Dan and I traveled to Porto, Portugal earlier this year after some Lisbon-area wedding planning, and our visit reaffirmed my decision that I absolutely love Porto! It is really one of my favorite places in Europe. Maybe its the beautiful scenery, maybe its the old school buildings and Vespas, or maybe its the delicious food and wine. But in any case, I just love Porto!
For anyone unfamiliar with Porto (also known as Oporto) is seriously an amazing European city in northern Portugal. Not as well known as Portugal’s more famous capital, Lisbon, Porto has received a lot of press over the last couple of years as a “new travel destination” in Europe – but I think US travelers have yet to catch on! If you do recognize Porto, it is probably from port wine, but Porto has SO MUCH to offer travelers, and I recommend Porto to everyone traveling to Portugal! Here’s a peak at Porto from Miradouro da Vitória:
In practical terms, Porto is inexpensive compared to most cities in Western Europe. Its also very accessible; the airport is only 15 minutes from the city center and the train station is right in town. Most people, especially those in the tourism industry, speak English, and, Porto is a quick, direct flight from Newark airport – a perfect European destination from the East Coast! There are also a lot of flights within Europe.
Travelers should know that “Porto” is split into two cities by the Douro River. One one side of the river is Porto and the other is Vila Nova de Gaia. The above picture was taken from Vila Nova de Gaia looking at the Dom Luís 1 Bridge and Porto. For travel purposes, especially short visits, the two cities run together. If you are choosing between the two, Vila Nova de Gaia is home to the famous porto houses and is a bit more residential, while Porto has a bit more European charm. No matter where you stay, you can (and should!) visit both by walking over the Dom Luís 1 Bridge.
What To Do In Porto
On any visit to Porto, one must taste the port wine! There is not a lot of complete information online concerning port wine tasting (so I am going to write a post!) but don’t let that deter you! In short, most all of the port wine houses are located in Vila Nova de Gaia right on the Douro River. Most houses offer a tour and tasting, and reservations can be made in person a few hours in advance. My favorites spots to taste are Taylor’s, Kopke and Graham’s! The wine and the views from Taylor’s and Graham’s are outstanding!
After you have tasted the delicious port wine, just exploring Porto is magical. Porto is very old school and a bit “gritty,” but in a fabulous way! I love the streets, the blue tiles, and the gorgeous landscapes overlooking the Douro. A few can’t miss sites are the Church of Saint Indelfonso, the stunning tile interior of the São Bento Train Station, a stroll down Rua de Santa Catarina, and the Riberia neighborhood (the neighborhood right on the Douro).
Harry Potter fans should particularly enjoy Porto, as J.K. Rowling (allegedly) wrote the first Harry Potter book in Porto! If you are interested, the Majestic Café on Rua de Santa Catarina is where she wrote, Livraria Lello contains the bookcase that inspired the one at Hogwart’s, and the Porto school kids’ uniforms will remind you so much of the Harry Potter uniforms!
Porto also has some amazing food and restaurants, many of which book up in advance. One of my favorite food related activities in Porto is the Taste of Porto food tour. This tour company is run by a native of Vila Nova de Gaia and it takes guests on a walking tour of Porto, stopping at about six locations for food and drink! I do this tour every time I am in Porto!
Even if you do not take my favorite tour, Porto has some famous food dishes that you can try on your own. Perhaps the most infamous Porto dish is the Francesinha, a HUGE sandwich with lots of meats, cheese, egg, and french fries. Definitely not for the faint of heart, or the solo traveler. One of my favorite spots in Porto (that I am so proud to say I visited before Anthony Bourdain!) is Cervejaria Gazela. Cervejaria Gazela, in the same vein as the Franchesinha sandwich (but lighter and suitable for one person), is a greasy spoon that serves a famous sausage sandwich on the cheap!
If You Have Extra Time In Porto
While Porto can fill more than a long weekend of your time, if you are in Porto it would be an absolute sin not to visit the Douro Valley for at least a day! As you can imagine, the Douro Valley gets its name from the Douro River, which runs through the valley, and the valley is where the port wine grapes are harvested. As you may not imagine, the Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. Tour companies offer day trips from Porto, but you can also drive and there is a train from Porto (but you will miss a lot of the scenery by taking the train).
While I could go on and on about Porto, I hope this post has convinced you that your next trip should be to Porto! Post in the comments if you want additional information!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Porto: Porto’s tourism guide – in English!
Airbnb: We stayed at this Airbnb rental. The apartment was clean and in a safe location, but it is a bit of a walk from tourist central. That being said, I would definitely stay here again. It was also only $35/night (we stayed off peak, cost on day of this post is $58/night). Oh, and it had a little garden in the back!
Taste Porto Food Tours: Tours daily Tuesday – Saturday at 10:45 and 16:00. Reservations must be made online in advance. €62,00 per person, includes all tastings. You can probably recreate this tour on your own, but it would be difficult and would not have the same effect.
Cervejaria Gazela: 171, Praça da Batalha 72, Porto, Portugal. Open Monday – Saturday, 12:00 – 22:30. No reservations.
Douro Exclusive: The tour company that I recently used to tour the Douro Valley. Pricey, but upscale and professional.
Kopke: 4430 999, Av. de Diogo Leite 312, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. Open daily 10:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 18:00. Porto house offering wine and chocolate tasting (no tours through). Reservations not required.
ON A BUDGET
If you are on a budget and looking to travel to Europe, Porto (and Portugal as a whole) is a great choice! While some of the tours we took this time around are on the pricier side, Porto is quite inexpensive. For example, our Airbnb was only $35 per night and our meal at Cervejaria Gazela was cheap.