Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, is a place that captured my whole heart. Twice, the city has been recognized as “The Best European Destination”, and it’s easy to see why. With a lively and bustling town center, grand churches, orange-stained rooftops, port wine tastings, and riverside restaurants, Porto has it all… and then some. Located in the northwest of Portugal, 200-miles north of Lisbon, visiting Porto has never been easier. Whether you’re renting a car, taking the bus or train, or flying into the Porto airport, I highly encourage you to explore this gem of a city. (By the way, if you are renting a car, make sure to read The Best 8 Day Northern Portugal Road Trip Itinerary, and Everything You Need to Know About Renting a Car in Portugal).
Before reading further, don’t miss The Ultimate Portugal Travel Guide
A Guide to Visiting Porto, Portugal
There are few things as impressive as Porto. Its twisting and turning historic streets, houses built one on top of the next, and Ribeiria, Porto’s impressive UNESCO protected riverfront area. But the beauty of Porto extends out from the city, as the Douro River, running from Spain and spilling into the Atlantic, showcases boats, ferries, and jet ski’s that glide by. And just across from the Douro you’ll find the impressive town of Vila Nova de Gaia, well-known for its port-making ‘lodges’ (there are more than 60!).
Aside from exploring Porto, you should know that Porto is recognized as being the “gateway to the Douro”, making it the perfect city to explore before diving deeper into wine and port tasting in the Douro Valley.
With moderate weather year-round (August being the warmest month and January being the coldest month), there isn’t a bad time to visit Porto. You could spend days exploring the streets of Porto, but if you’re in a rush, you can see all of the highlights within a day. However, if you’re not crunched on time, I suggest slowing down and spending at least three days leisurely seeing and learning the city.
Where to Stay in Porto
There are so many great options when booking a stay in Porto. I highly recommend searching around the historic center or the Ribeiria neighborhood by the Douro River. (I use Expedia, Booking.com, and VRBO to look for hotels and rentals).
I found this super cute Airbnb for an affordable price on Flores Street. It was a great stay and a great location.
Things to Do in Porto
PARTICIPATE IN A PORT TASTING
Port wine (or vinho do Porto) comes from Porto, so there’s no better time to get your hands on a glass than when you’re in town! It’s made by combining grapes (wine) with a neutral grape spirit called aguardente, which stops the fermentation process and boosts the alcohol content by leaving residual sugar in the wine. You can find port wine anywhere, but if you had to Vila Nova de Gaia, you’ll find many tasting rooms lined up specifically for port tasting.
Fun fact: Port wine can only come from Portugal just like champagne can only come from Champagne, France.
POP INTO LIVRARIA CHAMINE DA MOTA FOR A BOOK
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to visit different bookstores around the world. Porto has a famous bookstore – Livraria Lello, however you have to purchase a ticket to enter and in my opinion, it’s overrated. Instead, there’s another great bookstore in town – Livraria Chamine da Mota – where you can browse for a book to take home as a souvenir.
TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE DOURO VALLEY
Only an hour and a half from the beautiful Douro Valley, taking a day trip to see how port wine is made (and tastes) is the perfect way to spend a day! For everything you need to know about visiting the Douro Valley, read this post.
VISIT JARDIM DE MORRO AT SUNSET
Jardim de Morro is across the bridge from Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia. You can watch the sunset over the river while looking at beautiful Porto. There’s usually live music and there’s even a bar where you can get drinks while you watch the sun go down.
WALK THE LUIS I BRIDGE TO VILA NOVA DE GAIA
The main bridge that connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia is the Luis I Bridge. This deck arch bridge was constructed in 1880 and is 564 feet long making it easy to walk between the two cities.
Bars/Restaurants in Porto
Mercado Beira-Rio is a food market located in the heart of Vila Nova de Gaia. Weather permitting, I suggest heading to the market, grabbing some food to go, and sitting out by the river. My favorite spots in the market were Piadina Mia for delicious sandwiches and “toasts”, and Brigadao for dessert.
Porta 4 is a Portuguese restaurant in the heart of Porto. Uniquely, there’s only a few tables inside to sit at because the entire restaurant is run by two people – one chef and one waiter. The menu is small but delicious, and with an open kitchen concept you can watch the (only) chef cook your entire meal. Porta 4 is a fun and memorable restaurant, just make sure to make reservations ahead of time!
Located on the Douro River looking out at Vila Nova de Gaia, Terra Nova is an upscale, cozy (yet intimate), traditional seafood restaurant just a few minutes walk from Luis I Bridge. It’s the perfect place to sit outside for lunch or to relax and enjoy oysters and wine.
QUINTA DO NOVAL
As I’ve mentioned previously, there’s no better place to taste port than in Portugal. Located on the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, there are tons of port-tasting rooms, but Quinta do Noval was one of my favorites. Making port since 1715, Quinta do Noval also has a property in the Douro Valley.
WINE QUAY BAR
Wine Quay Bar is in Porto, on the river overlooking the Douro and Vila Nova de Gaia. It’s the perfect place to head for a glass of wine when it’s nice out, as you can sit outside and enjoy the pace of Porto from above.
EAT LIKE THE LOCALS! BOOK A FOOD TOUR HERE.
Proposed One Day Itinerary for Visiting Porto
I personally recommend spending more than one day in Porto, especially if you want to use it as a base to explore the Douro Valley. However, you can easily see the highlights of Porto in a day and if a day is all you have time for, then here is how I suggest spending it…
- Start your morning early, walking around and seeing some of the most famous sites in Porto like Igreja de Santo Ildefonso and Bolsa Palace
- Walk across the Luis I Bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia for port tasting at Quinta do Noval
- Grab lunch at Mercado Beira-Rio
- Do another port tasting before taking the gondola to the top of the hill at sunset
- Watch the sunset at Jardim de Morro
- Eat dinner at Porta 4 (make reservations in advance)
Porto is truly a magical, unique, and vibrant European city. If you’ve ever felt like “you’ve seen one city in Europe, you’ve seen them all”… I can guarantee that this isn’t the case with Porto. So when you find yourself in Portugal, don’t miss your opportunity to head north and see what the rage is all about.
For a more visual look at Porto, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel by searching, “#ppinportugal” or looking for my “Portugal” highlight.
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