A dive into Portuguese culture and traditions
The north of Portugal is full of good surprises. But it’s on the banks of the Douro River that Portugal hides one of its greatest jewels: The city of Porto. The city is small in size, but large in tradition and modernity as few others can. It’s smaller than Lisbon, but in terms of leisure and gastronomy offers, it does not fall behind. Not to mention that the Porto region is home to some of the best Portuguese wines, such as the elegant Douro DOC, the fortified Port wine, and the exclusive green wines.
It is no wonder that Porto has won the hearts of tourists, and for years it has been recognized as the ‘best destination in Europe.’ In this Porto travel guide, you will find tips on what to do, where to eat, the best regions to stay, and much more.
How to plan a trip to Porto
Capital of Northern Portugal
Distances: Lisbon (313km), Coimbra (121km), Faro (549km).
The name Porto comes from the Latin expression Portus Cale, which means “the place where boats dock”.
Curiosity: The city is affectionately called “Invicta”, and the residents are known as “tripeiros”.
How to get there
Francisco Sá Carneiro International Airport (OPO) is less than 20 minutes from the city center. The transfer from the airport to the central region can be done by metro, bus, transfer, or taxi/transport by an app. There are also trains and bus lines that run from Lisbon to Porto.
In the city
You can get to know the main tourist spots on foot, by subway, or by apps. There are trams, trains and tourist buses that take you for tours all over Porto. Traffic is intense. It is only worth renting a car if you want to go further and see other cities in the region.
Best time to go
Porto is a year-round destination. July and August are hotter, but prices rise, and the city is packed with tourists. September is grape harvest time being the best time for a tour in the Douro and its wineries. From November to February, it rains and is colder. Places are less busy and cheaper.
Best areas and regions
Baixa do Porto/Sé: Close to Everything
In terms of location, it is the best area to stay. It is right in the heart of the city, close to famous sights and subway stations. The charm is in walking through the streets and getting to know the traditional Porto architecture. There are hotels for all tastes (and all budgets).
Cedofeita: Trendy and Charming
It is the place for those who want to know the more artistic and young side of Porto. It has art galleries and conceptual stores within a reasonable distance of the city’s main monuments. If you want to stay in the hustle and bustle, check out the Rua Galeria de Paris, that’s where the many trendy bars and restaurants are located.
Ribeira: With the Douro River View
Do you know those classic photos that show the Luiz I bridge and the colorful houses of Porto in the background? They are a portrait of Ribeira. The hotels are a little more expensive, but, on the other hand, you have the privilege of waking up with the view of the Douro River.
Foz do Douro: Seaside and Sophisticated
Foz do Douro is known for being one of the noblest regions of Porto, with excellent infrastructure and the advantage of being seaside. The hotels are more expensive, but the location is ideal for those looking to relax a bit further from the tourist center.
Best hotels and accommodation
Where to stay in Porto
Things to see
Porto in frames
Porto is a city that stands between the traditional and the modern. You will notice this when walking through the streets and see fancy buildings sharing space with century-old buildings rich in architectural details. Take a look at the traditional Portuguese tiles on the threshing floors and banks of the street markets. Ah, if you can, take some time at the riverside and watch the boats come and go in the Douro without haste.
Foods and drinks
What to eat in Porto
Portuguese cuisine is wonderful. At every corner, you will find more and more restaurants, emporiums, bars, taverns… The most popular ones are faithful to traditional recipes and take advantage of those homemade seasonings that resemble grandma’s house. Expect to find a simple (but very friendly) service, combined with hearty meals, authentic and entitled to a lot of wine and seafood.
For a few years now, the gastronomic scene in Porto has gained a new face. Hipsters cafes, good vegetarian options, and restaurants by renowned chefs – with Michelin stars. The offer is quite democratic: from small taverns with popular prices to fine dining restaurants with more expensive menus.
5 Must-try Foods & Drinks
A symbol of Porto, Francesinha is a sandwich that takes bread, steak, sausage, ham – all covered with melted cheese and a slightly spicy sauce. If not enough, it comes with potato chips as an accompaniment.
Where to eat?
Yuko Tavern, Café Santiago, Brasão Cervejaria.
It is on the menu of most restaurants in the city. Get ready to try different versions of cod dishes, from dumplings and stews to hamburgers and pies.
Where to eat?
Terra Nova, Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau or Bacalhoeiro in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Tripas à Moda do Porto
Legend has it that the recipe appeared at the time of the Great Navigations. It still a classic, even today. The stew is made with sausage, tripes and white beans.
Where to eat?
A Cozinha do Manel, or Líder Restaurant.
