Besides being the best place in the world to drink the delicious elixir that is port, Porto is one of the most eclectic cities in Europe. A mixture of winding Medieval architecture and streets, trendy galleries and cafes, traditional restaurants and pumping night clubs, Porto is divine, and criminally underrated.
Often overshadowed by Lisbon and the beaches of the south, Porto commonly gets missed on visits to Portugal (why visit this stylish city when you can go to Lagos and paaartay?) But this has allowed Porto to avoid the tourist swarms and retain much of its authenticity. Come here to eat fresh Portugese tarts, enjoy a wine on the waterfront, wander slowly through her picturesque streets and listen to the gurgling of the river – it’s beautiful.
In This Guide
1. Map of Porto
2. Where to Stay in Porto
3. Getting Around
4. Getting a Sim Card
5. Safety in Porto
Map of Porto
Above I have mapped out four of the best neighbourhoods to stay in while visiting Porto.
As you can see Porto is a relatively small city. However its different neighbourhoods still have very different qualities, and where you choose to stay can have a big influence on the vibe of your trip. They’re all well connected, but each area does offer something unique.
I’ve broken down each of these areas below, pros and cons, things to do, and whether or not its the right place for your visit.
Where to Stay in Porto
This riverside neighbourhood is one of Porto’s oldest and is packed with tiny, colourfully painted houses cut by cobbled street. This is probably the most touristy part of Porto so if you are planning to stay here, be prepared for crowds and confusion. But, it is worth it for the view and life on the waterfront of the River Douro. Take a seat along the water, relax in the sun and watch the colourful boats carrying barrels of wine (which you can also enjoy here!)
Not only is it full of historical sights and gorgeous during the day, the Ribiera scene also comes alive at night with traditional restaurants serving excellent traditional Portuguese seafood and petiscos (Portuguese tapas).
One of my favourite foodie haunts is the restaurant inside the Mercado Ferreira Borges, one of the oldest markets in Porto, or Jimão Tapas e Vinhos, which features excellent foods and amazing wines.
Things to see in Ribeira
- The Iron Bridge of Porto (D. Luís Bridge) is, as you would guess, an impressive wrought steel bridge that spans the River Douro and connects Riberia with Vila Nova de Gaia. It is a dramatic background for a selfie, and is a great way to cross the river by car or on foot. It has a 60-metre-high top deck offering stunning views.
- Take the Elevador da Riberia. While it is designed for convenience rather than as a tourist attraction, take the elevator up to the top of the neighbourhood and then walk back down to discover hidden corners of the medieval neighbourhood.
- Visit the Casa do Infante, which is said to be where the Prince Henry the Navigator was born in 1394. Whether this is accurate or not, it is a fine medieval townhouse that later became the Royal Mint, and now houses the city’s archives and museum.
- The Palacio da Bolsa is a 19th century Neo-Classical structure that was beautifully decorated by several late 19th century artists. It was designed to celebrate Porto’s economic power and draw European businessmen to the city.
- The Igreja de São Francisco is a gorgeous Gothic church on the outside, with dazzling baroque decoration inside. Mostly decorated in the 18th century, almost every surface is covered in gilt woodwork.
- Spend the night on the Praça de Riberia, which is the centre of nightlife in the district. At the northern end of the square there is also a monumental fountain with a niche occupied by a modern statue of St John the Baptist.
- The Caves do Vinho do Porto are situated on the opposite side of the river to Ribeira, but is well worth the short journey. It is the ideal way to learn about the history of wine and port in the region, and taste some excellent tipples.
- Pick up some traditional Portuguese crafts, all handmade by local artists, at Coisas de Cá.
Stay in Ribeira if you…
- Are looking for relaxing riverside days, sipping wines and nibbling Portuguese tapas.
- Love medieval architecture and you are happy to roam the streets soaking up the atmosphere.
- Are a wine connoisseur and having access to Porto’s best tipples is your top priority.
