Porto Travel Guide

Porto Overview

The eye-catching city of Porto starts as it means to go on by welcoming visitors with its beautiful hilly cityscape rising up from the Rio Douro. This is a city of romance and opportunity offering the chance to explore a rickety medieval old town, gaze in awe at Baroque cathedrals, bask in the sunshine on golden urban beaches and sample the delights of the locally produced port wine. Porto is often a destination passed over briefly in favour of nearby coastal town, however, and as the locals - whose passion epitomises the citys energy - will happily inform you, this is a destination well worth spending a few days.

 
Like many major ports Porto is brimming with things to see and do and a good way to explore is to take one district at a time, making a vague plan of attack. That said, it is often the unexpected sights, often reached via taking a wrong turn, that captivate the most. A large part of Portos appeal comes in the changing faces of its neighbourhoods from the commercial centre spilling down to the charming, yet developing, Ribeira and out to the former fishing quarter and beaches of Foz do Douro. This is a place where, bizarrely, ancient plazas stand in prime condition next to crumbling homes from the 20thC, abandoned in favour of the fashionable coastal towns. Yet blossoming out from behind these deteriorating façades are chic galleries, trendy nightclubs and boutique shops that all assist in injecting a welcome youthfulness into the air.
 
Climbing up from the river in jumbled levels Porto is ideal for the energetic traveller not afraid to put the shoes to the test and explore the network of steep alleyways. If it all gets too much the Funicular dos Guindais trundles up from Ribeira to Batalha Square, offering panoramic views across the river to Villa Nova de Gaia. Porto is witness to a semi-Mediterranean climate and temperatures have been known to hit up to 40°C in summer. With the heat comes the time to escape on a river cruise or find some shade at the myriad of waterfront cafés. Three hours north of the capital Lisbon and under 2 hours from Vigo, on the border with Spain, there are no excuses for not visiting Porto when passing through Iberia.

Things to do in Porto

Porto City Centre - The city centre, dominated by Avenida dos Aliados is a good place to start an exploration of Porto and is suitably peppered with interesting attractions. Begin in the morning at the lively Mercado do Bolhao, the citys main fresh food and flower market, before wandering down to the Baroque styled Torres dos Clerigos. Take a brief rest at Jardim do Palacio de Cristal, the host of summer concerts, and then get back on the trail to marvel at the striking Se do Porto (Cathedral) and Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, Portos fist and finest art museum.

 
Ribeira - The revamped Ribeira (waterfront) is a great place to see the life of old and new Porto. Today, largely a vibrant café, restaurant and nightlife district, especially along Cais da Ribeira and Praca da Ribeira, early risers who arrive before the hoards will be able to see working warehouses and grocery stores poking through the modern buildings. Places of interest here include the huge Ponte Dom Luis bridge, a perfect photo opportunity, the 14thC Gothic Igreja de Sao Francisco and Museu de Alfandegas, an impressive museum on the trade and industrial history of Porto.
 
Foz do Douro- Once a traditional fishing district, where the River Douro meets the ocean, today the area is an upscale beach neighbourhood. From the confluence the beach runs for some miles and during the summer becomes the citys top nightlife zone. Check out the Castelo de Quejo (CheeseCastle) at the far north end and Fundacao de Serralves, a modern art museum hosting changing exhibitions and with a pristine park that has become a popular city retreat.
 
Vila Nova de Gaia - Across the Ponte Dom Luis is a small town, known simply as Gaia, which in similar fashion to Ribeira has witnessed a great deal of revamping and now houses a pretty esplanade lined with cafés and restaurants, all with wonderful views back across to Porto. Gaia is the heart of port wine production and the numerous distillers fill the warehouses fronting the riverfront. Without fail the lodges do their best to entice tourists to come in for a tour and tasting session, including the world famous Cockburn brand. Other popular producers are Ramos Pinto and Sandeman. Its possible to just show up on the day, however companies like Cellar Tours run tours and lunches for those who prefer an organised excursion.
 
Casa da Musica - The crowning glory of the Boavista district is a colossal concert hall hosting performances of predominately classical music but also contemporary styles, world music and folk.
 
Douro River Cruise - A true highlight of a visit to Porto is cruising lazily along the Douro River gazing at the cityscape and watching the abundance of wine lodges drift slowly by. Tours leaving from both Ribeira and Gaia range from dinner cruises to weekend excursions to whistle stop tours. Of the many operators around Douro Azul and Porto Tours offer well-run trips.
 
Porto Festivals
Fantasporto - February is the time for Portos international film festival showcasing blockbuster plus independent movies.
Fazer a Festa - Pass by anytime between March and May for the International Theatre Festival, with performances at the CrystalPalaceGardens and other city venues.
Serralves Festival - 40 hours of non-stop music, arts and dance over 2 days in June.
 
Porto Football - Former winners of the European Champions League, FC Porto are arguably Portugals most prestigious club with a rich and successful history. Football enthusiasts should seize the opportunity to sample the electric atmosphere of match day, especially inside the Estadio do Dragao (Dragons Stadium).
 
Porto Nightlife - As one would expect of a large city, Porto possesses a varied nightlife ranging from traditional port supping bodegas to themed party pubs to chilled out lounge bars to swanky nightclubs. Old school local drinking dens can be found scattered around the historic centre and for the contemporary scene head to the reinvented Ribeira and Villa Nova de Gaia districts.
 
Porto Bars
Armazem do Cha - Fashionable wine cum cocktail lounge with live music and the odd exhibition.
Maus Habitos - Bad Habits is a lively alternative music venue and bar in the city centre.
Pucaros Bar - Cosy cellar bar in Riberia with a bohemian vibe.
Trintaeum - Fashionable lounge bar on the Foz do Douro riverfront. Called 31 in English.
 
Porto Nightclubs
Boys R Us - Portos top gay club is a raucous house and dance club opening its doors to everyone.
Hard Club - Old Gaia warehouse converted into a super club pulling in international DJs.
Industria - Join the eclectic crowds at this swanky electro and techno club.
Pitch Club - City centre club hosting themed nights attended by the trendy crowd.

Hotels in Porto

Budget Hotels Porto

Oporto Poets Hostel - Clean and comfortable rooms with balconies. Rates include breakfast. Tel (351) 932 015 758.
Porto Downtown Hostel - Extremely friendly hostel at Praca Guilherme Gomes Fernandes. Tel (351) 22 201 8094.
Rivoli Cinema Hostel - Bright and breezy hostel with rooms styled on famous movies.
 
Midrange Hotels Porto
Castelo Santa Catarina - Rustic and romantic hotel in the northern suburbs. Tel (351) 22 509 5599.
Hotel da Bolsa - Quiet and elegant hotel in the historic centre. Tel (351) 22 202 6768.
 
Luxury Hotels Porto
Sheraton Hotel & Spa - Spacious rooms and suites offering luxury and comfort in the city centre. The New Yorker Bar is great for a drink and live music. Tel (351) 22 040 4000.
Tiara Park Atlantic - Refined 5-star luxury on the busy Avenida da Boavista. Tel (351) 22 607 2500.

Porto Weather

Porto Travel Resources

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