It is the typical drink of northern Portugal. Compared to regular wines, fortified wine is sweeter and stronger (the alcohol content can reach 22%).
Where to drink?
Wine Quay Bar, Capela Incomum or at the port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.
A famous ingredient in many Portuguese dishes along the entire coast. In Porto, it is no different. Be sure to try the breaded octopus fillets and the Octopus à Lagareiro’, seasoned with olive oil and garlic.
Where to eat?
Puro 4050, Solar Moinho de Vento.
Places to visit
Things to do in Porto
Porto gathers almost everything tourists look for in one place: historical addresses, good restaurants, viewpoints, rivers, beaches, wineries, museums, art galleries, popular festivals… The truth is that the city of Porto is full of dishes for every type of traveler and offers programs that suit all tastes. If you have enough time, book at least three nights to get to know it.
Tip! Before setting up the itinerary, check if it’s worth purchasing the Porto.CARD. The card guarantees free entry to some museums and discounts up to 50% at various attractions and restaurants. It’s not expensive and can be purchased online or at physical points of sale.
The region is best explored on foot, going up and down the slopes and closely watching the century-old architecture. São Bento Station, Torre dos Clérigos, Palácio da Bolsa and Capela das Almas are unmissable. The famous Lello bookshop is also in the historic center.
Museums and cultural centers
There are more than 20 museums around Porto. A good part of them shares the history of Portugal and its traditions, such as the Soares dos Reis National Museum and the FC Porto museum. Also, be sure to visit the contemporary exhibitions of the Serralves Foundation and check the Casa de Música (Music Hall) schedule.
Street markets and fairs
No place is better to know the Porto lifestyle than the popular markets and street fairs. The Bolhão Market is the most famous and traditional, but it is undergoing renovation since 2018. For now, it is possible to visit the Temporary Market of Bolhão. There you will find flowers, fruits, meats, fish, bread… Now, to find antiques and trinkets, the right place is the Vandoma Fair, a flea market that opens every Saturday at Estádio do Dragão.
Boat trips along the Douro
Sailing the Douro River is one of the “mandatory” programs for everyone who goes to Porto. There are several tour options from the Ribeira marinas. The most traditional is the “River Douro 6 Bridges Cruise”, a more compact tour. But there are also options for tours in the Douro that include lunch, visits to wineries, and wine tasting.
Porto is even more beautiful when seen from above. There are more than 20 viewpoints spread throughout the city. Knowing this, keep your camera ready to get different angles of this beautiful city. The best views are from the viewpoints of Sé Cathedral, Crystal Palace Gardens (Jardim do Palácio de Cristal) and Passeio das Virtudes.
Port Wine Cellars
The Porto region has so many cellars that it’s difficult to choose which one to visit. Just cross the Luiz I bridge to reach Vila Nova de Gaia, and you’ll understand what the Portuguese mean by “the highest concentration of alcohol per square meter in the world.” It is not an exaggeration: the cellars are positioned almost in sequence. The most famous are Graham’s, Taylor’s, Sandeman, and Real Companhia Velha. At Espaço Porto Cruz, you can find a bit of everything: the building has interactive exhibitions, a tasting room, a restaurant and a rooftop that serves cocktails based on regional wine – all with a view of the Douro River.
Not everyone knows, but the metro in Porto takes you to the beach. You can reach the coastal city of Matosinhos in less than half an hour from Trindade station. It is very popular with residents and tourists who want to swim and enjoy the seafood, whether at the Matosinhos Municipal Market or one of the many seafood restaurants. Another classic program is to visit the stores and factories of traditional Portuguese canned fish. Conserva Pinhais & Cia offers guided tours that tell about the fishing tradition and show the production processes that the brand has been using for over 100 years.
Activities and tours
Book tours in porto
Explore the region
Day trips from Porto
Located in the metropolitan region of Porto, Matosinhos is famous for its beaches. It has several options for walks, such as the Municipal Market and the Church of Bom Jesus. Take the opportunity to eat at seafood restaurants known as Marisqueiras.
The municipality of Guimarães is considered the birthplace of Portugal. A famous tourist spot is the Castle of Guimarães, built in the 10th century to protect the region against attacks by Vikings and Moors.
Braga is considered the oldest city in Portugal with more than 2,000 years old, famous for its gardens, churches, and palaces.
The city of Aveiro is also known as “Portuguese Veneza” for its river channels. Take the opportunity to try the sweet delicacy called ovos moles de Aveiro (soft eggs, made with egg yolk and sugar), a local gem.
Excellent place to spend a sunny day, either on the beach or walking by the sea. In addition to the traditional striped houses, Costa Nova attracts many people who enjoy water sports and good seafood restaurants.