Welcome to Portugal’s second city! Porto is such a fantastic place to spend a weekend or there is even enough to do to fill a week. So many people ask me ‘Is Porto worth visiting?’ and it absolutely is. The city is very accessible and easy to navigate. There is a lot to see and do, and the food and drink there is phenomenal. Not to mention the excellent value. So if you haven’t done so already, start planning you trip to Porto right now, you won’t regret it!
Is Porto Worth Visiting? Hell Yeah!
Quite often in these posts I weigh things up to do with how much time people have and what their priorities are. This one is different….in fact it’s very simple…
Is Porto worth visiting?
I’ve got to say that Porto is one of those cities that really does have it all and you would be silly to miss it. I love Porto so much that it’s now pretty much my second home and I go there solo at least 3-4 times a year. I’m now looking at studying Portuguese at Porto University.
Porto is such a fun and manageable city that it works either as a standalone trip (take at least 3 days) and also as part of a larger tour of Portugal or Europe.
The Pros of visiting Porto
City is one of those ‘not to be missed’ cities that although it isn’t a capital it has something for everything and a really happening vibe. It has beautiful Churches, accessible beaches and great nightlife. It’s a very easy place to travel solo – in fact, I’ve already been on my own three times this year!
Accessible from UK and Lisbon
Porto is well served with flights from the UK. During the summer months you can fly direct to porto from Liverpool and Birmingham (with Ryanair) Flights are often less than £100, so there really is no excuse!
Transport to the rest of Portugal is easy to book and comfortable, with options by bus and train. You have the FLIXBUS for buses to other major cities such as Lisbon and Faro. You also have the trains which are VERY comfortable indeed (book on the www.cp.pt website and make sure that you put in your passport ID number and carry your passport with you somewhere handy on the train).
Amazing Churches with Blue Tiled Facades and Gold Leaf
The Churches in Porto are some of the best in Portugal and you will see stunning churches almost everywhere you go in this city. Some are covered in the traditional blue Portuguese tiles (look for Carmo Church and Church of Saint Ildefonso). Some are beautifully decorated with Baroque gold leaf inside (Igreja de São Francisco or the ‘gold Church). And of course, Portugal Cathedra itself is spectacular, with wonderful views. Visiting Churches is one of my favourite things to do in Porto.
Portuguese Architecture, Palaces and Gardens
In Porto, you will be amazed by the beautiful architecture, palaces and gardens. Go inside Sao Bento train station to admire the Azulejos tile work – it’s said to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. Then head down to the river Douro for a glimpse of the colourful tiled houses of Ribeira. And the architecture continues with the Neoclassical style of Bolsa palace. Rest assured – Porto’s architecture and gardens will not disappoint.
English widely spoken and Locals are Friendly
Portugal is very welcoming for tourists and although Portuguese is the first language, most Portuguese people speak good English. People in Portugal seem much more confident in (and willing to speak) English than those in neighbouring Spain.
Fantastic Day Trips
Although you can enjoy Porto in three or four days, I would be tempted to stay for a week and use Porto as a base for one or two other fantastic day trips.
Here are my favourites…
- Pinao and Duoro Valley – see the original source of the port wine and Duoro valley tinto.
- Amarante – This peaceful town is less than an hour away from Porto and has a beautiful view of Sao Gancalo monastery and bridge over the river Tamega.
- Braga – This University city is home to one of the biggest Cathedrals in Portugal and also the famous Bom Jesus do Monte.
- Guimaraes – Another picturesque Northern Portuguese town, Guimaraes has a 10th Century Castle and a medieval historic centre.
Great Digital Nomad and Traveller scene with Friendly Hostels
Like Lisbon, many digital nomads and traveller use Porto as a base and so it’s easy to meet international and like minded people. I’ve already mentioned that Porto is a very international city and this means it’s really well set up in terms of accommodation for travellers. There are a great deal of hostels and cafes with WIFI and it’s easy to quickly get set up with friends and colleagues pretty much as soon as you arrive! I always stay at the Gallery Hostel. It’s clean, sociable and has great WIFI. The area is not too noisy and yet it’s walkable to most main sites
Food and Drink
If it wasn’t for all the walking around the amazing streets and buildings, I would definitely put on weight from being in Porto! Thankfully, I always exceed 10,000 steps when I am there, so it kind of balances out the calories! But some people literally come here to eat and drink their way around this city!
There are certain foods that you absolutely should not miss while you are in Porto…
- The Francesinha – This is the Portuguese version of the croque-monsieur. It’s a calorific sandwich full of meats, cooked in beer sauce and with cheese and an egg on top!
- Tripas à Moda do Porto – Porto’s Traditional Pork Stew
- Pasteis da Nata – Head to the Manteigeria for one of my Portuguese favourites – the famous custard tart.
- Patries and cakes – Visit one of Porto’s famous bakeries such as Padaria Ribeiro or São Jorge Bakery and Pastry – I love the Bolo de Arroz and the Bolo de Berlim (yellow custard filled donut).
- Port wine – Book yourself onto a port wine tasting class where you will learn about the different wine regions, how the wine is made and stored, and get to savour the different tastes of Ruby, Tawny and Vintage port.
Although sometimes a little windy (these are Atlantic beaches – it’s not the med!) there are some great beaches around porto. In the summer, the weather is good enough for sun bathing. The Porto coast and silver coast are also great for learning to surf. Some of the best beaches are accessible by public transport Here are the ones I recommend…
- Matosinhos – Porto’s main beach which has a beautiful long bay of golden sands.
- Ingleses Beach – Close to Porto and great for sunbathing and swimming
- Praia de Lavadores – On the south side of the river with beautiful views and sunsets
- Praia Redonda – beautiful beach in Povoa de Varzim and directly connected by metro from Porto city centre. Coarse grained sand but lovely for sunbathing and quieter than Matosinhos.
The Cons of Porto
In all honesty, there was not much at all that I didn’t like about Porto. Although there are a few slightly run down neighbourhoods like with any big city, I never felt unsafe. The weather can get rather hot in the summer months and the cobbled streets are very slippy when wet, but it’s all worth it for the great time you will have in Porto!
Big city – Can be noisy!
Porto is a busy and happening city, and like any big city there are always the drawbacks of crowds of people and noise. I would avoid staying anywhere near to Clerigos Tower. The streets off Clerigos are extremely busy and lively at night. The nightlife starts much later than you might be used to and goes on until the early hours. Expect people to be drinking and shouting in the streets until 6am in these areas.
Some less affluent areas (but all seemed safe)
Also as with any big city there are good and bad areas. Some of the areas around the Drago Stadium and also around Antas are not the best. But they are not dangerous, just a little run down. You might just see a bit of litter and social housing. Downtown Porto is not the safest at night
The hills and the Cobbled Streets
If you have never been to Porto before, you need to be warned about the hilly and slippy streets. Walking round Porto is a decent workout! After two or three days walking around Porto, you will probably feel it in your calves! Expect the cobbled streets to be extremely slipping in the rain – lots of people who live in Porto and Lisbon avoid going out in the rain at all because of the high number of injuries caused by slips and falls.
Can become very hot in August
The weather is Northern Portugal is manageable most times of the year but may get particularly hot in the summer months. It may hit around 25-27 degrees Celsius in August, which isn’t ridiculously hot but it’s a dry heat and so you might want to avoid sight seeing at the heat of the day.
Most important Porto Travel Tips
I’d recommend that you download the Duolingo app and learn some basic Portuguese. Although English is widely spoken, it’s nice to be able to speak a few words in Portuguese and it will be appreciated.
What to pack for Porto
Porto is a nice and easy place to travel. Smart casual or hiking clothes will be perfect, but Portuguese people do make the effort on a night out and so you might like to pack a nice set of smart clothes such as a dress or smart shirt for evenings. Here’s a list of Porto essentials that I recommend for you to take…
- A good camera and batteries.
- English to European plug adapter.
- smartphone with data roaming or a Portuguese SIM (you can get one from MEO or Vodaphone)
- Good walking boots or comfortable trainers
- Walking trousers, leggings and shorts
- A scarf or shawl – good for keeping the sun off you in the day and keeping you warm on cooler evenings.
- Suncream and sun hat
- A refillable water bottle
- A nice dress and shoes or evening wear
- Portugal Lonely Planet – you can find a lot of information online but it’s always handy to have a paperback guidebook with you, which will have great tips on where to go and where to eat.
Where to stay in Porto
You really will be spoilt for choice for accommodation in Porto. One of my favourite cheap stays is the Gallery hostel in Porto. It’s clean and relaxing with excellent facilities including free kitchen, WIFI and an optional breakfast.
Further Reading on Portugal
Other similar Portugal articles: Is Aveiro worth visiting?