Travel Guide to Porto, Portugal

By Briana Seftel


The second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, Porto is a must-see destination on a vacation to Portugal. With its fascinating blend of architectural styles and an enchanting location on the Douro River, Porto is one of Europe's best-kept secrets.


What to Know

Situated along the Douro River estuary in northwest Portugal, Porto is the hardworking counterpoint to laidback Lisbon. Its historic center, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, is an alluring mix of cobbled lanes, baroque cathedrals and stunning blue and white tiles. Of course, no mention of Porto is complete without port wine. Produced in the Douro Valley and aged in the Gaia district, port is an integral part of Porto’s history and the city’s most popular post dinner drink.


When to Go

The best time to visit Porto is between June and September when the city is warm and sunny. This is also peak season, so anticipate crowds at most popular tourist attractions. If you plan on visiting during the winter or early spring months, be aware that Porto has significantly more rain then Lisbon and the Algarve. Whatever season you choose to visit, Porto’s mild climate is sure to please.


How to Get Around

Porto’s walkable center is easily and best explored by foot, but keep in the mind the city is very hilly and may be difficult for some. Luckily, the city has excellent public transportation including a light rail, buses and old-fashioned trams. Avoid driving at all costs, and if you plan on taking day trips, rent your car outside of the city.


Where to Eat

With its proximity to the sea and countryside, Porto’s cuisine is a reflection of both. If you’re looking for a taste of traditional Porto, try dishes like caldo verde (a kale soup thickened with potatoes) and bacalhau com natas (codfish with cream). Dining in Porto can be in a Michelin-starred restaurant or in a cozy tavern - it’s up to you!


What to See

Ribeira

Porto’s enchanting old quarter, Ribeira, is a fascinating place to wander through. Characterized by colorful ramshackle homes, Ribeira sits on the riverfront of the Douro. Don’t bother with a map here; it’s best to forget time and wind through its medieval streets at a leisurely pace.

Livraria Lello

Often considered the most beautiful bookstore in the world, stepping inside Livraria Lello will make you say “whoa.” Opened in 1906, the bookstore boasts exceptional Neo-Gothic architecture with its spiral staircases and stained glass. To enter the bookstore, you will need to purchase a ticket voucher for 5 euro, either in person or online. If you buy a book, the ticket cost will be applied to your purchase.

SĂŁo Bento railway station

You don’t need to arrive by train to appreciate the grandeur of the São Bento train station. Step through the Beaux-Arts facade and gaze in wonder at the 20,000 painted blue and white tiles (known in Portuguese as azulejos) that depict events from the country’s history.

Church of SĂŁo Francisco

While unremarkable from the outside, the 14th-century Church of Sao Francisco is a Baroque masterpiece inside. Every inch of the church’s interior is coated in gold leaf, from the ornate nave with cherubs to the altarpiece.

Porto Cathedral

A Porto landmark, the twin-towered Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) looms high above the Ribeira. Founded in the 12th century, the cathedral’s Romanesque origins can still be seen in the barrel-vaulted nave. Don’t miss the rose window and Gothic cloister.


Tips and Tricks

  • Walk across Dom LuĂ­s I Bridge for exquisite views of Porto.

  • The people of Porto are affectionately known as tripeiros (tripe-eaters), which comes from the city’s signature dish.

  • Try to catch a performance at the hypermodern Casa da MĂşsica.

  • Along the river you will notice the Rabelo boats, traditionally used to transport port barrels from the Douro Valley.


Day Trips

Braga

Northeast of Porto is the city of Braga, often considered the religious heart of Portugal. The city boasts a number of important historical and religious sites including Braga Cathedral, Bom Jesus do Monte complex and the Archbishop’s Palace. The city gardens and stately plazas round out a day in beautiful Braga.

Douro Valley

About an hour from Porto, the Douro Valley is the heart of port wine country. While you could easily spend a few days or even a week here, a day trip will give you a snapshot of this enchanting region that’s famous for its terraced slopes rising up from the river. Book a tour of a vineyard, enjoy a scenic ride on the train or drive from one charming town to the next.

GuimarĂŁes

Regarded as the birthplace of Portugal, GuimarĂŁes is an historic treasure trove. The main draw to the city is the castle, built in the 10th century to defend the city from Moorish and Norman attacks. Elsewhere, the Dukes of Braganza Palace and Oliveira Square allow visitors to step back in time.

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