Porto

Porto is Portugal's second largest city and the capital of the Northern region.

North side of Douro, at night
View of Porto houses

Understand

Porto is a busy industrial and commercial center. The city itself isn't very populous (about 240,000 inhabitants), but the Porto metropolitan area (Greater Porto) has some 1,500,000 inhabitants in a 50 km radius, with cities like Gaia, Matosinhos, Maia, Gondomar, and Espinho.

The city was built along the hills overlooking the Douro river estuary, and its historical center was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1996. It has been continuously inhabited since at least the 4th Century, when the Romans referred to it as Portus Calle.

Porto has a semi-Mediterranean climate, although it's strongly affected by the Atlantic ocean, which makes it cooler than other cities with this climate. Temperatures can rise as high as 40°C in August during occasional heat waves. Winters are mild and humid, with occasional cold nights when temperatures can drop below 0°C.

Porto has always been a mercantile city. This is evident in the style of the buildings lining the Avenida dos Aliados, the core of the downtown area. The center of town, unlike other major Portuguese cities, which tend towards the baroque, is granite and monumental.

Residents of Porto are nicknamed the Tripeiros, or tripe eaters. This is based on the legend of the city's inhabitants going without meat in order to provision the fleet (which left from Porto) that left to conquer Ceuta in North Africa in 1415. As the story goes, they had to subsist on tripe soup, which is a specialty of the city.

Citizens of Porto, while definitely Portuguese, hold themselves apart culturally from the rest of the country, as is expressed in the often heard phrase "o Porto é uma nação" (Porto is a nation). Outsiders often consider Porto to be more crass and mercantile than the rest of the country, and the inhabitants to be somewhat lacking in social graces. This is likely because the city has historically been dominated by Portuguese bourgeoisie and English trading factions rather than the nobility. The Portuenses, to use the correct term for the inhabitants, of course disagree, regarding themselves with some justification as being the economic heart of the nation. As the saying goes, "Porto works, Braga Prays, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon gets the money."

The city is officially styled "a muito nobre, sempre leal e invicta cidade do Porto" (the very noble, always faithful, and invincible city of Porto). This is usually shortened to "a Cidade Invicta" (the invincible city) a title won because of Porto's unparalleled resistance against Napoleonic troops during the Peninsular war.

The city is quite varied architecturally, with medieval as well as modern living side by side. Porto's geography is hard on the feet, but pleasant to the eye. The city is extremely hilly, with many buildings built into a cliff face that overlooks the river. Stairs cut into the stone run up and down the cliff face and offer a laborious but rewarding walking tour. Across the river from Porto proper, in the suburb of Gaia, are located the warehouses of notable Porto wine companies, such as Cálem, Ferreira, Fonseca, Sandeman, Kopke and others.

While the local attitude is friendly, to outsiders it is worth noting that locals can respond literally to questions, which may seem slightly off-putting to the uninitiated. An example of this would be to ask in a bar if they have a menu (for food) and to receive a straight 'no' as a response. It's after further questions that one can find out that the establishment doesn't sell food. Such a response is not considered rude, it is merely direct and literal.

If you speak in Spanish to a local, you will be largely understood and as a rule they will freely converse with you, but from time to time, more so with the older generation, you may be politely reminded that you are in Portugal and the native language is Portuguese.

Get in

North side of Douro

By plane

  Sá Carneiro Airport (IATA: OPO), Pedras Rubras, Maia +351 229 432 400. Also known as Aeroporto do Porto or Aeroporto de Pedras Rubras this is the third busiest airport in the country and is about 15 km from the city centre.

Ryanair offer cheap flights from several cities like London Stansted, Liverpool, Dublin, Dusseldorf-Weeze, Eindhoven, Brussels-Charleroi, Frankfurt-Hahn, Maastricht, Paris-Beauvais, Milan-Bergamo, Marseille, Bologna, Pisa, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Marrakesh and Valencia. easyJet also flies to Geneva, Lyon, Basel, Milan and London-Gatwick. TAP flies from most European airports but tends to be more expensive.