Where to Stay in Ribeira
For the Backpackers – Bluesock Hostels Porto
This is a modern concept hostel located with a historic building meaning you can feel like you are in the historic city, while enjoying the comforts of modern European hostels. They have a lot of different accommodation offers for singles, couples and groups at a very affordable rate. The hostel’s bar and chill out zone is a great place to meet other travellers. You can find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Ribeira do Porto Hotel
Overlooking the Douro River and only 300 metres from D. Luís Bridge, you can enjoy the views on the breakfast terrace or in its traditional bar that brings in wine from the cellars across the river. São Bento station is just 10 minutes away, which means it is easy to explore the whole city from this base. You can find the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel
This five-star hotel is located in a 16th century building right on historic Ribeira Square. Breakfast is served in the hotel restaurants with views over the river, and the separate bar serves some of the best cocktails in the city, perfect for drinking at sunset. Worried about noise? Double glazing and soundproofing ensure a good night’s sleep. You can find the best rates here.
Baixa can be considered downtown Porto, and the area where most of the city’s major landmarks are located. The Avenida dos Aliados is the focal point of the area and is lined by imposing government buildings and leading to the Praça da Liberdade. The square features a state of Pedro IV, the 19th century emperor of Brazil, who literally gave his heart to the city, which is now in the Church of Lapa.
Baixa’s central thoroughfare is surrounded by a dense network of streets packed with shops, cafes and wine bars. It also has some of the city’s best food stores, including the Mercardo do Bolhão, the last traditional market in Porto and the ideal place to stock up on groceries for your own cooking. You can also explore the Quarteirão das Artes that centres on the Rua Miguel Bombarda and is full of trendy art, music and boutique stores.
Baixa is also home to Porto’s best nightlife. The Rua Galera de Paris and Rua Cândido dos Reis should be your first stop if you are looking for music, dancing and cocktails until dawn. Two clubs worth checking out; Casa do Livro and Plano B.
Things to see in Baixa
- Mercado do Bolhão, the last traditional market in Porto and full of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and meat, and local handicrafts spread over several floors. Opened to the public in 1914, you can easily lose yourself in here for the day.
- The Estação de São Bento is a 20th century edifice decorated with individually painted ceramic tiles that took artist Jorge Colaço over 11 years to paint. They feature scenes of traditional Portuguese life and history.
- The Igreja da Lapa is not only home to the heart of Pedro IV, it is home to one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful graveyards.
- The Igreja da Misericórdia built in 1562 by the Baroque architect Nicolau Nasoni. It is now also home to a museum holding magnificent Renaissance paintings, including the Fons Vitae showing King Manuel I and his family gathered around a fountain expelling blood from Christ.
- Torre dos Clérigos is Porto’s most famous tower, and you can reach the top by climbing its 240 steps, but it is well worth it for its fabulous views of the city.
- Livraria Lello is an amazing Neo Gothic bookstore which is now more of a tourist attraction than an actual bookstore, and you will need to pay to enter. It opened to much fanfare in 1906, and was probably the inspiration for Flourish and Blotts in the Harry Potter books.
Stay in Baixa if you…
- Want all the city’s best historic sites on your doorstep.
- Are a foodie and having access to fresh produce is a priority for you.
- Are in Porto to party!
Where to Stay in Baixa
For the Backpackers – Gallery Hostel
Set in a gorgeous and quirky 19th century building, this hostel provides a mixture of private and shared rooms at an affordable rate. As well as a great breakfast, they offer thematic, homemade dinners if you feel like spending the night in getting to know your fellow travellers. The bar is a great place to start the night with wine and port. You can find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Pao de Acucar Hotel
Just 100 metres from the Avenida dos Aliados and its metro station, this is a great base for exploring the entirety of the city. It has art déco style interiors, a spacious terrace and multilingual staff. Breakfast is served on the terrace with views overlooking the city. The hotel also has its own library and toy and retro collection, including bumper cars from the 1970s. You can find the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Infante Sagres
Renovated in 2018, this hotel manages to feel fresh without losing its classic atmosphere. Just a four-minute walk from Aliados Metro Station, this is the perfect base for exploring the whole of the city. It is in the middle of a hip area of restaurants and bars so you will have no shortage of places to gorge on local cuisine. It also has a sun deck and plunge pool for some mid-afternoon R&R! Best rates here.
Cedofeita is probably the trendiest district in Porto, full of art galleries and trendy hole in the wall bars and restaurants. The area is also very student heavy, which brings a vibrant and affordable nightlife as well. Despite that, this is a safe area and is outside the hustle and bustle of the centre. Even as a family it can still be a relaxing place to stay.
If you’re an art fiend, make your way to the Rua Miguel Bombarda which has some amazing galleries along with some of the city’s most striking street art. You can top it off with a coffee or wine in Carlos Alberto square; full of hipster cafes and boutique shops. My favourite lunch spot is Pimenta Rosa, where the great food is only beaten by even greater desserts. Finish the afternoon by passing a few hours in one of the district’s stunning gardens.
One more for the list is O Berdinho, an urban market that is trying to revitalise the custom of buying fresh food. And if you are fortunate enough to be visiting on the first Saturday of the month, the streets fill from end to end for a collective feast!
Things to see in Cedofeita
- The Igreja de Cedofeita dates back to the 9th century and is the oldest church in the city. It was built on the location of a Roman structure, probably a temple, and still has two Romanesque capitals visible in the interior.
- The Palácio de Cristal Gardens developed by the German landscaper Émile David is almost too romantic, but is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon.
- The Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis was founded in 1833 as the first Portuguese national museum exhibiting collections of Portuguese, rather than foreign, art. It is full of 19th and 20th century masterpieces in painting, sculpture, metalworks and ceramics. full of jewelry, ceramics and sculpture
- The Jardim das Virtudes is multi-levelled green space in the centre of the city that offers great views of the Douro River and Gaia on the opposite shore.
- The Bouça housing collective was conceived by Siza Vieira in the 1970s, and today is now home to many of the residents that give the area its distinctive feel.
Stay in Cedofeita if you…
- Are travelling with a family and want to stay close to the city centre, but outside the main hustle and bustle.
- Love art and want to explore the city’s art scene.
- Want to get involved in the hipster scene and spend your days sipping coffee and talking philosophy.
Where to Stay in Cedofeita
For the Backpackers – So Cool Hostel Porto
Despite the very uncool name, this is a very cool place to stay in Cedofeita. Tucked into a restored 19th century building, it’s bright and airy and will surely get you into the soothing Porto mood. It has a nice furnished garden – perfect place to sip a few wines from the hostel’s wine cellar and bond with other travellers. You can find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Malaposta
Just a five-minute walk from the Trindade metro station, this is a great base for exploring the centre of Porto. It is located right in the centre of the art scene so is a great choice if art is your inspiration. The daily breakfast buffet is a great way to set yourself up to the day before indulging in some Portuguese tapas in the afternoon. You can find the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Hotel Cristal Porto
This is a new four-star hotel located just next to Lapa Church and offering tranquillity from the hustle and bustle of the city. It offers an excellent breakfast buffet to set you up for the day and has a restaurant with an impressive selection of wines and ports. You can find the best rates here.
When walking around Boa Vista, it can feel a little like walking around an open air museum. It characterised by boulevards and large buildings, a much more peaceful vibe than Porto’s centre, and has a good subway connection for when you do want to make your way back into the bustle. Ideal place to stay for a travelling family, or just for those looking for peace and quiet.
Perfect way to start a day in Boavista? Head to Mouzinho de Albuquerque Square and wander down Boavista Avenue. You’ll discover the Casa da Música concert hall, the Serralves contemporary art museum and the Parque da Cidade – the biggest and greenest park in the city. Grab an afternoon snack at the Mercado Bom Sucesso, and then go up to Castelo do Queijo for sunset views. If you are travelling with kids, you can pass a whole day on the Gallery of Biodiversity, which brings together art and science, and will keep everyone entertained for the whole day.
Just because you are away from the old district doesn’t mean that you don’t have access to excellent traditional Portuguese cuisine. Aside from the Mercado Bom Sucesso, try Casa Agrícola, the first-floor restaurant abutting an 18th century rural house, or the Urban Cicle Café for one of the best brunches in the city before 3pm.
Things to do in Boavista
- Parque da Cidade do Porto is the biggest park in the city and is a great space for dogs, bikes and runners.
- Initially built for the Porto Capital of Culture in 2001, the Casa da Música is a state of the art space for concerts.
