Portugal, by virtue of its position on Europe’s Western edge, gets fewer travelers than other Mediterranean places. But visitors are rewarded with uncrowded cities and moderate tariffs for food and hotels. This is a place where you can splurge on a stay at a fine manor house and live in luxury for around 100 Euros a night.
Porto was named the top European Best Destination in 2017.
Porto, or Oporto, is Portugal’s second largest city and capital of Portugal’s beguiling north. Porto was selected the 2001 European Capital of Culture which bestows upon the city money for lots of cultural improvements.
Known mainly for its trade in Port wine, which travels along the east-west trending Douro river that starts in Spain, Porto has for its long history been known as a cosmopolitan trading center. It still has blue collar working class feel, but 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. There are some good examples of Portuguese Art Deco as well.
Porto – When to Go
Blossoming of almond, apples, pears, cherries, oranges and figs is particularly striking in February. Summer is pleasant, with maritime winds moderating the climate. But expect some rain in summer.
For historic climate charts for travel planning, see Porto Travel Weather.
Major Attractions in Porto
12th century Cathedral or Se. Huge cathedral founded in the 12th century but extensively altered in the 18th. Open from 9am to 12:30 and 2:30 to 7pm.
Igreja de Sao Francisco – Gothic church with a plain facade but tons of gold-leaf gilding inside. There is also a museum and catacombs below, which we found more fascinating than many guidebooks did.
Ponte de D. Luis, the city’s emblematic iron bridge, built by a disciple of the famous Eiffel.
Sarravales is a one of the most important cultural institutions in the world. It includes a Contemporary Art Museum opened in 1999, a Park and an Art Deco Villa. Álvaro Siza Vieira designed the museum, which has become the most visited museum in Portugal. [buy tickets in advance]
Don’t miss the Ribeira do Porto, the cluster of buildings, smoky bars and seafood restaurants along the waterfront.
Do stop by the enchanting Igreja do Santo Ildefonso built in 1739, if only for a glimpse of the iconic facade.
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. The Livraria Lello site will show you around virtually.
If you like to eat surrounded by books, you’ll need to try Book, a new restaurant at Rua de Aviz 10 serving nouveau Portuguese cuisine in a candlelit and bookish literary environment.
Where to go for Great Views of Porto
- From the top of the Clerigos Tower, a 75 meter tower accessed with 225 steps.
- Climb up to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, from where you will gain an even more splendid view of the bend in the river, the bridge and the city.
- The Ponte de Dom Luis I -walk across the high upper deck if you dare for good views of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank.
Getting around Porto
Taxis in Porto are reasonably priced. A ride from central Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia to visit the Port Wine Lodges will cost 7-9 euro.
If you have exact addresses, you can use the widget below to find the expected fare.
Riding Porto’s historic trams is easy as well.
Porto is easily accessible by regular train as well. And a trip is inexpensive. The trip to Aveiro is a little over an hour in length and costs around 11 euro. A little less than an hour and a half gets you to Coimbra. To find out more about trains and ticketing, see Train Porto.
If you wish to explore Porto, there are a couple of options available to you,
- Hop-on Hop-off Bus Porto (See the major sites)
Port tasting in Porto
- Port Wine Institute – Rua Ferreira Borges, 27 – 4050-116 Porto Tel: ++ 351 222071600 – Fax: ++ 351 222071699. A great place to go to try many types of port in a living room atmosphere.
- Solar do Vinho do Porto Rua Entre-Quintas 220 besides the Jardim do Poalacio de Cristal.
If you have the time, the real place to go for Port is a tasting or two in Nova de Gaia, across the river where the 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 is a must for a visitor with a taste for Port wine.
Where to Stay in Porto—Some Suggested Lodging
The centrally located Eurostars Das Artes – Portois 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.
Great owners and a fine location near the Music House make the Porto Music Guest House an extremely popular and highly rated choice.
Loulé Estúdios is a value choice for folks who’d like a small apartment on their vacation.
Staying Across the river in Nova de Gaia
Staying among the port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia has a couple of advantages. The newer hotels that have sprung up may be slightly cheaper than those in Porto, and port wine aficionados will have a shorter trip to the wine lodges.
A great place to eat in Vila Nova de Gaia is found at the Taylor Port works, where you’ll find Restaurante Barao Fladgate. Great food, wine, and view for a reasonable price with a good wine.
And when you need a deli and only the best, art deco deli will do…
A Pérola do Bolhão is a traditional grocery store, located a couple of steps away from Mercado do Bolhão in downtown Porto. It’s got your mountain cheese, your good wine and cookies, and the staples like tea and coffee. Get picnic stuff or wish you had an apartment with a balcony over Porto so you could consume then in style that matches that gorgeous facade.
And, above all, have fun in Porto! It’s not hard.