The Metro line connects the Airport to the city centre, offering a fast and peaceful ride into the heart of the city, for €1.85 (Z4 ticket) + €0.60 for the rechargeable card. You can buy 24 hours pass for Metro and buses for €6.40 (Z4 - includes the airport). Note that Metro vending machines don't accept foreign debit or credit cards. The metro runs from around 06:00-01:00 daily and run roughly every 20-30 min.

STCP buses 601, 602 and 604 (see STCP airport buses) also connect the airport with the city center. They operate between around 05:30 and 00:30 and run roughly every 25min. STCP also operates a night bus line 3M (Av. Aliados - Airport) every 60min between 01:00 and 05:00. Resende bus 120 and Maia Transportes bus 10 connect the airport with Matosinhos and Maia municipalities respectively.

Alternatively, you may fly to Lisbon Portela Airport (IATA: LIS) and get to Porto by train from the Oriente station there, which is connected to the airport by metro and bus. The trains take between 2.5 and 3 hours to get from Lisbon to Porto and are very frequent (once or twice per hour).

By train

São Bento Station

The city is served by two major train stations, the   São Bento (Saint Benedict) station which is right in the city center, and the   Campanhã station which is about 3km west of the city. The long-distance Alfa Pendular and Intercidade trains arrive at Campanhã and take the following amounts of time to cover the distance, respectively:

If you have a train ticket to or from Campanhã you can travel to or from São Bento on urban trains with that ticket at no extra cost. Trains between Campanhã and São Bento take about 5min.

From Lisbon, you can board the train at Santa Apolónia, Entrecampos or Oriente in the north of the city. Travelling to Porto from Oriente shaves 9 minutes from the travelling time.

Domestic trains are very frequent and usually on time. Trains from and to Madrid and Paris are regular, other non-domestic destinations vary according to demand and time of year.

Be careful on the train from Madrid. On at least one route, the computer systems will say you need to change trains at Guillarei in northern Spain. However, Guillarei has stopped trains through Portugal since 2004. Instead, you will need to transfer to a station named Tui which is a few miles from Guillarei. The computer system hasn't been updated even though this change occurred in 2004 for some reason. You can go into Guillarei but you will need to take a taxi (cost €5) to Tui to connect.

By car

The city is served by five major highways: A1, which connects Porto to Lisbon, A29 which connects Porto to Aveiro, A3 connects Porto to Braga, A28 connects Porto to Viana do Castelo and the northern Portuguese border, and A4, which goes eastwards from the city towards Vila Real. The IC29 connects Porto to the neighboring city of Gondomar. The city is also served by 2 ring highways, the A41 (still incomplete) which is the outer ring, and VCI/IC23 or A20 which connects all the main places inside the city. The A20/VCI, A28, A29 and A41 are all free highways at the moment, but there are plans to install tolls in the latter three, sometime in the future. Generally speaking, the traffic is usually chaotic and very intense, especially during rush hours.

By bus

There are many companies providing direct bus trips from major European countries and also for most of the northern cities of the country. Try Rodonorte for timetables. Visit also Porto Bus Service, Renex, Rede Expresso,...

An international bus operated by the Spanish company ALSA leaves Madrid at 23:00 and arrives in Porto Casa Da Musica at 06:00. It costs around €50 from Madrid and also stops at (among others) Avila and Salamanca. The round trip leaves Porto at 20:30.

By boat

There is a cargo and recreational harbor called Leixões in the neighboring city of Matosinhos. Modest-sized cruise ships can dock just outside a drawbridge to the inner harbor. Beneath the south approach to the bridge is a station for the light rail system (see "By Metro" below) that goes to Oporto.

