Porto Travel Guide

Enjoy Porto, a Bustling Center for Wine and Trade--and Great Food

porto church picture
••• Porto: Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. James Martin, Europe Travel

Porto, or Oporto, is Portugal's second largest city and capital of Portugal's beguiling north. Porto was selected the 2001 European Capital of Culture which bestowed upon the city money for lots of cultural improvements.

Portugal, by virtue of its position on Europe's Western edge, gets fewer travelers than other Mediterranean destinations. But intrepid visitors are rewarded with uncrowded cities and moderate tariffs for food and hotels.

This is a place where you can splurge on a stay at a fine manor house and live in luxury for around 100 Euros a night. Porto is also known as one of the best places for fine dining in Portugal.

Known mainly for its trade in Port wine, which travels along the east-west trending Douro river that starts in Spain, Porto has for its long history been known as a cosmopolitan trading center. It still has blue collar working class feel, but it's a sort of Vasco de Gama working class with a timeless style. You'll see an array of architectural gems from Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance eras in this scenic city built into the granite cliffs at the mouth of the river Douro.

Porto - Best Time To Go

Blossoming of almond, apples, pears, cherries, oranges, and figs is particularly striking in February. Summer is pleasant, with maritime winds moderating the climate. But expect some rain in summer.

For historic climate charts and current weather, see Porto Travel Weather.

Major Attractions in Porto

12th-century Cathedral or Se. Huge cathedral founded in the 12th century but extensively altered in the 18th. Open from 9 am to 12:30 and 2:30 to 7 pm.

Igreja de Sao Francisco - Gothic church with a plain facade but tons of gold-leaf gilding inside.

There is also a museum and catacombs below, which we found more fascinating than many guidebooks did.

Ponte de D. Luis, the city's emblematic iron bridge, built by a disciple of the famous Eiffel.

Foodies will want to visit Mercado do Bolhão, Porto's iconic market in the heart of downtown.

Don't miss the Ribeira do Porto, the cluster of buildings, smoky bars and seafood restaurants along the waterfront.

One of Europe's finest bookstores, an architectural wonder, is located in Porto. Livraria Lello has been selling books since 1881. Designed by Xavier Esteves, it's facade is neo-gothic, and the curving red stairway between levels, decorated walls and ceilings, and stained-glass skylight will amaze you. You can see our video of this destination: Tour the Cathedral of Books. The Livraria Lello site has a single picture without much information (yet), but the Bookstore Guide has a good description and more pictures.

If you like to eat surrounded by books, you'll need to try Book, a new restaurant at Rua de Aviz 10 serving nouveau Portuguese cuisine in a candlelit and bookish literary environment.

A number of tours are offered for Viator if you want to get further afield or just want to do something like a fado or bicycle tour of the city.

See: Porto & Northern Portugal Tours (book direct).

Where to Go for Great Views of Porto

  • From the top of the Clerigos Tower, a 75-meter tower accessed with 225 steps.
  • Climb up to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, from where you will gain an even more splendid view of the bend in the river, the bridge, and the city.
  • The Ponte de Dom Luis I -walk across the high upper deck if you dare for good views of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank.

Port Tasting:

Port Wine Institute - Rua Ferreira Borges, 27 - 4050-116 Porto Tel: ++ 351 222071600 - Fax: ++ 351 222071699. A great place to go to try many types of port in a living room atmosphere.

Solar do Vinho do Porto Rua Entre-Quintas 220 besides the Jardim do Poalacio de Cristal.

Vila Nova de Gaia, is an across-the-river southern suburb of Porto perched on the steep banks of the Douro where Port wine lodges dominate the landscape.

There are over 50 port producers within the narrow lanes where the wines are aged and blended. Tours and tasting is a must for a visitor with a taste for Port wine.

Porto Tourism Office

Main Porto Tourism Office - Rua Clube dos Fenianos 25 open 9-5:30. Get a map of the city here.

Airports

Porto is served by the Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport. The AeroBus runs to Porto's main drag, Avenida dos Aliados, every half hour between 7 am and 7:30 pm.

Train Stations in Porto

Porto, a hub for trains in north Portugal, has three train stations. You can buy tickets for any train originating at any station at the central São Bento station. (Be sure to see the azulejo tile murals while you're in the station.)

An IC train from Lisbon takes 3 1/2 hours, a regional train an hour more.

Driving Map

Michelin Map 940 covers only Portugal, so it's detailed enough to show smaller towns. I highly recommend a detailed and recent map of Portugal if you're driving (not including Spain, as that makes the map less detailed overall), since the influx of EU money has seemed to create a boom in road construction and re-routing. You can get one at most gas stations in Portugal fairly cheaply

Porto Weather and Climate

Porto has mild weather with little possibility of rain in the summer season, although more rain falls here than in Lisbon during the winter months: Porto Portugal Weather and Climate.

Eating and Restaurants

Porto is a great place to sample Portuguese cuisine, from the famous, gut-busting "Francesinha" sandwich (ham, cheese sausage, roast beef...) to the Michelin-starred restaurant at The Yeatman overseen by chef Ricardo Costa, who puts his own spin on traditional Portuguese dishes.

There are plenty of places that allow you to eat well for little. Via Twitter, Sean Smith tells us: "if (you're) in Porto and want cheap eats you must try Casa Guedes. Best pork & sheep milk cheese sandwich in the world & cheap." (Casa Guedes, Praça dos Poveiros 130, 4000 Porto, tel. 222 002 874)

If you're near Porto's iconic market, enjoy some old world elegance at the Majestic Cafe. Another place to enjoy an inexpensive snack or lunch near the market is Pasteis de Chaves, where the flaky pastry treats originating in the northern border town of Chaves are stuffed with veal, vegetables or even chocolate.

We enjoyed the "tasting world" of Foz Velha on a recent trip. Chef Marco Gomes wowed us with small plates of exquisite food, never veering too far from tradition despite the food being entirely modern, fresh, and exciting to view and to eat.

If you are in Porto Vinum around the end of November through the beginning of December, the restaurant of Graham’s Port Lodge, hosts "Jornadas do Boi de Trás-os Montes." Dry aged artisan raised ox? See Old Portuguese Ox – A Stunning Gastronomic Experience!

And finally, Porto offers the casual diner some great food experiences. Anita's Feast provides some of her favorites: The best tascas and tabernas in Porto, Portugal.

Where to Stay in Porto

The top rated Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa - Porto is highly praised by Venere users for service and spacious rooms.

Less expensive is the centrally located Eurostars Das Artes, "close to the most important art galleries and the Boavista commercial and historic area. It is within walking distance of Ponte Dom Luis, Torre dos Clerigos, Mercado do Bolhao and the traditional Ribeira area, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO."

A decent budget choice is the Hotel Pensão Cristal - Porto near the river.

A new hotel in downtown Porto, the InterContinental Porto - Palacio das Cardosas Hotel is recommended by our honeymoons guide.

Staying Nearby in Nova de Gaia

Staying in Vila Nova de Gaia is an option, although not an altogether satisfying one. While you'll be closer to the port houses, they're mostly below the level of the main town, and hiking there for dinner can put quite a strain on your legs. There are some large, full-service hotels here where you can stay quite cheaply.

A great place to eat in Vila Nova de Gaia is found at the Taylor Port works, where you'll find Restaurante Barao Fladga. Great food, wine, and view for a reasonable price with a good wine.