Porto, Portugal is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the whole of Europe. As it is now being featured in more travel magazines I wanted to present some of my favourite recommendations on how to spend 3 days, or around 48 hours, in Porto.
The UN World Heritage city of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal is enjoying one of its most prolific phases of growth in its entire history. Its size is large enough for a diverse range of travel preferences yet small enough to be able to navigate nearly everything by foot, or using its cheap transportation or taxi systems.
In 2007 it was voted European Best Destination for its combination of good weather, value for money and AMAZING food. Combine that with a beautiful piece of engineering over the River Douro by none other than Gustav Eiffel himself.
Since moving to Porto two years ago it's been one of the best life decisions I've made, so hopefully I can pass some of the acquired knowledge onto you.
Being a massive foodie I've also built up an enormous database of where to eat and drink, and also gained the belly to show for it!
Getting to and from Porto
Porto has one, single-runway, airport. Its modern steel-framed airport with glazed façade is certainly eye-catching. Since Portugal is in the Schengen Area, if you arrive from within the Schengen you will be treated as a domestic passenger and not need to clear immigrations.
Many airlines serve Porto, though not necessarily on a daily basis to each city.
- Oneworld – British Airways, Finnair, Iberia (and its subsidiary Vueling)
- Star Alliance – Aegean, Air Canada, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, TAP
- Skyteam – Air Europa, Air France, KLM (and its subsidiary Transavia)
- Others major airlines – Emirates, Royal Air Maroc (soon to join Oneworld)
- Low cost carriers – Ryanair, Easyjet, Wizzair
Airport to city by metro
It costs just €2 per direction to get from the Airport to the city centre, and takes approximately 25 minutes depending on the metro stop you want to get to. You will need a Z4 (four zones) ticket. Note this is NOT the same as the tickets you get from Lisbon. If you are arriving from Lisbon you will still need to get a new ticket.
There are multi-lingual ticket machines, and there is also a €0.60 deposit for the reloadable “Andante” ticket.
Local's tip: Nearly everything you need in Porto will be a Z2 (two zone) ticket and cost €1.20 each way, but you can only change ticket types when the ticket is empty. So if arriving from the airport, load only ONE trip from the airport, so after you reach city centre you can change the category of ticket you need.
If you prefer to take an Uber (£3 off the first ride with my referral link) or Bolt (which is actually cheaper more widely-used in Portugal), it should cost between €8 at its cheapest and €15 at peak times. Make use of the invitation discounts in my referral links above.
Where to stay
There has been a massive upsurge in AirBnB listings thanks to the tourism boom. While this does keep rates very competitive across the city this does also bring huge variety in quality. I still recommend going with the known hotel brands. In particular IHG have quite a few hotels around Porto including my favourite in town, the Intercontinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas.
You will have no doubt heard of the ubiquitous yet magical Pastel de Nata, a sweet custard egg tart which has exploded in popularity all over the world. These should typically cost €0.8-€1.1 per tart. Anything more than that is too expensive.
Tip: You can select which degree of ‘caramelisation' you want. Some prefer lightly burnt and others prefer the opposite end of the scale. If it is your first time select something like the bottom left which is slightly more than medium and select subsequent tarts to your preference. Most people who come to Portugal have more than one!
Weather permitting, cross the Dom Luis I bridge (by foot or by Metro) on the upper deck towards Vila Nova da Gaia to watch the sunset from Jardim do Morro. You can also view the sunset from the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar.
Afterwards walk down to the riverside on either side to enjoy a meal and some local Port wine to enjoy the views as it gets darker and the bridge is illuminated gold.
Tip: Try a glass or bottle Vinho Verde (green wine). The ‘green' does not mean green in colour but young (as opposed to mature). The wine is slightly sweet and sometimes comes lightly sparkling. This wine is delightful with nearly any non-red meat dish: seafood, chicken or any salad etc. At more expensive restaurants it might cost upwards of €8, but my target price range is about €6 for 750mL to 1L in a restaurant.
Tip: Also check the FC Porto website to see if there are any football matches you can attend at the Estadio do Dragão during your stay. You can also buy tickets directly from the FC Porto shop in town.
