The best independent guide to Porto
The best independent guide to Porto
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Porto is a fantastic destination for a city break or as part of a longer tour of Portugal. The city boasts a rich history, fascinating tourist attractions and buzzing nightlife.
On a map, Porto appears as a large and sprawling city, however the actual historic centre is relatively compact. The majority of tourists choose this area for their accommodation, and this is where you will probably want to be based for your first trip to Porto.
This article will provide a guide to the best neighbourhoods and districts of Porto, and help you choose the best area for your trip to this wonderful city.
Related articles: Introduction to Porto – 48 hours in Porto
Porto sits on the northern banks of the Douro River, with the city extending westwards towards the Atlantic Ocean. To the south of the river is the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, but it is usually considered part of Porto in terms of tourism.
If this is your first trip to Porto, the best districts and neighbourhoods to be based in are: 1) Ribeira 2) Vitória 3) Vila Nova de Gaia riverfront 4) Se 5) Baixa 6) Bolhão and Ildefonso
If you are travelling to Porto for business, the Avenida da Boavista neighbourhood would be the ideal choice.
This map shows the central area of Porto and highlights the popular tourist districts of the city.
Key: 1) Ribeira 2) Vitória 3) Se 4) Baixa 5) Bolhão and Ildefonso 6) Miragaia 7) Cedofeita 8) Vila Nova de Gaia riverfront 9) South Massarelos 10) Avenida da Boavista 11) Bonfim
Some areas of Porto outside of the historic centre are also worth considering, including the Foz district, the Avenida da Boavista - with its many high-end hotels -or the area around Matosinhos beach. The dotted square marks the area of the first map.
Key: 1) The historic centre 2) The main tourism area 3) Vila Nova de Gaia riverfront 4) Avenida da Boavista 5) Foz district 6) Matosinhos
Porto is a popular destination for a city break, and there is always high demand for accommodation at weekends. This means that the best hotels and rental rooms sell out fast, leaving budget and last-minute visitors forced to look further out from the historic centre. We strongly recommend that you book your accommodation as early as possible in order to secure the best locations and prices.
The map below shows the location of hotels and rental rooms in central Porto. By altering the dates to your trip, the map will display current prices and availability.
Ribeira – The original medieval harbour and riverfront, which is one of the most characterful districts of Porto. This delightful district is filled with narrow alleyways and colourful buildings, along with numerous restaurants and bars overlooking the Douro River. This is the area of the city where you will likely spend many of your evenings.
Vitória – The old commercial heart of Porto, which is centred around the university. This district offers bustling shopping streets and a lively atmosphere by day, before transforming into the nightlife centre of the city at night. The ‘Galerias de Paris’ and ‘Rua do Almada’ are the two main bar and nightlife streets in Porto, so this is a great location if you want to be based right among the action.
Se – This is the oldest neighbourhood of Porto, which was historically encircled by the city walls. The neighbourhood is named after the gothic Se cathedral, and its central location makes it convenient for sightseeing.
Baixa – The grand centre of Porto, much of which was rebuilt during the early 20th century. Many of Porto’s classic hotels can be found in Baixa, and the southern side of the district is a highly recommended area to be based in.
Bolhão and Ildefonso – This is the shopping neighbourhood of Porto. The streets are lined with a mix of traditional shops, designer stores and numerous restaurants.
Cedofeita – Centred along the Rua de Cedofeita, this district offers a more authentic Portuguese experience. However, it can feel a bit distant from many of the main tourist attractions.
Miragaia – A medieval maze of a neighbourhood that is charming, authentic and offers many rental rooms. Miragaia is an ideal location if you’d prefer to be based away from the tourist crowds - but be warned, there are many steep hills in this neighbourhood!
Vila Nova de Gaia – A major city on the southern side of the Douro River, but only the riverside should be considered for visitors new to Porto. Within Vila Nova de Gaia are the huge cellars that store the Port-wine as it matures, and this area close to the river is great for visitors.
South Massarelos – An interesting and alternative area centred around the Palácio de Cristal Park. This is a good location to consider if the more popular accommodation options are running low. However, do not be based further west than the Arrábida Bridge, as this moves into Bairro Aleixo - one of the most deprived areas of the city.
Boavista and the Avenida da Boavista – The Avenida da Boavista is a grand boulevard and the setting for many of Porto’s upmarket hotels. This area is ideal for a business trip with a touch of class, but is a little out of the way for sightseeing. Hotels in the Boavista neighbourhood will often have car parking (unlike hotels in the cramped historic centre), so it can be a good choice if you plan to have a car.
Bonfim – An up-and-coming area of Porto that offers cheaper accommodation and is popular with students. The district has a non-touristy atmosphere and an emerging artisan scene. Bonfim may be a bit too far out for most tourists, however it is great if you want to go beyond conventional tourism locations.
Always choose the area of Porto you’d like to be based in before looking for accommodation. This may sound obvious, but it is all too easy to be sucked in by an amazing discount or outstanding reviews, without really considering the area of the city you will be staying in.
Foz do Douro is a calm and pleasant district at the mouth of the Douro River. The district has a distinctly Portuguese atmosphere, with traditional houses, many excellent restaurants, and scenic walks along the river or seafront. Foz is an ideal location if you’d prefer a more relaxed trip to Porto.
Insight: There is a regular bus service (route 500) that connects Foz to central Porto, with this scenic route following the Douro River.
Matosinhos is a busy fishing town that has the best sandy beach close to Porto. The town is famed for its seafood restaurants and is extremely popular in the summer as the whole of Porto heads to the beach. The 500 bus route connects Matosinhos to central Porto, so it is very easy to travel into the city centre.
Vila Nova de Gaia is the twin city of Porto, lying on the southern side of the Douro River. This city offers much better value accommodation, but the compromise will be the endless walking into central Porto. There is surprisingly poor public transport from Vila Nova de Gaia to Porto, with only four metro stations and a handful of bus services.