Sitting at the mouth of the Duoro River, Porto is Portugal’s second-largest and second-most-popular city. It’s the home of Port wine, which became popular after the 17th century, and you can find plenty of places to sample this popular dessert wine.
While Porto lacks the iconic “wow!” factor of Lisbon, I still think it’s a beautiful riverside city filled with lots of good food, plentiful wine, and cozy riverfront cafes.
Moreover, this is the best place to start your trips to the nearby Douro Valley where you can explore and tour the region’s famous port vineyards. It’s also one of the main launching grounds for the Camino Portugues (a multi-day hike to Santiago de Compostela in Spain), making it a popular hub for hikers and pilgrims alike.
This travel guide to Porto will help you plan your trip, save money, and ensure you make the most out of your visit here!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Porto
1. Wander the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
2. Cruise the Douro River
3. Take a tour of the Douro Valley
4. Admire the city’s azulejo art
5. Visit Livraria Lello
Other Things to See and Do in Porto
1. Take a free walking tour
The first thing I do when I arrive in a new city is take a free walking tour. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land, see the main sights, and connect with a local guide who can answer all your questions. Porto Walkers runs daily tours that last 3 hours and cover all the highlights. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
2. Visit the Stock Exchange Palace
Known as the Palácio da Bolsa, this palace was built in 1842, taking over three decades to complete. The building and its cathedral were designed in the Neoclassical style and are both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Monument. The palace was originally intended to showcase Portugal’s economic might. The interior is ornate and entirely covered from floor to ceiling with paintings, sculptures, and architectural decoration. You’ll find lots of commemorations of Prince Henry the Navigator here, a central Portuguese in the establishment of Portugal’s empire. Admission is 10 EUR.
3. Daytrip to Povoa de Varzim
The city of Povoa de Varzim is a small resort town 18 miles (30km) north of Porto. It has a wide, sandy stretch of beach where the rich locals used to sunbathe in the 19th century. The tiny town’s Praça do Almada central square has some colorful architecture, including the Neoclassical town hall from 1791. There’s not a ton to do here, but it makes for a nice place to stroll and escape the city. The one-hour bus ride from Porto costs less than 5 EUR.
4. Listen to live music at Casa da Música
This state-of-the-art concert hall is the best place in the city to see live music and theater. Built in 1999 to commemorate Porto’s designation as a European Capital of Culture, performances are held here regularly (though most of them are in Portuguese). There are a lot of classical and jazz performances too. Tickets cost 10-25 EUR. Check the website to see what is available during your visit as there are often lots of touring performers visiting and many performances are free.
5. Shop at Mercado do Bolhão
Bolhão Market is an eclectic local market full of fresh produce, meats, fish, bread, flowers, and local handicrafts. The market, housed in a warn-down warehouse, has been around for over 100 years and is popular with locals and tourists alike. You can find pretty much everything here. If you’re cooking your own meals, it’s a cheap place to buy groceries.
6. Watch a football match
Like the rest of Europe, the Portuguese love football (soccer). If you’re a fan of the sport, pay a visit to Dragão Stadium to take in a football match. The stadium holds 52,000 people and FC Porto’s fans are some of the most passionate in Europe. They have huge rivalries with other Portuguese teams, so matches are always exciting and energetic. Tickets start at 15 EUR.
7. Get lost in Ribeira
Porto’s old town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, is full of narrow and winding medieval streets, delightful cafés, and historic architecture. Have lunch, enjoy some port, and try to get purposefully lost in the meandering alleys. It’s located along the water opposite Vila Nova de Gaia and is my favorite part of the city. Don’t miss stopping by the Casa do Infante, which is said to be the house where Prince Henry the Navigator was born in 1394 (admission in 2.20 EUR).
8. See São Francisco Church
Built in the 15th century, the Gothic Church of Saint Francis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike its drab exterior, the interior is lavishly designed in a Baroque style. The church took around 50 years to build and almost every inch is covered in gold and ornately decorated. Be sure to dress appropriately as this is a place of worship. Admission is 7.50 EUR.
9. Admire Porto’s vibrant street art
Many of Porto’s buildings are beautifully decorated with street art and murals. Stroll down Rua de Miguel Bombarda, Rue da Madeira, and Escadas do Codecal (the stairs leading down to the Duoro riverfront under Luis I Bridge), and you’ll see some of the city’s coolest public art. If you want to learn more, book a street art tour. It’s the best way to see the main works and learn more about the street art scene in Porto.
10. Climb up the Clérigos Tower
Built between 1754 and 1763, this Baroque-style tower was home to the Brotherhood of the Clerigos, a 17th-century religious order. At 75m tall (and with 225 steps) it offers some of the best views of the city. Declared a National Monument in 1910, admission is 6 EUR and includes access to the museum, which showcases the cultural and religious history of Porto during the 18th century. The tower is open until 11pm so it’s a good place to watch the sunset to take in the glow of the city at night.
11. Visit the Soares dos Reis National Museum
This museum is home to a permanent collection of Portuguese paintings and sculptures. Founded in 1833, it was the first museum in the country that focused on Portuguese art. One of the primary exhibitions is by Portuguese sculptor António Soares dos Reis, after whom the museum is named. Admission is 5 EUR.