- The Fundação de Serralves is a contemporary art museum which opened in 1999 and was designed by the famous architect Alvaro Siza. It holds more than 4,000 works produced from the 1960s to the present day.
- The Galleria do Biodiversidade combines science and art that will be fascinating to adults and children alike.
- Castelo do Queijo is a fortification built in 1643 by military engineer Michel de l’École on the site of pre-existing fortifications. It offers spectacular views over the coast of the city.
- Mercado Bom Sucesso is a 1940s market hall that has been updated to be one of the best places to grab a bite to eat in the city.
- Cemitério de Agramonte was opened in 1855 to bury victims of the cholera epidemic and is a bastion of exuberant mausoleums offset against some of the most beautiful blooms in the city.
Stay in Boavista if you…
- Are travelling with family and want somewhere peaceful.
- Want to be away from the chaos of the central city.
- Are planning a relaxing break rather than a tourist tour.
Where to Stay in Boavista
For the Backpackers – Oporto Music Hostel
Just 200 metres from the Rotunda da Boavista, it offers a range of shared and private rooms for the budget traveller. This hostel is basic, simple and clean, with great multilingual and friendly staff. Don’t expect any bells and whistles, but the price can’t be beat. You can find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – HF Tuela Porto
There are fewer hotels in this area than other parts of the city, so you don’t have as many options, but this is a great option for an affordable hotel in the area. Located right near the main restaurants and bars in the area, it has its own hotel bar when wanting to chill with friends at the end of the night. It is at the Baixa end of the district, offering easy access to the other city centre attractions. Best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Porto Palacio Congress Hotel
For those staying in Boavista relaxing should be a priority, and this is the perfect hotel to do it in style. Get comfortable in the rooftop lounge, or book yourself in for a spa treatment or massage in the onsite spa. The VIP lounge is a great place to start the night with drinks and light snacks while overlooking the Douro River. You can find the best rates here.
The public transport in Porto is excellent and you shouldn’t have any problems navigating this beautiful city!
The metro, which is mostly overground, can quickly take you around the city along its six lines. You can grab a day pass that allows you to hop on and off for 24 hours, or get a rechargeable Andante Card that can be used on any public transport and can be topped up at any major travel hub.
The same travel card can be used on most buses if you are looking to go somewhere further afield, as most tourist locations are within walking distance from one of the city’s metro stops. You can also hop on one of the three classic 1920s tram lines. These things are super snazzy and are a tourist attraction in themselves, we sat on one for the entire route just for the ride, which is what a lot of people seem to do. One runs along the riverside, another circles around Baixa, and the third covers the Cedofeita area.
When trying to get around late at night, it is easy to get a Taxi in most parts of the city. Also you should have no trouble firing up your Uber and getting a ride – it’s super popular in Porto.
When it comes to getting to and from the airport, Porto Airport has a station on the Metro system and you can commute to and from the centre of the city in about 30 minutes. The metro starts running around 6am and finishes at midnight, but there is a night bus service to the airport if you need to travel outside of these hours.
Getting a Sim Card
Instagrammers don’t fret, Portugal has you covered! Portugal has three main mobile networks, MEO, Vodafone and NOS, with the first two offering the best coverage across the city. All the networks offer affordable prepaid packages that offer good data that you can use for the duration of your trip. Prepaid purchases are generally quick and do not require a lot of paperwork.
Probably the best place to pick up a Sim is the arrivals hall in the airport, where all the carriers have kiosks with staff that speak excellent English. There are also stores all over the city.
Don’t forget to ensure that your phone is unlocked before travelling so that you don’t have any problems using a SIM from a different network. Also don’t forget to check the details of your home package, as you may be able to use your home data in Lisbon at no extra charge.
Porto is a very safe city to visit, with very little crime or social problems. Almost all areas of the city are safe to walk around, even at night, though it is best to stay in the well-lit, busy areas. Just like in all cities, it is sensible to secure valuables in busy areas to protect against pickpockets.
It is worth noting that drug offences are treated as a medical rather than a criminal issue in Portugal, so drugs are quite openly sold on the street. This means that you expect dealers to approach you selling drugs under the pretence of selling sunglasses. They rarely pose serious danger; a polite but firm refusal should be sufficient to avoid any unpleasantness.
Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, Featured Image