How To Plan a Trip To Porto, Portugal

**Guest post by Sara from Portoalities travel blog

It can be tricky to plan a trip to an unknown city. Even though Porto is famous for being a laidback, easy-going city, there are some tips and tricks to make your trip run smoothly. As a born and raised woman from the city, I am happy to share some useful information to help you plan a trip to Porto. I hope you enjoy it!

Top Tips For Planning a Trip To Porto In Portugal

From when is the best time to visit Porto to how to use public transport, here you will find everything you need to organise a trip to this beautiful city in Portugal.

1. When to visit Porto

Rainy night in Porto
A rainy night in Porto, where the weather is pretty moody. Photo courtesy of Portoalities

This is a tricky question as the answer depends on your profile of traveller and on your budget for the trip. Most people choose to visit the city during the Summer months (July and August), but honestly, there are much better times to visit Porto:

  • Early Spring (March to May) is great because there are less people in the city and the temperatures are within a reasonable range (20C to 25C). However, you should avoid Easter because the city is completely flooded with Spanish tourists that spend this important Catholic holiday in Porto (and hence more traffic, more queues, price raises, etc).
  • September and October are also great months to visit Porto because the weather is still very pleasant. It is also the harvest season in Douro Valley, one of the most famous wine regions in the world (which is 1h30 driving distance from the city and hence a popular day trip from Porto).
  • During Winter it rains a lot and it is very windy, making it hard to discover the city by foot. However, the price of both flights and accommodation drop dramatically, so if you are a budget traveller this is definitely a season to consider!

2. How long to stay in Porto

Porto Palace Gardens
Porto Palace Gardens in autumn. Photo courtesy of Portoalities

Porto is a rather small city (only 250.000 inhabitants) and with a compact city centre. In that regard, it is perfectly feasible to visit the main city attractions – including the famous Port wine lodges – in three days. Therefore Porto is great for a long weekend or for a short city break in Europe.

However, around Porto, there are two stunning wine regions – the Douro Valley and the underrated Green Wine Region. A delight to wine lovers like myself. Moreover, there are several beautiful cities less than 2 hours driving distance from Porto, like Braga, Guimarães, Aveiro and Coimbra.

Therefore, you can easily spend seven days exploring not only Porto but the entire Northern Portugal. Which I highly recommend due to its extraordinary gastronomy & wines, breathtaking nature and kind people.

3. What to pack

The weather in Porto is extremely moody. It easily evolves from a foggy morning to pleasantly sunny lunchtime, possibly ending with a terrible rain storm. You should be mentally prepared for this and, more importantly, you should pack wisely!

When packing to go to Porto, you should not forget to bring:

  • A decent raincoat, preferably one that goes below the knees.
  • Good walking (and preferably waterproof) shoes – ladies, leave the high heels at home because the streets are very steep and covered in cobblestones!
  • A scarf – it is usually very foggy in the morning and quite windy in the city, so you’ll feel more comfortable wearing a scarf.
  • Sunglasses – don’t forget that Porto is a coastal city and hence it has a lot of natural light even during winter days.

4. Consider getting a Porto Card

You should consider getting the Porto Card when visiting the city. The Porto Card gives you a lot of discounts in main monuments like Serralves’ contemporary museum and the Clérigos tower, as well as in many restaurants and shops across the street.

There are two types of Porto Card: the Pedestrian Porto Card, with the above mentioned advantages, and a more complete card which also gives you unlimited access to Porto’s public transport system – including the subway and urban buses.

You can get Porto Card at the airport, in all the railway stations as well as at the Tourist Information points spread across the city.

5. How To Get From The Airport to The City Centre

Public transport is the most cost effective way to get to the city centre. You have two options:

  • Take the subway at the station Aeroporto all the way to the city centre (the most used station is Trindade). The ride takes approximately 30min and a one way tickets costs 2€.
  • Take a bus to the city centre – either 601, 602 and 604 will take you all the way to Cordoaria, in front of the Clérigos Tower. If your flight arrives during the night you can take the bus 3M (but the frequency of this particular bus is very low). The ride takes approximately 50min and a one-way ticket costs 1.95€.

6. Public Transportation

Porto subway
Know how to use the subway to better enjoy your trip to Porto. Photo courtesy of Portoalities

If you are staying in downtown Porto, I suggest you stick to public transportation – either subway or bus – to visit the main tourist attractions. There is a lot of traffic, it is nearly impossible to park for free and public transportation works really well.

