when you arrive, to make your life a little easier when you are exploring.
Porto is a city that is built back into the hills of the Douro Valley, and while you can walk around on foot, just remember that it can be incredibly up and down, and hence hard work. The narrow, winding streets make driving in Porto a difficulty too, so you will want to look at using public transport.
The Porto Metro is extensive and can get you to most destinations that you might need as a tourist. There are several lines and you can purchase good value tickets for your stay in the city.
If the metro isn’t appropriate for where you’re going to, then the public bus system should cover it, with a wide network connecting most suburbs and districts with each other and with the centre.
The best time to visit Porto
As a great city break destination, Porto can be visited all through the year, as even in the colder and rainier months of winter, there are plenty of places to escape the bad weather.
The city is at its best in summer though, when the sun is shining and the wine is flowing, but like everywhere in Europe, the summer months, between May and September are also the busiest. Compared to many other popular destinations though, Porto doesn’t see as many visitors even its peak season and it can make a good alternative to over visited cities on the Iberian peninsula such as Lisbon or Barcelona.
Spring and Autumn can be lovely times to visit too, as Porto still experiences warm weather, and it’s not as busy as summer.
Things to do in Porto
Sao Bento Train Station
The Sao Bento Train Station might well be one of the first places that you see in Porto, and certainly so if you are arriving in the city by train.
While it’s a convenient transport hub, it’s also a prominent tourist attraction in its own right. The ornately designed facade of this elegant station dates back to 1916. The elegant interior is just as beautiful as the outside.
One of Porto’s most important historical sights is the Clerigos Church. The church was completed in 1750, in the distinctive Baroque style that was popular across Europe at the time.
The church is famous for its tall bell tower, the Torre Dos Clerigos, which forms of an iconic landmark on the Porto skyline as it rises to over 75 metres in height. You can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views over Porto.
The Dom Luis Bridge spans the Douro River, connecting the centre of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite side. It’s an impressive work of engineering and one of the most recognizable sights on the Porto skyline, given its distinctive upper and lower decks.
You can use the upper, pedestrian walkway to not only get across the river but to enjoy excellent views all along the Douro Valley.
Porto Cable Car
You can also use the local cable car to get across the river too if you’d like an even more scenic view as you travel from one side of the city to the other. The cable car connects Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia and is a great way to get around.
One of Porto’s most fascinating attractions is the Livraria Lello. This is a local bookstore, but one which is often named amongst the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Inside, you’ll find flowing, purple and pink decor, as well as rustic, antique furniture – and books stacked to the rafters too, of course.
Livraria Lello can be one of the busiest attractions in Porto – they even have to charge an entrance fee to curb the crowds – because the bookstore became the inspiration for the libraries in Hogwarts when Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling lived in the city while she was writing the first book.
Fort of São Francisco do Queijo
History buffs will want to head to the Atlantic coast, where they can admire the rustic stone walls of the Fort of Sao Francisco do Queijo. This imposing fortress has stood watch over Porto since the 6th century AD, when it was thought to be a local Celtic site. The fortress you see today dates back to the 15th century.
Soares dos Reis National Museum
The Soares dos Reis National Museum is a must-visit when you are in Porto because this is one of the oldest museums in Portugal. The museum is named for Portuguese sculptor and artist Soares dos Reis, as within the galleries you can find many of his best works on display.
The museum itself has much more than this to offer though, and the collections date back to 1833, when it was first founded as a public museum.
What to eat in Porto
Porto is well regarded for both its food and its drink, and when you are in the city, you will need to spare plenty of time to indulge in the local cuisine. Porto is perhaps most famed for its wine, and in particular, fortified wine. Known to the world simply as Port, this strong, heavy alcohol can be found everywhere in the city.
Being found on the coast, you can also expect to find an abundance of fresh seafood in restaurants. As well as this, there are plenty of hearty local stews to try, particularly if you’re visiting in winter, with Cozida a Portuguesa, a meaty, potato heavy stew, being a particular favourite.
