What is Porto Famous For : A First time Visitor Guide
Created by Colleen Sims * 20 April 2023 * Updated 15 August 2023
Porto is an ancient, picturesque, and vibrant city, it’s very walkable, has a great café scene and is famous for its iconic fortified Port wine.
What is Porto Famous For?
I discovered Porto in 2017. We’ve visited Lisbon and the Algarve for decades, but it was only whilst walking my first Camino Portuguese that I visited the city; the Portuguese Camino starts in Lisbon but the majority of pilgrims choose to start from Porto.
What found was a fabulous city and a destination in it’s own right; and maybe a city that was then, often overlooked in favour of its big sister Lisbon. Since that first visit we’ve returned many times and each time we discover something new.
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Porto or Oporto : What Do The Locals Say?
The Roman’s called the city Portus Cale, the British and English speaking nations often called it Oporto. To the Portuguese the city is Porto. Oporto is derived from O Porto, which translated from Portuguese means The Port.
Portuguese is the official language of Portugal but we’ve found that English is widely spoken during our travels around the country.
History of Porto
Archaeologists have found human settlements at the mouth of the Douro River from the 8th century BC but it’s believed that Porto was first inhabited by Celts. Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths and the Moors have all left their mark and Medieval Porto was an important centre. The city thrived and became one of Europe’s most important ports. Its position on the Douro made it an important strategic and trading location especially as the river was navigable from the Atlantic. In 1387 John I of Portugal married Philippa of Lancaster and the marriage created an alliance between Portugal and England, which is still in force today.
Porto also became an important religious centre with several churches, monasteries, and other religious institutions central to the life of the medieval city. It also served as an important stage on the Camino de Santiago. The Bishop of Porto was a prominent figure in the Catholic Church and held significant power and influence.
Historically, as today, Porto was a melting pot of different cultures. It was a cosmopolitan city that attracted merchants, sailors, and travellers from across Europe and the known World. This cultural exchange is reflected in the city’s architectural styles and culinary traditions.
What is Porto known for? It’s a Great Destination!
Porto is today known as one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. The City has its own style and a distinct village feel. You’ll find amazing art, plenty of green spaces, artisan craft shops, a fabulous cafes scene and great restaurants.
Visitors might be surprised to learn that the city covers an area of approximately 41 square miles with over 2 million people living in the Greater Porto region and if you’re walking the Camino Portuguese Central route, you’ll spend a large portion of your first day walking out from the city.
However, the historic heart of Porto is compact and three areas have been designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. If you’re asking what is Porto famous for, here are three excellent examples!
- The Ribeira; the historic centre of Porto was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. This area is found along the waterfront of the Douro River. You’ll find well preserved narrow medieval streets, and colourful buildings along a picturesque waterfront.
- Luiz I Bridge is a double-decker iron bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel, designated by UNESCO in 1996. The bridge offers impressive views of the city and is an important part of the riverfront skyline. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.
- In 2001, the wine cellars of Porto, and the production of the Port wine, was also given UNESCO designation in recognition of the historic significance of the Port wine trade.
World Famous Port Wine
The Romans brought vines to Portugal and wine has been produced here for over two thousand years. A trade dispute between France and England created an opening in the export market in the late 1600s, and English merchants began importing large quantities of Portuguese wine to fill the shortfall. Those merchants accidently invented Port by adding brandy to the wine so that it would travel better en-route to England without spoiling.
As the popularity of the Port wine grew, wine lodges were developed on the southern bank of the River Douro opposite the already well developed Ribeira district of Porto; and the rest, as they say, is history!
What’s Porto Famous For? Of course, the production of Port Wine which is now part of Porto’s history, and in Vila Nova de Gaia you’ll discover the UNESCO Port warehouses where vast quantities of the famous Port wine are blended and stored.
Why is Porto so Popular today?
With many low-cost airlines flying into Porto, it’s the perfect destination, and with its close proximity to fabulous Atlantic beaches and other historic towns and cities Porto it has a lot to offer year-round.
Porto has a unique vibe; it offers something for all visitors, from the food, the wine and the ability to explore further afield along the Douro River and the Atlantic. There is art, music and even a great football team. The University of Porto is well-regarded internationally with a reputation as one of the Portugal’s leading universities, which further adds to the city’s youthful, international flavour.
