Why Porto Portugal Should be on Your Bucket List

Why Porto Portugal Should be on Your Bucket List

When most people traveling to Portugal think about where they want to go, Lisbon is the first city that comes to mind.  While Lisbon is a nice city with a lot to see and do, I’d like to show you why Porto is the city you should make sure you discover in Portugal.

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, situated in the northern part of the country along the banks of the Douro River and the Atlantic Ocean.  The city is very hilly, more so than Lisbon, but is more walkable than Lisbon due to its smaller size.  It is most well known for the port wine, which has been produced in the region for centuries.  That is about the extent to which many people know about Porto before visiting.  But there is so much more to this picturesque European city.


The transportation system in Porto is great and fairly easy to navigate…once you figure out the ticketing system.  There is a metro system that mostly goes across the northern portion of the main city center.  This easily connects to the airport and across the Duoro River south to Vila Nova de Gaia.  The largest of the metro stations is Trindade where every metro line connects.  When we were in Porto we stayed near the Trindade station which gave us the option to either take the metro or walk to many places within Porto.  If you want to get to the Atlantic Ocean or the Foz neighborhood you’ll have to take the bus.  There are several bus routes from the Porto city center that will take you directly there without having to make any changes.

The one place that public transportation is somewhat lacking is near the wine cellars on the south side of the Duoro River.  When you wander through the steep narrow streets in the area this makes sense as there isn’t much room for cars, let alone a bus to get to this area.  So if you want to get to the wine cellars you have to do some walking or you can take the Teleférico de Gaia which does give you an amazing view of the river, but it is quite expensive at 7 Euros for a one way ticket or 10 Euros for a round trip.


The food in Porto was easily the best we had throughout Portugal.  We had good food at points in our trip through Portugal, but we didn’t have a single bad meal in Porto.  We found a lot of tapas bars in Porto, which is a great option if you are traveling with kids, like us, or want to share because then you can get small plates and taste lots of different items.  We went to one tapas bar in the evening where the food was just incredible. I savored some exquisite prawns complemented by a shared selection of assorted cheeses and potatoes.

Another night we ate at a steakhouse that was truly incredible.  We ordered skewers that they brought out on a long metal stick and the server sliced it up right onto our plates.  Even something as simple as a bifana, which is a pork sandwich, was excellent.  The bifanas were a nice option if we needed just a quick bit as there are numerous places in Porto that serve them for on-the-go.

No trip to Porto would be complete without enjoying a mouthwatering Francesinha.  This unique sandwich combines multiple meats, cheese, bread, an egg and a tomato beer sauce to create a full meal.  It is a staple dish in Porto and there are several places that contend they have the best one.  I only got to try the one from Lado B Cafe, but I was not disappointed.  The hearty dish is generally served with fries but you don’t even need them as the sandwich itself is enough to fill you up.

The People

If you’ve looked into Portugal at all, you’ve probably read about how friendly the people are.  From my experience, this is definitely the case in Porto.  Especially with kids the people were very accommodating.  We were at a restaurant one night and what we believe was the owner came out to greet our kids.  He then brought out cushions so they could sit higher up along with giving them a little treat at the end of the meal.  On the metro line people would get up from their seats to move for our daughters.

The city is also very safe.  Portugal overall has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe and Porto is no exception.  Walking around the city, even after dark, we never felt unsafe.  And there plenty of times we saw people running or walking alone at all times of the day.  That being said you should always be aware of your surroundings and use your own discretion as crime can and does happen everywhere.

Another thing that surprised me about the people of Porto was, not only how many of them spoke English, but how good it was.  We never had language barrier issues while we were in Porto.  While it is good to know some common phrases in Portuguese, you wont really need it in Porto.  People will start talking to you in Portuguese but once they see you don’t understand they switch pretty quickly to English.  My tour guide for the paddleboard expedition I went I spoke 5 different languages and I had lengthy conversations with him like I would any native English speaker.

The Port Wine

You don’t have to love Port wine to enjoy some while you are in Porto.  And it’s honestly hard not to try at least some.  Every restaurant around will have a selection to choose from.  This includes white, red and rose port, which you don’t often find elsewhere.  And you’ll find that people drink this during any part of their meal, it isn’t just for dessert as we might think of it in the US.  I found that a white port went well with an appetizer before a meal.

If you want to learn about how wine in the region is made, and about wine in general, you should make sure to visit the The Wine Experience at World of Wine.  You will know more about wine and how wine is made than you ever thought possible at this museum.  And while they do emphasize port wine, there is plenty of information about all types of wine.  The best part is the wine tasting at the end where you get to sample 3 different locally made wines.  I also had a lot of fun guessing the aromas of the different wine ingredients.

No wine experience in Porto is complete without touring at least one of the numerous wine cellars.  While you can book your tickets in advance for many of the tours we found that it wasn’t necessary.  We were able to walk right up and get on the next tour.  There are both large cellars that produce wine that is shipped all over the world and smaller family-owned cellars that may only produce a thousand or so bottles a year.  If you have the time I would recommend experiencing both, which is exactly what I did.  At the smaller cellar, there were only 3 other people on my tour and they gave me a discount on the bottle of wine I purchased.

The Sightseeing

The city of Porto is more than just Douro River and Port Wine.  While those things are certainly highlights, there are so many more great experiences to be had.  One that you might think about right away is experiencing the sunset.  There are multiple different places in the city where you can watch the sun disappear off into the horizon.  A popular place for locals and tourists alike is Jardim do Morro.  This park is situated atop the banks of the Douro River with a hill that faces west making for excellent views of the city any time of day, but especially at dusk.  If you had kids with you there is a nice little playground in the park that my daughters played at more than one time.

If you want to get a bird’s eye view of town, the best place to do so is Clerigos Tower.  It’s the highest building in Porto and can be seen from almost anywhere.  There is usually a wait to get in so be sure to give yourself a little extra time for waiting and then get ready to climb 225 steps that are very narrow.  But once you get to the top you’ll know it was worth the extra time and effort.   If I can climb up carrying my 3-year-old you can make it too! 🙂

You’ll want to take at least half a day to get out of the city center and get to the Atlantic Coast.  The beaches are nice but rocky in areas and the water can be rough so swimming isn’t necessarily the best option.  The day we went it was quite windy, so much so that many on the beach had wind barriers set up.  The coastline itself is beautiful to stroll along and there are multiple boardwalks.  We stayed along the coast late enough to catch the sunset here which is as stunning as anywhere.

Finally, there are the markets in Porto.  There are markets all over the place, including the street markets that line both sides of the river.  We were lucky that we stayed close to the Mercado do Bolhao, which is one of the oldest and largest in the city.  This market has everything from fresh produce to seafood to candy.  The outer walls are lined with cafe-style vendors and even some wine tasting.  We made it to this market a few different times, including during a rainy day since it is an indoor market.


Porto is a city that you cannot miss if you are planning a trip to Portugal.  While it is the second largest city in the country it doesn’t feel like a big city.  It’s easy to get around, the food is some of the best in Portugal, the people couldn’t be more friendly, even if you don’t like wine, you’ll enjoy the port wine and there are a multitude of adventures to be had.  So, are you ready to embark on a journey to this magnificent town?


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