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Exploring Portugal: Porto

Porto is a fascinating, historic city. It's the second biggest city in Portugal, and its popularity as a travel destination is rising rapidly. Porto has given the name for a Port Wine which is produced in there.

View over Douro River, Porto, Portugal

Published on 9/24/2019. Updated on 8/6/2020. Text and photos by Tero.

This is the last story of three story serie about traveling in Portugal. This post offers my experiences and must-see places I have discovered in Porto.

Read other stories in this series:

Getting to Porto

From Lisbon, you can travel to Porto conveniently by train. The train takes about two hours and 40 minutes (Alfa Pendular) or over three hours (Intercidades), depending on the train type. Cost for the ticket is around 30 euros per person. Tickets to Intercidades are a little bit cheaper. You can book tickets beforehand from Comboies de Portugal website or via their mobile app. And it's recommended since trains might be quite full.

Porto River view View of the Douro River from behind the Calem Port Wine cellar.

If you come by train and you're accommodating in Porto's historic center like most visitors, you can continue from Campanha station by subway to São Bento station and then walk to your destination. São Bento is said to be Portugal's most beautiful train station so check it out also. It's covered inside and outside by Azulejos, those Portuguese tiles.

From the airport, it's easy to travel to Porto's center by subway. If you plan to combine Porto and Lisbon on the same trip, it might be convenient to take a flight to Lisbon and leave from Porto or vice versa.

Wandering around the Porto's old town

Porto's historic center is small so you don't get lost there the same way as in Lisbon's Alfama district. Anyway, it's a nice place to walk around. Ribeira area on the river is the most touristry one but when you take a couple of steps away from the river you'll find lots of quieter streets.

Porto old town alley and view of the Ponte Infante Dom Henrique Porto old town alley and view of the Ponte Infante Dom Henrique.

Ribeira district is one of the oldest in Porto. It has been a popular commercial area since the middle ages.

Part of the city's old houses is in very bad shape. Many of the houses look they are collapsing in any minute. Luckily there seems to be constant construction and restoration of old buildings in progress.

Guindalense Football Club - have a drink with view

Guindalense Football Club is a little bit hidden, but it provides you a really nice views to the river. Also, it needs you to climb a few stairs if you’re coming from the direction of the river. This is a great place to order some snacks and enjoy a beer or two.

The iconic Dom Luís I Bridge (Ponte de Dom Luís I) over the River Douro

This massive metal bridge called the Dom Luís I Bridge is one of the main attractions in Porto. This double-deck bridge connects Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia cities. There are currently 6 bridges in the Porto.

Ribeira and Ponte de Dom Luís I Bridge Ribeira district and Ponte de Dom Luís I Bridge

Construction started in the year 1881 and finished in 1886. Gustave Eiffel has presented an idea earlier to build a single-deck bridge over River Douro but this idea was rejected due to its traffic capacity limits. Bridge still has something that looks familiar and it’s not by accident. The double-deck bridge is designed by the student of Gustave Eiffel.

View of the Vila Nova de Gaia View of the Vila Nova de Gaia. Ponte de Dom Luís I on the front and Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar on the left.

You can get over the bridge by the upper deck or the lower deck. The upper deck provides nice views from the heights of the 45 meters.

Bar Ponte Pensil has a unique location at the feet of the Dom Luís I Bridge. This is a nice location for a break near the water.

Best viewpoint in Porto - Miradouro da Serra do Pilar

The best viewpoint in Porto is the viewing platform in front of the Monastery of Serra do Pilar (Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar). From this viewpoint called Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, you can have awesome views of the bridge, Ribeira district, and the River Douro.

Also, Garden of Morro (Jardim do Morro) next to this viewpoint provides you a pleasant view of the river.

Sunset over Douro River viewed from Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, Porto, Portugal Sunset over Douro River viewed from the viewpoint Miradouro da Serra do Pilar.

Clérigos Tower (Torre dos Clérigos) is another magnificent viewpoint in the city center. The tower is 75 meters high and there is a total of 240 steep steps you need to take to access the awesome views on the top.

To the west from the old town

A nice getaway from the old town is a trip to the west along the River Douro towards the Atlantic ocean. You’ll end up to the Foz do Douro, which is the area at the Douro’s river mouth where the river meets the ocean. From the old town to the Foz do Douro is about 6 kilometers.

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal is on the way. It’s a garden and park area a couple of kilometers away from the old town. You’ll find several viewpoints there.

Views from the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, Porto Views from the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal.

From Foz do Douro you'll find a walking path along the coastline, Felgueiras Lighthouse and a couple of beaches. On good weather, you can walk on the breakwater but waves will grow quite dangerous on a stormy season.

Felgueiras Lighthouse at Foz do Porto, Portugal At Felgueiras Lighthouse photographer has a chance to catch awesome pictures of stormy Atlantic waves rushing against the breakwater and the lighthouse.

You can take the tram number one to access Foz do Douro. Tram leaves from the Ribeira's Infante stop. One way costs three euros.

Porto also has these old trams like in Lisbon. The only difference here is that they are not part of public transport but are maintained mainly for enthusiasts and tourists.

Livraria Lello - the bookstore which inspired Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling lived in Porto in the 90's and was a regular customer in Livraria Lello. It’s said that Livraria Lello has inspired Harry Potter. These rumors have made this place so popular that you need to buy an entrance ticket before entering the bookstore. It’s a beautiful shop and definitely could be straight from the Harry Potter stories.