The local population are very proud of their heritage which is evident and helps ensure that the strong, vibrant, culture continues.
Our Pick of Porto Accommodation
Porto offers a really wide range of accommodation. You can book a bunk bed in one of the many fabulous hostels, there are also many small apartments and equally the city has more than its fair share of amazing hotels from small family run affairs to large luxury brands.
My Pick of Fabulous Hostels
Being Porto Hostel was the first hostel I stayed in when walking the Camino Portuguese. We were a group of friends and booked a room for three; it was fabulous. Since that first visit we’ve stayed many times and these are all excellent choices.
Comfortable and Wonderful Hotels
Porto has its fair share of really wonderful accommodation. We always try to keep an eye on our budget but on my last visit, when taking a group along the Camino Portuguese Coastal, we stayed in Santa Catarina Suites; it’s a great choice and just a skip from the Majestic Café.
The Passenger hotel is a bit of an iconic place to stay within the city. It’s like a posh hotel but it’s a hostel. It’s a really great choice for those with a budget but who are looking for something special. You get your own room but you do share bathrooms. But the bathrooms are plentiful and close and spotlessly clean. It’s a great choice!
If you’re walking the camino de Santiago there is a pilgrim albergue. I’ve stayed here and it’s a lovely albergue but I would say it’s really more suited to those walking the Central Route. If you’re staying in the albergue there is a kitchen and a few minutes walk from the albergue there was a supermarket where we bought our supper.
If you are walking the Coastal route I would recommend on of the hostels in the old historic centre, closer to the Cathedral and the river.
Why Should you Visit Porto?
If you’re still not sure if Porto is a city you should visit, here are a few other great reasons that make the city so famous :
- For many it’s the starting point of the Camino Portuguese, it’s also en route to Fatima too.
- Porto is known for its stunning architecture, with a mix of styles creating a unique cityscape; even the city’s Mcdonalds is one of Porto’s architectural gems!
- Porto is synonymous with Port wine but it’s also been producing other wines for centuries. Pay a visit to one of the many producers along the Douro Valley to learn more about the regions history and taste the variety of wine available.
- Porto is a gastro destination. Try a traditional Portuguese Francesinha (a huge sandwich), Bacalhau (dried and salted cod), or Tripas à Moda do Porto (the local tripe stew). The city has a very healthy restaurant scene reflecting its rich diverse culinary history.
- Porto has a thriving cultural and art scene and is known for its street art and creative industries which attract artists, musicians, and writers from around the world.
- Porto has a very welcoming atmosphere. Enjoy the laid-back energy and strong sense of community and local pride. Porto really is a village within a city!
- Porto’s maybe a river city, with the Douro River at its heart, but follow the river for a few kilometres and you’ll quickly meet the estuary and beyond to the Atlantic Ocean and fabulous beaches
- If you love boat tours the Douro river offers numerous opportunities for exploring; visit the picturesque Douro Valley, with its terraced vineyards and glorious landscapes.
Is Porto a Walkable City?
I would say that Porto is very walkable. It’s a compact city, especially the historic areas and although it’s Portugal’s second city, the centre never feels urban. Porto is built on many hills, so whilst it is compact you should expect a lot of ups and downs, some of them quite steep. The advantage of the hills does mean that when you reach your destination, you’re rewarded with some amazing panoramic views, like those from the cathedral terrace.
Porto Sights that are really worth discovering
- Jardins do Palacio de Cristal, designed and created in 1839, the garden is home to Porto’s own Crystal Palace. Wander through the avenues of plants and trees and enjoy the views over the Douro River.
- The Museu Nacional Soares Dos Reis is the oldest public museum in Portugal and the most famous in Porto. Discover this impressive museum with its permanent exhibitions and a seasonal schedule of events too.
- Stroll down boho Rua Miguel Bombarda with its quirky shop, cafes and numerous art galleries.
- São Bento station is also worth a visit. It is a working station and you can even spend the night here but if you have no other reason, it’s worth going just to see the tiles.
- No visit would be complete without a visit to Porto Cathedral, the Sé do Porto, and the attached museum. The view from the cathedral is pretty wonderful and if you’re walking the Camino de Santiago you can get your first sello from the entrance desk of the museum (not the Cathedral, but next door)
- If you have time, walk along the river and head out towards the Atlantic. The Camino Portuguese Coastal follows the river out of town and even if you don’t walk all the way to the Atlantic, the estuary walk is well worth an hour or two of your time. Maybe walk out and take the bus or Metro back the city.
