Porto, Portugal’s second largest city is also its most beautiful. It’s picturesque views and delicious food makes it a must visit for anyone visiting Portugal. It’s also the gateway to the breathtaking Douro Valley with all its wineries.
Porto is also home to the world famous Port Wine which is an integral part of the experience. The Douro river runs through the city bringing in oak barrels from the Douro Valley wine region. Don’t worry, I spent a lot time drinking Port so you’ll know exactly what to do. Porto also boasts some of the best restaurants in Portugal so you will never go hungry here. It is must visit stop in Portugal in my opinion and with my guide, you’ll have everything to optimize the experience.
What to do in Porto
Porto is a small city but packs a lot into its borders. It’s a city known for its history, culinary prowess, and of course Port. Before going further, one thing you need to understand is the difference between Porto and Gaia.
Porto vs Gaia, what is the difference?
One of the first things to understand is Porto from first glance is actually two difference cities. Porto city is on the north side of the Douro River and Gaia is on the south side of the city. It’s similar to Budapest with Buda and Pest on difference sides of the Danube.
The two cities are connected by the Dom Luis Bridge which of course is a must do activity. Porto is the main city. It’s where the old city is and where you will spend 80% of your time. All the beautiful cathedrals, historical landmarks, pretty Portuguese buildings are all on the Porto side.
Gaia is where all the port cellars are. All the different companies making Port have their cellars on Gaia. None are actually in Porto. This is due to the fact that when these cellars were being established two hundred years ago, the taxes on the Gaia side were much lower and there was plenty of room to build. Porto had already been mostly built up and established so wine makers decided to use the side opposite the river for cheap land.
In addition, Port ages over many years and requires the ideal conditions. The Gaia side of the city does not receive as much sun making it more ideal to control the conditions for Port aging.
The tour guides like to bring up this fact that the two cities are very separate and there is some cute rivalry between the two. In reality, I don’t think any locals living in Porto in this day and age really care. They are right next to each other and many people live on the Gaia side because it is much cheaper than living in Porto.
Walk around the city and enjoy the architecture
Unlike Lisbon, I was immediately attracted to the facade and cobblestone streets of Porto. Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and by far its most picturesque. While Lisbon is a more cosmopolitan and contemporary, Porto is its homogenous and most quintessential European city. From its cobblestone streets to its perfectly tiled houses and stucco rooftops, Porto is literally picture perfect in every way.
Simply walk through the streets of the old town and be prepared to snap photos at every turn. The city is quite hilly so be prepared to climb stairs.
Visit the Porto Cathedral
What European city tour is complete without visiting its large and prominent cathedral. Porto cathedral is located right next to the bridge and offers amazing views of the city. The Cathedral itself is a 12th Romanesque structure. It was built by Bishop Hugh, a French nobleman who came to Porto even before Portugal’s independence, and ruled the city from 1113 to 1136.
Have Coffee at Majestic Cafe
If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter books, then you may want to have a cup of coffee at Majestic Cafe. It’s where JK Rowling spent much of her time working on her first Harry Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”.
The prices here are pretty crazy as you’d expect from a place that has capitalized so much on its fame. A coffee can be €5 and the Franceschina is north of €20 which is double the price of even fancy restaurants.
To keep it simple, this is the Harry Potter library. No it is not a library dedicated to Harry Potter. Rather, it is an incredibly beautiful and historic library that was the inspiration for much of the Harry Potter books. Makes sense since JK Rowling spent much of her time next door at the Majestic Cafe writing her books.
The library was just a library in times past but has since become of the largest tourist attractions in Portugal. Even during COVID times, this library had a line of visitors waiting to enter. I can only imagine how packed this place would be during normal times.
They used to allow free entrance because, well, it’s a library after all. However, why I call it the Harry Potter library is because it charges an entrance fee of €5 because so many people were simply entering to take photos. Not sure anyone comes to this library for the books…
Walking tour Porto
As with any European city, I always gravitate towards the free walking tours to start off my trip. It allows me to get my bearings so I know what I want to explore after the fact, and I often learn very interesting things I never could from reading articles on the internet.
Porto Walkers is company I went with and they meet in front of the Imperial Mcdonalds every day. They keep the groups relatively small (20 max) although my group was even smaller than this during COVID times.
The walk was about 3 hours and we saw a lot of the city. In particular, the history lessons of Porto were quite interesting
Drink Port Wine in Gaia
You probably already know this but Porto is famous for its Port wine. This is the fortified dessert wine that has become famous worldwide. All of the major portmakers are in and around Porto. You will see from the Dom Luis Bridge all the numerous signs in Gaia representing different wineries.