There is also a very small recreational harbor in the river Douro. As far as a major method of getting to the city, however, sea transport is not really feasible. However, you can use tour boats based along the river (especially in Oporto) to go up the Douro River, one of the most scenic short trips you'll ever make.

Get around

Porto Valley

By car

Porto, like most Portuguese cities, is a nightmare to drive in. Roads vary in conditions - from fully paved to cobbled lanes that can make even the most shortest of distance seem like a go-kart rally. With that said, keep in mind that the touristic part of the city (the Ribeira and Baixa) are a never ending maze of narrow streets, short tempered drivers and snakelike alleys. Better to walk (despite the fact that it's very hilly). Also, drivers seem to have forgotten how to drive (apart from pushing the pedals) - therefore, they make their own rules of the road (however, this generally does not apply to young drivers). Be prepared to lose your patience several times whilst driving.

By metro

Porto Metro is an incredibly advanced, state of the art light rail / subway system. Developed in 2001 (for the Porto2001 - European Capital of Culture), the metro is still under construction. It has several lines, that run across the center of Porto, and down to some suburban areas. It is quick, and probably the most efficient way to get around Porto. Some major areas of the city, however, are not that well served by the metro, although new lines are planned and should start being built soon.

Tickets must be purchased beforehand. They can be bought at the machines in the station (note: if there are no tickets in the machine that day, take the metro to the next station and buy it there!). The ticket is stored on a card called Andante, and you can purchase as many rides (or travels) as you want. Andante is Porto's main ticket system and it is based on somewhat unusual zone system . The city centre is zone C1 and the airport is N10. To travel between places you need to know how many zones you need to cross. Within the same zone or up to another zone you buy Z2 ticket. Z3 for three zones and so on. The Andante card itself costs €0.60 and can be re-used/re-charged, so do not throw it away. You can also buy daily passes or Andante Tour tickets for 1 or 3 days, which may be more convenient.

There is also the option to buy a Porto Card for 24, 48, or 72 consecutive hours which, besides of providing unlimited access to public transportation, includes free access to several museums and further discounts.

If you plan on staying for more than three weeks, it is recommended you get the Andante Gold, Andante's monthly subscription. The card costs €6, and will allow unlimited travel with your chosen zones. The Andante Gold, like the Andante Blue can be used in all metro lines, the funicular and all buses . When you are buying the Andante Gold, you must have a picture of yourself (your passport photo will do. They can amplify the image from the passport to the card in seconds).

An important note: Your Andante must be validated before you enter the metro, bus or funicular. There are no barriers to stop you at the metro, but the Metro police enter the cars and check your Andante to make sure you have validated it, and are travelling within your zones.

By bus

STCP is the best way to move around if you don't want to waste money on taxis. It's the public bus operator in the region, and the only one operating inside city borders. Suburbs are served either by STCP or private companies. STCP buses are the largest eco-friendly fleet in Europe, modern, comfortable, and lines cover the entire city, as well as major suburbs. Buses colors are white and blue. Line numbers are a 3-digit code. First digit is assigned according to the destination zone (2-west porto, 3-north porto, 4-east porto, 5-matosinhos, 6-maia, 7-valongo, 8-gondomar, 9-vila nova de gaia). For example, line nr. 906 has its destination in vila nova de gaia (9). You can use two kind of tickets: Andante (see "Metro" above) or STCP own tickets. Andante tickets are recommended: you can also use them on metro and suburban trains, plus they're easier to buy and recharge on any metro station or newspaper seller with "payshop" symbol. Andante blue card costs €0.50 and can be charged with how many journeys you like. Every bus stop has at least a timetable and lines served. There's also a code so you can get a (paid) SMS showing minutes left to next arrivals updated in real time. The busiest ones have electronic displays with timetables and city maps. Every bus inside has a display showing the name of next stop, so it's easy to keep track of them.

Route 500 is probably the most scenic STCP route as it runs along the river and the ocean front. STCP also possesses a fleet of old trams three of which are still in operation, mainly for tourist purposes. Route 1 runs along the river from Ribeira to Foz, route 18 runs from the river towards the city centre and route 22 goes around the city centre.

