Porto is situated along the Douro River in Northern Portugal and is the second-largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. Almost 2 million people live in the Porto metro area. A favorite destination in western Europe, Porto was awarded best destination by the Best European Destinations Agency in 2017.
Travelers who explore the areas around Porto are in for great experiences. Ancient archaeological sites abound, such as the Celtic village of Citania de Briteiros. There are many castles to explore including Guimarães Castle. Porto is on the Portuguese Way path of the Camino de Santiago. Northern Portugal is famous for Port wine, and the Douro River Valley is home to many famous wineries.
Porto is easy to explore by foot and many travelers agree that the city offers an authentic Portuguese experience.
Porto is rich in history and is considered the birthplace of Portugal. The Celts settled in and around Porto in 300 BC. Porto was a Roman Empire outpost as late as the 5th century AD. After that, Germanic tribes and then the Moors occupied Porto until the reconquest in 868. Porto was later invaded by Vikings and Arabs until it eventually became an important city in Portugal. It’s no wonder that the historical core of Porto is now a World Heritage Site.
Residents of Porto are very proud of their city and you may hear the expression that “o Porto é uma nação” which means Porto is a nation. People from Porto are often called the Tripeiros, or tripe eaters. The city’s inhabitants went without meat during the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta in North Africa in 1415 to help provision the fleet, hence the name Tripeiros. Instead of meat, they subsisted on tripe soup. Visitors to Porto may recognize that sometimes it feels like it is all business – as the saying goes, “Porto works, Braga prays, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon gets the money.”
Porto has a semi-Mediterranean climate. The Atlantic Ocean makes Porto cooler than other cities. Temperatures can go as high as 104°F in August during occasional heat waves. Winters are mild, rainy, and humid, with occasional cold nights when temperatures can drop below 32°F.
The Porto Metro light rail/subway system is modern and is the best way to get around Porto even though some parts of the city are not yet reachable by rail. You need to purchase and store tickets on an Adante card at the station.
You can also purchase a Porto Card for 24, 48, or 72 consecutive hours of unlimited access to public transportation and this includes free access to some museums and other discounts.
While in Porto, make sure you don’t miss the following experiences:
- Aliados Avenue
- Rua de Santa Catarina (shopping street)
- Visit Livraria Lello – the library that inspired JK Rowling to write Harry Potter
- Cross the Ponte de Dom Luis (The Dom Luis I Bridge) bridge on the top and lower bridges.
- Tour one of the Port Wine cellars (on the Gaia side of the Douro River)
- Grab a beer and enjoy the sunset at Serra do Pilar viewpoint on the Gaia side of the Douro River)
- Ribeira (Porto’s Riverside area)
- Sao Bento’s train station
- Take in the views from the area outside Se Catedral Porto
- Enjoy the night out around Galerias
- Capela das Almas and the surrounding area
- Try the traditional “Francesinha” with a nice and cold beer at lunchtime
- Cafe Santiago (go early)
- Lado B
- Bufete Fase
- Barcarola Café
- Brasao Cervejaria
Suggested Afternoon Itinerary
Start your walking tour at Sao Bento station, head down to Ribeira, and buy a combined ticket for a boat trip on the Douro river plus a visit to one of the Port wine cellars (ask for the time with an English guide). Cross the bridge on the lower side to Gaia, visit the Cellars, do the boat trip, have some fun at the rooftop terrace bar Espaco Porto Cruz on the side of Sandeman Port Cellar. Then walk up or take the cable car to Serra do Pilar and enjoy the sunset over there.
Here are some general tips to help you enjoy your time in Porto:
- If traveling to Porto from Lisbon (Lisboa), visit Obidos on your way
- Order an expresso. You will not be disappointed!
- Always buy bread or pastries at a traditional Pastelaria.
- Ask for the menu of the day when having lunch (in Portuguese, “Menu do Dia”). A lot of restaurants use this method for lunch. The Menu do Dia usually has soup, a main course, coffee, and drink and is cheaper than ordering off the regular menu.
- Always ask for the house wine at meals, it normally is as good as any other wine and it is the cheapest one. The wine is generally very cheap in Portugal, so you can always buy some and drink it on the street or in a nice place elsewhere.
- Complement fish or shellfish dishes with some cold Vinho Verde, a unique Portuguese wine from the north.