There are some must-do activities in Porto – like visiting Serralves’ contemporary museum, visiting the picturesque fishermen village called Afurada or having grilled fish in Matosinhos – that require the use of either a taxi or an Uber.

I have already had my fair share of bad experiences with taxi drivers (they can be extremely rude, smoke in the cars and be quite creative with the itinerary!) which is why I use Uber all the time.

If you are planning to visit some of the cities and regions mentioned above you should consider renting a car. Please remember that most of the cars for rent in Portugal are manual gear (you will pay a lot more to get an automatic car).

If you are not so much in the mood to drive but would still like to visit nearby cities, consider using the train. There are two train stations in Porto:

  • The famous São Bento train station, where the trains to nearby urban centres like Guimarães, Braga, Viana do Castelo and Aveiro departure from. São Bento is the most central train station.
  • Campanhã, where the long distance trains that go, for instance, to Lisbon or to Vigo (in Spain) departure from. It is away from the city centre, in a slightly spooky neighbourhood. If you take a train from Campanhã, you can enter any train connecting São Bento to Campanhã without paying the ticket.

You can check here the schedules of the trains departing from both stations.

7. Book the Right Accommodation For You

Even though Porto is a small city it has completely different vibes according to the neighbourhood you are. Your age, the people you are travelling with (are you travelling with young kids or with elder family members?) and your travelling style (are you a party person or do you prefer quietness?) have a saying when it comes to choosing where to stay in Porto. Here are some tips to decide where to stay in the city:

  • Do you want to stay close to the main monuments of Porto as well as to the nightlife district? Then you should consider Baixa neighborhood.
  • Do you prefer a quiet neighborhood for some romantic days in the city? Then maybe Cedofeita neighborhood is for you.
  • Are you coming on a business trip to Porto? Then consider Boavista neighborhood, with its business hotels and nice restaurants closeby.

8. What And Where To Eat In Porto

Porto is such a popular destination at the moment that it is nearly impossible to recommend a place to eat. Every single day there are new restaurants and bars opening and others closing due to the increasing competition. A good starting point, however, is this guide to the best restaurants in Porto.

For lunch, expect to pay 8 – 12€ for a lunch menu including the dish of the day, a drink and coffee (and potentially soup, if you are away from the touristy area). At night prices rise a lot, starting at 20€. But in general tourists feel that it is very affordable to eat out in Porto. And Portuguese food, ladies and gentlemen, is simply fabulous!

9. Safety Tips

Steep Porto streets
Porto has some pretty steep streets. Photo courtesy of Portoalities

The first thing you should be aware of is that Portugal was considered the third most peaceful country in the world by Global Peace Index, only behind Iceland and New Zealand.

Therefore one feels extremely safe in Porto. There are some things that I should warn you about:

  • There is some petty crime in the city centre, so you need to watch your belongings.
  • I belong to some solo female travellers’ online forums where they complain about catcalling in the cities of Portugal. As a Portuguese woman I am used to this and it is something that I don’t pay attention to – simply ignore the person who is addressing you or give him an angry look, you are not in danger at all!
  • Portuguese drivers do not care for mundane driving rules like speed limits or the colour of traffic lights (for us, orange means to speed up, for instance). So you need to be extremely careful when crossing streets, especially during the night.
  • With tourism rise came a strange species of men that try to sell drugs (or oregano or tea, who knows really?) in the city centre. They are harmless so just keep walking and ignore their callings and selling propositions.
  • I already noticed cases when the credit cards have been cloned at ATM machines, especially in the city centre. I am not entirely sure what is the best solution for this – but when I travel I avoid withdrawing cash and simply use my Revolut card everywhere I go.

10. What to do if a medical emergency occurs

In the event of a medical emergency during your stay in Porto the first thing you should do is call Linha de Saúde 24 on 808 24 24 24. This is a free medical line that will get you in contact with a nurse / pharmacy technician who will make a phone triage and advice you on the best course of action. If necessary, they will direct you to either the Emergencies or to a local hospital.

In Portugal, unlike many countries that I’ve visited in the past, pharmacists will not sell you antibiotics and other medication without a prescription from the doctor. But mild pain killers are sold over the counter and on supermarkets as well.

Author bio: A former Industrial Engineer, Sara is the manager of Porto-based blog Portoalities. Apart from writing in her blog, she organises tours in Porto and northern Portugal.

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