As Lisbon becomes ever more popular as a European destination, Porto establishes itself as the next trendy “up and comer” amongst hipsters and travel bugs. Read on to find out if you are one of them!
Is Porto Worth Visiting?
Let’s get straight into it: Is Porto worth making time for on your dream Portugal vacation?
I wouldn’t personally choose to spend more than 2 to 3 days in the city because there are other parts of Portugal I like much better!
If you have 4-5 days or more, combine your visit to Porto with a trip to Guimaraes to make the most of your time.
Getting to Porto
Trains from Lisbon to Porto
Porto is an easy and affordable train ride from Lisbon that departs many times per day (10 or more!) You don’t really need to plan ahead for the journey since trains are so frequent, but if you do you will save some money.
Standard one way train fare ranges from € 25.10 to € 31.90.
Non-refundable fares booked 8+ days in advance can be purchased as low as € 9.50.
The journey is between 2hrs 45mins and 3hrs 15mins, with the faster trains being the more expensive ones.
Lisbon’s Oriente station is one of the places that you can catch the train to Porto, and it is worth visiting in itself.
You can book your train tickets with CP – The national railway – online or at a station.
Pay attention to your tickets because typically there are assigned seats, unlike rail travel in some other countries. If seat selection is optional, pay for it! It’s very awkward to get bumped out of seats repeatedly as people show up for their assigned ones.
Flying from Lisbon to Porto
While you can fly from Lisbon to Porto in just one hour for relatively cheap ($50 to $75 USD,) not only is it less eco friendly, but with check in, security, and waiting, it amounts to about the same amount of time.
Rail travel is more scenic and more cost effective, so it is my travel method of choice in Portugal.
Where to Stay in Porto
Porto is not as walkable as Lisbon (or other Portuguese old towns for that matter!) It is very hilly, and requires a LOT more effort to get around on foot.
For that reason, you should definitely try to get accommodation close to the sights that you most want to see. While Porto does have a metro, coverage in the centre is not great.
For the most “Things to do” withing walking distance, try to stay near Sao Bento Station.
Porto 2 Day Itinerary
If you have arrived by train, take the metro to Sao Bento Station in Porto’s city centre.
Sao Bento Station
If you arrive by rail, this is one stop on the itinerary that you don’t even need to make time for!
Sao Bento Station is famous for it’s tiled walls which depict Portugal’s rich history. The station was once the site of a monastery, but it burnt to the ground in the late 1700’s and was replaced by another church. That church was then torn down to build the rail station in the early 1900’s.
The blue and white tile is very typical Portuguese, and is a great intro if you haven’t spend much time in Portugal.
I have often heard this train station referred to as the most beautiful in Portugal.
Explore the historic old town area on foot and find a cafe for breakfast.
Remember that “coffee” in Portugal is espresso, so if you want something resembling your coffee from home, ask for “coffee: long with milk.” They will run the espresso shot longer and add milk, making it more like your cup of Joe.
Take lots of pictures as you traverse the hills of the city centre.
Sé do Porto – Porto Cathedral
During your walk you will no doubt see the Porto Cathedral. Built on a hilltop, this impressive stone structure is in the oldest neighbourhood in Porto: Morro da Sé
It’s a bit of a hike to get to, but so is most of the city!
This cathedral was constructed from 1110 to the mid-1700s and sports a variety of architectural styles. From the front it actually looks very similar to Notre Dame. It even has the flower window! The rest of that side is more Portuguese in style, and other parts are Baroque.
The cathedral still offers daily mass at 11 am. A visit inside the church is free, but for 3 euros (2 euros for students) you can visit the cloisters.
We always pay extra to visit the other parts of these old churches. First, because it’s never expensive, and second, because not many people do. If you want to skip the crowds, head to the cloisters!
Porto Tourism Office
We don’t visit tourist information offices very often, but the one in Porto is different! The office itself is in a medieval building right beside the Porto Cathedral.
The staff are exceptionally helpful and you can book a variety of things here. (Including a Douro River Cruise and Port Tasting Tour – which I will get to momentarily!)
Break for lunch at…..
“Really? On this, a website dedicated to authentic and meaningful travel experiences, you wish to recommend….a McDonald’s??”
It’s more about the decor, and the oddness of it being a McDonald’s in the first place, but yes, the Porto Imperial McDonald’s in the historic centre, is a sight to behold.
Chandeliers hang from the ceiling in this beautiful art deco building. It really does have to be seen!
