Porto really put on a show for us on our latest trip to Portugal. Any Google image search will show you just how picturesque Porto is. We had planned on visiting it last year, but it just never happened for one reason or the other. I was determined to visit and kept a lookout for cheap tickets. Now that we are living in Valencia, it was a nice discovery to see direct flights from Valencia to Porto. Ryanair had an offer we couldn’t pass up and boom! Off we went to see what Porto had to offer . I’m happy to report that Porto is a charming city that has a lot going for it, and that l like it better than.. gasp.. Lisbon. What’s even more interesting was that Federico not only felt the same, but that he really, really liked it. If Portugal is on your list of places to visit, try and squeeze in a Porto trip. Hopefully this Porto list of things to do and eat will entice you to visit. Best part is that a Porto vacation is surprisingly reasonable money wise as you’ll see.
Affordable Luxury Guide To Porto Portugal: ( What to do, eat and where to stay in Porto )
There is a common Portuguese saying: “Braga prays, Coimbra studies, Porto works and Lisbon parties (gets all the money)”. Having visited the two largest cities in Portugal, namely Lisbon and Porto, I beg to differ. I think Porto parties as well :-). Lisbon, being the capital, is bigger, more cosmopolitan, busier and definitely richer. Porto, the second biggest city in Portugal is often referred to as the Capital of the North. To me, Porto is like the sort of awkward, gangly little duckling sister with braces who is slowly transitioning to the beautiful swan. In my eyes actually, the transformation is complete, but the world is slow to catch up, which is a good thing. I am not a big fan of what Lisbon has become. With all the media hype and attention about Lisbon being the cheapest, best, must-see, must-do, must not die before seeing blah..blah..blah.., it has become a victim of its own success. Regular readers of the blog might notice that l never did write about the city after our visit, except for our failed attempt at a day trip to the beloved by all Sintra. I just wasn’t excited to write about it. It was a perfectly okay holiday. Someday, I might do so, but prepare for it to be just “meh”, like Amsterdam was.
Where is Porto?
Porto is located in Northern Portugal, along the Douro river. The most famous product is of course, that nectar of the gods, namely port wine. Now you know why l was even more excited to visit :-) . The English name is Oporto which is a mangled form of Portuguese “o Porto” . One of the tidbits we learned on the tour was that o Porto eventually just became Porto because when the port wines were shipped overseas, they couldn’t really catch on to the name on the receiving end and just made it Porto.
Getting to Porto:
Major international airlines including Air France, KLM and British Airways fly into Porto. There are also lots of low-cost airlines offering cheap flights to Porto. Our direct flight was with Ryanair. From within Portugal, you can take trains in from cities like Lisbon ( which seems to be a central connecting point from other cities in Portugal). Bus is yet another option from other parts of Europe, with Alsa being one of the biggest bus companies to check out. There is Uber in Porto, and the prices were pretty economical, so we used that, along with buses (€1.95 per ride) to get around, in addition to walking.
Where to stay in Porto: (Best areas to stay in Porto)
In researching what areas of Porto to stay in, three neighbourhoods kept popping up and were confirmed to us by Porto locals. The best places to stay on a Porto vacation are
Cedofeita – Place to stay in Porto:
Cedofeita is a great place to stay in Porto. A hip residential area in downtown. It is filled with lively, reasonably priced restaurants and shops, like espresso for 65 cents cheap! It also has a youngish population (from what l saw) and bars that are open till very late. Very late… like till 6 in the morning late. The pulse of Cedofeita is a pedestrian only street that is just awesome. This was where we spent our first three nights. Our flat was rented through AirBnB, and it turned out to be a good choice. It was a 2 bedroom/1.5 bath flat on 2 floors. Nice kitchen, cable and all the usual good stuff and the host was such a sweetie.
