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Your guide to Porto
All About Porto
Famous for its sweet wine namesake, the city of Porto is a patchwork of cobbled streets, ornate churches, and historic buildings decorated with distinct blue and white tiles called azulejos. The magnificent São Bento railway station is a fine example of one such building, with more than 20,000 tiles adorning its walls. The Douro River runs through the heart of this port in northwestern Portugal, and you can stop off at the fish restaurants, perfume and ceramic shops, and lively bars lining its banks. Alongside the riverbank, you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage site historic neighborhood of Ribeira, known for its narrow winding streets and colorful tiled houses. For a bird’s-eye view of proceedings, you can take the climb up to the manicured Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, where babbling fountains frame the sweeping panorama.
Across the water in Vila Nova da Gaia, you can visit the city’s historic cellars, which are still used to store and mature port the traditional way. Porto is the birthplace of the famous fortified dessert wine, so you can expect to see it everywhere — and there are cellars all over the city where you can sample white, rosé, and ruby red varieties.
How do I get around Porto?
Porto Airport (OPO) is 20 minutes from the city center by taxi. The metro is also a good option and should reach the city in half an hour. If you’re traveling from Lisbon, a high-speed train will get you to Porto in about three hours. The city has an excellent light rail and bus network. The old town of Porto is compact and easy to explore on foot, but the metro system is excellent for longer trips. A jaunt on one of the historic electric trams — among the oldest trams in Europe — is also a lovely way to see the city.
When is the best time to stay in a vacation rental in Porto?
Portugal experiences a mild oceanic climate, which makes vacation rentals in Porto popular all year round. In summer, expect warm days and balmy nights for walks by the river and dining outdoors. Make sure you bring sunscreen and a hat, as it can get very hot in the middle of the day. June 23 marks Festa de São João do Porto, when the city celebrates its patron saint by eating, drinking, and dancing, topped off with fireworks over the river from midnight.
September and October are pleasant months to visit, with warm days, the changing colors of the trees in local parks, and fewer people. In September, Porto celebrates Port Wine Day with festivities across the city and plenty of opportunities to sample the famous drink. March through May is also an enjoyable time, when the weather is warm and the magnolia trees in the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal are in bloom. Temperatures cool down in winter, but you’ll still enjoy mostly mild and dry days.
What are the top things to do in Porto?
Mercado de Bolhão
Less than 15 minutes from the centrally located Porto Cathedral, you can explore the largest, most historic indoor market in the city. Enter through original 19th-century wrought-iron gates to find hundreds of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, and local cheeses. You’ll often see buskers playing traditional music outside, and look out for street food stalls selling bacalhau com natas — a baked salt cod dish that’s a Porto favorite.
Teleférico de Gaia Cable Car
Board the Teleférico de Gaia cable car to soak up stunning views of the Douro River. You’ll ride high above the city to the top of the hill by Porto’s iconic Luis I Bridge, which was designed by the architect who created the Eiffel Tower.
One of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, Porto’s Torres do Clérigos sits at the summit of the historic Clérigos Church. Once you’ve climbed the 230 steps to the top of the bell tower, you’ll be rewarded with magnificent panoramic views of the city and the meandering river. Time your visit around the hourly chimes to complete the experience.