Until a couple of weeks ago, I knew nothing about Porto except that it’s in Portugal, and that’s legit. Europe’s oldest city did surprise me though and I’m here to share all the tea with you all.
Porto is located along the Douro River estuary in northern Portugal. What I didn’t realise before going there was that its altitude was quite high above the sea and I almost made the mistake of choosing heeled boots. (I only took one pair of shoes on this trip). I’m so glad I listened to my instincts and went with walking boots. The western part of the city is pretty old and historical and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. To sum it up, Porto is the perfect destination to go to if you want to experience a great mix of history, culture and great food plus loads of sun (well, depending on when you visit but more on that later!)
Firstly – when should you go to Porto?
One of the reasons why we wanted to go to Porto, to begin with, was to soak in some much-needed sun. However, being a European city, you obviously want to avoid the winter months between November and March. In comparison, though with Munich or Paris in winter, Porto would still be comparably warmer and sunnier. In fact, the day we arrived in Porto which was in the middle of February, the temperature was cool and the sun was shining.
Ideally of course the months to visit Porto are between May and September. Beware that the summers in Porto can tend to be too hot going as high as 40 degrees celsius.
The best thing to do in Porto
After arriving, one of the best things to do in Porto is to admire the grotesque architecture. The first place to do this is the main train station es Sao bento. Apparently, it’s the most beautiful train station in the world. To prepare for all the pavement pounding ahead, head over to Manteigaria (Rua de Alexandre Braga 24) for the best pastéis de Nata (custard tarts) in the city.
Where to stay in Porto
Ribeira is probably the most famous neighbourhood in Porto, due to its picturesque houses painted in colourful tones. It is located by the riverside, right next to the beautiful iron bridge Luiz I, so it is one of the most photogenic areas in Porto.
Some of the most famous monuments in Porto, like the Stock Exchange Palace and the St Francis church, are located in Ribeira. You are also close to the Port wine lodges, which are just 10 minutes walking distance.
Moreover, Ribeira departures the most famous tram ride in Porto, tram #1, that goes all the way to the Foz neighbourhood.
If you are looking for a superior experience I recommend the Pestana Vintage Hotel. It has spacious rooms with a fabulous view of the Douro river and the Port wine cellars.
Other amazing options but at slightly lower prices are Descobertas Boutique Hotel and House Ribeira Porto Hotel.
Another great place for you to stay in Porto is 1872 River House, one of the best boutique hotels in Porto. This guesthouse combines the traditional granite stones of Porto with elegant decor.
Do I need a car in Porto?
Honestly, you don’t. In fact, we were so thrilled that Porto has Uber. This was really nice because most German cities don’t have Uber and the ones that do it usually run on the expensive side. The public transport system is very functional, they have it all from trams, trains to buses and taxis.
How to get to Porto
Porto can easily be reached by many different means of transport. It is well 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 kilometres 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. So you can definitely get to Porto by train.
The next best thing to do
The Guardian and travel website Lonely Planet picked this as the world’s third most beautiful bookstore. It’s gorgeous! More than a century old, Lello is an art nouveau pearl with gothic details, stained glass and a fabulous red staircase, said to have inspired the one in Hogwarts (JK Rowling once lived in Porto). Harry Potter fans: make a beeline here immediately. There are so many visitors these days that you are now charged to enter, but this is discounted from any purchase.
Porto’s Cathedral (‘Sé’) is the city’s most important church. Built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it’s a national monument. Look out for the gothic cloister, the chapel frescoes, the Teixeira Lopes sculpture in the baptistery and the mediaeval portrait of Our Lady of Vandoma, the city’s patron saint. When locals talk about the ‘Sé’, they don’t just mean the cathedral: the name also applies to the historic district at Porto’s heart. Wander its streets, keep Google Maps turned off and you’ll thank us for it.
If you’re in Porto you absolutely, positively must visit Ribeira. Yes, it’s swarming with tourists, but don’t let that put you off. Cross the river in a rabelo boat; go wobbly looking at the Luíz I, D. Maria II and Arrábida bridges (great backgrounds for dramatic photos); visit the Bacalhoeiros Wall, the Casa do Infante museum, the Rua da Reboleira, Cubo square, São Nicolau Church and the ‘Alminhas da Ponte’, a sculpture by artist Teixeira da Lopes. Eat at the Adega de S. Nicolau (they sometimes have fado nights), have a drink at the Pestana Vintage Hotel’s amazing RIB bar, then head up to the heights on the Guindais Funicular Railway. Phew!
Watch the Sunset from Esplanada Do Teleferico
Just a short walk (or stumble, depending on how you’re feeling after your wine tasting!) from the Porto Cruz Space is the Esplanada do Teleférico – a terrace bar above the Porto cable car with epic views over the city.
To the right of the all-glass bar are a concrete lookout perfect for watching the sunset bathe the Ribeira district, Dom Luis I bridge, and Douro in beautiful golden tones.
Alternatively, both Teleférico de Gaia and Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar (on the right side of the bridge) on the Vila Nova de Gaia side have become insta-locations of choice for many visiting the city, and the views of the city and the famous Dom Luis I bridge look equally impressive during golden hour.
There is much more to be done in Porto, but you can discover more on foot and suit your taste.
Nigel Chapotarongo says
Nice and detailed article😊
thanks for being a good travel partner love