The Duoro River running through Porto in Portugal
inspiration

7 reasons to visit Porto in Portugal

Although often overlooked by international visitors, Portugal’s second city is well worth visiting.

Porto is home to centuries-old architecture, intricately tiled churches and buildings, and some of the best food and drink in Europe. As a bonus, Porto makes a great spot for a beach holiday too.

Porto is a vital port of trade between the fertile valleys of Northern Portugal and the rest of the world. The Douro River trickles its way down from the mountains in Spain, and flows through the city and out into the Atlantic, historically playing a vital role in the city's economy and the country's history.

Visit Porto for international food markets, renowned port wineries, and highly-rated eateries in beautiful neighbourhoods like Ribiera, Bonfim, and Cedofeita. Come for the wine but stay for the food!

Barcos Rabelos, traditional boats used to transport barrels of wine, on the Douro River in Porto, Portugal

1. Porto is the home of port

Across from Porto’s historic centre, past the imposing Dom Luís I Bridge, is a whole region dedicated to the production and distribution of port wine. In fact, Vila Nova de Gaia is actually a separate city to Porto on the other side of the river.

A little way upstream is the Alto Douro Wine Region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the world’s oldest wine region having been in production here for around 2,000 years. Port wine has been defined and regulated since 1756, produced in traditional ways on quintas (wine estates) in the Douro Valley, and shipped downstream to be distributed to the rest of the world.

You can still see the wooden ‘Barcos Rabelos’, the traditional boats used to transport barrels of wine down the Douro River from the port wine estates. Rabelo boat tours along the river can be taken from Gaia, but if you prefer to see the area from above, take the Gaia Cable Car over the rooftops of Vila Nova de Gaia.

One of the best places in Porto to try Port wine is Caves Cálem. Explore vast port cellars followed by tastings of the region’s best reds and tawny ports, chocolate and cheese is also available for ‘cleansing the palette’. Another option is the Wine Quay Bar on the banks of the river, head there at sunset for beautiful views of the city.

Mercado Beira-Rio in Porto, Portugal

2. Porto has an excellent food scene

Though ‘pastel de natas’ (puff pastry tarts filled with a rich custard) originated from Lisbon, the mouthwatering Francesinha comes from Porto. It’s a uniquely messy sandwich doused in a rich beer-infused tomato sauce and smothered in melted cheese. The sandwich consists of toasted bread, beef or pork, sausages, ham, and a lot of cheese.

In recent years Porto has seen a bit of a culinary revolution with new restaurants popping up all over the city. One of the best eateries to try traditional Portuguese flavours with a modern twist is Almeja. Order a five-course tasting menu for just €55 to try the best of chef João Cura’s locally-sourced, ingredient-focused dishes.

If you should know one thing about the food in Porto it's that the locals love their meat. Order a steak at a local restaurant and you are likely to get five of them (for as little as €2)!

If you enjoy steak, head to butcher shop-themed Muu Steakhouse. The restaurant celebrates all things cow, with everything from entrecôte to a generous 1kg Tomahawk steak - there are also fish and vegetarian options.

One place you can’t miss when visiting the city is the WOW (World of Wine) Cultural District, a lively cluster of museums, restaurants and underground bars that tell the story of Porto's port wine industry. Nearby, Mercado Beira-Rio is one of the best places to experience the diversity of flavours in the city.

As well as the traditional produce market for fresh fruit and vegetables, there is a huge hall and seating area lined with food stalls. Selling everything from Brazilian Feijoada to Italian Piadina Romagnola, it’s the perfect spot for a quick and delicious lunch.

People in the vestibule of Sao Bento Railway Station, decorated with approximately 20,000 azulejo tiles, in Porto, Portugal

3. Porto has over 2000 years of history

Porto has existed since the 3rd century BCE. In Roman times, the city was known as Portus Cale, meaning “warm port” in Latin. Portus Cale evolved into ‘Portugale’ between the 7th and 9th century, meaning Portugal got its name from Porto. The endearing old town is a maze of colourful houses and open squares, now listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Within Porto's historic centre you can find many charming buildings, including the well-known Sao Bento Railway Station. The 19th-century railway station is instantly recognisable for its elaborate azulejo tilework.

Great artworks covering the main hall depict stories from the city's past, welcoming visitors that arrive by train. The Church of Saint Ildefonso also has these iconic blue and white tiles of Porto covering its facade.

Another landmark of Porto is the 75 metre ‘Torre dos Clerigos’ at the baroque Catholic church of the same name. Ascend the spiral staircase for stunning views over the terracotta rooftops of old town as well as the modern skyscrapers beyond.

Or for a darker side to the city's past, the austere ‘Igreja de São Francisco’, with a Gothic exterior and stunning baroque interior, contains catacombs holding an ossuary of human bones.

On a rainy day in Porto, head to the University of Porto and the tranquil Jardim da Cordoaria to find one of the world's most beautiful bookshops. Inspired by the library from Hogwarts, Livraria Lello is a treasure trove of literature held in impressive art nouveau surrounds. It’s so popular there’s now a fee to enter, but the charge is waived if you buy a book.