The grapes for port wine are grown in the Douro Valley which is just a few kilometers down the Douro River that splits Porto and Gaia. The wine is brought to Gaia where it is aged in the cellars located in their warehouses in the city. These giant buildings are also where you can do wine tasting and port tasting. There are dozens of cellars in Gaia and you can essentially just bounce around from one to the other. The all offer tastings, tours, and some even offer dining.
I’ve personally never drank much port in my life and turns out I actually quite enjoy a good port. There are tons of different varieties of Port ranging in all sorts of costs.
Port Tour in Gaia
A port tour, either self guided or with a group is a must do in Porto. I did both things. My first day, I was thirsty and decided why not start it off right by going to 4 different estates to taste. Within a few drinks, I was quite drunk and at this point, I was merely drinking and enjoying views.
I didn’t really get much understanding of Port while doin this, as you could imagine. A few days later, I booked a tour with one of many many companies that offer Port tours. This allowed me to learn a lot about the history and the winemaking process and how Port is fortified and aged. Then of course, we went to taste yet more Port wine. Win win for all.
Without a doubt, Graham’s has one of the best views in the Gaia region. It’s a bit of a walk from the main street but worthwhile for the views. There is also an amazing restaurant here that looked great.
You’ll also notice that all the wine estates making Port have old English names like Dow’s, Churchill’s, Graham, Calem etc. This is because the English were some of the first people to make wine in the region and many wealthy British families own these estates.
Take a day trip to the Douro Valley
If you love drinking port and wine, why not go straight to the source and be among the beautiful vineyards of the Douro Valley. The Douro Valley with its dozens of stunning wineries is only 1.5h by train away from Porto.
You can easily visit a few wineries by taking the train. Renting a car will allow you to see even more. Read my day trip itinerary for the Douro Valley to plan your trip!
In addition, staying out in the Douro Valley for a night or two is highly recommended. Just look at these views from my Quinta!
How to get around Porto
Porto, unlike Lisbon, is a small city. Walking is by far the best way to get around the city because most of your time will likely be concentrated in the old town area where there are roads for cars, but no mass transportation options.
I never used any buses or trains while in the city, but rather only using the train to visit the towns outside of Porto.
The walking can be tiresome however as the city is so hilly. On hot summer days, it can get to be too much (which happened to me too). If this happens, I would recommend using Uber or Freenow to get to your destination. The Ubers are very cheap in the city and I paid €3-5 to go 10-15 minutes. This is particularly useful if you’re in Gaia drunk off Port and the prospect of walking 2km up hills doesn’t seem so appealing.
Get from the Airport to Porto
From Porto Airport, it is very easy to get to the city center. These are your options:
- Public Transportation (€3) – Take the E line train to the Trinidade. There are signs in the airport that take you to the train station which is very near to the terminal. The train comes every 20 minutes and takes roughly 30 minutes to reach the city center. From here, you’ll want to walk or take an Uber to your accommodation in the city center.
- Taxi – The official taxi is €20 to get to the city center. Ubers are slightly cheaper around €12-15
Walk across the Don Luis bridge
The main (and only) way to get from Porto to Gaia is via the Dom Luis Bridge. This giant bridge is synonymous with Porto and is one of the most frequented sights in the city. It is commonly known by tourists and locals that Gustave Eiffel (yes the same guy that made the Eiffel Tower in Paris) made this bridge but this is actually false.
One of the things that stayed with me from the walking tour is that this bridge was not actually made by Eiffel but rather his apprentice, Théophile Seyrig. Eiffel took most of the credit which is why you’ll see signs on the bridge in his honor.
The Dom Luis is a double deck metal bridge that stretches from Porto to Gaia. The upper section is 85 meters from the river and spans almost 200 meters. There is a pedestrian walkway as well as room for the metro. A walk across the bridge is essential to visiting the Port cellars in Gaia. You will likely cross this bridge numerous times if you are into drinking Port!
The bottom section of the bridge is for cars and pedestrians. It is much shorter of a distance to walk and you’ll likely find yourself wanting to cross the bottom as you won’t want to walk all the way up to the top of the bridge again.
Nevertheless, a walk across the bridge is a must do activity. I’d recommend walking across the top for starters as this will give you stunning views of Porto city. Come here at sunset and the views will be even more stunning. Just head for Muralha Fernandina, a huge medieval fortress overlooking the river and go straight down from there into Gaia.
From Gaia, you can either take the funicular back to the top, or walk back to Porto via the bottom section of the bridge. The funicular is €6 one way which was a bit too much for me.
Eat lots of Pasteis De nata
Pasteis De Nata is probably the national desert of Portugal. I’ve only ever found it in Portugal and it is divine. This custard pastry doesn’t look very appetizing from the pictures (at least not for me) but my goodness. It is sent straight from the dessert Gods and blessed by the Portuguese people.