- Visit Casa de Musica and see if there are any free music events in the city. In summer they offer outdoor concerts that are free to the public.
- Visit the Porto Tourism and Welcome Centre for the most up to date information on what’s happening in the city; the city hosts many events and their calendar is always full.
Porto is a great city for browsing and the best way to see it is by walking. Take a walking tour to get your bearings but also make sure you allow time to simply explore and follow your nose.
Our Favourite Walking Tours in Porto
We’ve visited Porto many times and each time we take a different walking tour. There are a great many on offer and each will give you a different flavour of the city. Most start on the terrace in front of the Cathdral
Hidden Gems of Porto
I love walking with locals and discovering the hidden gems of a city; we took this tour (our guide told us about the picnic and the sunset!). You’ll stop and buy fresh cakes at a local bakery and we also stopped at an artisan chocolate makers shop; with gluten free chocolate!
We did this tour!
Discover the Hidden Gems of Porto yourself with this excellent Walking Tour
Jewish Heritage Tour in Porto
Another great walking tour that we’ve taken offered us a different glimpse of the city. This tour takes your through the tiny streets that meander up and around the Jewish Quarter in the old centre in Porto.
Discover the Old Jewish Quarter in Porto with this excellent Walking Tour
Amazing Street Art Tour
It’s no secret that there is a lot of graffiti in Portugal but in Porto they have harnessed this and now many buildings are adorned with the most amazing street art! Take this walking tour and learn more about this beautiful modern addition to city life!
Discover the Amazing Street Art in Porto with this excellent Walking Tour
Porto and Harry Potter
If you are a Harry Potter fan then you will already know that there are links between the city and the famous books. J.K. Rowling lived in Porto and it is thought that her life in the city inspired part of her writing. Torre dos Clerigos (Clerigos Tower) could have inspired Hogwarts’ Astronomy Tower, or maybe the broom shop in Rua de Belomonte provided inspiration for Diagon Alley?
The Livraria Lello historic bookstore in Porto, with its grand staircase and ornate interior, could have influenced the creation of Hogwarts Library or Flourish & Blotts store.
And some fans wonder if JK Rowling drew inspiration from the Portuguese language for spells like “Lumos,” which creates light, and is similar to the Portuguese word “lume,” also meaning light.
If you’re a huge Harry Potter Fan then why not discover more of JK Rowling’s Porto connections on this fabulous Harry Potter Porto Tour
Porto at Night
Porto is a wonderful city to walk around at night. As a pilgrim I’ve often had to go to bed early but on our last visit we allowed 2 extra days of sightseeing and made the very most of our time discovering the city at night.
Sunset from Jardim de Morro
Porto has a lot to offer the visitor at night. On one of our walking tours our guide suggested we take a picnic over the Jardim do Morro. He told us to visit the garden in the afternoon, and find a spot with a view to enjoy the picnic and the sunset. He added that after we ate we should find a little bar on the Gaia side of the river and simple enjoy the ambiance. It’s a great way to spend an evening!
If you’re in Portugal then you really must see a Fado performance. Many bars offer a show, however some are better than others. One of the very best is Ideal Club do Fado; you can even meet the professional Fado singers before the show. They are always highly rated and watching a performance of Fado is really moving. Tickets to Ideal always sell quickly so I recommend you book in advance to secure your seat!
When in Porto make sure you see a FADO Show! Ideal Club do Fado is one of the best. Book early to avoid disappointment as this really does sell out quickly
Tapas and Live Music
Porto comes alive with live music, as a singer it does my heart good to hear the variety of performers; even street buskers are fabulous! If you want to enjoy a drink, some tapas and live music then head to RUA Tapas and Music bar. This is always popular with locals and visitors alike; if you love live music then this is a place for you
There are opportunities for free events in Porto. Check out the Tourist Office and also the Casa de Musica to see if there is anything running when you visit but also have a look at Eventbrite. They not only sell tickets but they also have free events too… it’s always worth a look!
