What to do in Porto
Updated: Aug 16
Right in front of the Douro River, Porto will leave you breathless. With bell towers soaring over the hilly landscape, baroque churches, medieval buildings, and a beautiful palace one after the other, Porto seems to belong to a fairy tale. Portugal owes its name to this beautiful city, one of the oldest in Europe.
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What not to miss?
São Bento train station
Don't miss a visit to the São Bento station to admire the art of azulejo. Inside this place, you will find walls decorated with twenty thousand white and blue azulejos. The station was built on the ashes of an old monastery. One of its greatest exponents, Jorge Colaço, created the work in the early 20th century.
The Port Wine Cellars
Porto is famous for its wine which is not only Port. All you have to do is enter one of the city's wine cellars to taste the best wines! All wine cellars are located in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town that lies on the other side of the Douro and is connected to the city by the Dom Luis Bridge. Here you will find a large number of wineries and Port producers. Ideally, spend a day discovering the city's cellars where families still store and age their wine.
One curiosity: this wine, even if it is called Port, has almost nothing to do with the city of Porto, since it comes from the Douro, except that it is exported from its access to the sea, which gives the wine its name. The city was the harbor from where wine was shipped to England. This is why it was thought to originate from this Portuguese city.
Don't miss a visit to Porto's most beautiful bookshop, Lello&Irmao, located inside a building on Rua das Carmelitas. In business since 1906, the historic bookshop is one of the city's most famous landmarks.
It was considered the 3rd most beautiful bookstore in the world by Lonely Planet – that some even claim that JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, wrote the first Harry Potter book inside the bookstore.
Pupils of Gustave Eiffel, the maker of the famous Paris Tower and the equally famous Statue of Liberty, have taken the master's teachings to many parts of the world. It was one of these, TéophileSeyrig, who designed the Dom Luis I, Porto's iron bridge connecting the Ribeira district with the twin town of Vila Nova de Gaia. He had learned the lessons of the master early and well: the scenic effect of the bridge, especially at sunset or at night is spectacular.
What else to visit?
Mercado do Bolhão
If you want to taste and enjoy the best of the city's cuisine, all you have to do is consider its famous market: Mercado do Bolhão, located in a beautiful 19th-century iron structure. You will be astonished by the smell of fresh fruit, freshly baked bread, cheese, and fresh fish.
Palácio da Bolsa
Looking at it from the outside, the Palacio da Bolsa in Porto goes unnoticed as one of the many palaces in the Portuguese city. The most uninformed travelers are therefore unaware of the majesty and eclecticism of the interior. Present from the year 1842 onwards following the desire of the merchants of Porto, it was meant to represent Portugal's trading power and welcome representatives of foreign nations in a majestic setting.
São Francisco Church
What from the outside looks like an anonymous church devoid of any interest, inside reveals itself as one of the most beautiful religious buildings in Portugal and one of the most richly decorated churches in Europe.
A visit to the church of Sao Francisco is an opportunity to admire the technique of talha dourada, which is typical of many Baroque churches built in Portugal during the 1700s.
How to travel there?
Porto Airport in Portugal is called Francisco Sá Carneiro and is located about 10 km north of the city. Reaching the center of Porto from the airport is easy: take the metro (Metro do Porto), which takes about 40 minutes.
Also, to be considered is the direct line from the Portuguese capital: there are excellent and fast connections. The cheapest one remains the bus, with many departures during the day.
Prices in Porto are normally lower than in Lisbon. You will notice this difference, especially when eating in restaurants or visiting monuments.
You may find without problems a hotel for around 45€ per night for two people. In the case you have a medium budget, you can find good and comfortable hotels for around 60€ per night for two people.
In terms of food, you can easily go to a restaurant for a budget of around 10€ or approximately 30€ if you want good places, which does not consider luxury restaurants.
Finally, as far as transport in the Portuguese city is concerned, it is efficient and inexpensive: a standard ticket does usually cost 1,20€.
When to travel there?
Very close to the Atlantic Ocean, the city of Porto is influenced by it and enjoys a temperate oceanic climate. It is fairly mild all year round, but temperatures never rise too high. It also rains quite often in this city.
The main tourist season runs from June to the end of September. The best season to visit Porto is late spring (May/June) or early autumn (September), when the number of tourists is not high but the weather is still nice.
What to eat?
A trip to Porto city cannot end without tasting the country's famous dish Bacalhau (Portuguese for codfish), which is served in more than 365 variations throughout Portugal, in this way you can choose the one you like best. Some even go that far, saying that there are 1001 ways to prepare this famous Portuguese dish.
Not to be forgotten is Francesinha, invented in the 1960s and today the dish par excellence in Porto. It is very hard to describe: it is more than a simple “toast”, even though the Portuguese suffix -inho, or in this case -inha (Francesinha) tells us that something is small. In particular, this sandwich is composed of toasted bread, beef or pork steak (or both), sausages, and ham. It is topped with melted cheese, sometimes followed by a fried egg. Another thing it very often comes served with is French fries to enjoy the secret sauce even more.
Of course, we take it for granted that anyone visiting Porto takes home a few liters of the world-famous meditation wine of the same name, whose most important production cellars are located in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, on the other side of the river. You can tell by the large signs and repeated invitations for free tastings that are almost always successful!
You're hungry now? Take a look at our Porto food tour to try the best specialties in town with a qualified guide.
Freedom Day (25th April)
Freedom Day on April 25th is a national holiday in Portugal and it celebrates the 1974 Revolution that ended the dictatorship and began a democracy. It also commemorates the first free elections that took place a year later on April 25th, 1975.
Feira de Porto (June)
São João do Porto is a popular festival that takes place from 23 to 24 June in Porto. Officially, it is a Catholic festival celebrating the birth of St John the Baptist, which centers on the mass and procession of St John on 24 June, but the festival of São João do Porto has its origins in the summer solstice and was originally a pagan festival. People celebrated fertility, associated with the joy of harvests and abundance.
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