By Soren Rivero
Portugal has two phenomenal cities that should be on everyone's bucket list: Lisbon and Porto. As the second largest city in Portugal, the coastal city of Porto in northwest Portugal is packed with fun things to do. Keep reading for an informative travel guide to Porto!
What to Know
Porto sits at the edge of the Douro River in northwestern Portugal. Despite its reputation as "the second best" to Lisbon, Porto has recently become a hit destination, thanks to its stunning architecture and antique feel. The city's historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, boasts a charming blend of baroque cathedrals, cobblestone streets, and multi-coloured tiles.
Perhaps what Porto is most known for, Porto wine, is typically crafted in the Douro Valley before being carefully aged in the Gaia District. Be sure to sample some whenever you take a trip to Porto!
The Best Time to Go to Porto
Porto and the rest of Portugal have a Mediterranean climate, which means you can expect warm temperatures year-round with slight changes depending on the season. Summer (between June and September) is regarded as the best time to visit Porto because of its pleasantly warm and sunny days. However, this is the city's peak season, so winter is a good alternative if you want to avoid the large crowds.
Getting Around the City
Porto has a naturally up and down landscape due to its abundance of tall hills. This might sound like Porto is hard to navigate, but the city is actually very accessible and has easily-walkable streets. Porto also has a fantastic public transportation system that includes buses, old-fashioned rams, and a light rail. Please note that getting around via car in Porto is difficult, so only use one if you plan on taking day trips.
What to Eat in Porto
Ahh if it isn't everyone's favourite topic: food. Porto's cuisine takes heavy influence from its proximity to the sea and the countryside. Start off by trying caldo verde (green soup) made from kale and potatoes for an authentic taste of Porto. Get a bite of the seafood vibes by trying bacalhau com natas, a one-pan meal made from codfish and cream.
Things to do in Porto
Livraria Lello has consistently been ranked as the most beautiful bookstore in the world. From the breathtaking atmosphere to the rich history behind it, this library is something you cannot miss when visiting Porto. The bookstore (opened in 1906) is a revival of Neo-Gothic architecture complete with stained glass and spiral staircases.
Brimming with colourful ramshackle homes, Ribeira is the perfect place to wander to admire some of Porto's hidden beauty. Ribeira is located on the riverfront of Douro, so you'll also have a good opportunity to see some port barrells being transported. For the best experience, ditch the map and let the wind carry you through the medieval streets of this dazzling old quarter.
Church of São Francisco
Another one of Porto's finest representations of Baroque architecture is the Church of São Francisco. Stunning in quality both on the outside and inside, there's something truly unique about this antique building — be it the interior that's coated with golden leaves or the enchanting atmosphere that fills the entire building.
São Bento Railway Station
Travelling through Portugal on rail is common for both tourists and locals. But that doesn't mean you need to take a train ride to admire the majestic São Bento train station. Filled with over 20,000 painted blue and white tiles (in Portuguese, these are called azulejos), the Beaux-Arts facade is somewhat of an attraction inside of an attraction.
Overlooking the Ribeira, the twin-towered Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) was founded in the late 12th century. You can still see the Romanesque origins from the cathedral's barrel-vaulted nave, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled. Feel free to admire the rose windows and Gothic cloisters as much as you'd like.
Tips for Visiting Porto
Be on the lookout for live music performances!
Take a stroll on the Dom Luís I Bridge for some of the best views in Porto.
Get acquainted with some local knowledge. For example, the people of Porto are known as tripeiros (tripe-eaters), derived from the city's iconic dish.
Try to catch a view of the Rabelo boats that used to transport barrells of wine from Douro Valley.
The Douro Valley is the country's centre of all things port wine. It's situated just about an hour away from the Porto's civilized area. From its terraced slopes to the luscious vineyards, enjoying a scenic ride through the valley is something you don't want to miss.
For those who want a bit of a spiritual break, head over to the city of Braga. Known as the religious heart of Portugal, this city hosts a variety of different historical and religious sites all with their own historical importance. Among these are the Braga Cathedral, Archbishop's Palace, and Bom Jesus do Monte complex.
Finally, we have to mention the historical 'birthplace' of Portugal: Guimarães. The city's most popular attraction is the castle, which was constructed in the 10th century and was used as a main defense. Go even further on your self-guided history lesson by taking a step back in time at the Oliveira Square and Dukes of Braganza Palace.