12. Hike up to the Virtudes Garden at sunset
This vertical garden is located behind the Palace of Justice. Composed of several raised platforms, the park offers a spectacular view of Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia district. After a long day of touring the city, this garden is the perfect place to enjoy a few drinks, people watch, and take in the sunset over the Douro River. Admission is free.
13. Take a day trip to Guimarães
Located 45 minutes from Porto, this charming city was not only the first capital of Portugal, but it’s also where the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, was born. The city has a beautifully preserved historic center that dates to the 12th century. Some notable sights to check out are Guimarães Castle, the city’s old quarter, and the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. You can visit as part of a day trip or stay overnight to escape the busyness of Porto.
For more information on other cities in the Portugal, check out these guides:
Porto Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a hostel dorm with 6-8 beds costs 15-23 EUR per night. Private rooms cost 25-140 EUR. Free Wi-Fi and lockers are standard, and most hostels have kitchens too. A handful also offer breakfast.
For those traveling with a tent, camping is available outside the city for around 10 EUR per night for a basic tent plot without electricity.
Budget hotel prices – Two-star budget hotels near the city center cost 40-65 EUR per night. Some include free breakfast, and all have free Wi-Fi.
Airbnb is a budget-friendly option in Porto with private rooms starting from 25-40 EUR per night while entire homes/apartments cost at least 50-80 EUR.
Food – Fish and seafood form the backbone of Portuguese cuisine (Portugal eats the most seafood per capita in Europe). Cod, sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines), sea bass, and shellfish are some of the most common staples. Other popular dishes include Cozido à portuguesa (boiled stew), Peixinhos da horta (breaded and fried vegetables), and cured ham. Be sure to also try the prego (beef sandwich) or the bifana (pork sandwich). You can find them at local cafes for just 5 EUR.
Another local favorite is francesinha. It’s a sandwich typically made with bread, ham, linguica (Portuguese sausage), and steak, with everything covered with melted cheese and a rich tomato sauce. A fried egg is placed on top of the sandwich and it’s accompanied with fries (that you dip in the sauce). It’s incredibly heavy and filling (and delicious) and should be tried at least once. Expect to pay around 8-13 EUR. For one of the best in the city, visit Bufete Fase’s.
For a cheap meal at a local café or restaurant, expect to pay between 7-9 EUR. Small baked goods and snacks cost between 2-4 EUR. Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs 7 EUR for a combo meal. For something more mid-range, like a three-course meal with table service and a drink, expect to pay at least 15-20 EUR.
Many restaurants offer a “Prato do Dia” (dish of the day) for around 8-11 EUR. These are usually quite filling and consist of 2-3 courses.
A beer costs 2-3 EUR while a latte/cappuccino is around 2 EUR. Bottled water is less than 1 EUR.
If you plan on cooking your own meals, a week’s worth of groceries costs 30-35 EUR. This covers basic staples like pasta, vegetables, rice, and some meat.
Backpacking Porto Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Porto for around 40 EUR per day. On this budget, you’ll be staying in a dorm room, cooking most of your meals, limiting your drinking, taking public transportation to get around, and sticking to mostly free activities like the gardens and free walking tours.
On a mid-range budget of 100 EUR per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or private Airbnb, eat out for all your meals, have a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like a river cruise or a wine tour.
On a “luxury” budget of 210 EUR or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, rent a car to get around, and do as many tours and activities as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
Porto Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Porto is a cheap city in an affordable country so it’s hard to spend a huge amount unless you are splashing out. Here are some ways to save money in Porto:
- Pick up a Porto Card – The Porto Card gives you free access to around a dozen museums, 50% discounts on other attractions, free public transportation, and discounts to local restaurants. The card is 13 EUR for a one-day pass, 20 EUR for a two-day pass, 25 EUR for a three-day pass, and 33 EUR for a four-day pass. If you plan on seeing a lot, get this card.
- Cook your own meals – Restaurants are cheap here, but eating out all the time can still be costly. If you’re on a tight budget, save yourself some money by cooking your own meals.
- Take a free walking tour – If you want to understand more about the history, architecture, and people of Porto then take a free walking tour. They last a couple of hours and are a great introduction to the city. Just be sure to tip your guide!
- Get the Andante Tour Ticket – For unlimited rides on the bus and metro pick up an Andante Tour ticket. It has a 24-hour and 72-hour option. Tickets cost 7 EUR for the 24-hour pass and 15 EUR for the 72-hour pass.
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing is the best way to save on accommodation in Porto. By staying with a local you’ll not only save money but you’ll get to spend time with someone who can show you to some of the city’s hidden gems.
- Skip the taxis – Taxis add up in Porto, often adding fees for luggage and airport pickups. Simply use the metro or bus system to go where you need to.
