We are forever recommending Portugal to our friends who visit Europe and Porto is an absolute must. While writing this we are searching for the cost of flights to go back (maybe after 2020 we should look at a one-way).
Porto is any travelers dream. From accommodation, transport to food it can suit any style of traveler from both luxury to budget. You do not need to search hard for a meal and a drink for under €8 per person and even cheaper again for a breakfast. If you enjoy a tipple in the evening Porto is home to the only authentic Port wine in the world, and the best bit is that it is affordable. The cost of all activities we did whilst in Porto are all included below (based on 2018).
But we don't love Porto just because it is budget friendly, it is also beautiful. The city is so vibrant and full of color and just a stones throw away from the ocean. Unlike a lot of cities that are flat and sparse, Porto is condense and contains quite a number of stairs! Don't let this put off though as there are many routes to get up high, we just chose the quickest and most direct way. The elevation makes for many wonderful views points, most notable seeing the famous Douro River that snakes it way through the center of the city.
best time to visit Porto
Our first experience in Porto was a beautiful foggy morning. As the city was waking up we were wandering around orientating ourselves in the misty surroundings. The well known Portuguese vibrant and colorful buildings and red tiled roofs were popping their way out through the mist. It was a perfect start to our weekend in Porto. We traveled to Porto in November. It was comfortably cool but not cold. Summer (June to September) can get quite warm (mid 20's to 30's) and is a perfect and quite popular European summer destination so be prepared for the tourist density and possibly more inflated prices for accommodation.
Whether you are flocking to Porto for it's beaches or to experience the city can determine the time of year you plan to travel. If the city is what you are going for, then you are pretty safe to come here anytime between March - November and avoid the rain.
Top things to do in Porto
Visit the Ribeira
The district of Ribeira is unsurprisingly the most sought after destination for accommodation because of it's views overlooking Douro river. Ribeira is the perfect location for a nice stroll, a bite to eat or sit with a coffee and to explore the many local craft shops. If you are lucky you may also stumble across an outdoor market to pick up local souvenirs.
Visit Sé cathedral
In our opinion, Sé is one of the most beautiful cathedral's we have ever seen. What is so unique is that you can go beyond the interior and wander the exterior. The fantastic blue and white azulejos tiles are simply stunning and is a key feature seen throughout the cathedral.
This same azulejos artwork can also be found in Porto's Sao Bento station (train station).
Admission is free, give yourselves at least 30 minutes to explore.
Check out Livraria Lello
This extraordinary bookshop was claimed to be inspiration for J.K Rowling when first beginning her writing of Harry Potter. Livraria Lello, located in Vitória district, certainly deserves it's popularity due to its wonderful architecture and unique staircase.
Unfortunately in our opinion it is a shame that it has been turned into a tourist attraction due to it's link with Harry Potter. The building is far too small for the number of tourists who flock here daily and you lose the experience of what it is designed for - a bookstore. Nevertheless we were pleased to visit as the inner nerd inside us loved being surrounded by books, even if it were with hundreds of other people.
Entry is €4 per person but if you choose to buy something from the bookstore this cost is deducted from your purchase.
Spend a day tasting wine
You surely came to Porto with the plan to taste what this region is most famous for - Port wine. When walking in the district of Ribeira and looking across the Douro river to the district of Vila Nova de Gaia, it is impossible to miss the big bold signs of each wine lodge scattered among the rooftops. They are a welcomed reminder trying to constantly coax you over.
Did you know The Douro Valley is the only existing location in the world who are able to produce and sell Port under it's existing name. Other produce that is made to taste like port is not actually allowed to be called 'Port' or 'Porto'. There are very strict guidelines on how Port must be made for it to deserve it's label. The Douro Valley harvest the grapes in September and then get stomping. Yes, stomping. Grapes are crushed in big barrels from the bare feet of women and men. The stomping is an important process in starting the fermentation process. Once the grapes are satisfactorily crushed, they are left to continue fermenting for a further 3-4 days before it is fortified with a 77% alcohol of wine brandy. The difference between still wines and Port wine is that fortification starts much earlier than still wines. Still wine is left to ferment for a longer period of time allowing the sugars to convert to alcohol. This means that the alcohol content in Port wines are much higher whilst maintaining the natural sugars and flavors of the grapes. Once fortified, the Port wine is distributed into barrels and left to settle. The wood of the barrel will also add different flavors to the wine over time giving each Port a different taste. The following year the Port is transported to the lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia to either be bottled or left to mature. This is one reason among many that makes this city so special and a delicious experience you can not have anywhere else in the world.
If you are not the worlds biggest wine enthusiast, I would recommend to at least try one Port wine..or a sip. We must confess that this was our first experience drinking Port because, well, why not start where it was actually produced. We pleasantly enjoyed the taste more than we anticipated and went back for seconds, and thirds.
For those wine and Port enthusiasts out there, perhaps a day excursion to the Douro Valley to visit the wineries might be an enticing adventure and one for that bucket list.
Visit the cellars of Porto's oldest wine producer - Croft
Croft has been circulating it's goodness since 1588. It is the longest standing port wine producer of wood aged reserves and tawnies. While you obviously need to taste test some of the Port's on offer, we would recommend to take time for the cellar tour as well. This was a great way to understand first hand the process from harvest through to production and how the flavors are created. We were certainly shocked at some of the ages of the Port wine which were still being developed in the wooden barrel's.
Cellar tour is €14 per person and includes 3 tasters.
Take a ride on the vintage tram
From Ribeira look out for tram #1 which follows the Douro river for a scenic 20 minute ride to Foz Do Douro. Dating back to 1895, Porto has one of the oldest tram systems still in use in Europe. The service, now only with three remaining lines, is not part of the cities metro transport system but instead served as a heritage service. This means that the cost is a little more expensive than other transport within Porto, however the trams maintain their character of wooden interiors and brass finishing. Keep an ear out for the noisy bell which is rung when approaching each stop. It is worth taking the journey at least one way for the experience.
Foz Do Douro is a seaside region full of white sand beaches and seafront restaurants and bars. This is where the North Atlantic ocean meets the Douro river.
The cost is €3 per journey.
Cross the Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge
This cleverly designed bridge is the gateway across the Douro river. The Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge has two levels; the bottom for local traffic and the top for metro services. You can walk across either level to reach the district of Vila Nova de Gaia which is home to the port wine lodges and many restaurants.
Have a pastry filled breakfast
By far one of the reasons we love Portugal the most. A breakfast full of sweet and savory filled goodness topped with a Portuguese coffee. It is safe to say it would be dangerous if we lived in Portugal as our stomachs would grow in double within weeks.
We have done our fair share of damage to many cafe spots around Lisbon and Porto and I can't say we have had a bad one yet. Therefore, find a local cafe, go nuts and pick a selection of pastries and savory items and just indulge. It will not break the budget and you will thank us later.
Cost of 5 items and 2 coffees comes to roughly €10.