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Exploring the Best of Porto: A Weekend Guide to Portugal's Vibrant City

If you’ve been thinking about going to Porto, Portugal let me help you out a little bit, GO! Portugal’s second-largest city is an absolutely beautiful place to spend a few days strolling the hills of Cedofeita, having some authentic cuisine in the Baxia area, then sipping on some famous Port Wine along Ribeira. This city exudes a sense of pride in Portugal’s past and present, offering visitors a taste of rich heritage, warm hospitality, and the essence of vintage Portuguese traditions.

Nestled along the Douro River near the North of the country, Porto encapsulates an enchanting blend of history, culture, and vibrant energy. Known mostly for its local wine, simply known as Port, this coastal city has long held great importance in trade for the country. Its name simply refers to how important it is as a Port City and in 1996 Porto was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area along the river known as Ribeira, boasts colorful buildings, narrow streets, and stunning views of bridges like Dom Luís I and Gaia across the river.

Most people think that the city of Porto is on both sides of the Douro River when in fact on the south side of the river is the city of Gaia. Gaia is where you will find most of the wineries.

Here are some tips to get the most out of your trip to Porto:

1) Make sure to try some local food and wine

Head to The Bolhao Market in the late morning. A very local experience where you can get some lunch, olives, sandwiches and try some local wines.

The most traditional dish would have to be Francesinha. It’s a hearty sandwich that you will need a knife and fork for. You can have it for dinner as well but considered more of a lunchtime meal. Typically sitting on a bed of fries, it is a meat sandwich that is drenched in a beer tomato sauce with a fried egg on top. Bring an appetite! You can find vegan options as well, I recommend  Santa Francesinha.

For breakfast with your coffee, you need to try this little custard-filled tart called Pastel de Nata. Don’t be surprised if the bakery sells out by midday as these will go fast!

OK, one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in a while was Espécie - Restaurante Vegetariano. It was so flavorful we ate there on 3 different nights. Located in the Vitoria area (more on that later) this wasn’t traditional Portuguese food but everything we had was great. I would have to recommend the KFC Cauliflower, Eggplant Schnitzel, and curry.

(I do not believe they have a website, but you can get the address here.)

So here is where I create a little controversy in this blog… wasn’t a big fan of the Port wine. For me, it was too sweet. And I can drink Rose wine or champagne but I tried it a few times and could not get my head around it. The red wine is great! Had plenty of that.

2)      Know the different areas of the city:

  • Ribeira – Along the river, this is the historic district featuring colorful buildings, the Bolsa Palace, and major hotels. It is the quintessential area where you are going to spend most of your time.

  • Baixa - known as the downtown of Porto. Here you will find the most famous square, Liberdade Square, and Avenida dos Aliados which is a popular street for shopping and restaurants as well as the very mesmerizing Sao Bento station.

  • Boavista - an upscale area located a little further away from the Douro River.

  • Cedofeita - where we stayed. Lots of locals and art galleries. Considered the art district of Porto. Booked an AirBnB to get the local feel and loved staying here! Easy walk down to Ribeira, but I wouldn't recommend walking back (uphill the whole way).

  • Foz - Adjacent to Ribeira along the Douro River, closer to the ocean with some fortress' from the 1500's. Also considered a fashionable area of Porto.

  • Vila Nova de Gaia - Gaia which is on the other side of the Douro River from Porto. Here most of the wineries from the region have their showroom where you can do tastings. Also, a nice gondola takes you above the shops to the top of the hill, giving you a perfect bird’s eye view of the Porto coastline.

3)      Best time to visit

I would highly recommend 'Shoulder Season' to visit. These are the times just before and after the summer season. You should find it a little less crowded and a slight drop in hotel prices. May and September are considered the best times of year but I went in April and found the weather to be perfect. Long sunny days and the temperature was just right for exploring the city.

Some of the festivals throughout the year that could affect ticket and hotel prices, but also create a vibrant energy producing a lot of memories are:

Mid-February to March – Carnival

Early March – International Film Festival: Porto

Late March – Chocolate Festival

June 10th – National Day: Portugal

June 23rd ish – Festa de Sao Joao *Biggest festival of the year in Porto*

Late August – Feira de Sao Mateus

November 1st – All Saint’s Day

December – Various Christmas celebrations


4)      Suggested excursions

The most popular would be to of course do a wine tour around Porto and Gaia. But you can also book a tour up the river on a traditional boat known as a Rabelo and visit the wineries. Didn’t get a chance to do that this time around as I needed an extra day or two, but these two tours were recommended to me:

Complete tour - info on Viator

Wine tour with hotel pickup - info on TripAdvisor

One recommendation I did and would highly suggest was to go on a jeep tour around the city with Classic Porto Tours. Porto is a hilly city and it could get quite exhausting to trek up and down for a couple of days. So we got a jeep tour on our first full day there and it was awesome to see the city in the eyes of a local. Get recommendations and historical facts that would be otherwise hard to find in a book. The cost was $120 (Euro) for 2 people / 2 hours private excursion (cash only). Contact Alvaro on WhatsApp at +351918112953.

A key attraction that I think was a bit overrated is Livraria Lello. This bookstore is said to be the inspiration for JK Rowlings book series Harry Potter. Although she has never admitted to this, it draws lots of people. The bookstore is cool but gets WAY too crowded. So much so that it takes away from the experience. You'll need a ticket to go, and will line up ahead of your timeslot outside first.

Make sure to do at least one wine tour in Gaia. This is where most wineries have their store and you can sample wines from the region. Some just have tastings, but Taylor's Wine offers a full tour. You'll be given an audio device where you can learn about the region and history of the winery. After seeing where the wine is stored to age, you get a tasting in their garden. They have their resident peacocks which roam around the grounds.

I would 100% suggest Porto be added to your visit to Portugal, the location people, and vibe make it an amazing experience. You get all the amenities of a large city but with a smaller-town feel. The nights were vibrant with music everywhere and people eating outside in the square. If you have a choice of which major city in Portugal to spend the most time in, I would suggest Porto over Lisbon, absolutely.


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