- Say “no” to bread – When eating out, a selection of bread and olives may be brought to your table before your meal. These aren’t free, so politely decline the offer if you’re not interested.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Porto
Porto has a lot of budget-friendly hostels that are comfortable, social, and clean. There’s a really get hostel scene here. Here are my top places to stay in Porto:
How to Get Around Porto
Public transportation – A single-journey bus ticket costs 1.85 EUR. The Porto Card and Andante Pass both offer unlimited rides for as little as 7 EUR. Buses run regularly from about 6am-9pm and offer limited service from 9pm-1am.
The metro is composed of five lines and trains come every 5-15 minutes. The metro operates from 6am-1am. Tickets are 1.20 EUR for a single journey.
Taxis – Taxis in Porto are safe though expensive. Prices start at 3.50 EUR and increase 0.50 EUR per kilometer. Most drivers speak English but showing them the address on your smartphone will help. Skip them if you can though as prices add up fast!
Ridesharing – Once banned in Portugal, Uber is now available. While cheaper than taxis, it’s still going to add up so stick to the bus and metro.
Bicycle – Porto is relatively flat so riding a bike is an easy and fun way to see the city. Bike rentals cost around 11 EUR for 6 hours and 15-22 EUR for a full day.
Car rental – If you’re looking to drive around the region, a car can help. However, I wouldn’t rent a car just for the city itself as public transportation will be much cheaper and easier. Additionally, Portuguese drivers are generally considered aggressive so you’ll want to use extra caution when driving here.
That said, rentals here are quite cheap. Expect to pay around 20 EUR per day for a small car with a manual transmission.
When to Go to Porto
Peak season in Porto is during the summer months of June-August. Temperatures hover around 22-25°C (73-77°F) and the overall atmosphere during this time is lively. There are lots of places to swim or relax on the beach so it’s still worth visiting during peak season even if the city is a bit busier. Since Porto is in the north and on the coast, you can expect temperatures to not be as warm as the south, where they can reach 33°C (92°F) during the day. Since this is the busiest time to visit, expect prices to be slightly higher.
Personally, if you’re on a budget, I think the best time to visit Porto is the shoulder season (April-May and September-October). Temperatures range from 11-20°C (53-68°F) so it’s still warm during this time but there aren’t as many crowds and prices are cheaper. It may be a bit rainy, but you can still enjoy the city without much inconvenience.
Winter lasts from November to February. It gets cold, and tourist crowds thin out considerably. Temperatures vary but linger around 13°C (57°F). It’s still warmer than much of Europe, so if you’re on the continent and are looking to avoid the worst of the weather, head to Porto. Otherwise, save your visit for the summer or shoulder season.
How to Stay Safe in Porto
Porto is very safe for travelers — including solo travelers and solo female travelers. Violent attacks here are uncommon and petty crime is rare. Pickpocketing is the most common crime (though it’s still quite rare). Be aware of your surroundings when you’re in markets, on busy streets, and when using public transportation. Always keep your valuables secure and out of reach and you should be fine.
Additionally, young backpackers here are often approached and offered drugs as Portugal has a relatively lax approach to illegal narcotics. Always decline the offer politely but firmly and continue on your way.
When out at the bar, keep an eye on your drink and never walk home alone if intoxicated.
You won’t find a lot of travel scams in the country but read this article on major travel scams to avoid just in case.
The emergency number in Porto is 112.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, change. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
Remember, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Porto!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Porto Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Porto. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Portugal, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Porto Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Porto Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel
It’s 1904, and a young man named Tomás has discovered an old journal. It hints at an extraordinary artifact that could redefine history. Hopping aboard one of Europe’s earliest automobiles, he goes in search of this new treasure. Thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist also finds himself in the middle of his own mystery — and the consequences of Tomás’ mission. Fifty years after that, a Canadian senator returns to his ancestral village in Northern Portugal where the century-old quest comes to its conclusion. This is a masterful story that reads like a fable but will keep you hooked the whole way through.
The History of the Siege of Lisbon, by Jose Saramago
Jose Saramago is such a literary icon in Portugal that, when he died in 2010, the country initiated two days of mourning. It’d be wrong to not include him in a list of books about Portugal! Here, a proofreader’s deliberate slip changes one singular word in the history of the siege of Lisbon — and thus rewrites the course of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon’s history (as well as the proofreader’s own life). It’s a genius story about the differences between historiography and historical fiction, and what happens when you insert stories into the past.
The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa
Fernando Pessoa was another prolific Portuguese writer, and when he died he left behind a full trunk of unfinished and unpublished writings. The Book of Disquiet is his posthumous masterpiece. It’s a collection of short paragraphs making up the biography of Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s “alternate selves.” It’s an intimate piece of descriptive narrative, and it’s considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century.
300 Days of Sun, by Deborah Lawrenson
Set in a sunny Portuguese town, this book is about two women who are drawn into a game of truths and lies. Journalist Joanna Millard travels to Faro to escape her stalled career and directionless relationship, and it’s there she meets a charming young man named Nathan Emberlin. Over the course of getting to know Faro and its sometimes-shady underbelly, Joanna learns that Nathan is determined to discover the truth about a child’s kidnapping from two decades before. The search leads her to a novel written by an American author where Joanna discovers that fiction and reality are often not all that different. It’s a thrilling read!
Porto Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Portugal and continue planning your trip: