If you’re planning a trip to Porto and you’re looking for a guide to the city, search no more. You came to the right place. Porto is an awesome city an has lots of great places worth a visit.
How Porto is like
Visiting Porto can be super fun but it can also be boring if we are not sure what to do or if we follow an online guide who has never visited the city and is just regurgitating digested ideas from other websites. And believe me I see a lot of that on the internet.
I live 30km from Porto and although nowadays I don’t visit it so often it was there that i went to college and it was there that I spent many years both at work and as a tourist!
Most of the guides you find on the internet were written by people who never set foot there and that is why I decided to write this guide, so that anyone who visits Porto can get the most out of this magnificent city.
Although Porto is not a very big city it has a lot to offer and everything depends on the type of person who visits it. I will talk about restaurants, monuments, night activities, ideal places for accommodation and much more.
Prices for food and accommodation
Porto is one of the cheapest places in Europe. A night costs around 35€ on airbnb and the average dinner is also around 35€ for two persons. You can do it much cheaper than that if you’re backpacking but most couples will spend around that.
Nowadays the city of Porto practically only has nightlife in the downtown. Until the beginning of 2000, when Porto was the European capital of culture, the story was quite different. The downtown and the riverside were not safe at night and the nightlife was dispersed by bars throughout the city and by discos mostly in the industrial area. With the works that were done until 2005, a lot has changed, tourism in the city has increased, the downtown has become safe and has become the place of choice for both locals and tourists.
Anyone who wants to have fun at night does not need to reinvent the wheel. All the fun is in the downtown and there are establishments for all tastes and a lot of activity in the streets. Of course, there are still interesting places outside downtown, but what I mean is that there is no need to leave this area, especially for bars. For discos I would say it is balanced between downtown and the rest of the city.
Shopping lovers have to visit Rua de Santa Catarina. And you don’t have to go to another place unless you’re looking for something very specific like model shops, but in that case I can’t help you either. Rua de Santa Catarina is the best known shopping area in the city of Porto and has a lot of variety, from small shops to chain stores like Zara. There is a lot of stores of many different items and that is why I say that there is no need to go elsewhere.
In general, Porto today is safe. Both day and night. Common sense is the best medicine and the recommendations are the same as for any other city but there is nothing in particular about this city that a tourist should take into account.
Those who come from outside the Eurozone need to exchange money because in Portugal it is not customary to accept dollars, pounds or other currencies.
My suggestion is that they do it in their country of origin because from my experience changing money in Portugal is not cheap and a tourist will have even worse rates.
There is only one exception and it is not because of the good rates, it is because the store itself is a beautiful and funny place to visit. I’m talking about a currency exchange shop that exists on the street next to the Porto city hall. It is a store with a decoration based on banknotes and coins from all over the world and therefore a beautiful place to take that funny picture!
When to visit Porto
The city is beautiful all year round but with rainy weather it is not pleasant to walk around, so it is best to visit from May to September, or around Christmas time. December and January are not usually rainy but they are cold, so Christmas is a good option because we can visit the city with good chances of not raining and see how beautiful the city is with the Christmas lights.
From May to September the most common are sunny days and I personally do not see any month that is better than another. It is true that July and August have more tourists but this also makes the city fun although with more expensive accommodation.
Uber is the smartest choice. There are always ubers available all over the city and for foreigners it is not an expensive service. But if you’re on a smaller budget, I suggest buying Andante. Andante is a rechargeable card that allows access to the entire public transportation network in the city and surroundings and has several modalities. In my opinion everything depends on how long you will be in Porto and in what area. So if you choose to use the public transport network it is best to consult the STCP website to see which option is best for you.
The typical dish of the city is the Francesinha and if you have never tried it, do not leave the city without trying it.
By now, you’ve probably heard the saying that calories don’t count when you’re on vacation, and thankfully because this next treat is a monstrous and calorie-destroying meal: Francesinha.
Traditionally, the famous Francesinha do Porto was a meal strictly reserved for carnivores. Somewhere between a toasted sandwich and a greedy beef burger, we’re talking about layers of thick steak, sausage and ham, topped with melted sticky cheese, dipped in tomato-based sauce and topped with an egg (in case you don’t have drunk enough protein already!) and served with some hot crispy chips.
Meat eaters: to try this heart attack on a plate, we recommend Café Santiago, Cervejaria Brasão and O Afonso.
Fortunately, nowadays, travelers who, like us, are vegetarian can still taste this famous dish on their own, with vegetarian and vegan options popping up all over the city.
To get your dose, we recommend Francesinha’s vegetarian and vegan options at Cervejaria Brasão, Lado B and Francesinhas da Baixa
Sushi in the city of Porto
I know that sushi is not a dish that many people appreciate, but as a sushi lover I have to make some recommendations. And there are good places to eat sushi in Porto!
My favorite is the sushiaria. The sushiaria is not exactly in the city of Porto, it is next to it, in Leça. But you can get there in 15 minutes and that’s why I say it’s in Porto. I often go to this restaurant for lunch because they have cheap lunch menus with the high quality that few restaurants have. Buri, in bom sucesso, is also a great option for lunch menus. The sushiaria is slightly better but Buri is close to the city center and on a walking distance for most tourists.
Other good options are Subenshi, next to the clerics and Shiko, but these places are more expensive.
Those who like freshly roasted fish will love to visit Matosinhos. You can get there in 10 or 15 minutes and most restaurants in the coastal area serve excellent fish.
What to do in Porto?
We know that tourist cruises often have the potential to be super tourist. But here in Porto, where so much of the city’s life exists and thrives on the banks of the Douro River, not taking the city out of the water would be a terrible service to your time here.
Embark on the six-bridge tourist boat tour through the city of Porto in the traditional rabello boat and learn about the importance of the river to the city as it passes through many of its famous bridges and landmarks.
You will follow the old route followed by wine merchants transporting Porto do Vale to the wineries, pass under the famous Dom Luís I Bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel, admire the beautiful houses of the Riviera on the water and (hopefully!) sunbathe.
The Ribeira neighborhood also looks wonderful from the water, so be sure to grab a seat at the edge of the boat.
2 – EXPLORE RIBEIRA, BAIXA AND BOLHAO
The three charms of Ribeira, Baixa and Bolhão are the most historic and tourist areas in Porto; as a traveler, this is where you are likely to spend most of your time as well. On our visit to Porto, wandering the beautiful cobbled streets that wind through these areas was what you will most enjoy doing in the city.
Ribeira, with its colorful houses and riverside views, is vibrant and bustling, full of cafes, bars and shops full of locals and tourists soaking up the atmosphere and views over the Douro River and the famous Dom Luís I Bridge.
This is where cruises on the Douro River depart to the 6 bridges (they often run out, so book your ticket in advance) and, understandably, it also tends to be the busiest part of the city.
Above Ribeira are the Baixa and Sé areas, where you will find most of Porto’s best attractions, including: Bolhão Market, Café Majestic, Rua Santa Catarina, Palácio do Bolsa and many more.
We recommend spending a day (or at least an afternoon) in good walking shoes, without a map or phone, and just getting lost in the charm of Porto’s historic areas!
3 – EXPLORE THE CITY BY TRAM
Desperately touristic, but wonderfully fun, traveling aboard Porto’s historic tram is a must.
Although many travelers associate trams to Lisbon, it was actually in Porto that the first Portuguese tram network was built in 1895. Trams here are among the oldest tram transport systems in Europe, and you can still see the small and picturesque yellow electric cars swirling in the remaining 3 routes today.
Unfortunately, the popularity of tram travel waned in the 1960s, as cars and buses became a faster and more convenient way to navigate the city. For travelers, however, trams remain a scenic and easy way to explore the city.
Tram No. 1 is probably the most popular tourist route, departing from the famous and stunning Church of São Francisco about 20 minutes along the rustic façades of Ribeira to the Passeio Alegre garden at the mouth of the Douro River in Foz.
We also opted for a lesser known route and jumped on board the circular tram number 22 that passes through the Clérigos area, the busy Avenida dos Aliados ( Avenida dos Aliados), passing by the beautiful São Bento train station and the vibrant area of Batalha with its cafes, museums, shops and houses.
We definitely recommend this route if you want to see many of the best things to do in Porto on a tight schedule!
4 – LUNCH IN RIBEIRA SQUARE
At a time of instant itineraries and extensive lists of “things to do” (of which we are well aware that we have written and are currently reading), it is easy to forget the joy of spontaneity when traveling.
On one of our afternoons in Porto, we sat down for a quick meal and a sassy sangria at Praça da Ribeira. The weather was perfect – sunny streets, lots of people having fun and a Charlie Chaplin impersonator who was really fun to watch.
Three hours later, accidentally intoxicated with white sangria and laughing, we staggered out to explore Porto more.
This is probably one of the only times we will recommend an overly touristy area for you, but the general vibe around this square is too good to pass up in this case!
Get your lunch (and some sneaky white Sangria) at one of the many cafes along Praça da Ribeira.
5 – SEE THE SUNSET FROM PONTE DOM LUIS I
The sunset in Porto is absolutely magical, so go up to the famous Dom Luís I Bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel, and watch the magnificent spectacle over the Ribeira District.
The bridge, rated # 1 for things to do in Porto on Tripadvisor, becomes the heart and soul of the city in the late afternoon, when locals and tourists go for a walk and cycle along the bridge or simply enjoy the view.
6 – ENJOY PORT WINE
Port wine is, unsurprisingly, the most popular export product in Porto. The Douro Valley has a long and esteemed history of producing Port Wine that dates back to the 17th century. Today, the region is protected as the only true Port Wine producer in the world.
Unsurprisingly, this means that the fortified sweet wine you may have associated with your grandparents’ after-dinner drink is a very proud favorite on everyone’s wine list.
A visit to the famous wine cellars is one of the best things to do in Porto, and the most prestigious and celebrated Houses are found on the crossing of the Dom Luís I Bridge towards Vila Nova de Gaia.
Start at the innovative Espaço Porto Cruz, a 5-story building that celebrates the culture and history of Port wine. Moving through the different floors, there are 3D winemaking games, interactive exhibitions on the Douro Valley, wine tastings with a Sommelier and even a rooftop bar with stellar 360º views of the city on the top floor! It is a must visit for anyone interested in Port Wine, or to learn more about the traditional culture of Porto.
From there, choose one of the Wine Houses! There are many that line the banks of the Douro River, and you can easily walk between them all. We recommend Kopke Port House (the oldest), Cálem and Caves Ferreira to get you started!