Naming a city after a wine sounds like a great idea to me, but as it turns out Porto was actually named due to its importance as a trade port on the Iberian peninsular and Douro river, which extends into Spain. Portugal’s ‘second city’ has become internationally renowned for the fortified wine produced on the banks of the Douro, and throughout most of the world (looking at you USA) only fortified wine from this region can boast the name Port.
Porto is the younger, quieter, more traditional sibling to Lisbon. Lisbon is the party-girl older sister, emotions on her sleeve, dancing into the early hours, drinking gin with a large and trendy social circle. Porto is the reserved younger brother, reflective, pensive, sipping port over a good book, fiercely loyal to a few close friends.
We spent five days in Porto enjoying the comparison and soaking up the local liquid.
We arrived to Porto from Lisbon via bus courtesy of Rede Expressos. Tickets cost €19 each for the 3.5 hour journey and the bus departs from Sete Rios terminal near the zoo in Lisbon, which is the closest Metro stop.
Lisbon to Porto trains take either 2.5 or three hours and cost between €24 and €30 per person, the faster train being the more expensive. Porto is not well connected by train to other major cities outside of Portugal.
I’ve no experience of this but apparently the road between Lisbon and Porto has hefty tolls and makes hiring a car for the trip uneconomical.
If I were to travel this route again I would use a ridesharing service like Blablacar. Current prices for the route range between €15 and €20 per passenger and the journey will be slightly faster than the bus. The only reason we didn’t rideshare this time is because we left it too late to book.
Within Europe Porto Airport is serviced by plenty of airlines, but if you are coming from outside the EU you will need to connect in Lisbon (ground), Madrid, Paris or London. Public transport from the airport to the city is easy on Metro or bus. A Metro tickets start from €1.20 per hour and increases depending on your desired zone and ticket duration.
Getting around on the Metro is the best way to see the city, 24 hour tickets are cheap and make life easy. Porto Metro operates on an honour system so you might be tempted to not buy/validate tickets. If you are caught on a train without a validated ticket you can be fined up to €95 so beware.
Hint – Old town Porto isn’t as big as it seems, try walking around and only use trains to get to and from the suburbs.
We rented an apartment outside the city centre with Airbnb. Our studio apartment in July cost €40 per night, which included cleaning fees and Airbnb fees. The majority of our trip to this point was spent in shared accommodation so a space to ourselves was a huge relief. From our location to the city centre it took roughly 30 minutes to walk or five minutes on the train.
**Note – all prices are based on July rates.**
There are a tonne of great hostels in Porto. Dorm beds start from €11 but do yourself a favour and pay between €18 and €25 per night for somewhere well reviewed with good facilities. Things like swimming pools, free BBQ’s, bars, city tours and clean bathrooms can be worth the extra money. Here are three random hostels with thousands of excellent reviews to check out; Yes! Porto, Pilot Design Hostel, Rivoli Cinema Hostel.
You can find small bnb rooms in Porto from around €18 per night using Airbnb, with the average price being from €35 to €45 for a nice double room. Apartments start from €30 per night but these will be small studios with fold-out beds. The average price for a good apartment is between €50 and €60 per night.
Hotels in Porto average €75 a night for somewhere reasonably nice (I’m not talking ultra-luxury here), but if you book carefully you can find a good room in a well-reviewed hotel from €40 per night. At this price range always check the location of the hotel before you book as you could end up staying 30km outside the city centre.
At the very least make sure you stay within the A1-A20 ring road and make sure you are within easy walking distance to a Metro station. I always like to stay around 20 to 30 minutes walk from the historical centre to hopefully provide an insight to local life and a break from tourist madness.
Walking around Porto the first thing you notice is the abundance of beautiful architecture. Even standard shop-fronts and apartment buildings are decorated with ornate tiles and frescoes that give the feeling of walking through a century long gone. Check out the Church of Saint Ildefonso and the inside of São Bento train station for astounding tile artworks, the latter depicting the history of Portugal to gruesome effect with over 20,000 tiles.