By taxi

A fast way of getting around the city, although traffic congestion near the city center might be a problem. However, be expected to pay a high price for these services, especially compared to the other public transportation such as bus and subway.

By boat

There are ferry boats that connect Porto to the neighboring city of Vila Nova de Gaia, although you can easily walk or travel by car, metro or bus to the other side. Also there are numerous tourist boats which travel up the Douro river, where you can get fantastic views of the green landscape the region has to offer.

By helicopter

Not exactly a public transportation, but its a wonderful way to see the city from above. Near the Douro there is a heliport with a helicopter available for people to use to get to know the city as a whole. Travelling accompanied will make the flight cheaper.

By Funicular dos Guindais

This is a cable railway system. Use this if you don't wish to walk up the steep streets of Porto. This system connects the   Ribeira to the   Batalha square, in the city centre, it also has a panoramic view of the River Duoro. A single trip cost €2.50. However, if your Andante card (see "Metro" above) has been recently validated (in less than one hour), then you can ride it for free.

By Ascensor da Ribeira

This panoramic elevator runs from the Largo da Lada, and is visible behind the buildings of the Ribeira, close to the Ponte D. Luís.

See

Ribeira (riverfront)
Façade of the Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto)
Casa da musica
Town hall

Porto is a mysterious city that reveals its charm to the visitor through time. Take your time, wander through the mazes and alleys of the city. Take in the old, bohemian spirit of the city. Hike through the Ribeira and Foz do Douro regions (the latter, at sunset). Porto may not be in every tourist's Iberian Peninsula itinerary, but it's well worth a visit if you want to see a city that has changed economically, but that has kept its old traditions, something that is being forgotten in Europe today.

If you want to visit several museums, consider the Porto Card which provides free access to several museums and further discounts, optionally also free public transport access.

City centre

Baixa (downtown)

West Baixa

São Nicolau

South city center

West of city center

Boavista

North-west of city center

Foz do Douro

This is the area around the ocean front just north of the mouth of the Douro River. You can rent a bike and cycle along the riverfront and then the beach to that area.

Do

Learn

Basic Portuguese language is very much appreciated. English, French, Galician, Catalan, Italian or Spanish may be spoken or understood at major hotels/resorts. For major tourist attractions such as river boat rides or Port Cellar tours, generally the chosen language for a given tour slot is granted on a first-come-first-served basis, if you want a tour to be guaranteed to be in your language, turn up early and request it.

Work

Porto is a business/financial centre. Some hotels have conference rooms, some with internet.

Buy

For shopping, take a stroll around the Mercado do Bolhão which has a food market and handicrafts stores, and Santa Catarina street (highly recommended, even if only to stroll), which is near Bolhão. Cedofeita street is also a busy shopping street, as well as Boavista. Porto and the suburbs have plenty of shopping centers, including Norte Shopping, Arrábida Shopping, Parque Nascente, Gaia Shopping and Mar Shopping (the biggest IKEA group shopping in Europe). Apart from these you also have less populated shops that are smaller but still great ( Shopping Cidade do Porto, Via Catarina, etc.). Almost all the shops are open every day, but are usually overcrowded during the weekends and rainy days.

Port wine, of course. This is the right place for it, in the city of Gaia, just south of the Douro river.

You can also find great deals on clothes and shoes, especially during discount seasons.

Eat

Porto has some of the finest restaurants in Portugal.

It is said that if you like to eat, you should go to Porto because it is a place where you eat well in terms of quality and amount (even Lisbon citizens say that in Porto is where they eat the best food). The best restaurants of the city are mainly located in Matosinhos near the beach and the seaport called "Porto de Leixões". You can take the blue metro line A to get there which takes about 30min.

