Carly and I are fortunate enough to know people from different parts of the World. Since Portugal and specifically Porto became famous in the tourist circuit we keep getting asked for recommendations, so we joined together a bunch of things we had written to different friends and make it a blog post so that it’s easily shareable. We hope it is useful for you. If you like it then (shameless plug), consider coming on one of our food tours in Porto to get to know the local culture through food and wine with amazing guides.
DISCLAIMER: This is Carly and Miguel’s research and opinion, not Taste Porto’s, nor any formal guidebooks. Different people think and prefer different things, so proceed as you will.
The sea/ocean off the western coast of Portugal is cold year round, the Atlantic has no warm currents here, and there is a frequent nortada (north wind) which makes swimming quite cold. The positive side of it is that it’s a great place for surf (in all its forms) and sail.
The southern coast is entirely different, as it is a mix of Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean sea. The Mediterranean is a big lake compared to the Atlantic. The sea is much flatter and considerably warmer.
Foz is one of the poshest parts of Porto, and thus overpriced. It is a beautiful old neighbourhood, where most of the local rich people live. It has a beachside turned to the Atlantic ocean, and a riverside turned to Douro river. Not such a good place to surf.
The riverside (ribeira), i.e. next to the Dom Luis bridge and along the river, is, by now, very touristy. Street performers, tours of all shapes and sizes, overpriced meals. This area was the first part of Porto to attract tourism because it is a Unesco World Heritage and has beautiful winding streets and lots of old houses. The problem with this part is that it is crowded! I mean you should visit it, but I suggest you don’t stay there.
Downtown (baixa), which falls between the river, São Bento station, the city hall (Aliados), and Clérigos tower is the proper tourist centre for the city. A lot is going on in this section of town with lots to see. It is also the epicentre of nightlife, with all the bars on and around Galerias de Paris street.
Extending out from there are various neighbourhoods that are more targeted towards locals. Porto is generally safe, so there is no place I would say to stay away from. Though I do not recommend Campanhã neighbourhood, nor staying near the football stadium. Staying near the Casa da Música could be nice, as you have a good link to the city centre with the metro, but also be closer to the cultural institutions of Porto, i.e. Casa da Música and Serralves. Some areas that have more of a local feel, but are close to the centre are around the metro stations Marquês, Combatentes, and Campo 24 de Agosto.
Previously a fishermen’s town, Matosinhos (specifically Matosinhos Sul/South) is a city by the sea, which connects to Porto in the north side at Parque da Cidade (City Park). If you want delicious seafood and the ability to go surfing every day, this is the spot. Matosinhos Sul is a 40-minute metro ride to the Porto city centre or a 15 minute Uber ride. It doesn’t have as many tourists as downtown and is a more local experience if that’s what you want.
This area is also where the cruise ship terminal is.
For surfing check out Onda Pura or Surfing Life Club, either location will be happy to arrange private lessons or a class for the whole group.
If you go for the fish try Lusitano or Salt’o Muro, they aren’t the fanciest, but you will have a very local experience with great food. Ask for what is the catch of the day, and they will grill it for you. You won’t be disappointed!
Porto is the biggest city of the north and shares the river Douro and its bridges with Vila Nova de Gaia, aka Gaia. Gaia was the suburbs essentially until the 1990s when it became a living city in its own right. You can cross the lower part of D. Luis bridge and walk about 5 minutes, and you will reach an area where all the wine cellars are as well as bars and restaurants called Cais de Gaia (Gaia’s Pier). It is easy to recognise especially since they now have a cable car and a Ferris wheel (no comment…).
If you want the views, then cross on the top part of D. Luis bridge, watch for the metro trains that circulate there and don’t be afraid if the structure moves a little. Bridges are supposed to be somewhat flexible.
Porto has all four seasons. Spring is beautiful and goes from around the end of March to June. Summer is super nice as it gets warm but not too hot due to being by the ocean (max 35º Celsius). Autumn is my favourite time of the year in the city as the colours change. But winter is cold (never below 0º C), humid, rainy and grey. It lends a very London mysterious look to Porto’s winding streets, but unless you like the cold, not the most fun part of the year. Why? Because construction in Portugal is not made for the winter. central heating or air conditioning is still a luxury only found in new buildings and certainly not downtown. This means that clothes take days to dry up and there is often a wall humidity problem.
Things you must eat while in Porto:
One this topic, you know we have our food tour, Taste Porto. Tours are offered Monday through Saturday with a ten person limit on the tour. I am not one to toot my own horn, so you can check out the TripAdvisor reviews for yourself, but I will say we are some of the top game in town, especially for food lovers. If you would want to arrange a private tour for you and your friends let us know. Otherwise, you can book as part of a regular tour.
Here are some of our favourite stops on the tours:
Now for the wine cellars. The one I know best is Taylors, which happens to have a fantastic view and where Carly and I did a tour and tasting before our wedding. There is also Ferreira, which is a favourite of locals because it is one of the few which is still owned by Portuguese. Most of the cellars were bought or built by British citizens. A favourite lesser known one is Real Companhia Velha. There is also Espaço Porto Cruz which has a beautiful rooftop deck for enjoying a glass of port wine with some cheese or chocolate and watching the sunset over the river. And to catch a bit of sun as well. All cellars will have a paid tour inside with a tasting of Vinho do Porto (Port wine) at the end.
