Porto Travel Guide

A cathedral against blue sky in porto church.
••• Porto: Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. James Martin

Porto, or Oporto, is Portugal's second largest city and the capital of Portugal's north. After being awarded the 2001 European Capital of Culture, Porto has been able to use the prize money on cultural improvements.

Portugal gets fewer travelers than other Mediterranean destinations, due to its position on Europe's Western edge. Because of this, the cities are uncrowded and food and hotels tend to be inexpensive.

This is a place where you can splurge on nice accommodations without breaking the bank.

Known mainly for its trade in Port wine, which travels along the east-west trending Douro river that starts in Spain, Porto has a long history as a cosmopolitan trading center. Porto is also known as one of the best places for fine dining in Portugal.

While it still has a blue-collar feel, 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.

Major Attractions in Porto

Igreja de Sao Francisco is a gothic church with a plain facade but full of gold-leaf gilding, inside. There is also a museum and catacombs below, which we found especially fascinating.

Ponte de D. Luis is the city's emblematic iron bridge and was 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, with its 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.

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.

Where to Go for Great Views of Porto

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

Port Tasting:

Port Wine Lodge is a great place to go to try many types of port in a comfortable, living room atmosphere.

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 are a must for visitors with a taste for Port wine.

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 and 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 there.

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

Driving Map

We highly recommend a detailed and recent map of Portugal if you're driving (not including Spain, as that makes the map less detailed overall). The influx of EU money has created a seemingly unending boom in road construction and re-routing.

Porto Weather and Climate

Almond, apple, pear, cherry, orange, and fig blossoms are particularly striking in February. Summer is pleasant, with maritime winds moderating the climate. Porto has mild weather with little possibility of rain in the summer season, although more rain falls there than in Lisbon during the winter months.

Portuguese Cuisine

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.

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. 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."

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 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 there where you can stay quite cheaply.

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