Porto is a rich and colourful city that is quickly becoming one of Western Europe’s most respected tourist destinations. Located in the north of Portugal, the city has a rich history, interesting tourist attractions, a vibrant nightlife, and top notch tourist facilities.
The Southern European climate is mild, meaning that the weather in Porto is mostly warm from April to August, which is the best time to visit. Later in the year, there is a cool autumn and a mild, rainy winter. The wind regulates the temperatures because it blows frequently, a feature common to the Mediterranean: in the cold half-year, it can be strong, while in summer, a cool breeze from the sea blows in the afternoon. This diverse city will appeal to a wide range of visitors, as there is a lot to see and do!
Table of Contents
Getting to Porto
Porto is the major infrastructural hub of north Portugal, and the second city of the nation, this is why it can easily be reached by many different means of transport. It is deeply interconnected with the rest of the nation and Europe at large.
Foreign visitors may prefer to get to Porto by plane, the closest airport is Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport, situated about 10 kilometers north of the city. It is a hub for both business class and low cost airlines, such as Luxair, TAP Portugal, Ryanair and Lufthansa.
In the northern part of Portugal, Porto is the most important railway hub of all the cities. There are two main train stations.
- Sao Bento Train Station is located in central Porto, it is the terminal of regional trains which travel between Porto and north destinations (such as Braga, Viana do Castelo and Douro).
- Campanha Train Station is the terminal of trains leaving for and arriving from the south, Lisbon included. A train trip between Porto and Lisbon takes about three hours, and it is one of the most scenic rides in the country. Estacao de Campanha is also used by trains for international railway connections.
There aren’t many ferries sailing between the cities of Portugal carrying travellers because that mode of transport is used mostly for international trade nowadays. There are river ferries and rides available for a scenic tour of the Douro, of course.
Getting to Porto by bus is another alternative for people who travel from abroad and for nationals alike.
There are two main bus terminals in Porto: Park of the Carmelitas bus terminal, which is near the Sao Bento Railway station and the Casa da Musica bus terminal which is near the city center.
Here are some of the popular bus routes to Porto:
Porto is surrounded by motorways, the city enjoys excellent road connections with all of Portugal:
- A 1 links Porto to Lisbon
- A 4 provides the connection to Tras-os-Montes
- A 3 stretches as far as Minho.
Braga, Aveiro, Viana do Castelo are connected by motorways to Porto too.
Getting around Porto
Public transportation is very well developed. Although Porto is relatively small and can be explored on foot for the most part, as most of the sights are within walking distance of the city center, it is always a good idea to read about its public transport, just in case.
Porto also has some welcome bonuses and discounts for its guests, the Porto Card and the Andante Card.
- The Porto Card is a sightseeing pass with admission discounts and free entry to Porto’s main museums, monuments and guided tours, and unlimited use of public transport. This includes the metro (underground – even to the airport), city buses of the bus company STCP and the suburban trains between Valongo and Espinho (a popular seaside resort with a huge sandy beach).
- The Andante Tour Card is a card or “pass” of the bus company STCP and the Porto Metro. With this card, you use the city buses and the metro (subway) in Porto for free. However, it is only valid for one or three days. The Andante Tour Card is a pure local transport ticket.
Which one to choose?
The Andante Tour Card is cheaper. It is recommended for visitors who are purely looking for a public transport ticket for 1 or 3 days. Business oriented.
Otherwise, the Porto Card is much better. It is a little more expensive but it offers an additional 150 discounts, it is for those who want the whole experience. It is also more flexible because you can get one for 1,2,3 or 4 days.
Where to buy: The PortoCard can be ordered online and picked up at a tourist office. The Andante card is not available online but is available in tourist offices and Andante Card Shops in the railway stations, and also in some hotels.
The best, easiest, and most common means of transport in the city is the state-of-the-art Metro. It covers most of the city both under and over ground, all the way to the surrounding suburbs.
A single ticket costs €1.20.
Buses are the most convenient means of transport to get to certain destinations, like Vila Nova de Gaia, as it will drop you off where the best wine cellars are. Or if you want to visit the Serralves Museum or the Foz district.
A single ticket costs €1.85.
Some dozen vintage trams run down the three remaining tram lines in Porto.