The place could easily accommodate 4 and a kid, there was even a cot provided in the second room. Light and airy, with an amazing terrace, it was a great find. I can recommend it, especially for younger people, or young at heart who have no trouble sleeping despite street noise. Federico falls into that group, he heard nothing. I on the other hand, had a restless first night. I found some earplugs in my luggage, so l was quite happy. It was much better the other two nights. The partying starts like at midnight and goes through till 6AM. Once l was asleep, I wasn’t jolted awake. Feel free to use our referral link to get some bucks off your first AirBnB reservation. At $48 a night for the whole place, it was a steal. This was our budget accommodation in Porto. Since it sits higher up, it is a bit hilly getting there when walking, so something to take into consideration.
Baixa – Porto where to stay:
Baixa neighbourhood is located just above the most famous district of Ribeira. Picture Cedofeita on top, Baixa in the middle and Riberia on the bottom and you get the idea. Very centrally located, it’s easy to walk anywhere. We found little spots to get the most awesome views of Porto. Our second half of the holiday was spent at a newly established short stay residence that is a combination of boutique hotel and AirBnB. The suite at the Virtues City Lofts was impeccable. Every possible thing you could need was provided, and the owner Miguel is a really nice guy who was born and bred in the city.
There are l think 8 rooms in total. The only downside to this place is the lack of an elevator. We were on the top floor… not fun with luggage going up. If you’re lucky, you get a room facing the Douro River with amazing views. If you’re unlucky and book at the last minute like we did, you have no river view :-) , but l slept wonderfully all nights. It was fantastic, and l highly recommend Virtudes. To boot, there is also a very nice restaurant next door, Dom Antonio, good food and big portions, but be sure and make a reservation. We met up with friends living in the Algarve who happened to be in town at the same time there for dinner and it was wonderful. I think the Baixa district is a great area to stay in Porto. There are also lots of restaurants, and the residents seem to be a bit older, so not as loud. It would be perfect for pretty much everyone on a Porto holiday. Our room was $85 per night.
Ribeira – Neighbourhood to stay in Porto:
All those amazing photos that you see of Porto with the colourful houses on the hillside? They are mostly of the Ribeira district. This is the closest area to the Douro river. Lined with loads of river front places to eat in Porto with awesome views of Vila Nova de Gaia (home of all factories making port wine) across the way, I’ll go out on a limb and say that is the top thing to do in Porto. Eat and people watch in Ribeira. Ribera is the riverside quarter of Porto and is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. Its Ribeira Square is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We enjoyed walking along the narrow streets and taking a river cruise from there. It would be a great Porto place to stay for older people or people with mobility problems since it’s at the bottom. We would have loved to stay there, but my choice of place to stay was not available. The best hostel place to stay in Porto would have been the suite at the Bluesock Hostel. Yep! A hostel :-) . All the reviews were very favourable and the room and view looks awesome. On our next visit to Porto, I intend to have us stay there. Hopefully, I will book in advance and not procrastinate as l usually do.
Porto Trip Attractions – Best things to see in Porto:
It’s fair to say we barely scratched the surface as far as things to see and do in Porto. I think part of the reason was because we knew we would be back at some point, so there was no big rush to squeeze it all in. Here are some of the best bits of Porto to experience, in addition to Ribiera. Some we did, some we will. We found the best way to get an overview of Porto was to take the hop-on-hop-off bus tour and then get off at the places of interest. We purchased our tour tickets of Porto through Get Your Guide. We have become big fans ever since using them for our Auschwitz tour.
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Sao Bento Station:
Sao Bento Train Station in Porto is famous for its blue Portuguese Azulejo tiles. It is located in Cedofeita. The granite building is pretty beautiful and laid out in a U shape. It’s worth spending a bit of time checking out the art-work paintings using the tiles to show Portuguese historical events. There are also lockers to store your luggage like we did as we arrived way before check-in to our AirBnB. Sao Bento is listed as one of the 16 top railway stations in the world.
