Nestled along the steep banks of the Douro River lies Portugal’s second largest city, Porto. With a diverse scene full of culture, stunning architecture, delicious food, and trendy nightlife – it’s truly a traveler’s dream come true. The city’s old riverfront center, Ribeira Square, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you stroll (and climb) through the hilly medieval streets you’ll find hip cafes, gardens, port cellars, and family-owned bistros. It’s a photographers paradise and foodie heaven. Adding to the mix – one of Europe’s most famous wine regions, the Douro Valley, is a short 1.5 hour drive away.
Navigating Porto can easily be done without a car. If you’re planning on staying in the city, you can take the metro everywhere. It’s cheap, fast, and reliable. You might want to consider renting a car if you’re visiting the Douro Valley for more than a day trip. The city is best explored on foot, but the metro provides a nice relief to Porto’s leg-burning hills.
At the metro station you can purchase a rechargeable Andante card for €0.60. Once you’ve purchased the card you can load travel credit according to the zones you’ll be traveling to. If you’re staying for a couple days, I would recommend purchasing a 24-hour pass for €7.00 that covers the entire network except for trains. From the airport, take the purple line into the city center. The three main stations in the city center are Trindade, Aliados, and São Bento. When choosing your accommodations try to stay near one of these stations. Trains leave from the Campanhã station.
THINGS TO DO
Wine is dangerously inexpensive in Portugal. Even at restaurants you can purchase a bottle of locally made wine for €5-8!! Enjoy the beautifully mild weather and a cold glass of Vinho Verde at one of Porto’s hip outdoor bars, Base.
Take the metro across the river and sample Port wines at the many local Port cellars. I recommend Croft Port and Taylor’s Port. At sunset, grab a table at one of the many cafes and bars along the Douro and watch the sunset with a glass of wine.
The Douro Valley is also worth exploring as a day trip. I detail this in a separate post.
Sample local cuisine
Portugal is the world’s largest consumer of cod. It’s prepared in a variety of ways, but my favorite was salt cod croquettes. You’ll see these on the menu at most restaurants, or “Tascas,” around town. Another delicious part of the local cuisine is sausage. The Portugese love chouriço, a sausage that’s similar to Spanish chorizo but with less fat. Most of the dishes are small plates, so it’s best to order a large spread for the table and eat them tapas style.
There are two restaurants that I recommend for dinner:
We tried to get dinner at the Taberna because it was highly rated on Yelp. Unfortunately the line was already out the door and we didn’t want to wait 1.5 hours. We stumbled upon Petiscaria Santo Antonio on our way back towards our apartment. It turned out to be outstanding food with excellent prices. Make sure to get the chouriço!
Check out the Ponte Luís I bridge
This iconic metal bridge is a highlight of Porto. You can get a great view of it by walking down near the river. The metro also runs across it if you want a closer look.
Explore some Cafes
Grab a coffee and play a game of chess at The Coffee Room. The cafe is inside and upstairs in a clothing store (The Feeting Room). The baristas serve up an awesome espresso and it’s a neat space to relax in between all the sight seeing.
This library was frequented by J.K. Rowling and is said to have inspired some of her writing. It is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. Its unique design and beautiful twisting staircase make for some cool pictures. Unfortunately, it was closed for construction and renovations while we were in Porto.
Go for a run along the Douro
We woke up early one morning and went for a 3 mile run along the Douro. There’s a great path that runs right along the bank. It’ll help you recover from airplane travel and make you feel like a local. Not to mention it’s beautiful!
Explore the Bolhão Market
This is a historic market near the middle of town. There’s a wide variety of vendors selling produce, prepared food, and other goods. Try a pastel de nata (egg tart pastry) from one of the bakeries, they’re amazing!
Airbnb and Booking.com both have some really great options. We stayed at this apartment through Airbnb and absolutely loved it. It’s in a convenient location (next to the Trindade station) and was quite spacious. Additionally, they have a concierge service where a friendly person meets you at the apartment and helps you get settled. He answered any questions we had and provided us with some recommendations. The owner also gave us a complimentary bottle of local wine!
Renting an Airbnb apartment can save you a lot of money on food. We went to the grocery store and cooked breakfast in our apartment’s kitchen every morning. This gave us more time to explore the city and gave us room in the budget to splurge on dinner each night.