If you want to explore the city on this charming means of transportation, you can take either of these three lines:
- Line 1: Infante-Passeio Alegre. It runs from 9:30am – 6pm.
- Line 18: Massarelos-Carmo. It runs from 9:15am – 7pm.
- Line 22: Carmo-Guindais Batalha. It runs from 10am – 7pm.
A single ride on the tram costs €3.50 and a return (or two journeys within 1 day) costs €6.00. There is a two-day unlimited tram pass for €10 (or €5 for a child ticket).
A taxi will be the best choice if you want to check out one of the restaurants or clubs away from the center at night. Taxis in Portugal are inexpensive when compared to the rest of Europe. Here is some contact information if you want one to pick you up:
- Raditaxis: 22 507 3900
- Taxis Invicta: 22 507 6400
Porto is one of the oldest cities of Portugal and it is the city after which the country is named, it has played an important role in not just Portuguese, but Iberian, history.
Portugal’s second largest city is full of history and variety, from the warren of labyrinthine streets that make up the ancient Ribeira district to the grand plaza of the Trindade district. The wider region is famed for the production of Port, a sweet red fortified wine, which is stored and matured, to this day, in the vast, ancient cellars that stretch along the banks of the Douro River.
It is a picturesque place full of character, also known for leisure, fun and nightlife.There is so much to see, a unique experience awaits!
Porto’s bridges are the city’s most recognisable sights, and have been not only vital to the city’s survival and prosperity but also to its character and beauty.
Dom Luis I bridge is an icon of the city. It covers the River Douro and connects the Port wine houses of Gaia with downtown Ribeira. It was built in honour of King Luis I, the reigning monarch of the time. For some reason he did not come to the celebratory opening of the bridge, which is why the locals dropped the “Dom” (“gift” in Portuguese) and called it just Luis I Bridge.
The Maria Pia Bridge was opened in 1877 by the king of Portugal and is named for the queen Maria Pia. Gustave Alexandre Eiffel himself was given the task of constructing the bridge. He is best known for constructing the Eiffel Tower, but he was also a skilled bridge builder. He was meant to complete the Luis I bridge too, but left the project because of disagreements with his protégé Teophile Seyrig.
Porto’s river, the Douro, runs between Porto and Gaia. It has been a place of triumph and tragedy. It helped the city withstand a siege but it was also the scene of a tragedy in which thousands of people lost their lives. Its banks remain places worth seeing as they are beautiful and filled to the brim with history.
Porto’s Ribeira district extends from the riverbank into the city and is the historical center, the old town. It is filled with monuments for you to visit: the São Francisco Church is well-worth a visit, as it is classified as a national monument.
While visiting this church it will be hard to miss the Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange), one of the most important historic monuments in Porto. It was built in the second half of the 19th century in the Neoclassical style and served as a center of commerce and culture. It has a rich history and looks majestic, inside and out.
Another must see is São Bento Railway Station which is in the city centre. Although the train station is gorgeous from the outside, the real deal is the inside.
The man hall includes over 20,000 tiles that reflect the history of Portugal. It’s a brilliant display of creativity. Showing that even public transport and its stations can look beautiful.
The Cathedral (Sé) of Porto is the city’s most important religious building. It is a blend of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic architectural styles, in a word: mesmerising. The cloisters of the cathedral are decorated with traditional Portuguese blue glazed tiles (Azulejos), and the marvelously crafted rose window completes the picture.
The Cathedral is located on a square with a column in the middle. This is the place where the criminals of Porto were hanged. Since this is the highest point in the city, the square also offers great views over the city of the Douro River and the wine cellars on the waterfront, a great spot for taking pictures.
If you took an interest in the vintage trams still running across the city, then you could pay a visit to the charming Tram Museum of Porto, the Museu do Carro Eléctrico. It gives you the opportunity to delve into the electric world of the tram: they look pretty and are environmentally friendly, just a little slow. It features interesting trams, drivers uniforms and other miscellaneous items from various periods of Porto’s history.
More than just an attraction Lello Bookshop is a place that everyone can enjoy, and not only because of its books. It is located in Carmelitas street, and its iconic staircases are perhaps the first example of the use of concrete in Portugal. It has also been praised by numerous publications, such as The Guardian, for being among the top three most beautiful bookshops in the world.