This restaurant is only about 2.5 blocks from the Sao Bento station at Avenido dos Aliados.
Honestly though, you don’t even need to know any of that. Any local could direct you to the fancy McDonald’s, and even Google knows that the “Porto McDonald’s” is THE Porto McDonald’s.
Day 1 – Afternoon
Douro River Cruise
Porto is known for it’s six bridges, all of which cross the Douro River, which flows right through the city.
Several operators offer a Douro River cruise, or tour, of the bridges. If the weather is good on Day 1, book an afternoon boat ride through the city.
The tour takes about 50 minutes and you can admire all of the colourful houses lining the riverbank, as well as the bridges.
We purchased our cruise tickets at the Tourist Information centre. I can’t remember exactly how much we paid, but it’s not expensive.
You can also buy tickets in advance from Get Your Guide, just make sure they are refundable, because you WILL NOT want to do the tour in the rain.
Cost: Approx. $20 USD per person
If the weather isn’t good, switch to some of Day 2’s indoor sights and come back for a cruise at a better time.
One of the areas that you will pass if you take the cruise, is the beautiful Ribeira neighbourhood of Porto.
This colourful riverside area evokes images of Cinque Terre, but without the insane crush of tourists.
If you didn’t get enough of Ribeira from the water, take a walk through it after your cruise!
Day 1 – Evening
Have dinner and relax, or climb the Clerigos Tower at night (see Day 2.)
You know what to do! Start your day with a coffee and a Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tart.)
To be completely honest, I don’t like custard so I would have some other kind of pastry, but since this is not about me, proceed with the custard!
Just a few blocks from Sao Bento Station in the centre of old Porto, is Igreja dos Clerigos (Clerigos Church.) You will probably have passed it a few times by this point, on your jaunts through the old town on Day 1.
This 18th century Baroque church boasts a stunning facade and an impressive bell tower.
You can climb the tower’s 200+ steps for a panoramic view of Porto.
Entry to the church is free, and it is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm. To visit the tower, and enjoy the museum in the church, is just 6 Euros.
If you want to climb the tower at night, the night pass is 5 Euros and gains you entry to the tower only, from 7 pm to 9pm.
Both tickets are free for children 10 or younger.
Igreja do Carmo
Another building in Porto that shows off traditional blue and white tile, both inside and out. Igreja do Carmo is just a few blocks from Clerigos, still in Porto’s historic centre.
This church is actually two churches: Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas with a tiny house sandwiched between. At the house you can pay your entrance fee of 3.50 Euros to enter both churches as well as the cloisters and the catacombs.
You will see the priests living quarters, a secret passage, and even a glass coffin containing a mummified sister. (Oh my!)
If you attend the afternoon mass you can look in the churches for free, but for such a small fee it is well worth seeing the parts that are off limits.
Break for lunch!
Day 2 – Afternoon
Port Tasting in Porto
Porto is famous for Port! (Porto Portugal Port – If that’s not confusing!)
If you’ve never had Port before, it’s a strong alcohol that is very sweet. It’s very similar to brandy.
Across the river from the old town are the various port producer’s wine cellars. It’s best to book a tour for this experience, because each of the establishments will want to take you for a brewery tour before you try the product.
If you need it to be in English, then you will have to plan ahead a little and book a tour, rather than walk in off the street. Port tasting is a very popular activity, so don’t sweat too much about the arrangements.
There is no need to choose a tour from home. They are very inexpensive (because hopefully you will buy some Port!) and you will have many choices, so don’t worry about leaving it until you arrive.
You may even get a voucher at other tourist attractions!
If you find yourself in Porto with no leads on a good Port tour, ask at your accommodation or tourist info.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
An honourable mention of sorts, this church isn’t open to visitors on weekdays and is only open for mass. It is beautiful however, and a great photo spot. You will likely walk past it at some point and not need to make plans for it.
Day 2 – Evening
As your trip to Porto winds down, take the evening to do anything that you saw along the way, or just relax. (Perhaps with some port?)
I know this is a Slow Travel Blog, but I find that in both Lisbon and Porto there aren’t any blockbuster things to see, and the atmosphere isn’t as quaint as other places. So while both are worth a visit, neither are my top choice to spend a lot of time in.
If you’re continuing through Portugal, move on to Guimaraes and spend more time there.
Take a look at my full Slow Travel Portugal Itinerary to see where else you should spend some serious time!
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