Livraria Lello - Harry Potter bookstore in Porto Crowded Livraria Lello

The easiest way is to buy a ticket online. When buying a ticket online, you need to choose a date when you plan to visit the store. They are also selling tickets near the store. Just note that tickets are not sold from the door but in a different storefront. There is probably a queue already before the bookstore is open so I would recommend to come early and buy the ticket before so you don’t need to wait for a ticket. Entry fee is 5 euros and it's deductible if you buy a book.

Even this place is so wonderful it’s hard to concentrate on the beauty of it because the place is so crowded with other visitors. Everyone wants to get a perfect picture or selfie in the red stairs. This small bookstore is so overcrowded that it’s sometimes hard to move around. Not sure how many books they sell but at least they should get a nice revenue from the entrance tickets.

Though we visited Porto on a high season so the situation might be a little bit better on a low season. Anyway, add this place to your Porto bucket list.

Port Wine cellars

Vila Nova de Gaia is known of its many Port Wine cellars where Port Wine is maturing in wooden barrels. You'll find plenty of those from the Gaia side of the river.

Ferreira Port Wine Cellar, Porto, Portugal

To name a few famous Port Wine brands:

  • Ferreira
  • Cálem
  • Taylor's
  • Offley
  • Sandeman
  • Graham's
  • Cockburn's

On the cellar tour, you'll see the cellars where Port Wine is held for maturing, hear the history of the brand, get information about how Port Wine is produced and usually, there is also a wine tasting afterward. And of course, there is a shop where you can buy wine. Some of the wine cellars also have nice terraces to continue tasting or visit for fun. Basic tour price is around 12 € per person.

Ferreira Port Wine Cellar, Porto, Portugal

For us, one cellar was enough, but if you're a big fan of Port Wine why not to visit a few. We visited the Ferreira cellar. It's one of the oldest brands and has an interesting history.

If you want to expand your Portuguese wine knowledge then I will recommend also a tour to the Douro Valley where the grapes are grown.

Other activities

There are various types of tours and boat cruises to see the River Douro and the Douro Valley wine regions. They usually include meals, wine tasting, and amazing viewpoints to see the valley landscapes.

There is also a possibility to see Porto and its surroundings from the air by helicopter tour. Check out more from Helitours website. The heliport is a couple of kilometers from Porto's old town. You can walk along the river bank or take a tram number one. Book in advance if you're planning this option.

Other locations for day trips you might find interesting are:

  • Guimarães
  • Aveiro and Coimbra

Teleférico de Gaia Cable Car and Funicular dos Guindais

One way to see Porto is to use Teleférico de Gaia Cable Car. The upper station is near the Jardim do Morro and lower station at Cais de Gaia. By the cable car, you will travel over the Port Wine lodges and can enjoy the panoramic views of the Porto. For an adult, the one-way ticket is 6 € and return ticket is 9 €. For a child, price is half of that.

On the other side of the river, there is a Funicular dos Guindais, built in 1891. Funicular climbs the steep cliff and connects the Rua da Batalha and the river bank. The one-way trip is 2.50 € per person.

General tips

Where to stay and how long to stay in Porto?

Porto is a quite small city so I would say that three full days is enough to experience Porto. Though if you want to have more relaxed leisure time or want to do day trips to areas nearby then more is recommended. But I think that three days would be fine to see all the attractions in Porto. Porto is also an excellent location for a long weekend or couple of days pit stop on a longer trip.

I have a recommendation for your stay in Porto. Cale Guest House is a wonderful place and has fantastic staff in the historic center of Porto. It’s a small guest house with a warm atmosphere in the old renovated house with seven rooms. Staff is friendly and helpful, rooms are nicely renovated, minimalist but cozy, and you have free snacks and the bar at your service.

Cale Guest House, Porto Cale Guest House

Restaurants and bars

Near Clérigos Tower there is a cool Base Porto bar & terrace. There you can chill out, listen to music, and enjoy a cocktail or few. What's unique here is the big green grass area where you can enjoy your drinks on a beanbag below a tree.

From Rua Santa Catarina you’ll find the Café Majestic which is the famous and gorgeous coffee house opened in the 1920s. Rua Santa Catarina is also the best shopping area in Porto.

Couple of restaurants to check out:

  • Puro 4050 - Italian Restaurant & Mozzarella Bar
  • Da Terra - Vegan Buffet with the breakfast, lunch and dinner options at very reasonable prices

There are many really good restaurants in Porto. There are also quite many restaurants with the Michelin Star.

We got a piece of advice to avoid tourist restaurants near the river in Ribeira district. Despite the advice, we anyway visited one and soon noticed that we should have taken the advice. Probably there are some gems also, but be sure to read the reviews before going.

Wine recommendation: Vinho Verde Portal da Calçada

Vinho Verde was a new acquaintance for me. Vinho Verdes are young and light wines that are produced only in the northwest area of Portugal. It’s a protected and regulated product. Vinho Verde has less alcohol than wines usually have and it will be served very cold. Also, the Vinho Verdes can be a little bit fizzy. What would be a better drink on a hot, sunny day? Usually, Vinho Verde is white wine but there are also red wines and rosé wines.

We found this dry and tasty sparkling Vinho Verde Portal da Calçada Cuvée Prestige Brut Sparkling from the terrace which is between the river and Calem Port Wine lodge. There is also a white wine version which is great as well.

Portal da Calçada Cuvée Prestige Brut Sparkling at the terrace Enjoying Portal da Calçada Cuvée Prestige Brut Sparkling Wine at the terrace on the River Douro.

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