One more point of interest worth visiting is just a short bus ride away. Casa de Serralves is one of the most important cultural institutions in Porto. It is a mansion combining different architectural styles with a Contemporary Art Museum, the most important museum of Porto and one of the best in the country.
A place that animal lovers will appreciate will be the Zoo Santo Inácio. It is the largest and greenest zoo in Northern Portugal, located only 10 minutes away from city center, in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Porto City Park is a wonderful open space for a walk with family or pets, perfect for an afternoon picnic. For nature lovers it is perfect, on top of that it’s a great place for recreational sports or for running.
Did you know?
- The Latin name for Porto was Portus Cale. Then, in the Medieval times, the region north of the Douro was named the “Condado Portucalense” (County of Portucale), which then eventually led to the name of the country: Portugal.
- The city’s nickname is Invicta. In Portuguese, Invicta means unconquered. The city claimed this accolade after withstanding a siege for over a year during the 19th century Portuguese civil war.
- People from Porto are called Tripeiros (Tripe Eaters) by their countrymen! Legend has it that back in the 15th century, when Henry the Navigator’s fleet needed supplies for its Conquest of Ceuta, the city of Porto provided them with every last bit of meat they had – leaving only the tripes behind. From these leftovers, the people of Porto came up with the now-famous Tripas à Moda do Porto (Tripes Porto Style) dish, earning the nickname of Tripeiros.
- Porto is one of only two cities in Europe to have 6 bridges, the other is its neighbour Gaia, the bridges are shared. From this comes its second nickname, “The City of Bridges”.
Porto lies within the beautiful Costa Verde coastline and is surrounded by numerous outstanding beaches. This stretch of coastline faces the mighty Atlantic Ocean, and is formed of vast expanses of golden sands, rocky headlands and dramatic natural scenery.
On Porto’s seaside is the Foz do Douro area, beginning at the mouth of the Douro river and extending north, featuring beach after beach and lots of sights.
Many of the beaches are easily accessible from central Porto, and are connected by the city’s inexpensive public transport network.
Praia de Gondarém is a beach with sand of a yellowish hue, which makes it beautiful when the sun is shining. Other than the ocean there are rock pools and many small lagoons. After you’ve enjoyed the water there are many outdoor cafés and restaurants to sit down in.
Praia dos Ingleses is a charming stretch of clean sand facing the Atlantic. A great place to enjoy the seaside, with a couple of bars and restaurants. It is also great for a walk along the promenade, or on the beach itself.
Praia do Molhe is well known for its pergola, a type of shaded walkway – the Pérgola da Foz. It’s beautiful architecture suits the beach well, as the stone seems the same colour as the sand. It is regarded as one of Porto’s most romantic locations.
Praia das Pastoras is the beach closest to the river’s mouth, sandy, with a paved walkway good for running, it includes the Felgueiras Lighthouse. This lighthouse dating from the 19th century is located on the mouth of the Douro River and is constructed of tough granite to withstand the effect of the elements.
Espinho is located a little ways away from Porto. It is the centerpiece of the Costa Verde, a gorgeous 17km long beach. It is a mixture of traditional Portuguese life and modern tourist facilities. Espinho is a popular sight for taking photos while colourful fishing boats are pulled up onto the sands by locals.
NOTE: Portugal’s coastline and beaches face west, that is also the direction in which the sun sets every night. Spend a day at one of Porto’s beaches and experience a sunset, it will be among the most memorable experiences in the country.
There is no shortage of things to do in Porto, from beaches and “the three Ss” – Sun, Sea, Sand, to tours and bits of history hiding everywhere in the city intertwined with modern touches, there is no doubt that you will find something you enjoy.
You could take a tram tour! With the passage of time, trams in Porto have become a popular tourist attraction more than a means of transport. All the trams are vintage and they look lovely, taking a tour through the city on one is a relaxing and soulful experience.
A Rabelo boat tour on the Douro! This is like the tram tour, but on water. Boarding a cruise on this traditional vessel is a must because it is like submerging into the history of the city and experiencing what life was like centuries ago.
Something else you could do is sit in one of the street cafés in Cais da Ribeira, watch the boats sailing by, listen to street music and marvel at the colourful landscape.
