Porto, Portugal - Travel Guide
I can remember the exact photo that added Porto, Portugal to The List – upon seeing the curving red staircase of Livreria Lello, I knew that I had to visit Porto at least once in my life. After seeing more and more photos of this absolutely beautiful city over the years on Instagram, it was an easy destination to choose for a warm early spring getaway to celebrate my birthday (and a great excuse to opportunistically buy a ridiculously cheap flight). I hope you enjoy this travel guide based on my trip!
Porto is located in Northern Portugal, and as the country’s second largest city, it is home to tons of history, beautiful architecture, amazing food, six bridges, and of course – Port Wine. With so much to do, it would be easy to spend a leisurely week here getting to know all of the ins and outs of the city, but it’s also easily do-able in a three day trip if you’re ready to hustle up some hills, and are prepared to drink a lot of wine.
WHERE TO STAY
PESTANA VINTAGE PORTO
With its location right on the banks of Douro River and in the heart of the Ribiera neighborhood, the Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel was an incredibly convenient and insanely beautiful place to call home for a few days. I arrived just as the sun was setting, and by the time I got into my room, the sparkling lights of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia on the river took my breath away.
I chose this hotel not only for its location, but mainly for the rooms and their amazing views. The Vintage River View Balcony room was beautiful, and enjoyed throwing open the two french doors for fresh air and the sounds of performers in the square below. While the room was modern and recently redecorated in a very travel friendly theme (which I loved), the hotel itself sits on a medieval wall that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Historic Centre of Oporto.
If the star of the show at this hotel is the view from the room, the award for best supporting actor definitely goes to the breakfast each morning served in the restaurant downstairs. The hotel provided an extensive buffet of typical continental breakfast fare, made to order eggs, and a large selection of traditional Portuguese breakfast foods such as cheese, cured meats, local breads, and of course… the famous Pastel de Nata. Fresh pressed juices and sparkling wine were available for a DIY mimosa to start the day, as well as coffee to-go. Due to the sheer number of options and quality of the food, I found that breakfast at the hotel would carry through most, if not all, of the day. If given the option to book a stay that includes breakfast, it’s definitely worth it.
OTHER HOTEL OPTIONS
$ (UNDER $150 USD/NIGHT)
I saw so many great budget options on AirBnB in Porto. If I hadn’t had my heart set on staying at the Pestana Vintage Porto, I would have looked into a private apartment in the same neighborhood.
$$ ($150 – $350 USD/NIGHT)
InterContinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas: It is easy to see why this hotel is top rated on several travel review sites. Set in a gorgeous historic palace, steps from Liberdade Square, Livreria Lello, and Sao Bento Train Station, it’s a luxe central spot to call home that doesn’t require you to walk uphill to see every sight.
$$$ (OVER $350 USD/NIGHT)
The Yeatman Hotel: I wanted to stop here for drinks, but unfortunately never found the time. I did however get a good look at the hotel and its property on the way to catch my train to Lisbon, though, and oh man it looks so nice. Sitting across the Douro from Porto itself, you’ll be neighbors with all of the best Port Wine Houses set along the river and winding up the hill toward the hotel. With a strong focus on wine and a spa, this really seems like heaven on earth.
WHAT TO DO
Drink Port Coming to Porto and not visiting any of the Port houses would be a true shame. Coming into this trip, I admittedly wasn’t a big fan of Port, as I don’t really care for sweet drinks. However, I decided to treat myself to a Port wine tasting at Graham’s in order to learn more about the drink and learn how to best appreciate it.
Graham’s is so beautiful, and the guide’s presentation on the method of how port is made was super informative. You also get the opportunity to see several million liters worth of port barrels, along with barrels dating back to the 1800’s and the family’s private collection of Vintage port, before retreating to a beautiful tasting room. At the beginning of the tour you select which tasting you’d like to do. I highly recommend upgrading your tasting in order to enjoy the secluded library, and some truly excellent wines, in a more intimate setting.
Find Street Art I love wandering through the winding roads of a new city to find hidden gems just off the beaten path. Sometimes, though, you can find some wonderful things on the beaten path, too. Porto is a beautiful city filled with historic art and architecture, but also includes a lot of very interesting street art. My favorites were a massive cat on Rua Afonso Martins Alho just off of Rua das Flores, and the remains of some blue birds I found as I descended towards the waterfront later in the day.