Expect hearty meals, and if you can, try "Tripas à moda do Porto". Be aware, however, that this is a tripe dish. Citizens of Porto are called tripeiros (tripe-eaters) on account of this dish. Also try the salted codfish "Bacalhau" - in any way it is cooked - there are hundreds of different dishes with salted codfish!

Don't forget the traditional dish called "Francesinha", which literally translated means little French lady. This city is just about the only place in the world where you can find it. However, in many other northern Portuguese cities you can find a low quality version of it. Essentially it is a toast with layers of meat inside (beef, pork meat, ham...). It is covered with cheese and a spicy sauce, with the option of including french fries on top. Most importantly, this dish must be accompanied by beer and not wine. The "Francesinha" has been considered one of the 10 best sandwiches in the World.

A good tip is taking the bus or subway to Matosinhos in July, there will be the fish festival. Freshly caught fish is being served the same day at barbecues lined up in the streets just a few blocks from the main beach. You choose a fish (only whole fish) and they prepare it on the streets for you - not a fancy restaurant, but together with the local people you are eating the best tasting fish you ever had! Try a dourada, it is delicious.

Porto is dotted with thousands of different bakeries (Pão Quente) and pastry shoppes (Pastelarias). Apart from serving delicious (and quite inexpensive) goods, they are also equipped with a side-cafe that serves all sorts of coffees (Pingo, Meia de Leite, etc.) and sandwiches (Tosta Mista-ham and cheese toastie). Note that, unlike the other river side cafes in the city, these establishments do not have picturesque views of Porto (that's expensive, and in the end, you'd be the one paying for that bill). Instead, they attract tourists by offering good food at very cheap prices.

Most locals drink black coffee (espresso).

There is at least one fully vegetarian restaurant in Porto, Paladar da Alma (Rua de Santo Ildefonso 293/5), and some other restaurants which offer vegetarian dishes alongside non-vegetarian options, such as Capa Verde (Rua da Nossa Senhora de Fátima). Vegans may have to ask for dishes to be specially prepared for them, even in vegetarian restaurants.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Porto is home to port wine of course, and there are many wineries around the city where port wine is brewed. Strictly speaking, port wine can only be called port wine if the grapes are grown in the Douro valley, and the wine is produced and bottled in Porto. Port wines come in many styles, with vintage port being the most expensive.

If you'd like to try some of the bars of Oporto, there is a quite interesting route you can take from Ancora de Ouro, passing by Gestos (this bar has been closed). Then you can go to Pinguim, a bit down the street, and finish off with the huge variety of pubs and bars in the Ribeira.

Mid-range

Beware however of the area, as it tends to be a haven for car break-ins.

Dance clubs

Dance clubs here always start very (very) late, around 1AM-2AM, and end up from 6AM-7:30AM. You have a nice choice to pick from. Most clubs are located in the Industrial region and in the upmarket Foz area.

There are some glbt clubs/bars in Porto.Late nite scene.

Bars & Pubs

Sleep

There's residential homes all around the city. There's also a lot of 3-star hotels with very affordable prices. In the entire city there's only one camping site (Prelada), but it's a bit far from the center. There aren't many family houses to rent in Porto, so they'll be difficult to find.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Be aware that there may be pickpockets in heavily crowded areas and on public buses and trains; however, pickpocketing is not common in Porto. Travelling by bus or metro is generally safe and one of the best ways to go from a place to another.

Porto is generally a safe place to be if you take normal precautions like walking in well-illuminated streets at night. One part of Porto, near the Tourist Information Office between the cathedral and the steps to the small church, often has drunk people that could possibly be trouble. There's no reason for alarm because many of them are inoffensive, but it is best to use some caution, as you would elsewhere.

If you take the main road from the bus station to the cathedral and tourist information center, walk back to the bus station after you're done and then walk from there to the other sites. Avoid the shortcut from the tourist information center downstairs because near there have been many incidents there.

Call 112 if you have an emergency.

Go next

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