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Wondering whether Porto is worth visiting? Well, I spent 3 months living there and I have a lot to say on the topic. Without giving it all away, Porto is a fantastic place to visit for history lovers, wine connoisseurs and fans of ‘second cities’ that are more chill than the capitals.
However, there are a few things you should know before visiting Portugal‘s second city, so I’ll present the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision based on the type of traveller you are.
Accommodation: Booking.com / Hostelworld
Getting there: flight (Skyscanner), train (Omio), bus (Flixbus)
Porto activities: GetYourGuide / Viator
Car hire: Rentalcars.com
Guidebook: Lonely Planet Porto
Why I lived in Porto, Portugal
I moved to Porto after spending 18 months stuck at home during the pandemic, an era when I lost my income, ability to travel and my confidence. Porto was my recovery and return to my adventures and myself. I’ll always look back on my time in Porto as one of the best of my life but that’s far from the only reason I recommend it. Porto is fantastic. I could the ways… and I will!
Honestly, the only reason I ever left was because Brexit had just happened and I legally had to. I’d felt so wronged by the universe during the pandemic so to get back on my feet, then lose the new life I’d built in Porto due to something I never voted for, was another tough blow.
I complained a lot during that time but, looking back, I’m just entirely grateful I got to live in Porto at all. I’ll always treasure the memories.
But you didn’t come here for my emotional ramblings… You came here wondering ‘What is Porto like to visit?’ and I’m here to fill you in!
Is Porto worth visiting? 14 reasons why
Obviously, I could sing the praises of Porto all day and it’s a very liveable city. But in this article, I’ll focus on what makes it a good holiday destination and why you should plan a trip.
Spectacular sunset viewpoints
When I think back on my time in Porto, the sunsets immediately come to mind. Come the early evening, you could find me eating a dinner picnic (more about the food in Porto to come) in a sunset-facing park, or in a bar with €3 Aperol Spritz in hand… I was so happy!
There are fantastic places to watch sunset in Porto but my favourite is the top level of Luis I Bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel (not his most famous monument!). The bridge connects characterful Riberia (Porto Old Town known for its tall houses and tight alleyways, plus the sunny riverfront promenade of Cais da Ribeira) with Vila Nova de Gaia.
The bridge leads to Jardim do Morro where there’s a grassy seating area and a bar. Another great sunset viewpoint is from the Crystal Palace Gardens on the other side of the city.
There are wonderful sunsets around the year, aside from when it’s cloudy. But even in December and January, I watched beautiful sunsets most nights around 5.30pm. In July, they happen around 9pm.
Stunning azulejos (tiles)
If you love beautiful cities and interesting architecture, you will absolutely think Porto is worth visiting. Drenched in intricate clay tiles – the majority bright shades of blue – it’s one the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited.
Some of the most attractive places to admire azulejos are São Bento train station, Santo Ildefonso church, the Chapel of Souls near Bolhão Market and Igreja do Carmo, a ‘twin church’ connected to Igreja das Carmelitas by a tiny house used for meetings during the Siege of Porto.
We have the Middle East to thank for Portuguese tiles. Tiles were first invented in Egypt but came to Spain with Arabs in the 13th century. The word azulejos doesn’t stem from the Spanish or Portuguese word blue but an Arabic word meaning ‘small polished stone’. Blue was simply fashionable in Portugal during the Age of Discoveries (15th-18th centuries) and synonymous with wealth and power.
Tons of history
Why visit Porto as a history lover? Well, Porto is one of the oldest cities in Europe with more than 2,000 years of history.
Porto was a Celtic settlement named Cale until the Romans added a port, naming it Portus Cale and inspiring the name of the city and country today. After rule by the Moors and the Spanish, Portugal finally achieved independence in 1139.
Porto became a major trading port known for ship-building in the 15th century which brought wealth to the city. During the Age of Discoveries, Henry the Navigator and Vasco de Gama acted as key figures in the colonisation of places such as Goa and Mozambique.
