I’ve been to Portugal many times in the past. However, I had never visited Porto prior to last weekend. The city is completely different from anywhere I’ve been before. The culture is very apparent yet difficult to pinpoint, as there are many factors influencing the city.
My general observations were:
- Porto has a very young population (due to the large university), a rich history, music drifting through every street, and a culture that is shaped around food, port wine, and the Douro River.
- I can safely say I’ve never been to a city with so many steep hills before. No matter where you’re walking, you’ll be walking uphill or downhill and never on a flat surface.
- While walking up and down the hills, I noticed there are many beautifully decorated churches scattered around the city.
- All of the locals are extremely polite and friendly, and most locals speak perfect English.
- As a result of its location and perhaps the university, Porto has a large international population.
- Lastly, tourism has exploded in Porto in the last 5 years, likely for two reasons. First, it was named “Best City in Europe” in 2012 and again in 2017. Secondly, RyanAir (Europe’s largest discount airline) started offering direct flights to Porto in 2015. As a result, tourists from all over the world flock to Porto. General prices have risen, but the city is still very affordable, especially accommodations (apartments range from $30-$60 per night on average; we stayed at a 4 star hotel for 115 euros per night).
Barrels at one of the Port Cellars:
One last general observation: It’s amazing how much you can see in do in Porto in just 48 hours if you’re willing to put in the miles. You can see just about everything on foot, but Porto also has an effective public transportation system (tram and bus). Additionally, if you’re in a hurry, short on time, or simply can’t bare walking up and down the incredibly hilly city, I recommend using Uber to get around. It’s quick and inexpensive in Porto. I especially recommend using Uber (rather than a taxi) to get to and from the airport. We paid 14 euros for the 25 minute ride from the airport to the center (a taxi would cost around 25 euros).
Below is a list of my recommendation for things to see and do in Porto – and we did all of this in just 48 hours
Take a Free Walking Tour of the City: There are multiple companies that run free walking tours in Porto. If you’ve never been on a free tour before, I highly recommend it. The guides work for only tips and you give them however much you felt the tour was worth. We chose to go on a tour with Porto Free Tours, run by a group of friends (all of whom are locals). We liked their personability, local expertise, restaurant recommendations, and the information they offered about the city. Going on a free walking tour is usually a great way to start your trip, because you get your bearings and an understanding of the city, the culture, and so on. Also, you can get advise about which tourist attractions to visit and which to skip. You must e-mail Porto Free Tours by 10 PM the night before your desired tour in order to attend the tour. Check out their website HERE.
A great view of Gaia from Old Town, Porto:
One of the many beautiful churches:
Drink PORT! Take a walk across the bridge (or pay 3 euros to take the water taxi) to the city of Gaia. This is where all of the Port Wine Cellars are. There are many to choose from, all of which offer different experiences. My recommendations include: Kopke for high quality/reasonably priced port. They offer tastings only (no tour). Head to the rooftop of Porto Cruz for a cocktail or a glass of port while taking in views of the city and listening to some pumpin’ (yes, I said “pumpin’”) music. Lastly, if you’re looking for the fanciest experience possible (also reflected in the price tag of their Port Wines), head to Taylor’s Cellar. Taylor’s has a beautiful cellar, tasting room, and terrace. They offer audio tours only, but the presentation is very informative. For 12 euros, you get a tour and a tasting of 2 ports. Additional wines and snacks are available for purchase. Bonus? There are peacocks wandering around the grounds!! They’re fun to watch while drinking some delicious port.
Enjoying our tasting at Taylor’s:
Our tasting at Kopke:
Take a boat tour: Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do this. However, I would recommend taking a boat tour on the Douro, especially on a sunny day. Most boat tour companies run their tours between the 6 main bridges of Porto. Many of the tour companies offer a boat tour and a port tasting at one of the cellars for 15 euros per person, which is very reasonable.
A view of Porto from the Gaia Side of the River:
Explore the City on Foot: Porto is a wonderful city to explore on foot. You can get just about anywhere (with the exception of the beaches) by foot. Please note, Porto is FULL of hills. It’s no joke! My husband and I are very fit people, and we were exhausted by the end of each day. My advice would be to space out your journeys with stops for coffee, a drink, or a snack (this is also a way to sample many of the local foods Porto has to offer).
We found this cool piece of art behind the Port cellars:
Wander around the Old Town: The vast majority of tourist attractions actually lay within the newer areas of the city. Make sure you take a stroll through the Old Town. It is much less touristy and this allows you to get a more authentic feel of the city.
Climb the Torre dos Clerigos for excellent views of the city. Entry is approximately 4 euros.
Check out Livraria Lello, one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. It is rumored that Livaria Lello was the library that inspired the library at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Why? J.K. Rowling spent many years in Porto, as she was previously married to a Portuguese man. They lived just outside of the city, and she spent many hours writing at Livraria Lello. Due to its increased popularity in the last year, there is now a cover charge of 4 euros per person.
The Library – Image Acquired from: vanharen.net
Pay a visit to Mercado do Bolhao, Porto’s oldest market. Here you can find fresh produce, meat, fish, pastries, and other typical Portuguese products. This is also the best place to find inexpensive souvenirs, cork purses, fabric, and a cheap lunch.
A view from the top of the market (all of the fun happens under those roofs):
Eat, drink, and be merry! I will save my specific eating and drinking recommendations for a separate post, but seriously: EAT. And drink. Porto has excellent cuisine. Given their location, many of their local dishes contain fresh seafood (particularly cod). Take a break and enjoy Petiscos, which are Portuguese tapas. Enjoy them with a glass of Port (or another local wine). If you’re not a wine lover, grab a Super Bock, Portugal’s famous beer (similar to a Budweiser, but you gotta do it!). Grab a cup of coffee or an espresso. The coffee here is GREAT (don’t tell my Italian friends, but the coffee is just as good as in Italy). Arguably the most important food category to indulge in while in Porto? Pastries. I could eat Pastel de Natas all day, and I don’t even care about dessert!
Ryan devouring some Pastel de Natas:
Anything I missed? I’d love to hear your recommendations. My husband and I did all of this within 48 full hours. We also had plenty of time to eat and drink (the focus of our vacations). We absolutely loved the city and we’re sure to visit again. Let me know if there’s any “must-dos” for next time!