Any cafe on any corner of any street will probably serve something to your taste. However, my personal favourite is the “Lanche Misto” from Cafe Belo Mundo on junction of Rua Santa Catarina and Rua da Firmeza. Their crispy-skinned ham and cheese pastry has been featured in magazines all over Portugal, less so internationally, and are priced at €1.35 (as of November 2019) for a breakfast which would satisfy most people. Add a coffee on top and you've got your entire sorted for around €2 total.
Head down to Avenida dos Aliados, right outside the Intercontinental Porto, where you will find perhaps the most distinctive McDonald's restaurant you will ever see.
Do a free walking tour of the city. They typically meet in the Avenida dos Aliados, Outside the Intercontinental Hotel.
Shop around Rua Santa Catarina, also see the Clerigos Tower and the nearby Livraria Lello which is famously rumoured to have inspired Harry Potter.
Tip: If you want to visit Livraria Lello, queues are typically VERY long. Apart from being the first and last of the day, the shortest queues tend to be around 2-3pm when all the Spanish tourists are having a siesta!
For a light dinner, grab a quick bite from Casa Guedes. Their signature pork sandwich is wonderful, and if you like goat cheese I highly suggest their sandwich with “Serra da Estrela” cheese, pictured below.
For something more substantial, there are several restaurants within close proximity to Casa Guedes, but my recommendations are Café Santiago or Cervejaria Brasão (Coliseu branch) for their famous Francesinhas. These are essentially big, multi-layered, meat-filled sandwiches drenched in a savoury tomato and beer sauce, pictured below.
Tip: The accompanying drink with francesinhas is beer. Locals do not drink wine with this! Also these sandwiches are very filling, so one between 2 people is my usual portioning.
After dinner, you can head to one of the major performance arts venues in Porto:
Slightly further away is Casa da Musica, a contemporary concert venue built 20 years ago, and the newly-refurbished Rosa Mota Pavilion aka. “Super Bock Arena“ due to commercial sponsorship, both of which have regular music events.
If you want to see a bit of the seaside before you head off you can head to one of Matosinhos, Foz do Douro (and take the scenic tram route #1 the way there) or Espinho.
Still trying to cram in a local dish before your trip home? Bacalhau à Braga is a great, dish made from salted cod with caramelised onions and fried potatoes.
Otherwise any of the octopus dishes are fantastic too.
My final recommendation for a light snack before heading home is a bifana, a cheap bun of thinly-sliced braised pork costing around €2.
For something more substantial try “Tripas à moda do Porto” which is a heavy tripe dish only really found in and around the Porto region. It is also the the reason the Portuguese northerners are called ‘Tripeiros' or ‘Tripe eaters'
What else to drink!
The local beer – Super Bock. If you like darker beers try Super Bock Stout which has a slight caramel flavour and is my preference over pilsner/lager.
If you are into craft beers there are a few bars which would be of interest to you: Cervejaria Nortada; Letraria; Armazem da Cerveja (all within 3 mins walk of each other) and Catraio which is a little further out. Tip: Restaurants and bars will typically offer 3 sizes of beer. ‘Fino‘ = 200-250mL; ‘Principe‘ = 300-350mL; and ‘Caneca‘ 500mL.
Port wine – Does this even need explaining? The name after Porto itself, this fortified wine (typically 18-22%) works great pre- or post-meal.
Finally Licor Beirão, a slightly more herbal and floral flavour which also comes in cute miniature bottles if you want to take some home for gifts.
As one of the cheapest Western Europe city breaks you can have, Porto packs a lot of punch and offers great value for money. Of course, I'm incredibly biased because I love this place so much, but if there is somewhere you want to visit which is less crowded than the ‘tier 1' tourist cities, this place is hard to beat.
Final tip: If you have any genuine and legitimate complaint, such as a breach of legal duties, or a hotel or restaurant tries to scam you, you should ask for the ‘Book of Complaints' which is there to protect your consumer rights. This article describes how it works in much more detail.
Feel free to ask me anything. What other suggestions do you have? Are you visiting Porto soon? Let me know if you have any other questions.