Port Wine Tasting:
Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro is where all the biggest port wine companies such as Sandeman and Cockburns. No visit to Porto is complete without a port tasting tour. Most of the companies offer one. We did a tour of the Calem Caves Port company and it was very informative. At the end of the tour, we got 2 wine tastings. I had been hoping for a tawny port tasting as it is my favorite, but no luck. I did find out it was the most expensive type of port, hence not offered for tastings ( I have expensive taste :-) ). We tasted red and white (had no idea there was one!). Vila Nova de Gaia has the highest concentration of alcohol in the world, thanks to all the huge caskets ageing fortified wine in the cellars.
Douro River Cruise:
Fantastic way to see Porto from a different angle. The one hour tour passed under 6 bridges, including the most famous one, the Dom Luis I bridge, which was actually designed by Teofilo Seyrig, a student of Eiffel, explains why it looks very much like an Eiffel design and is in fact often confused with the Maria Pia Bridge (the one Eiffel designed prior to the famous Eiffel tower in Paris). The Dom Luis is a double-decker bridge, the metro passes on the top and buses and cars on the bottom. It is also very popular with pedestrians going from Ribeira to Vila Nova de Gaia. You’ll also see crazy kids jumping from the bridge into the river. The Eiffel built Maria Pia is no longer in use as of 1991.
Clerigos Tower is probably the most famous symbol of Porto. It is the bell tower of the Clerigos church. It was designed by an Italian architect by the name of Nicolau Nasoni. If you feel brave, you can climb the 240 steps to the top for a beautiful view of Porto. It is located in a great area, across from a small park, has lots of little shops and places to sit, eat and people watch.
Portuguese Center for Photography:
Any photography fan will love this museum. It is practically next to the Clerigos Tower. A huge and imposing building, we found out later that it was a former prison. The iron bars made more sense then. The ground floor showcases different Portuguese photography and art while the top 2 floors have amazing old cameras from every year it seems. Well worth a visit, and l will do a separate blog post as we really loved it. In front of the building is the blue “Porto” sign, a popular place to take pictures. From the top floor, you can alsoget the same amazing views of the city and save yourself 240 steps :-).
Every Harry Potter fan knows by now that it was J.K Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts. It is a definite must see in Porto for her fans. We did not go in to this Cedofeita located bookstore, the line was insane. Federico is not a fan, and l can take it or leave it. The funny part is that we saw at least one other bookstore that was just as nice in the neighbourhood, but of course doesn’t get the love. You should know that there is a €3 entry fee, which is credited towards any purchase. I don’t blame them for doing that at all.
Carmo Church (Igreja de Carmo):
Another famous church in Porto. Fun tidbit from the tour – Carmo is connected to a twin church ( Carmelites Convent ) by the tinniest house (less than 1 meter wide) because in those days, there was a law prohibiting two churches or monasteries being built side by side. The one side of the building is covered in azulejo tiles telling the stories of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine. Baroque style architecture that is both warm and cold, Pretty cool.
FC Porto Museum:
No Ifs, Buts & Ands. If you’re a football fan, you need to experience FC Porto. You learn all about the history of the club and see the amazing number of trophies they’ve won in the past. FC Porto has the best stadium tour we’ve done so far. I am writing a separate post on that as this would be way too long. My only beef is that the statue of my idol Mourinho, that cocky bastard :-) was not very lifelike. In fact, it sucked, not sexy like he is in real life.
Liberdade Square in Porto:
A fantastic area of town that connects the old part to the newer parts of the city. It is considered to be the very heart of Porto. The top of the square has the city hall. There are plenty of cafes to sit and people watch, even the McDonalds fits right in with its cool facade.
Budget Luxury Guide Porto – Douro Valley Tour:
More port wine, more beautiful sites. Our tour with Get your Guide was great. They picked us up from our AirBnB flat and dropped us back off after a full day of wine, wine, cruise, and more wine tasting. This small group tour was perfect. We met 3 other couples (all from the U.S) and were driven by the most wonderful guide who grew up and still lives in the Douro Valley. Her knowledge of wine was extensive and the 2 estates that we toured were excellent. We learned not only about port wine, but olive oil production as well.