The Porto Cathedral is a Roman Catholic seat built during the 12th and 13th centuries and is worth a visit. It’s open to the public from 09:00 to 19:00 daily and entry is free, although it costs to visit the muesum. Clérigos Tower is also pretty cool if you like stairs and views. It costs €6 to climb and you get to visit the museum display as part of your entry fee.
Let’s talk about food because it’s something that Porto does very well. The Francesinha is essentially a sandwich, supposedly created by a French chef as a sadistic take on French toast, it’s unique to Porto and is a must try. Because it’s the kind of dish you only want to eat once in a while due to the risk of heart-attack, I researched the city’s best Francesinha exhaustively and settled on the version from Café Santiago. The Francesinha consists of bread, cured sausage, fresh sausage, cured ham, cold meats and beef steak, topped with melted cheese and an optional fried egg. It is served with optional fries and covered with a special tomato/peri-peri/beer sauce that is unique to each restaurant. Wash it down with a beer and extra sauce. The Francesinha is easily the most delicious ‘sandwich’ I’ve ever eaten, even if the post-meal self-hatred was immense. A Francesinha with egg, fries and a beer cost me €11.10.
Portugal is known for it’s seafood and in Porto you go to Matosinhos to get it fresh. The locals claim they have the best seafood in the world, which is debatable, but it would probably rank highly. From Porto catch the Metro to Matosinhos and walk to Rua Heróis de França where restaurants line the street with huge charcoal grills. We walked up and down acting like we were trying to decide where to eat, but we had already done our research and had settled on Tito 2 as the place to go. A meal for two consisting of sardines, potatoes, salad, bread, olives and a bottle of wine cost us €21 and was very good, although sardines are a nightmare to eat whole.
Bolhão Market is a central food and whatever else market; a great place to get fruit, veges and lunch. We had an excellent meal at Cafe D. Gina; a whole salmon, a half bottle of wine and a plate of melon for dessert cost €11 between us. That’s really cheap incase you missed it.
Perhaps the most important activity in Porto is the drinking of port. You can buy it anywhere and everywhere but the best place to taste is Villa Nova De Gaia. Here you will find an abundance of wine cellars or ‘caves’ where port wine is made and stored. I seriously recommend visiting at least one port cellar and learning the unique history of the wine, region and tradition that has made the city famous around the world. We visited Offley Cellars on the last tour of the day and had an awesome experience. The 30 minute tour costs €4 and includes three glasses of port, which is incredible value. My advice is to arrive early in the afternoon and visit two or three cellars, we left it too late and missed out on visiting Croft, who close at 18:00.
Miramar Beach is easily accessible by train from São Bento train station, return tickets are €3.70 per person. The beach is famous for Capela do Senhor da Pedra, a chapel on the rocks, and from there you can walk a boardwalk to Praia da Aguda, where there are bars and restaurants. On the day we visited the beach was lovely but the ocean was very rough and rocky so we didn’t swim, we also didn’t see anyone else swimming which might be due to the slightly scummy brown water. It is apparently clean for swimming most of the time.
The Dom Luís I Bridge is the giant double-decked arch bridge that spans the Douro between old town Porto and Villa Nova De Gaia. Walk across the top for awesome views of both sides of the city, just watch for the trams when crossing the road.
Jardins do Palacio de Cristal or ‘Gardens of the Crystal Palace’ are beautiful gardens overlooking the river and city. They are worth a look if you have spare time but you wont miss them if you don’t. Keep an eye out for wandering peacocks.
Finally Livraria Lello, the self-proclaimed ‘most beautiful bookshop in the world. It costs €6 for a ticket and you will need to line up to buy it. According to the security guard, between 13:00 and 15:00 is the best time to go (while most people are eating lunch) but we didn’t notice a difference from when we passed by earlier in the day. It’s interesting inside but is really just a very busy old bookshop and I’m not convinced it’s worth the entry fee unless you are a huge Harry Potter fan or something. Your photos of the old books and fancy stairs will be ruined by other people taking photos of you ruining their photos. It’s ok I guess.
Spend at least four days in Porto to get the full experience, you could probably do it quicker but you would be doing a highlights only visit.
Porto for four nights;
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