However, later centuries in Porto’s history saw hardship during Spanish Hapsburg rule, French invasion and the Siege of Porto – the walls built during which have since earned the city UNESCO Heritage status. Hardship intensified from 1932–68 when the most recent dictator in Western Europe ruled the country.
Top spots history in Porto:
- Porto Cathedral – this 12th-century cathedral is known for its cloisters decorated with azulejos and rooftop pano views
- Church of São Francisco – built in 1245 and covered in 100kg of gold!
- Episcopal Palace (Bishop’s Palace) – beside Se Cathedral, this baroque / rococo-style masterpiece was designed by Nicolau Nasoni, like half the city.
- Monastery of Serra do Pilar – over the bridge in Gaia, this lofty monastery took 72 years to build, starting life as a convent and becoming a military base during the Siege of Porto.
A convenient city break
Some cities require a week to properly explore, while other smaller ones are best visited as part of a wider country trip. However, Porto is the perfect size for a mini break of 2-3 days, ideal if you have limited time. For an easy weekend away with enough to keep you busy, I can’t recommend Porto enough.
Read my 3 day Porto itinerary to plan your trip right done to the small details.
The airport is conveniently located a 25-minute drive from the city, connected by Metro, bus and taxi (including Uber).
Tasty hearty food
I loved the food in Porto but I will balance this point by saying it does depend on what type of food you like. If you prefer fresh, healthy food then the cuisine will not be an enticing reason to visit Porto. However, if you’re not afraid of a carbohydrate or 20, I think you’ll love the rich and hearty food from Porto!
Porto dishes to try:
- Francesinha – OTT sandwiches stuffed with steak, sausage and ham, drenched in cheesy tomato beer sauce with a side of fries.
- Bacalhau (cod) – the Portuguese eat more cod than any other EU nation. Try bacalhau com natas with a cream and potato sauce, bacalhau à Braga (fried fish with chunky potato slices) and bolinhos de bacalhau, fritters made with potato and salted cod.
- Bifana – well-seasoned pork is served in a crusty bread roll. Lines snake around the corner at Conga restaurant.
- Alheira – sausages made with poultry or bread instead of pork were invented by the Jewish community when hiding from persecution.
Also, the wine and cheese alone make Porto worth a visit. I particularly enjoyed the wine in Porto because it’s so close to the Douro Valley where vinho verde is produced. This translates as green wine indicating the fresh, fizzy nature of this young wine (it’s not green in colour).
Also, we can’t fail to discuss pastel de natas! These little morsels of joy enriched my daily life living in Porto and tightened all my clothes, but at least the endless hills in Porto got me working them off. You’ll find them everywhere but I have a few meticulously researched favourites in my guide to the best pastel de natas in Porto.
However, it’s not all about heavy red meat and carbs. One of the best places to visit for seafood fans is the coastal area of Matashinos (a Metro ride from the centre) where countless restaurants serve fresh seafood.
Also, Porto is becoming increasingly vegan-friendly. As well as dedicated vegan restaurants in Porto, you’ll find veggie options at many tourist-friendly restaurants such as Brasao, one of the top places to eat franceshina sandwiches. I also found several vegan pastel de natas (ranked in my vegan guide linked above).
Browse food experiences in Porto…
Compared to other cities in Western Europe, you’ll find Porto to be refreshingly affordable and far cheaper than Lisbon. You can find decent hotels from €30 a night, plus it’s easy to get around by Metro or bus for €2.
Like most cities, the city centre has plenty of tourist-friendly restaurants where the prices are inflated. But choose to avoid these and you have a plethora of dining options that won’t break the bank. You can find meals in restaurants for €5 and glasses of wine for €2!
Some restaurants I like for reasonably priced authentic food are Cana Verde, Taberna Santo Antonio and Cafe Almada. For open sandwiches and cheap wine, head to Aduela.
