I still remember my first visit for a weekend in Porto, Portugal situated in the northern part of the country.
Stepping out of the train into the São Bento Railway station was a foretaste of what was to come. The exquisite blue and white tiled façade of the train station is certainly something to behold and was only the beginning of the architectural delights that we’d come to explore and admire throughout our stay in the beautiful city.
Today, Porto is gaining in popularity as more and more visitors to Portugal discover this northern gem and its surrounds. And it’s no wonder why, with its old-worldly and grand designs, friendly and hospitable people and all the beautiful sights and flavours to explore in and around the city, it’s easy to see why so many fall in love with gorgeous Porto.
In this guide, I’ll outline what you need to know and plan for (including a few travel tips) when spending a perfect weekend in Porto, Portugal!
How to get to Porto
Most travellers arriving into the city of Porto will most likely be doing so by air and landing at Porto’s Francisco Sá Carneiro International Airport. Porto receives not only domestic and European flights but also many International flights too, making air travel the most accessible way to get to Porto.
If you happen to be arriving at Lisbon first, then you may also consider taking the train from Lisbon to Porto. While you could also fly between the two cities, the quickest train takes around 3 hours, making it a fast, cheap and comfortable way to travel between Portugal’s two largest cities.
Read our Travel Guide to Lisbon here.
Of course, several coach services operate routes between Porto and Spain too.
When to visit Porto
Porto is a great destination all-year-round. The absolute peak tourist season in Portugal tends to run through July to August, and it would be best to avoid these overcrowded months. Prices during these high season periods also tend to be more expensive.
For good weather and fewer tourists, try visiting either during May and June or even from mid-September through October.
TIP: If you are a wine-lover and planning a visit to the gorgeous Douro Valley wine country, then consider scheduling your travels from the 2nd half of September as this is when the harvest season kicks off. It’s one of the most beautiful times to visit the Douro Valley region.
Where to Stay for the Weekend in Porto
Whenever we’ve stayed in Porto, we’ve always chosen to remain quite central to the São Bento Railway Station. The downtown Baixa area and the area surrounding the Avenida Aliados avenue is a great location. From here, you will be able to get by on foot quite quickly to just about all the major attractions and sights and in and around the city.
How to Get Around in Porto
Depending on where you stay, you can get by on foot quite easily in Porto. But, in cases where you may require a longer journey, the city does have a comprehensive metro, bus and tram system that you could also consider.
The city’s metro system, the Metro do Porto, operates six different lines (lines A to F) that run throughout the town connecting over 80 stations. To make use of the metro, you will need to purchase a re-usable ‘Andante’ card that costs only €0.60. From there, you will top the card up and pay per journey.
It is worth noting that Porto’s metro system is divided into several zones and prices increase when travelling from one zone to another. If you’re touring solely within zone 2, for instance, then a single journey will cost €1.20. Moving from zone 2 through to zone 3 will cost €1.60 etc.
If you are confused by all the zones, don’t stress! There will always be staff willing and able to assist you at every station.
TIP: Given how compact the city is, it may also be worth your while to compare cab-hailing services such as Uber or Bolt, both of which operate in Portugal. We have often found these cheaper alternatives to use, compared to even the metro and especially if you are travelling as two or more. So be sure to compare the cost of getting around in a cab compared to the price of two or three metro tickets!
5 Top Things to do During a Weekend in Porto
Porto has an abundance of things to see and do, and it still never ceases to amaze me how travellers plan to visit for a day only. One day is not enough time to even scratch the surface. With so much to see, do and explore, here is my pick of 5 top things you should try out when visiting Porto.
Eat a Francesinha at least once during your weekend in Porto
Portugal’s culinary scene has seen a boom in recent years. Porto itself features several Michelin starred restaurants where you can enjoy an authentic Portuguese fine dining experience.
But, if like me, you like to delve into the culture truly and traditional flavours of any new destination you’re visiting, then you’ll undoubtedly need to give the indulgent Francesinha a try.
The Francesinha is Porto’s traditional dish (a crazy over the top traditional dish, nevertheless). Consisting of a bread sandwich, stacked with several different types of meats and hams, a fried egg on the top and then smothered with melted cheese as well as a tomato and beer sauce, the Francesinha is not for the fainthearted.
