Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and one of the most beautiful places in Western Europe. It’s surrounded by beaches, famous for the Port wine and the heart of Porto is a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The city is also full with churches, beautiful architecture, history and many other places of interest. You can say… Porto is a fascinating city that really has it all. Let’s discover the city further in this Porto Travel Guide with a lot of Travel Tips for Porto.
In 2001 Porto was European Capital of Culture, together with Rotterdam. With less than 250.000 inhabitants, you can actually estimate in advance that Porto is not super big. Basically it means that almost everything in the city is within walking distance.
The old center of Porto is called Ribeira. A beautiful district with colorful houses and narrow alleys. My advise is to take some time to walk around here.
In the heart of the neighborhood you will find the main square, Praça da Ribeira. This is perhaps the nicest spot in the whole city. Here you have a view of the Douro River (and the Luis 1 Bridge).
This square is full of terraces. It is a pleasant place here during the day, but also in the night. It’s nice illuminated. Keep in mind that this district has a lot of steep streets.
Cathedral of Porto – Sé of Porto
A building you can’t miss in the Ribeira district is the cathedral Sé of Porto.
The building has two towers topped by a dome. The oldest part of the cathedral dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. From the cathedral you have a nice view over the city.
Dom Louis bridge and Douro river
Porto is divided in two area’s, with in the middle the famous Dom Louis bridge over the Douro river. You can cross the Dom Luis bridge to travel between both parts. The bridge construction was completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel (from the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris). The bridge’s top deck is now reserved for pedestrians, as well as one of the city’s metro lines; the lower deck bears regular traffic, as well as narrow walkways for those on foot.
The views of the river and old town are stunning… but it’s high!! Around 60 meters above the water… so it might not be for everyone 😉
Streetcar in Porto
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Porto is a streetcar ride. This old cars dating back to the 1930’s. While many people associate streetcars with Lisbon (the biggest city in Portugal), It was Porto with the first Portuguese streetcar network since 1895.
When you choose streetcar number 1 you can travel from the city to the beach. This ride is along the northern banks of the Douro river, so yes with beautiful views. There is a departure every 20 minutes from Igreja Sao Francisco. A single journey will set you back around 3 euro and you can buy your ticket in the streetcar.
Weather – Best time to visit Porto
I think late spring as well as early autumn are the best times to visit Porto. Summers are mostly warm and dry and rain and mild temperatures in the winter. The amount of rain makes Porto one of the wettest European cities in the winter.
Beach – Praia dos Ingleses
There are a lot of beach spots but the most famous is Praia dos Ingleses. The beaches are not the nicest in the world, but at least a great spot to relax 6 kilometers outside the center.
Torre dos Clérigos – Great viewing point
One of the nicest viewing points in the city is the top of the Torre dos Clérigos. This can be an exercise, because the tower is 76 meters high and small inside! It’s not an experience for the claustrophobic – the structure definitely wasn’t built with tourist crowds in mind!
With your ticket you can also visit visit the adjacent church. This one is completely Baroque style. You pay 5 euros when you want to climb the tower after 7pm, and there is no entrance fee for children up to the age of 10.
Igreja de São Francisco – Golden church
The church Igreja de São Francisco is probably the most famous church in Porto and is therefore a World Heritage Site. They also call this church the ‘golden church’ and that is because about 200 kilos of gold leaf has been used to decorate all the wood carvings. Some of Porto’s most important and wealthy families are buried in the church.
Vila Nova de Gaia
On the other side of the Ribera district you can visit the Vila Nova de Gaia district. This is the place where you find many port (wine)exporters. They all like to receive visitors for a tour, a free glass of port and – if it is up to them – the sale of one or more bottles.
Port is a fortified wine made in Portugal. The alcohol percentage always fluctuates between 18 and 20 percent and Port is also a sweet wine. Port is therefore usually not drunk as a normal wine, but is often served as an aperitif, digestif or dessert wine. Port can be either white or red. The wine is only port if it actually comes from Portugal.
One thing that stands out is that there is a diversity in architecture. While in certain parts you think you are going back in time, in other parts you imagine yourself in a modern, contemporary place.
A district that has undergone a major transformation in the last few years is Boavista. Nowadays it’s one of the coolest and hippest districts in Porto. Many new hotspots have opened up where you can eat and drink and it is popular among locals as well as tourists.
A building you can’t miss in this district is Casa de Musica (house of the music, with a concert hall).
It is a striking modern building amid the old houses in Porto and it was designed by a Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. I think this building is an interesting place to visit when you are a music or architecture lover.
A guided tour through the building and the concert hall will set you back around 7.50 euros and takes about an hour.
São Bento station
This is one of the most beautiful train station in the world São Bento. The station was built at the end of the 19th century and named after the monastery São Bento de Avé-Maria that previously stood on this site. In 1916, the central station concourse was completely covered with tiles by the painter Jorge Colaço.
As many as 20,000 painted tiles adorn the station concourse. I have to so that it is a major tourist attraction. At the same time, it is one of the main train stations of the city. Good news is that there is no entry fee. This is really the place to make your best Instagram or Snapchat pictures.