The colourful buildings of Porto's old town

4. Porto is cheaper and less touristy than Lisbon

Although Lisbon is a beautiful city to visit, with its yellow trams and iconic views, it is busy and it's a difficult place to get around. The city is 39 square miles in size with a population of over 500,000, so it’s definitely not a peaceful getaway.

Porto on the other hand is relatively small at 16 square miles, with around half the population of Lisbon. You don’t need to use public transportation either in Porto as the city is quite walkable.

Hotels in Lisbon aren’t cheap, but you can find some very reasonable accommodation in Porto, like the Gallery Hostel Porto where a bed in a 6-bed dorm costs just €30 a night. For a touch of luxury, the Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel in the central Ribeira District, offers 5-star luxury with rooms for as little as €160.

The only negative is that Porto is a little harder to get to. While you can fly to Porto from many countries in Europe, visitors from further afield will need to fly into Lisbon and take the 3-hour coastal train to Porto. It is, however, a great excuse to travel further, perhaps extending your visit to include a road trip through Northern Spain.

The view of the Duoro River from the Crystal Palace Gardens in Porto, Portugal

5. There are many free things to do in Porto

Porto, along with the rest of Northern Portugal, is a great destination for those on a budget. It’s one of the cheapest places to visit in Western Europe, and there are plenty of things to do for free in Porto.

Like many European cities the old town is a wonderful place to explore, filled with notable architecture and distracting side alleys. But it also has the advantage of a prominent location on the Atlantic Ocean.

You can easily spend some time strolling out to the coast to visit the Farolim de Felgueiras Lighthouse, or visiting the sandy beaches at Praia dos Ingleses.

One of the best free things to do in Porto Old Town is visiting the Crystal Palace Gardens, where the resident peacocks, roosters, and ducks are especially popular with children.

In spring tulips and other types of fragrant flowers create a heavenly aroma that fills the park. There are also beautiful views over the Douro and out to sea. This is an especially lovely place for a sunset stroll.

Some of Porto’s museums are free on certain days, so you can explore and uncover Porto's interesting history and culture at your leisure. The World of Discoveries Museum, the Tram Museum, the FC Porto Museum and the vast Modern Art Museum are some of the most celebrated in the city.

The old town of Ribeira in the city centre of Porto in Porugal in Europe.

6. Porto has many quirky neighbourhoods

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to interesting neighbourhoods in Porto.

Wander the colourful streets of Ribeira (meaning riverside), the up-and-coming Bonfim, or the cultural Cedofeita. Stroll along the Cais da Ribeira, past the colourful yet traditional waterfront houses, to experience one the most beautiful streets in Porto.

Or take the industrial-style ‘Elevador da Ribeira’ to get a great perspective of the area as well as views out over the Douro River. 

Popular with students, Bonfim has an emerging artisan scene, it’s a great place to see the younger side of the city and the accommodation here is very affordable.

You can also escape the tourist crowds in Cedofeita, a traditional Portuguese neighbourhood that is full of quaint cafes and independent boutiques. The street art in Porto, and Portugal in general, is a good enough reason to visit alone.

Take a street art tour to see some of the best, like ‘Dom Quixote & Sancho Pança’ on the corner of Rua de Miguel Bombarda and Rua de Diogo Brandão, and ‘Trindade’ which is located next to Trindade Metro Station.

Colourful flowers and a river view at Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês in Portugal

7. There are lots of great day trips from Porto

Another reason to take a trip to Porto is its access to the rest of Northern Portugal. Travel north 40 minutes by car to Braga for an assortment of baroque churches, the 11th-century Romanesque Braga Cathedral, and Bom Jesus do Monte’s hilltop sanctuary.

For mountain hiking, Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês, on the border with Spain, is one of the best spots in Portugal. Expect to see Iberian wolves, prehistoric remains, and plenty of stunning waterfalls. Closer to Porto is the castle-topped Guimarães, where the first king of Portugal was born in 1110.

You can also travel west to the outstanding viewpoint of São Leonardo de Galafura to see the vineyard-covered hills of the Alto Douro Wine Region. Stay in the rural town of Pinhão to experience the life of the port wine producers.

Another option lies south of Porto, in the lagoon city of Aveiro. In times past locals here got around on colourful Venetian-like-gondolas, known as ‘barcos moliceiros’, traditionally used to harvest seaweed. Take to the canals to see Aveiros lavish art nouveau buildings up-close.

Insider tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure
We promise not to abuse our new friendship. Please see our Privacy Policy

Share this article

Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

A Brit that got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, Jo Williams sold everything to become a full-time wanderer. Having travelled to over 70 countries, Jo shares her money-saving tips and secrets from inside the travel industry through her blog Lost Wanders. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 21 December 2022

Rocks and a white, sandy beach in Marinha Cove, Portugal

Portugal

Situated on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside.
© 2023 Faraway Worlds.