Regardless, it is surprisingly delicious! When in Porto, head over to O Afonso Restaurante, Café Santiago or Restaurante O Golfinho, to mention only a few restaurants that are said to produce some of the top-rated Francesinha’s in the city!
Visit Porto’s Ribeira Riverfront
It doesn’t get any livelier than Porto’s riverfront known as the Ribeira set at the foot of the Douro river. This vibrant and colourful waterfront is lined with several restaurants and bars where you can sit back, grab a drink and admire the view out across the Douro river and Gaia beyond.
The Ribeira district is also where you’ll find several street performers entertaining passers-by. I particularly love the Ribeira at night when the lights across the river in Gaia provide an exquisite view.
TIP: Parts of Porto are very steep. Getting down to the Ribeira from the upper Baixa neighbourhood requires a steep walk down to the river (and an equally hilly walk back up again). Make sure you pack comfortable walking shoes with good grip for your trip to Porto (and Lisbon too, if you plan on combining a visit to both cities).
Taste some Port Wines
Perhaps one of the most quintessential things to do when visiting Porto is to enjoy a Port wine tasting experience. This traditional fortified wine, hailing from the Porto and surrounding Douro region is somewhat of an acquired taste. Still, with many different varieties and flavour profiles to choose from, you’re bound to find the perfect Port wine for you.
Set across the river from the central city in the Gaia district you’ll find several of the top Port Houses. Some have surprisingly English names such as Taylor’s, Graham’s, Offley and Croft, to name a few, this is in large part due to the wines colourful history when English merchants discovered and fell in love with the bold flavours of this wine and subsequently bought the Port houses.
Today, most Port houses offer wine tours, tastings including views of their wine cellars which are worth trying out on a visit to Porto!
Admire the incredible churches & architecture in Porto
One of the first things that struck me about Porto was the gorgeous architecture, from the grandiose buildings lining Avenida Aliados to the beautiful churches, adorned with their traditional blue and white Portuguese ‘Azulejos’ (traditional tiles). Some new hidden gem around every corner.
TIP: Azulejo tiles make great souvenir coasters
As such, when visiting Porto, it’s only fair for you to explore some of these architectural delights. A few of my favourites include the Palacio da Bolsa (old stock exchange palace) with its breath-taking Arabian room, the Torre dos Clerigos and Clerigos church, the São Bento Railway Station, the Capela das Almas, the Igreja de Santo António dos Congregados, and the Igreja dos Carmelitas, to name a few.
If limited for time, why not consider booking yourself onto a Porto city sightseeing bus tour, to see all these attractions and more in a shorter space of time!
TIP: Don’t forget, the Dom Luís I Bridge, is an impressive architectural bridge over the Douro River that connects Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia.
Livraria Lello bookshop is the oldest bookshop in Portugal, and it’s simply gorgeous to look at as you can see in the photo above. However, since there are such long line ups to visit I suggest that you book a tour or skip it altogether – you are only here for a few days, and you best make the most of your time.
Plan a Day Trip During your Weekend in Porto City Break
Last but in no way the least on my suggestions for things to do when visiting Porto is to plan a day trip out of the city and get to explore some of Porto’s surroundings.
Within easy reach by train and with a travel time of around an hour, two of the most popular places to visit on a day trip from Porto is Aveiro and Guimarães. Aveiro is known as the ‘Venice of Portugal’ due to its canals and colourful gondolas whereas the historic and culturally significant city of Guimarães is considered the birthplace of Portugal, where the first king, Afonso Henriques was said to be born.
Alternatively, a full-day river cruise down the Douro river is another great day trip that many visitors consider. Or, a visit to the city of Braga, known for its numerous churches and cathedrals too.
Either way, you cannot go wrong when planning a day trip to any of these fabulous northern Portuguese destinations.
Have you experienced a city break in Porto Portugal before? What do you think about this list? Do you have any suggestions to add for your next weekend in Porto?
For more articles in Portugal, read:
- Our Travel Guide to a Weekend in Lisbon Portugal
- Our Guide to Sintra and Bélem
- Azores: Pearls of the Atlantic
Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos from Travel-Boo, together with his partner moved to sunny Lisbon over 3 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe, he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way. Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for travelling through and exploring both Portugal, Spain and throughout Europe, through his blog Travel-Boo.