The best independent guide to Porto
The best independent guide to Porto
Porto is a fascinating and vibrant city that has so much to offer you for your holiday or city break.
The city boasts an extensive history, captivating tourist attractions, buzzing nightlife, along with outstanding tourist facilities.
There is a lot to love about Porto, and the diversity of the city will appeal to a wide range of visitors. There is the warren of narrow streets that make up the ancient Ribeira district, there are the grand plazas of Trindade, and the beaches and ocean views of the Foz district.
Porto is famed for the production of Port wine, which is matured in the vast cellars that stretch along the banks of the mighty Douro River. This is a proud city with a rich history, but it is also young and energetic, with social nightlife, liberal attitudes and a blossoming artisan scene.
If you come to Porto for a city break, holiday or even work, you will leave adoring the city.
This article will provide an introduction to Porto, by answering some of the common planning questions and offering links to further detailed guides.
Related article: The 10 best sights and activities of Porto
At a minimum, it takes two full days of sightseeing to discover Porto.
The first day would explore the historic centre of the Se, Baixa and Ribeira districts and could include a short boat cruise along the Douro River.
The evening could be spent in the lively restaurants of the Ribeira district, or for a more party-focused night, head to the bars and clubs close to the university and the Rua Galeria de Paris (affectionally, known as Bar Street!)
The second day would visit Vila Nova de Gaia and the Port cellars, with the afternoon in the Foz district or visiting the city's best museums (Soares dos Reis or Serralves)
Related article: Two days in Porto - A walking tour of central Porto
The magnificent Igreja do Carmo church, with its beautiful Azulejo tile murals
Porto is an ideal destination if you have longer for your holiday.
Surround Porto is a region of historic towns, stunning scenery and glorious beaches, which could easily extend a holiday to a week or more.
When our friends or family visit Porto for the first time, we suggest this following 1-week itinerary:
• Day 1 – Porto (historic centre)
• Day 2 – Porto (Vila Nova de Gaia and Foz district)
• Day 3 – Day trip to Guimaraes
• Day 4 – Day trip to Braga or day on the beach
• Day 5 – Day trip to the Douro Valley (by car, train or river cruise)
• Day 6 – Day trip to Aveiro and Costa Nova
• Day 7 – Day trip to Vila do Conde or Lamego
The historic centre of Guimarães
The best season to visit Porto is in the late spring or early autumn, when the weather is pleasant, and there are fewer tourists about the city. This is a great time of year for sightseeing, day trips and exploring northern Portugal.
The peak months are July and August, and the city is packed with tourists while the beaches are crowded with Portuguese holidaymakers. If you plan to visit at the peak season, always book flights and accommodation far in advance, as they will sell out.
Beach weather lasts from June until the end of September, and the tourist season continues until the end of October.
Porto is surprisingly wet in the winter, but being a major city, all tourist facilities, restaurants and bars stay open year-round.
Related article: When to visit Porto?
On a map, Porto appears as a large, sprawling city, but the actual tourist area where you would want to be based is relatively small.
The main tourist area is with within walking distance (around 400m) of the Ribeira district or the Baixa district. Further, away than this, you will feel that you are endlessly walking or far from the action.
If you are traveling for Business, the Boavista district is more suitable and is where many of the international business hotels are located.
Related articles: Where to stay in Porto? (This article includes a map of main tourist areas)
Porto is expecting a sell-out tourist season for 2021, as visitors seek undiscovered and safe destinations within Europe.
As with many other tourism destinations, Porto's tourism industry was severely hit by the events of 2020. Fortunately, being a major city there were sufficient domestic customers to prevent irrecoverable loses, and by the time you visit the difficulties of 2020 will be a distant memory.
As Porto is expecting a sell-out 2021, it is advisable to purchase flights and accommodation as soon as possible before prices dramatically rise.
Insight: In the summer of 2019, the demand for hotels rooms outstripped supply.
As Porto is a popular weekend city break, the flights on Friday and Sunday/Monday tend to sell out first.
A rental car allows more of the region to be explored, and multiple locations could be combined in a single day. Our suggested day trips with a rental car are:
1) Braga, 2) Douro Valley (up to Pinhão) 3) Guimarães, 4) Ponte de Lima and Ponte da Barca, 5) Viana do Castelo and Barcelos 6) Aveiro and Costa Nova 7) Upper Minho (Monção, Valença and Cerveira).
Related articles: Porto day trips - Braga guide – Guimarães guide – Aveiro guide
Porto is situated along the Costa Verde, a dramatic coastline of rocky headlands, sandy beaches and powerful seas.
Dotted along this coastline are traditional fishing towns and likeable beach resorts, including Espinho, Vila do Conde, Povoa de Varzim and Costa Nova.
Close to Porto are the small beaches of the Foz district, while the largest sandy beach is the Praia de Matosinhos. Our favourite beaches for a day trip is to the charming town of Vila do Conde, or the Praia de Miramar. If you’re looking for pristine beaches and a more natural setting, head south to the coastline between Espinho and Francelos, which is served by the Porto-Aveiro railway.
Related article: Porto beaches - Matosinhos guide - Vila do Conde guide - Povoa de Varzim guide
Porto is a great destination for families seeking a city break within Europe. The Portuguese are very accommodating and supportive of families, and children will be welcomed in all hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. There is a range of activities that will entertain children, including tram rides, boat rides and the cable car.
Porto is a popular backpacking and budget holiday destination, as there are many excellent hostels, inexpensive restaurants and lots of similarly minded worldly travellers. The nightlife of the city is lively and liberal, and the city always has a bustling atmosphere. There is always a good backpacking community and attracts a wide range of nationalities.
Even though both cities have their own unique character and charm, visitors new to Portugal should consider them very similar. Both cities have pretty historic centres, vibrant nightlife, are close to beaches, and offer many enjoyable day trips. As a visitor, you will not be disappointed with either one.
Insight: The Portuguese joke by saying “Porto works, Coimbra sings, Braga prays and Lisbon shows off”, and this description of Porto and Lisbon is very true…..
Related articles: Our Lisbon Guide – Porto to Lisbon suggested itineraries
Porto Airport (IATA code: OPO) is 14km to the north of the city and is connected to the city by the metro network (departures every 20 minutes, 7am-11pm, €2.00 single). A taxi transfer will cost between €20-30 and includes luggage surcharges.
The airport is a major international airport and there are direct flights covering the whole of Europe, and this includes services operated by many of the low-cost airlines (EasyJet, Ryanair, Vueling and Wizz Air). Ryanair have a major base at Porto airport, and the number of cheap flights is making Porto a popular city break destination.
Related articles: Porto airport to the city
Porto is a great value destination, as it offers exceptional value for food, drink and public transport. Hotels are generally cheaper than most other European cities, while tourist attractions and activities are reasonably priced.
Unlike many other major tourist centres, tourists will not feel as if they are being constantly exploited or ripped off.
Overall, a holiday to Porto will cost significantly less than a holiday to Europe’s other major cities.
English is also widely spoken by those who work within the tourist industry. Tourists with only English language skills will not experience any language barriers. All transport hubs, including railway stations, metro and airports also have full English translations and signposting. When dining out, most restaurants and cafes in Porto have English menus and, if not, waiters are always happy to translate.
A rental car is not needed for a holiday to Porto, since the city has excellent public transport and the most popular day trips can be reached by train. Driving in central Porto can be very challenging, with erratic drivers, confusing road layouts and limited car parking. A rental car is useful if you plan to explore the Douro valley or the northeast of Portugal, where there is almost no public transport.