I had many pasteis de nata in Lisbon and went to the world famous Pasteis De Belem where I devoured three of them to myself. Turns out, Porto also has an abundance of bakeries that specifically specialize in Pasteis De Nata.
This was my go to breakfast for the entire time I was there. One or two pasteis de Nata with an espresso. In Porto, they also recommend having a pasteis de nata with a port wine. I tried this once early in the morning and must say that it is a good combination. The slight sweetness of the port blends surprisingly well with the custard.
Here are the absolute best Pasteis de Nata in Porto.
Of all the pasteis I tried in Porto, Manteigaria is probably my favorite. The pastry was perfectly warm and crispy and the oozing custard filled my taste buds with joy. I’m not an expert with pasteis de Nata but I’ve had so many that I know the type I like.
I like it to be warm, slightly sweet on the custard, and to have a firm but soft crust. I don’t like the crust to be overly chewy, but also do not like it to be super thin. I want to not just taste the custard but also enjoy the flaky pastry that comes with it.
Manteigaria ticked off all the boxes. Their pasteis was the best and I came here twice just to be sure.
Fabrica De Nata
Fabrica de Nata is the other big player in town. They were recommended me to by numerous people. I think their pasteis was also delicious and I happily devoured the two I bought. It is everything you’ll want.
Castro – Atelier de Pastéis de Nata
Castro was located down the street from my Airbnb. The inside looked very inviting and it received great reviews. The Pasteis here was also very delicious although the crust was a bit thin for me. Again, you can’t go wrong with any of these options!
What to eat and drink in Porto
Porto is known as the culinary capital of Portugal. There are countless restaurants of all budgets serving the most delicious Portuguese food you can fathom.
Eat a Franceschina
First thing is first, you must eat a Franceschina. It is one of the most traditional and talked about dishes in Porto. I only found it in this area as I don’t think it is popular elsewhere. It is essentially a sandwich with thin steak, linguisa, sausage, jamon, melted cheese, all cooked in a thick tomato and meat sauce.
From the pictures, it looks quite unappealing. However, upon eating one, they are actually quite delicious. The different meats and textures work quite well together. It was created by a guy who came back from France and wanted to emulate the Croq Monsieur sandwich for Portuguese tastes.
It is heavy meal without a doubt so I would not recommend eating this often. Probably best served with a hangover after drinking too much port.
You can find Franceschina at many different restaurants. Some famous ones are served at Ristorante Alfonso, Cafe Santiago, and Brasão Cervejaria. I had mine at Brasão Cervejaria and absolutely loved it. They usually cost €8-10 and can probably feed two people.
Lareira – Baixa
Lareira came recommended by my Airbnb host. This is a local spot just outside the main city center and offers delicious Portuguese fare. The prices here are also incredibly affordable.
Casa Guedes is famous around Porto for their pork sandwiches. I guess there are numerous places in Porto that serve these pernil style sandwiches and Casa Guedes just happens to be the most well known.
I came here as they opened (as it gets quite busy) to order a pork sandwich and I was not disappointed. The pork was juicy and tender with high quality Portuguese bread. Definitely can recommend this for a quick and affordable lunch time snack.
Leitao do Ze
However, if I had to pick the king of pork sandwiches it would have to be the leitao sandwich. Leitao is whole suckling pig and it is very popular in the north of Portugal. Leitao Do Ze is located in the mercado on the Gaia side. The sandwich being from a whole roasted pig is much more smoky and flavorful. As well, you have the crispy skin which adds an intense fatty pork flavor that can’t be beat. This is the perfect thing to eat before, during, or after a long day of Port tasting!
Porto Cruz Rooftop views
For amazing rooftop bar views of Porto city, look no further than the rooftop bar at Porto Cruz cellar. Located in Gaia, this cellar is popular for tastings and tours. I actually did a tasting here as part of my Port tour and we finished on the roof with amazing views of Porto City. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset with a nice Port Tonic cocktail.
Eat lunch in Afurada’s seafood village
If you’re in Porto for a few days, consider a short day trip to the quiet town of Afurada just west of Porto. I’m not sure if it is a fishing village anymore but it is the go to spot to eat seafood. The little village is home to a variety of seafood restaurants grilling fresh fish on the street.
I went to Casa do F.C. Porto na Afurada after seeing throngs of people in the restaurant so I figured it had to be good. I had absolutely delicious grilled calamari and my favorite go to Durada fish. Afurada is roughly 30 minutes walking from Gaia. Alternatively, you can reach Afurada by taking an Uber.
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