Be a Bookworm and visit Livreria Lello. As the original inspiration for wanting to visit Porto, I was so excited to visit the famed historic bookstore in Porto. As with so many other places I’ve visited over the past year or so, Livreria Lello is said to have served as inspiration for JK Rowling as she began to write Harry Potter while living in Porto in the early 90’s. I’m all for a Potter pilgrimage, and I knew, that I wouldn’t be the only one who would be excited to visit this magical place.
I highly recommend pre-booking your ticket in advance online, and showing up to wait in line very early the day of your visit. If at all possible, book the earliest entrance time available, and be sure to get there very early – even if you think “surely no one will be there at 8am when it opens at 10am”. Wrong – there will be tons of people queuing up. Take this opportunity to have a coffee and plan the rest of your day while you wait. Once inside, it’s pretty dimly lit, so getting good photos is tough. Just enjoy the experience, and try not to linger on the stairs for too long, as someone is surely trying to get a good picture, too.
Get Out There I had never used AirBnb experiences before this trip, and after my experience visiting the Douro River Valley on a day trip, I am AirBnb Experiences’ biggest fan. I decided that I wanted to see the Douro River Valley after hearing about it while Port tasting at Graham’s, even though that meant giving up my last full day in Porto. While there was a lot I missed doing in Porto that day, I am so glad I went.
The Douro River Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it has been growing grapes in the same way since the Romans conquered Gaul. Seeing the beautiful landscape, and spending time with locals who have been part of the wine industry in Portugal for centuries was such a unique and memorable experience. I can’t recommend the tour I went on enough – Ricardo was a fantastic guide and taught me and four others so much about Portuguese history while on our way out to the Valley. We visited two wineries, had a home cooked traditional lunch, and went on a cruise on a traditional Douro River boat. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to recreate this experience on my own.
FOOD AND DRINK
As I had mentioned above, my hotel had a truly amazing breakfast buffet, so most days I didn’t find myself feeling hungry until rather late in the day. Pair that with my fun jet lag symptom of not feeling hungry until it’s too late at night to eat, I didn’t really get a ton of opportunities to eat in Porto. This is a shame because I’d heard so much about some of the delicious restaurants in the area. I really wanted to try a Francesinha sandwich or grilled finfish (sardines), but sadly did not.
I did however stop to get a glass of wine at Vinum at Graham’s before my tasting appointment. It sits on the crest of the hill that the wine cellar sits on, and offers amazing views of the city and Dom Luis Bridge. Sit outside, have some Portuguese wine, and be sure to keep a lookout for the seagulls, they love to share your food with you.
FAVORITE PHOTO SPOTS
JARDINS DO PALÁCIO DE CRISTAL
IGREJA DO CARMO
PONTE DOM LUIS I
LOOKING AT PORTO FROM GAIA
TIPS AND ADVICE
When to Visit I always like to travel when it’s a little bit quieter, and prices are a little bit lower, so I tend to book trips in March and November. March was a great time to visit Porto, as the weather was mild and pleasantly warm compared to Seattle. Speaking with some of the people I met in Portugal, they agreed that Spring and Fall are a great time to visit – good weather, lots of sun, and few fellow tourists.
How Long to Stay My trip was pretty short. Following my time in Porto, I headed south to Lisbon for a few days. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t tried to pack two very interesting cities into only six days, as each location left me wanting more time. I was in Porto for three nights, but with travel and my day trip to the Douro River Valley, I only really had one day in Porto itself. I would recommend budgeting at least four full days in Porto so you can take advantage of both the city and all of the great places nearby for day trips.
What to Pack I’m certainly not a fashion blogger, so recommending specific outfits isn’t my forté (see resources below for ideas), but I do have a few tips based upon my experience. Pack lots of light layers. It was chilly in the morning and evenings, but in the daytime it can get rather toasty – even in early spring. Factor in all the hill climbing you’ll do, and you’ll be thankful to be able to adjust your level of warmth throughout the day. Speaking of hill climbing – this isn’t a trip for your cutest heels or wedges. Pack some comfortable flats, sneakers, or sandals that you can navigate hilly cobblestones in with ease.
WHAT HELPED ME WHEN I PLANNED MY TRIP…
I love looking at other travel bloggers’ city guides for inspiration and advice while planning my trip. Everyone has different travel styles, and notices different details about a place, so I highly recommend checking out the following guides for more inspiration if you have more time in Porto, or unlike me, don’t get weird jet-lag symptoms in the form of a lack of appetite and need restaurant recommendations!
I hope that this is helpful if you’re planning a trip to Porto. I’m just getting started with building out my travel guides and would love any input or advice you have! Saúde!