In addition, there are plenty of free things to do in Porto such as walking in Crystal Palace Gardens, spotting street art and even taking a free walking tour with a local guide. So, if you’re a budget traveller wondering whether Porto is worth visiting, it’s a big fat yes!
It’s off-the-beaten-track compared to Lisbon
Porto is undeniably less touristic than Lisbon, a city that many would say has been destroyed by mass tourism. The best way I can describe it is that Lisbon feels like a cosmopolitan city anywhere in Europe while Porto has more of an authentic Portuguese feel.
But how long can it last?
As Porto becomes more popular, locals are already being pushed out of the city centre due to the rising costs of housing and influx of Airbnbs.
Porto’s future teeters on the edge, so I urge you to be a responsible tourist by shopping, eating and sleeping at places owned by locals rather than multinational corporations.
Day trips with great variety
Whether you’re looking for historic towns or sweeping valleys with nature and fantastic local wines, Porto is worth visiting as the gateway to Northern Portugal.
Hands down my favourite day trip from Porto was to the Douro Valley, an ancient wine region with spectacular scenery. I have visited the Douro Valley as a day trip from Porto and also stayed overnight. Although I preferred spending a few days, a day trip provides a taste of the region if you’re short of time.
Some of the best tours include:
Another day trip I enjoyed was to Aveiro, a canal city an hour’s train ride from Porto. While there, you can take a side trip to Costa Nova seaside where there’s a beautiful beach and colourful beach huts. I managed to squeeze in the main things to do in Aveiro and Costa Nova, arriving back in Porto early evening.
Other Porto day trips for history fans include Braga, Coimbra and Guimarães, while nature lovers can head to Peneda-Gerês National Park for hiking and sweeping vistas.
Port wine tasting
If you’re not already a fan of port wine, this might not initially seem like a reason to visit Porto. I’ll admit that before my trip I thought of port as something my grandma might drink. Flash forward a few weeks and I had a bottle in the house that I was sipping nightly in place of dessert (okay, sometimes as well as dessert!).
Sweet port wine was invented when regular wine would spoil during the boat ride from Portugal to Britain. Fortified grape spirit was added to preserve it and – voila – port was born!
There are two types of red port (tawny and ruby), dry and sweet whites, and even a rosé port that was invented to tempt younger customers. A fun activity in Porto is going port tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia, the area across Luis I Bridge.
The famous port houses like Graham’s Port Lodge offer pricey history tours and tasting packages but you can simply head to a modest waterfront bar like Bar Soares to try five types for €5!
Porto is known for history before nightlife but if you’re a young, social traveller wondering is Porto worth visiting? then I’d say the answer is yes!
Although Porto won’t make any lists of the best nightlife cities in the world, I had a blast while living there. There are cool cocktail bars in Porto like the Royal Cocktail Club in Baixa (the centre), TerraPlana Café in Bonfim and Capela Incomum, a quirky refurbished chapel in Cedofeita. Meanwhile, Letraria and Carmo Brewery offer fantastic craft beers.
Maus Habitos is a cool venue shifting from a pizza restaurant to a cocktail bar and DJ event space as the night goes on. The clubs aren’t great but Rua de Galeria De Paris is the street to visit on a Friday or Saturday night, or dance to live bands at RUA Tapas & Music Bar.
Finally, catching a fado show makes for a unique night. Fado is a typical type of Portuguese music meaning ‘fate’ with a melancholy twist. Still, a show is a lot of fun. Buy a ticket for Galerias de Paris or Casa da Guitarra.
If you’re the type of traveller – like myself – who enjoys ticking off the main attractions in a new city but then getting off the beaten track for some hidden gems and unusual neighbourhoods, you’re going to enjoy Porto.
The trendiest hood is Cedofeita, a hit with young people looking for world cuisine and cool brunch places in Porto.
Then, there’s Bonfim, a lesser-known area (where I used to live) that is starting to host third-wave coffee shops, cocktail bars and even a kombucha brewery. Just a short walk away is Fontainhas, a local neighbourhood with cheap food and wonderful river views.