Visit the Douro wine region and learn everything there is to know about wine: from how to drink it from a glass properly to all the different types of grapes and vineyards that exist. See the cavernous warehouses where the barrels of Port are kept. This is a must do while in Porto.
If it’s the outdoors you want then you can visit the beaches to the west and partake in the countless water sports that await! Or if you want to take it easy you could visit the Porto City Park, and enjoy a calm walk that can go on for miles.
Porto is full of history, nature and wonderful people, as a result it offers cultural events, festivals, sports events, gastronomic extravaganzas and much more.
Porto Marathon – This is the biggest marathon in the country, an iconic event that attracts many tourists each year. Thousands participate, it is a 42km event that is open to all over the age of 18 who want to participate, beginning and ending at the scenic Parque da Cidade.
Usually held in November, it combines seaside and riverside, flat and fast courses and passes through three neighboring cities, Porto, Matosinhos and Vila Nova de Gaia. It is a fun, healthy and unique way to explore the landscape.
Festa de São João – St John’s Festival – This is the main event of June, held towards the end of the month. During this time the city is a scene of partying and music.The reason why this festival is so memorable is because plastic hammers are used by everyone for some harmless and fun mischief and there are streetside barbecues set up everywhere. Thwacking people upside the head while enjoying barbecue is what the patron saint of Porto’s festival is all about. A wonderful fireworks display finishes the festivities.
Queima das Fitas – Held in May, this is a traditional festivity of the students of some Portuguese universities marking the end of the academic year. Parades, concerts, shows and round-the-clock partying and drinking are all part and parcel of the Queima das Fitas.
MEO Marés Vivas – This is a three-day music festival, held in neighbouring Vila Nova de Gaia in late July. It features many rock and pop stars that draw a massive crowd from Porto and afar.
Francesinha festival – The Francesinha is a very special kind of sandwich that originates from Porto. Held in October, the Francesinha Festival is all about honouring the “gastronomic icon of the city”. During the event, restaurants all over the city show how they reinvent this Porto delicacy and compete to find out which establishment has the best “Frenchie”.
Dishes in northern Portugal are mostly meat-based, but of course there are also lots of fish and vegetable offerings. Everything somehow has just the right amount and mix of spices!
- Porto’s typical dish is a Francesinha. This is a special kind of sandwich. It is soaked in tomato-beer sauce, filled with roast beef, ham, egg and linguiça sausage,covered in cheese, surrounded by lots of french fries and accompanied by a beer. Its name translates into (the) “Frenchie” and it is a feast.
- Bacalhau (codfish): The Portuguese say that there are 1001 ways to prepare codfish, and since it is the main source of the nation’s protein, that’s quite true. Bacalhau a Bras (cod mixed together with potatoes, eggs, onions, olives, and garlic) is a favourite. There is also Bacalhau com Natas (with cream) and Pasteis de Bacalhau (codfish cakes). These are some of the most popular cod dishes in Portugal, be sure to try one of the many variations.
- Arroz de Pato is a tasty rice dish made of duck meat with gratin cheese on top. It is one of Porto’s specialties.
- Alheira sausages are white, smoked traditional sausages, typically served with fries, rice, and a fried egg.
Where to eat
So many choices but where to eat in Porto? Porto’s restaurants offer a broad range of options and renowned expertise. MUU Steakhouse is one of the best restaurants in Porto, as such it is expensive, but the experience makes up for it. If you want to enjoy some fine Port while dining on delicious, locally sourced food, visit ODE Porto Winehouse.
If you are in the mood for some seafood, then Bacalhau is your next destination. This restaurant is located next to the Douro River, on the end of a riverside pier, the beautiful view completes the experience and the food is excellent. A place that is all about the city’s most well known dish – The Francesinha, is Bufete Fase. The famous sandwich is the only choice on the menu, but the locals would agree that is more than enough!
After all the Portuguese delicacies, maybe it’s time for something different? Restaurante Cafeina is a hip place where the local food is mixed with Italian and French cuisines, centering around delicious cuts of meat and fresh fish.
To end things on a sweet note you can visit Amorino, one of the best ice cream places in the city. With vegan options and a diverse offering of all kinds of desserts, with ice cream being the specialty.