Where to stay in Porto
Budget – Porto has some charming budget accommodation, and you can find pleasant hostels around the city. A favourite amongst travellers is Bluesocks Hostel, for good value and atmosphere, or check out the Garden House Hostel for accommodation that’s found in a converted 19th-century heritage house.
Mid-Range – Porto has a great set of mid-range hotels, catering for both tourists and business travellers, and you’ll find standards are high. The NH chain have properties in the city, as do the Crowne Plaza, and these make for excellent choices.
Luxury – Porto also has plenty of luxury offerings too. The Intercontinental is a great choice, offering luxury and international standards in the heart of the city, while the Flores Village Hotel and Spa is an elegant spa hotel that offers excellent service and amenities.
Airbnb is also a great option for short or long stays.
Tours to do in Porto
Food and Wine
In a city such as Porto, where the cuisine is such an enjoyable factor when it comes to travelling here, it would be a shame not to join a local Food and Wine Tour.
With a guide, you’ll be led to Porto’s best restaurants and eateries, be they market stalls or higher class establishments, and you’ll have the chance to eat where the locals do and to escape the tourist trail for a more authentic foodie experience than you might find on your own.
The Douro River is one of the defining geographical features of Porto, and while you’re staying in the city, then you can join a cruise along the water.
You’ll be given a unique view of the city and its skyline, as it rises up into the hills of the Douro Valley, while you have a great chance to learn more about Porto’s long history of river and maritime trade, that was greatly aided by its position at the mouth of the Douro River.
Hop on Hop off Tour
It seems that every major city has a Hop on Hop off bus tour these days, and of course, Porto is no exception. With stops at every major attraction in the city, and perhaps a few lesser-known ones too, you can rest assured that if you are short on time, a Hop on Hop off bus pass will give you a great chance to pack in as much as you can.
Day trips from Porto
The Douro Valley is the long valley that stretches alongside the Douro River, where Porto is found. The valley is a beautiful place to explore, and it’s easy to get out of the city and into the hills and countryside surrounding Porto.
Within the valley, you can explore rural villages lost in the hills, you can uncover medieval monasteries and best of all, you can enjoy some of the region’s best wine. The Douro Valley is well regarded for its high-quality wine, and there are plenty of vineyards to visit for tours and tastings.
Just a short journey northeast of Porto, the city of Braga is one of Portugal’s most historic destinations. Dating back to the Roman-era, Braga rose to prominence when it became the centre of religion in medieval Portugal.
Today, you can visit some of the country’s most impressive medieval churches, while you can still find many Roman ruins scattered around the city too.
Head southeast instead and you’ll soon be arriving into the city of Coimbra, another destination that’s packed with heritage. Coimbra makes for an excellent day trip from Porto because the city was once the former capital of Portugal – before it was moved to Lisbon.
In Coimbra, you can find a well preserved Old Town, where you can stroll through ramshackle, medieval streets. Much of the city is UNESCO World Heritage Listed, and Coimbra makes for a heritage filled outing.
Recommended tours in Porto
- Douro Valley Small-Group Tour with Wine Tasting, Portuguese Lunch and Optional River Cruise
- Santiago de Compostela and Valença do Minho Day Trip from Porto with Lunch
- Guimarães and Braga Day Trip from Porto
- Porto: 3-Hour Food and Wine Tasting Tour
- The Best of Porto Walk: 3-Hour of Private Guided Tour
- Douro Valley Wine Tour from Porto Including Lunch
- Port Wine Lodges Tour Including 7 Wine Tastings
- Guimarães and Braga Small Group Tour with Lunch from Porto
- Fatima and Coimbra Day Trip from Porto
- Wine Tour of the Vinho Verde Region from Porto Including Lunch
- Porto Jewish Heritage Walking Tour
- Make Your Own Traditional Porto Tile
- Portuguese Gastronomy: Guided Workshop in Porto
- Geres Waterfall Trek from Porto
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