So, whatever you like, there’s plenty to explore in Porto!
Colourful street art
To street art fans wondering if Porto is worth visiting, I would say YES! As a street art devotee, I was impressed with the colourful murals I saw in Porto especially the giant blue cat on Rua das Flores.
However, the one thing that disappointed me about the Porto street art scene was that all the artists are men. I researched many of the murals and couldn’t find a single woman artist. For shame, Porto!
Strong coffee culture
This is a great destination for coffee fanatics because there are plenty of third-wave coffee shops in Porto like Combi Coffee Roasters, C’alma and Fábrica Coffee Roasters. For the best views in town, head to My Coffee Porto.
Be sure to try the local coffee, too. Authentic bakeries and cafes serve pingus (espresso with a touch of foam) for a fraction of the cost of a flat white. At my local, I’d get a morning coffee and pastel de nata for €1. You can’t beat that!
Easy access to other places in Portugal
Portugal is an easy country to travel around with an efficient bus and train network. If you’re hoping to see more of the country, Porto is a fantastic launching point. It’s also cheap: I caught a €5 FlixBus to explore Lisbon for 3 days!
From Porto airport, you’re well connected to the Portuguese islands with flights from just €20. I had a blast exploring the many things to do in Madeira during 6 weeks there as well as eating all the tasty Madeira food which is a little lighter than the Porto cuisine with even more fresh seafood.
And, of course, you’re well connected to other places in Europe so, if you’re visiting from another continent where affordable country-hopping isn’t an option, this might be yet another perk of visiting Porto… As if you needed more!
Reasons Porto might not be worth visiting
As you can tell, I adore Porto. It’s the perfect city break for so many types of travellers. But every place isn’t for every person. Here are a few ways Porto falls short…
The (tenuous) Harry Potter connection – Porto plays up the fact that JK Rowling allegedly drew inspiration while living in the city. Other blogs may tell you Porto is worth visiting for Livraria Lello and Cafe Majestic (built in Art Nouveau style) where it’s said she wrote first drafts on napkins.
However, she’s debunked the rumours by saying she never went inside Livraria Lello! Both locations are PACKED from dawn to dusk and horribly overpriced. So, if you were thinking of visiting Porto for the Harry Potter connection alone, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Many hills – travellers with mobility issues may find Porto a difficult city to visit. Even as a young, able-bodied person, some of the hills were a struggle. A lot of work has clearly gone into accessibility with several cable cars and lifts available (these are usually crowded) but the way the city was built centuries ago is hard to overcome.
Limited major attractions aside from historical ones – when you research what to do in Porto, you’ll be met with mainly historic attractions (that won’t excite everyone) like the Cathedral and Cleirgos Tower, alongside chill activities like admiring the azulejos and crossing Luis I Bridge. Simply, Porto doesn’t have the world-famous attractions of Paris or Barcelona.
Although I prefer cities with hidden gems and quirky neighbourhoods, if you want the star attractions of Europe, you could be underwhelmed by Porto. But I hope not!
Thanks for reading!
I hope you have a better idea of whether Porto is worth visiting… I think you know my answer 😉
TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING PORTUGAL
Getting there by air – I use Skyscanner to find the best-value flights, using the ‘search by month’ tool to find the cheapest dates. You can also use the ‘to anywhere’ feature if you’re flexible on where you’re going.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).
For trains, I use Omio. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website. This is also a handy tool to compare trains and buses in one search.
For buses, I use FlixBus. Find journeys between European countries from €1!
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide and Viator.
Need travel insurance? I use True Traveller (for UK & Europe residents) since it’s some of the most affordable insurance out there but still covers everything you’d need including various activities, valuables and pre-existing conditions. Unlike some companies, they insure you if you’re already travelling / don’t yet have your flight home booked. Get a quote.
For travel insurance for other nationalities, I recommend Hey Mundo and for long-term digital nomad travellers, I suggest Safety Wing.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!