Next, let’s make our way to some must-visit locales.
There are some things, no matter how touristy, you just need to do, luckily for you, Porto is not like London or Barcelona, so worry not.
Regarding shopping, if you want well-made products produced in Portugal by Portuguese designers, I highly recommend The Feeting Room. Portugal has always been known in Europe for its high-quality shoes, but its a lesser known producer outside of Europe. The Feeting Room started out focusing on high-quality shoes by Portuguese designers and has since expanded to include clothes and accessories. There is also a hidden coffee shop upstairs with a great brew.
If you want beaches, you have three different options from which to choose. You can take the electric tram along the river on the Porto side towards Foz (meaning “mouth of the river”). This is a beautiful area but not the best to swim. There’s the lighthouse (don’t go all the way there if the sea is rough, people have been taken out to sea by waves there) and a promenade along the sea which goes on for 4 km. The walk is lined with good, though a bit more expensive, restaurants.
The second option is to take a car to the Gaia side where you have 15km of beautiful blue flag beaches (clean and monitored by the international blue flag organisation) with a few cafe/bars and a great boardwalk to bike, walk or run on.
Finally, you can catch the metro to Matosinhos for its beaches.
Sitting on the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills, Graça is one of Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods. Just outside of the tourist’s radar, Graça mixes long-time residents, immigrants from all over, and young millennials seeking lower rent. Often people like to call Graça home because it feels authentically Portuguese while offering a diverse cultural experience.
There is only one way to get to Graça, and that is up. The E28 tram passes through the heart of the neighbourhood, though a walk up the various staircases will give you the chance to see plenty of street art along the way. The closest metro is Martim Moniz, and depending on your destination there is another 10 to 20 minutes to walk from there. Several buses also pass through Graça, including the 712 and 735.
Known predominantly for its nightlife, by day this is a typically Portuguese neighbourhood with laundry drying outside the windows. Alternative in its style, Bairro Alto is home to funky bars, bohemian shops, tattoo studios, and hostels.
Winding and hilly streets and the lack of a metro mean you have to work to get here. The closest metro stops are Baixa-Chiado and Rossio. From there you can walk it or grab the E28 tram or the 758 bus, but those will only get you part of the way. You need to walk or take a taxi to get into the heart of Bairro Alto.
The heart of Lisbon’s downtown is the most tourist-friendly part of the city. Entirely rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, this neighbourhood is full of the grandeur of the former Portuguese empire.
Baixa is incredibly well connected to the rest of the city. Baixa-Chiado metro station connects to the rest of Lisbon with the green and blue metro lines. Take the blue line two stops to Santa Apolónia to catch trains heading to other cities, like Porto or Évora. Grab the green line for one stop to Cais do Sodré to take the trains to Cascais. The famous E28 Tram also passes through Baixa-Chiado, in addition to numerous buses that will connect you to elsewhere in the city.
Previously known only for housing the port, the Alcântara neighbourhood has undergone a recent renovation that is attracting digital nomads and artists alike. Home to the first coworking space in Portugal, a factory complex turned into hipster mecca, and an active after-hours scene means Alcântara meets all your needs.
Serviced by one metro station, Alcântara-Terra (red line), and one train line, Alcântara-Mar (Cascais line), means that being nearly four kilometres from the centre of Lisbon isn’t a problem. Also, the 18 Tram and the 760, 738, and 742 buses all pass through the heart of Alcântara.
Areeiro is known for providing an excellent quality of life, near the centre of Lisbon, but just slightly apart from the well-known, tourist hot spots. Situated near the Instituto Superior Técnico means university students give life to this area that also attracts young couples and families. People who are looking for a more local experience, green spaces, and a relaxed pace call Areeiro home.
Getting to and from Areeiro is easy since the metro stops border the neighbourhood. Catch the red line at the Alameda stop and jump on the green line at either Areeiro or Roma-Areeiro stop. If it happens you can’t get to where you need to go by metro; there are plenty of buses. The 206, 722, 735, 756, and more, all run through the heart of Areeiro.
Alfama is the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon. Though it is home to the most visited attraction in Lisbon, the Castle of São Jorge, this neighbourhood feels more like a village. People love to call Alfama home because of its winding streets, high probability of getting lost in those streets, and its authentic Lisbon experience.
The famous 28 Tram goes through the heart of Alfama on its way to the castle. The neighbourhood also sits between the blue metro line stations of Terreiro do Paço and Santa Apolónia, from where you can also grab trains to other cities in the country. The 12 Tram and the 734 and 737 buses also make their way to and from Alfama.
Formerly home to brothels, Cais do Sodré mainly attracted sailors coming off the boats looking for some action. Gone are the brothels and in their stead are hip clubs, trendy cafes, and some of the newest restaurants in town. People that call Cais do Sodré home are attracted to its nightlife, good food, and riverside spots to relax in the sun.
Cais do Sodré is a transport hub where you can catch easily catch metro, bus or train. The Cais do Sodré metro stop is the starting point of the green line, which intersects with the other three Lisbon metro lines. From Cais do Sodré you can also catch the Cascais line along the river to the city of Cascais and its beautiful beaches. If those can’t get you where you need to be, there are the 201, 206, 207, 208, 210, 706, 728, 735, 736, 760, 781, and 782 buses ensuring a good connection with the rest of the city.