Other places we wanted to visit but did not get around to include the Stock Exchange Palace, Bolhao Market, Sao Francisco Church, Porto Cathedral to name just a few. Needless to say that we will have more to see on the next trip. What l found surprising about all these buildings in Porto was that they were all the same gray marble color. Considering how colorful the houses were, I would have pictured them like green, blue..etc.
Best Food To Eat In Porto: (Including interesting foods to try in Porto)
Porto is foodie heaven. Big portions and small prices. A perfect combination in my opinion. Heaven help you if you’re Vegan or any other variation. This is meat and potatoes land :-). Here are some Porto food specialties and recommended restaurants. Some of the places we ate at only had the menu in Portuguese, but it was still no big deal to order.
You may have heard of Porto residents being referred to as Triperos. Reason being they love their tripe dishes. Federico being Roman, and me being Nigerian, we are quite familiar with tripe, love it, and ate as much as we could. Tripe is stewed, usually served with garbanzo beans and accompanied with even more rice and beans. So soft, it practically melts in your mouth. Stripe is stomach lining of sheep or cattle
Francesinha is a specialty Porto sandwich made with ham, sausage, steak, roast meat and pretty much everything else you can imagine, then drenched in melted cheese, beer and tomato sauce. It is a bastardised version of the French Croque-Monsieur. I didn’t try any as l am not a big fan of any sandwich type food…not when l have a choice of solid food :-).
Stewed Chicken Gizzards:
Yummy! It must be an African thing as Federico didn’t love it, so l had to do my wifely duty and finish it off :-), exchanging my plate for his. Fantastic!
Portugal’s most famous dish. Codfish is delicious in any form except stewed, which is the Nigerian way. I have always hated that with a passion. Fried bacalhau is superb. We had it as appetizers and as main courses. Love it!
We did make sure to eat regular food as well of course.
Pastel de Nata:
The famous Portuguese egg custard tart that everyone loves. Originating in Belem, we had tried it there when we visited the Jeronimo Monastery. Color me unimpressed, maybe because l grew up on custard :-). Federico likes it though.
Something to remember in Porto:
The restaurants will bring appetizers automatically. If you don’t want it, don’t touch it. They will eventually take it away, otherwise you get charged for the missing pieces. On some reviews I’ve read on Tripadvisor, people are shocked! Really? Like dah! who’s crazy enough to give you 6 empanadas or a plate of prosciutto etc for free? :-) . Olives, yes! Bread..maybe!
How much does a week in Porto cost?
Good question. I actually kept track this time so l can give an accurate answer. Here is the breakdown of our luxury budget trip to Porto:
Airfare for 2 RT Valencia to Porto on Ryanair = €80
Transportation (Uber and buses) = €45
Accommodation = €405
Get Your Guide Tours (Hop-On, Calem Caves, FC Porto, Douro Valley tour, Ribeira Cruise) = €282
Food and drinks = €300 (we did come back with €1.50 :-) )
Grand total for the week in Porto = €1,112 ($1328 at current exchange rates)
Can you stay a week in Porto for less? Of course you can! That would be the budget guide to Porto. Cut out the tours, stay in hostels, eat at cheaper spots instead of mostly sit down places and you could easily do it for half that price. At the other end of the scale, you could stay at a luxury hotel in Porto like the Intercontinental, do even more tours and eat at 5 star restaurants for a luxury week in Porto. We fit somewhere right in the middle :-) .
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Is Porto worth visiting?
We both agree on this one. A resounding Yes! Porto is perfect for a weekend getaway or for a longer vacation. I found the people very warm and friendly, the city pretty, the food delicious, and the wine superb. What more could one want? What say yee about this budget luxury guide to Porto Portugal? Too budget? too luxurious? or just right?