Porto is an incredible place to visit, whether it’s because of the city itself or the people. I lived here for a month and a half while I was doing my cabin crew training and I loved the experience, however it used to be a strange place in the past, as the streets were always empty and dark. Nowadays it is still dark, but the streets are constantly filled with people during day and night. The people here are all so kind (except when it comes to traffic) that you couldn’t feel more welcome here!
When to go there?
Porto is located in the north of Portugal and, most of the times, people refer to the north as only Porto, when there is a lot more than just this amazing city. Because of its location, it gets very cold during the winter, however the temperature is very pleasant during the summer (with the exception of this time I was there, when the temperature was around 30ºC). So, my final recommendation is that you visit Porto during Spring, just before or after the school spring break, which is when you have more families traveling. It’s not a good option to visit Porto during the summer as the main attractions are always filled with queues and makes it impossible for you to have a relaxed experience.
How to get there?
(Inside São Bento train station)
If you’re starting your trip in Porto Airport be advised that the airport is not located in the city itself, it’s located in Maia, so you still have to take the subway to the center of the city (takes approximately 30 minutes) or you can take a taxi.
If you’re taking the train, its last stop is in Campanhã, which is not close to the city center as well. There, you can take another train to São Bento, located in the center of the city.
The best way of moving around in Porto is either walking or taking the subway. The subway system here is very good and the network is quite vast – from Trindade (the main metro station in the city) you can take the subway to almost everywhere in Porto and the trains run very frequently, depending on whether it’s peak time or not. The subway system is divided into zones, so if you’re buying single tickets, the price of these will vary depending on where you want to go. There are three types of tickets you can purchase: Andante Azul, Andante 24 and Andante Tour.
- Andante Azul is commonly known as a single ticket and you can recharge it as much as you want.
- Andante 24 is a 24-hour ticket that you can use in a specific zone only.
- Andante Tour allows you to use the whole network (no zone restriction) depending on how many days you’re staying.
You can also walk through Porto, but it’s going to be a challenge as the city is all up and downs, specially near the Douro River. It’s not impossible and during our 3-day trip we managed to walk quite a lot – the result is a good night sleep!
What to do?
If you’re looking for a cultural experience in Porto, 3 days should be enough for you. You have plenty of time to visit the most historical and popular attractions without having to hurry up and I’m almost sure you’ll still have some time to spare. Having this said, here is my list of the places you should visit during your stay in Porto.
Clérigos Tower (or Torre dos Clérigos, as it is called in portuguese) is the symbol of Porto and can be seen from many spots in the city. The tower is 76 meters tall and there are more or less 240 steps to be climbed in order to get to the top level of it – in the beginning the steps are fine, but as you go up the steps get narrower and you’ll have to, somehow, find a way to go up and let other people go down at the same time (this is why I don’t recommend visiting these attractions during summer or other peak seasons). From the top of the tower you can see the whole central area of Porto and it’s just incredible!
A ticket to visit the tower costed me €4, but it’s more expensive if you’re going at night, however when I was living in Porto during the winter the ticket costed only €1. Why not going during winter?? The ticket also gives you access to an exhibition that you visit as you make your way to the top of the tower.
It’s known as the most famous market in Porto and is called “Mercado do Bolhão” in portuguese – here, you’ll find local people selling fish, fruits, vegetables, flowers and more. The market gets more visitors on Fridays and Saturdays, so if you’re the kind of person that loves visiting local markets, this is a place you can not miss. For sure it is a good idea to get in touch with the merchants and get to know a little bit more about their products and Porto as well.
The Avenida dos Aliados is located in the downtown and is where you’ll find the town hall, as well as lots of traffic!! Aliados is considered the center of Porto and around it you’ll find lots of cafés (most of them with terraces), very nice if you want to experience the lovely portuguese cuisine.
During the Christmas season, the town hall assembles a very modern Christmas tree and the whole avenue is covered with Christmas decorations. However, it is when the Porto football team wins a football match that the avenue gains life – this place then becomes filled with lots and lots people celebrating their victory.
It’s also in Aliados where you’ll find the Hard Rock Cafe and many well-preserved old buildings.
Palácio da Bolsa
Known in english as the Stock Exchange Palace, this is an impressive highlight of Porto, classified by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Inside the palace there are many different rooms, such as the Library, the Court Room, the Golden Room, the General Meeting Room and the very famous Arabian Hall, well known for its architecture – very fancy in the past.
The palace is open for visitors and your only option here will be to take a guided tour – the only kind of visit available, which takes approximately 45 minutes and costs more or less €8.
(The Arabian Hall)
The “Sé”, as we call it in portuguese, is one of the oldest monuments in Porto – built during the 12th century, and is actually a very important one when it comes to the history of Portugal. The cathedral has suffered many alterations as the centuries went by, but its origins are still present – the Romanesque style.
From the front part of the cathedral you’ll find the “Largo da Sé”, a square with an amazing view to the city – from here, you can see the rooftops, as the Sé is located on a high part of Porto.