Being the second largest city in the country, there have always been some hotspots for partying or just socializing at night, but with the recent influx of tourists, this is changing and there are more and more places to go out. Porto’s nightlife scene is perfect for creating memorable nights!
Since the action only really gets going around midnight, you could visit one of the many vintage cafés and sip a glass of wine or some tea and relax before the night comes alive. Alternatively, you could take a seat on the sidewalk and drink your beer and chat, you will see this everywhere. And this is just the beginning, here are some of the best places to visit.
Candelabro is a laid back, cosy bookstore turned cafe.
It is artful and different because along the inside walls there are shelves holding books that can be enjoyed with a drink. This place attracts the creative crowds of the city and has very good wine on offer.
They are also one of the rare places in Porto that still offer wine by the glass, a sealed, single serve, ready-to-drink wine in a glass that you can carry anywhere.
The Gin Club
This creative establishment followed the recent trend of drinking in Portugal: Gin, gin and some more gin.
The main reason people come here is the rich selection of imported brands and tonic waters with which to combine them with. Bartenders will personalise your drink however you want it, the cocktail combinations are almost endless.
This locale also has a terrace near its gates, overlooking a street which gets busy at night, a moonlit drink here is quite the experience.
Plano B is divided between two floors with high ceilings. Upstairs there’s a bar with comfortable sofas to sit and chat, downstairs there’s a disco with two dance floors.
Portuguese and international DJs play their tunes, (EDM and techno are popular genres); on some occasions there’s live music too. The party goes on until 6am on Friday and Saturday nights.
This amazing place is located on the fourth floor of a parking garage, outside of the main action areas of Porto’s nightlife, because going here is an event in and of itself. This is a bar, restaurant, art gallery, cultural space, and a club, all in one.
There are regular events such as concerts or art exhibitions. All in all it’s a place with a lot to offer, from a simple good meal to a fully fledged night out and many options in-between.
Founded in 1979 by a German gentleman, this is one of the best pubs in the city.
The original establishment is located near the Foz district and it’s second venue is in downtown Ribeira. As the only English pub in the city, Bonaparte is really popular with tourists and locals alike.
It’s a place with character that offers one of the best whiskey and beer lists in the city, paying special attention to German brews. Gin & tonic and all sorts of cocktails are on offer too. There is food too, such as burgers or a francesinha.
The number of visitors to Porto is growing rapidly while the number of actual beds is struggling to catch up. This means that the best hotels and rental apartments get booked fast, so budget and last-minute visitors have to look further from the historic centre. It is vital that you book your accommodation as early as possible.
Good to know when travelling to Porto
No two countries are the same, there is always something that is helpful to know about any place you visit. Here are some tips that will make your journey in Portugal more enjoyable.
- Use sun protection and beware the sun between noon and 3 p.m. Be mindful that the middle of the day, between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. is the hottest time when the sun is strongest. Apply sunscreen, try to remain out of direct sunlight, wear a hat, and drink plenty of water. This is a must for all of South Europe.
- Enter the water slowly. Too often are tourists eager to enter the inviting waters of South European countries and, in their zest, forget about safety. The sudden change in temperature that occurs when a person who is hot and sweaty jumps into water, which is always colder, can be deadly. Too many people hurt themselves this way every summer. Take care and enter the water slowly, step by step.
- Portuguese lingo. Bom dia/tarde/noite mean good morning/afternoon/night. Socorro means help! and ajude-me means help me. Obrigado means thank you and de nada means you’re welcome.
- The “best” Francesinha. Every establishment will tell you they have the best Francesinha. A good rule of thumb is if it’s empty inside the restaurant, it’s probably not that great place or it’s too expensive. In this case it is worth it to wait in line at a place that is in demand.
- Uber does work in Porto. It’s highly recommended over taxis, which tend to be more expensive. If you do decide on a taxi, remember to ask your driver to start the meter so you’re not overpaying for a taxi ride. Don’t believe them if they claim a fixed rate is cheaper.
Police, Porto Tourism Police Station: +351 222081833
Fire department: 112
Pharmacies working 24/7:
Farmácia Porto, +351 22 200 1782, Estrada da Circunvalação 14075
Farmácia Barreiros, +351 22 834 9150, Rua de Serpa Pinto 12