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Is Porto Worth Visiting? My Honest Opinion After Several Visits

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Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, has been an underrated treasure for many years. Now, the city is starting to attract a barrage of visitors and curiosity. Some may still wonder, though: is Porto worth visiting? The answer, in short, is a resounding yes.

Most travelers flock straight to Lisbon, which makes sense. It’s the capital city, it has tons of incredible landmarks to see, and most international flights from the U.S. and other parts of the world land there.

Some of these people never make it to the north of Portugal – instead they head south to the beautiful beaches of the Algarve for some sun, sea and sand. Don’t get me wrong, The Algarve is beautiful, but you’re really missing out if you skip Porto. That’s why I’ve included Porto on my 7-day Portugal itinerary.

I’ve been to Porto several times now. Once on my own, once for a travel blogger conference, and a third time with friends. Each time I’ve fallen in love with Porto a little bit more. It’s much more laid-back than Lisbon, with less hustle and bustle. The river is beautiful, and it’s nice to just sit back and relax in the Ribeira district with a glass of wine in hand.

Cross the river to the Vila Nova de Gaia district and you’ll find yourself in port wine heaven. Here you’ll find the port wineries, where you can enjoy tastings for cheap. The views here across the river are magical and it makes for a very relaxing afternoon.

Porto has a little bit of everything – beaches, historic buildings, amazing food and gorgeous hotels. I’ll go into more detail below, examining all these aspects. But if you’re short on time and just want an answer. Yes, Porto is worth visiting.

Some Reasons to Visit Porto

Amazing Sightseeing

Let’s start with what there is to see in Porto. Porto boasts a rich tapestry of history, evident in its splendid landscapes and architecture.

The city is home to many beautiful buildings, including the Cathedral of Porto and the Church of São Francisco. The latter is one of the most important examples of Gothic architecture in Portugal and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city also has a number of museums that are worth visiting, such as the Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis (National Museum of Art) and the Museu de Arte Contemporânea (Museum of Contemporary Art).

Porto is also home to a number of beautiful gardens and parks. The most famous of these is the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal (Garden of the Crystal Palace), which offers stunning views over the Douro River. Another is the Jardim Botanico – this is a beautiful botanical garden that is home to over 1,000 species of plants, including native plants, cacti and rhododendrons. It also has a small zoo and an aquarium.

You also can’t miss the São Bento train station – this is one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, with its stunning blue and white azulejos (tiles). It was built between 1900 and 1916 and is still used today. The station has a number of shops and cafes, as well as an exhibition space that hosts temporary exhibitions.

The main highlight of Porto is the Ribeira district – this is the oldest part of Porto and it’s where you’ll find the most historic buildings. The district is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s easy to see why. The narrow streets are lined with colourful houses, many of which have been converted into shops or restaurants. There are also plenty of bars here if you fancy a drink.

Culture vultures are also drawn to Porto for its wealth of cultural charms. The city is flush with art galleries, music venues and theaters that cater to a variety of interests. The Serralves Museum, displaying Portuguese contemporary art, and the unique Livraria Lello bookstore, are worth putting on your list.

Delicious Food and Wine

In Porto, gastronomy enthusiasts are in for a treat. Porto’s food scene is a culinary haven for foodies. With an array of dining options – from hole-in-the-wall cafes to Michelin-starred restaurants – Porto offers a satisfying taste of Portuguese cuisine.

Moreover, Porto is synonymous with port wine. A must-do activity is a visit to one of the city’s wine cellars for a tasting tour. These are found in the Vila Nova de Gaia district, right across the river from the city center.

What if you don’t like port wine? Well, the wineries are still beautiful to visit. They have lovely views and are incredibly picturesque. You’ll also find plenty of Vinho Verde in Porto – this is a light, refreshing white wine that’s perfect for summer. It’s made from the Alvarinho grape and has a slightly effervescent quality. You can find it at most restaurants in Porto, as well as in the grocery store.