The Cathedral is also considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (no wonder why!).
The entrance to the Cathedral is free and it’s something you should definitely do, as the interior is just incredible!
Douro River (Riverside)
The Douro river is one of the biggest rivers in the Iberian Peninsula (being the biggest one the Tagus river) and it’s commonly associated with Port wine. Its vineyards in the Douro Valley have been considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, however these are not located in Porto.
In the past, the wine would be carried from the vineyards to Vila Nova de Gaia (in the other side of the Douro river) in traditional river boats called Rabelo boats. Sadly, these boats are no longer used nowadays, but you can still spot them in the river.
There is also a lot of entertainment just close to the riverside. You’ll easily find people singing, playing instruments or acting and it’s great fun, whether it is day or night – definitely something you can not miss. This is a very nice place for you to eat as well (with an amazing view!).
Something that I would recommend you to do is to visit the riverside at night. If you’re like me, who likes to take a walk at night, then this is the place you should go to, as you’ll find lots of entertainment and people. During the three days I was there, I went to the riverside every night to enjoy a little bit of Porto’s night life and amazing colours. It is also a great exercise for your legs – it’s not easy to go up and down those streets!
Dom Luís I Bridge
Probably the most famous landmark in Porto and the biggest reference point for visitors – Ponte Dom Luís I. It’s the picture we’ve been seeing for ages on all posts regarding Porto, right? Well, this notorious bridge connects the city of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia and was inaugurated in 1886.
The bridge has two decks and you can walk in both of them, however it is only in the lower deck where cars and other vehicles can cross, as in the upper deck runs the metro. For you to take a walk over the bridge (in the upper deck), you’ll have to climb a “few” steps close to the riverside or you can take a tram, which I had no idea it existed until this last time. My personal recommendation would be for you to climb the steps instead of taking the tram, this way you can get to know a little bit more of the streets of Porto.
During the summer, it is very common to see kids and teenagers climbing to the top of the lower deck of the bridge and then jumping into the river, so don’t worry if you see this.
(View of Vila Nova de Gaia from the top of Dom Luís I bridge. Look closely at all the boats by the riverside)
Crystal Palace Gardens
I definitely recommend this place! It’s such a peaceful place with amazing green landscapes and a great view to the river and the city. This is the place you need to visit either during the sunset or at night.
Here you’ll find lots of animals, which makes this an amazing spot if you’re a nature or an animal lover. I also remember seeing a lady sitting on a big rock here and reading a book – this is the kind of mood you’ll find in this place.
Casa da Música
This one can be literally translated to english as “The House of Music” and it’s another symbol of Porto. It’s the main concert hall in the city and has been there since 2005, which was not that long ago.
The establishment has its own restaurant and I really like this one, as it has a very nice terrace and sometimes there’s even groups playing instruments. Most of the people come here just to study and eat something meanwhile – that’s what you’ll see the most in this place.
There are guided tours here, so if you want to know more about Casa da Música, its history and architecture you can choose between a portuguese and english tour and you’ll be presented with everything regarding this place. Be careful when you choose to visit it, since the guided tours vary depending on if there are any events taking place at that time.
(The modern interior of Casa da Música)
Estádio do Dragão
Known for being home of the Porto football club, the Estádio do Dragão (literally Dragon Stadium) is the second biggest stadium in Portugal and is known as one of the most beautiful ones in the country. It has also been used as a venue for concerts of artists like Muse, The Rolling Stones and more.
The streets around the stadium are very quiet on regular days, you don’t see many people in the streets and you may even not feel comfortable walking there at night, however when there are football matches these streets become filled with people and, as soon as you notice you’ll be struggling to move within the crowd. It usually gets complicated only after the games are over.
(Amazing night view of Campanhã from Estádio do Dragão)
Vila Nova de Gaia
Just across the Douro River, Vila Nova de Gaia is known for housing the famous cellars, where you’ll find our very own port wine. Some of the cellars (or caves, as we call them) there include Calém, Sandeman, Taylor’s, Grahams and many more. The curious thing about these cellars is that most of them are owned by foreigners and not portuguese, as you can guess by their names. The cellars are open for visitors and you can get a guided tour there, where you’ll be showed how the wine is produced and aged.
This time I did something different and I feel like I’m going to do this more often: we rented a bike at a very nice place close to Aliados and cycled through the riverside of Porto and then crossed the Dom Luís I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia. There, we cycled just next to the river as well, but this time with an amazing view to Porto.
(The view of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia)
From there, Porto looks like it’s just buildings on top of other buildings, so imagine how the streets are – there, you don’t walk in the streets, you climb them! There are also many restaurants in Vila Nova de Gaia, so why not enjoy a meal from the other side of the river?
Coming back to the bicycles, the worst about riding around Porto is that it gets difficult to ride around the city since the streets are not flat, however it was a nice experience and definitely something to repeat in the future.