Fabio Mendes has travelled extensively in Porto, so we asked him to give us his very best tips and advice for a great holiday.
There are plenty of reasons why Porto won the award for Best European Destination at the World Travel Awards in 2017. If you enjoy history, excellent food and wonderful views, you will agree that Porto deserves this title.
Porto is the largest city in Northern Portugal, and gives its name to the famous dessert wine, port. The city combines its historical roots and modern aspirations, in a setting which at first seems similar to its famous southern sister Lisbon, but feels quite different.
Placed at the margin of the river Douro, Porto represents an entire region proud of its uniqueness.
When to go, and how to reach Porto
Due to its more northerly location, Porto is spared from the typical Portuguese heat. Average temperatures between 20C (68F) in May and 25C (77F) in August, and almost no rain at all, offer perfect conditions to explore the city.
The airport of Porto is served by easyJet, Ryanair, British Airways, and TAP Portugal. Upon arrival, you will easily find public transport to the city centre right in front of the terminal.
To move around the city, you can buy a Porto Card day pass for six Euros, with discounts if you want a card lasting more than one day. This price includes the rechargeable card. With this pass, you can even use the public elevators, which bring you from the lower to the higher parts of the city. Make sure you always activate the ticket upon entering all transport and that a green light flashes afterwards.
What to see and do
If you arrive by train, the São Bento Station is a good first sight to behold. The impressive hall, completely covered with the famous Portuguese blue tiles, gives you an incredible first impression!
Walk down the narrow streets towards the river. You will reach Ribeira, the part of the city right by the river and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can stroll along the promenade until you reach the Dom Luis I. Bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel, or just enjoy the scenery sitting at a café and drinking port.
If you are up for learning more about the Age of Discoveries, head to the Casa do Infante. Nowadays, this antique building houses a museum about the history of the city, but it is also the birthplace of Henry the Navigator, the famous mastermind behind the Portuguese discoveries of the New World. I can also recommend visiting the Palacio da Bolsa, a building that took 30 years to finish; its main purpose was to impress visitors to the city!
What to eat
Not many cities can claim to have such a vast offering of delicious restaurants as Porto. Typical Portuguese dishes are quite simple, and that means that plenty of places will offer you good food. In Porto, it’s actually difficult to stumble upon a restaurant where you will be unhappy.
The most famous dish in Porto is the Francesinha. It’s a sandwich made of different types of meats and sausage, with a fried egg and molten cheese on top. The secret is the sauce, and every single restaurant is proud to announce that their sauce is the best in town. The servings are usually so generous that many people can’t even eat it all.
Another creation of Porto is Tripas, which is a tripe stew that has been eaten in the city since the 15th century. Probably not the tastiest option, but surely one to tell your friends at home about!
Seafood and fish dishes are highly recommended too. Restaurants easily source fresh and high-quality fish at the local markets. You can try the local octopus salad almost everywhere, and it’s perfect as a side dish! Usually, lunch for two, with a bottle of house wine included, should not cost you more than 35 to 45 Euros.
The Port Wine Experience
It’s impossible to escape the sweet wine in Porto. Made world-famous by the British, you can have a small glass everywhere in the city for less than the equivalent of £2. To get the full experience, cross the river to the south side and visit the Port Wine cellars. Most of them offer guided tours, including a Port Wine tasting at the end. Graham, Sandeman’s and Cockburn are just some of the most famous names where you can learn all about the wine.
Another highlight is the river cruise offered by several operators. You will sail upstream, out of the city and into the heart of Northern Portugal to see where the grapes used for Port grow. It’s possible to visit the actual vineyards, sometimes with the guide being the owner himself.
In June, the Douro Fair is an excellent opportunity to taste the specialities of the region, not only the wines.
For the return to Porto, use the historical train for a memorable trip back in time!