While you’re in Porto, don’t miss the chance to try some of the country’s traditional cuisine. Some dishes to try, include:

  • Francesinha: A local favorite, the Francesinha is a sandwich made with ham, sausage, and steak, covered in melted cheese and a tomato-beer sauce served with fries. It’s a must-try hearty treat when in Porto.
  • Bacalhau à Brás: This dish is a beloved classic in Portugal. Bacalhau à Brás consists of shreds of salted cod (bacalhau), onions and thinly chopped straw fries in a scramble of eggs.
  • Tripas à moda do Porto: Known as Porto-style tripe, this dish has a unique place in local gastronomy and even has a nickname for Porto locals, ‘tripeiros’. It’s made from tripe, white beans, and various meats.
  • Bolinhos de Bacalhau: Also known as codfish cakes, these delicacies are mixtures of shredded codfish, potatoes, and parsley. They are then deep-fried into a delicious crispy snack.
  • Sardinhas Assadas: Grilled sardines are a must-have during the St. John holiday but are delightful at any time of the year.
  • Pasteis de Nata: A traditional Portuguese dessert, Pastel de Nata is a Portuguese egg tart pastry, dusted with cinnamon. Although not originated in Porto, they are found in bakeries all around the city.
  • Port Wine: Though not a dish, the city’s namesake wine is a unique sweet, fortified wine with numerous variations from white to red. It’s something you simply should not miss when in Porto.

Affordable European Destination

Porto is a budget-friendly European city without compromising on the quality of experience. The costs of accommodations, meals, attractions, and local transportation are generally lower than in many other Western European cities. This makes Porto an ideal destination for travelers looking to explore Europe on a budget.

If you visit the port wineries, you can get a full flight of five port wines for around €5!

An Easy Weekend Getaway

Porto can easily be explored in 2 days, which makes it great for a weekend trip. The city has its own modern airport, which is an easy reach from Porto city center.

Getting from Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (Porto’s international airport) to the city center is relatively easy and convenient. The quickest and most affordable way is by using the Metro do Porto. The Line E (Violet) conveniently connects the airport to the city center every 30 minutes, and the journey takes approximately 28 minutes. Alternatively, taxis and rideshare services like Uber are also available at the arrivals terminal.

Porto is also well-connected to other cities in Portugal and Europe by train, bus, or car. Once you’re in the city, it’s easy to get around on foot, due the city’s smaller size. You’ll just have to contend with hills, but there’s a funicular that will take you from the river to the top of the city. You can also get around by buses, trams, Ubers and Taxis.

Great Day Trips from Porto

Porto is a good launching pad for exploring northern Portugal. The most popular day trip from Porto is a visit to the Douro Valley, which is magical. Most Douro Valley tours involve a scenic drive through the vineyards, a visit to a winery and lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area.

Another popular day trip is Braga, which is about an hour away by train. Braga is a beautiful city with lots of history and culture. It’s also home to the oldest cathedral in Portugal, which was built in the 12th century.

You could also visit Guimarães, which is known as the birthplace of Portugal because it was here that Afonso Henriques declared himself king in 1139. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has many historic buildings. It’s home to the magnificent Guimarães Castle, which was built in the 10th century.

If you’re looking for something more adventurous, you could go hiking in the Peneda-Gerês National Park. This park covers an area of 70,000 hectares and is home to many rare species of plants and animals.

Finally, Aveiro, which is known as the Venice of Portugal, is another great place to visit. The city has many canals and is home to the beautiful Aveiro Lagoon. You can take a boat trip around the lagoon or hire a bike and cycle along its shores.

You can read all about these places in my article, Best Places to Visit in Portugal.

In short, there are tons of amazing day trips you can take from Porto, so you may end up wanting to stay a while.

Beautiful Azulejo Tiles

Azulejo tiles are a quintessential element of Portuguese architecture. These beautiful, glazed ceramic tileworks often display intricate patterns or narrative scenes and are notable for their vibrant blue and white colors, though other colors are also prevalent.

Porto abounds with Azulejo-covered surfaces, offering a visual treat for visitors. Some notable locations include the São Bento Railway Station where large-scale panels depict scenes from Portugal’s history.

The Church of Saint Ildefonso, with its facade decked in over 11,000 Azulejo tiles forming beautiful geometric patterns, is another sight to behold, as is the Chapel of Souls, completely clad in these blue and white tiles that depict scenes of the lives of saints.

Lastly, the Cloister of the Cathedral of Porto is another fine exhibit of Azulejo artistry. Featuring biblical scenes, it’s a testament to the widespread use and cultural importance of Azulejos in Porto.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to photograph these beautiful tiles all over Porto.

Laid Back Charm

Porto isn’t as touristy as Lisbon and although it still attracts large numbers of tourists, it doesn’t feel too crowded. The city has a real laid back charm to it, and doesn’t really feel like a big city.

It’s the kind of place where you can while away an afternoon drinking wine by the riverfront, hopping around the port wineries, enjoying magical sunsets and just soaking in the culture.

If you like pretty scenery, and eating and drinking, you’ll fall in love with Porto.

Lively, But Not Crazy, Nightlife

Porto has a good nightlife scene, but it’s definitely no Budapest or Berlin. If you like partying, big clubs and staying out till the early hours, you’ll find more going on in Lisbon.

However, Porto still has some great bars and clubs, and the nightlife scene is mainly concentrated around the Galerias de Paris Street. This area really gets going after 10pm, with crowds of people standing outside the bars and drinking in the streets.

Warm and Welcoming Locals

Lastly, but certainly not least, the locals (or Portuenses) are a vital part of what makes Porto truly special. Their warm hospitality and friendly nature ensure that every visitor feels welcome and loved.

Cons of Porto, Are There Any?

It’s hard to find many cons of Porto, but here are a few that you might find to be a little frustrating.

It’s Hilly

Porto has quite a few things to see, but it’s worth noting that the city is on one big hill, so be prepared for a bit of a workout. It’s fine when you’re walking down the hill, but you’ll definitely burn some calories walking back up.

If you’re not used to walking up steep hills then you can ride the funicular Funicular dos Guindais. This connects the Ribeira neighbourhood, located on the river bank, and Batalha, which is at the top of the city. On the journey you’ll get to see beautiful views of Dom Luís I Bridge and Porto’s medieval city walls. A ticket costs just € 3.50 (US$ 3.80) and you can take it either up to Rua da Batalha or down to the city’s river bank.

Feels More Sleepy

Although Porto is a major city, it has a more sleepy, relaxed vibe to it. Personally I like that vibe, but if you’re looking for hustle and bustle and absolutely buzzing nightlife, then you’ll probably prefer Lisbon.

Landmarks Don’t Have the “Wow” Factor

Porto has a lot of pretty buildings, don’t get me wrong. The Sao Bento train stations and its tiles is beautiful, and there are tons of churches and gardens. But if you’re looking for jaw-dropping attractions that make you go “wow”, then you might feel a little let down by Porto.

It doesn’t have epic sights like the The Rua Augusta Arch in Lisbon, the Colosseum in Rome, or let’s say, The Eiffel Tower in Paris. You’re not going to find futuristic-looking galleries and museums here either.

Porto is more about eating and drinking, and soaking up the atmosphere. The attractions it does have are pretty laid back.

Harry Potter Fans, Sorry To Disappoint But…

Porto is incredibly popular with Harry Potter fans, who flock to visit the Livraria Lello bookshop. The bookshop is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling when she was writing the Harry Potter series. This has actually been debunked! Here’s what J.K. Rowling said on Twitter:

“For instance, I never visited this bookshop in Oporto. Never even knew of its existence! It’s beautiful and I wish I had visited it, but it has nothing to do with Hogwarts!”

It’s a beautiful place, with a grand staircase and stained glass windows. But it’s also incredibly crowded, and you have to pay €5 just to get inside. If you do plan to go, and you want to get an Instagram photo without tons of people in it, try to go early in the morning when they open.

Wrapping Up

All in all, Porto is definitely worth visiting. If you’re visiting for just a weekend, you’ll find it to be a very relaxing and scenic place with enough to keep you occupied. And if you’re visiting Portugal on a longer trip, I’d also suggest you combine Porto with a trip to Lisbon and also The Algarve.

Check out more of my Portugal blog posts here:

  • What is Portugal Known For?
  • Portugal 7 Day Itinerary
  • Best Souvenirs From Lisbon
  • Best Places to Visit in Portugal
  • 3 Days in Lisbon Itinerary

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