The Historic Centre at Night
I really enjoy strolling through the old centre at night, and also walking along the river front. There are a great many bars and cafes with outdoor seating. These are very popular and sometimes you can only sit if you buy food. We like to have a safari supper and order a small plate in many venues! The ambience is always great and often you’ll get to enjoy some of the city’s excellent buskers to entertain you.
Port Wine, Craft Beer and Food Tasting Tours
Whenever we visit somewhere new, we like to find out about the local food or wine. It’s really difficult for me to dive right in as I’m wary of eating gluten but with a food tour I always feel confident that the food will be safe for me to eat. You can take a tour anytime but we like the later afternoon tours that spill over into the evening.
Food and Wine Tasting Tour
We took a food and wine tour and LOVED it. We were surprised by how much food and wine was available, we certainly didn’t feel the need for dinner in the evening and we had so much fun that our group stayed together for several hours after the tour had finished.
Discover this Fabulous Port Wine and Food Tasting Tour in Porto
Craft Beer And Food Tour
Not a Port Fan? Gerry is a big fan of craft beer and having already taken the wine tour this was a great choice for him. It wasn’t so great for me (beer has gluten) but they did make concessions and offered alternatives. This is a fabulous tour and a great way to spend your evening.
Discover this Fabulous Craft Beer and Food Tour in Porto
Porto Restaurants : A Few of our Favourites
Porto has grown in reputation as a gastro destination and you’ll find a good selection of world class restaurants. If you’re looking for something that offers more local charm then there is also no shortage of choice (we LOVED our evening at Pedros). There’s also no shortage of Vegan and Vegetarian options; I’ve also found great gluten free choices too.
Porto is well known for its delicious food. The city has a long tradition with fish dishes, including bacalao (codfish) or octopus. Porto’s local delicacy, Francesinha is a giant sandwich filled with ham, sausage and steak, topped with melted cheese and a spicy sauce and is incredibly popular, and Piri Piri Chicken is another great staple.
Here are our choices; one thing is sure, in Porto, you wont go hungry!
- Restaurante Abadia Do Porto : For a good choice of regional specialities and with Vegan and Gluten Free options (best to mention when booking)
- Pedro dos Frangos : is a really popular and busy restaurant that offers fabulous Piri Piri Chicken. We loved this evening, it’s worth the walk to enjoy the ambience!
- The Ribs Porto : a really excellent choice for meat lovers lovers but very popular so reserve your table
- Brasão Coliseu If you want to try the famous Francesinhasa sandwich this is the place but be prepared for a wait as it’s a popular
- CHAMA is a really good all round restaurant and is so very popular with locals that booking is 100% recommended.
Great Vegan and Gluten Free Choices
I often find that Vegan restaurants also offer a lot of gluten free choices. Unlike many restaurants that offer some vegan options, Vegana is all about plant based choices and they are so good!
- Vegana by Tentugal : one of the best vegan restaurants I’ve visited, with really excellent flavours!
TOP TIP : You will often have olives, break and cheese brought to your table. Unlike in Spain these items are not included with the meal and you will be charged for them.
What’s the Weather Like in Porto?
Porto enjoys a temperate climate with mild winters and hot summers, which is partly why it’s such a great year-round destination. We’ve visited in April, May, and September and the weather has been great. I also visited in November and I had mixed weather, with a rain and it was cooler but not enough to stop me exploring.
The city does get hot in the summer but you can take a break from the sight-seeing and catch the metro out to Matosinhos or Foz do Douro, and enjoy a little swimming, surfing, or paddle and enjoy this glorious sandy coast.
There is no best time to visit Porto; choose a season depending on your own preferences. Or do what we do and visit often!
Winter (December – February):
Porto has mild winters so it’s a good time to visit if you’re not looking for sunshine. You can expect a little rain with December and January being the wettest months; so be prepared for occasional showers. The good news is that you can expect quieter streets, shorter queues, and lower hotel costs. And if you visit in December expect plenty of Christmas cheer too.
Spring (March – May):
Spring is a popular time to visit Porto. The city warms up, gardens and parks burst into colour and temperatures rise. You should still expect spring showers, but the tourist season has yet to peak so you still enjoy the city without the summer crowds.
Summer (June – August):
Summer is peak season. Expect high temperatures and long days. The city comes alive and popular attractions will be busy but you’ll also enjoy all the Festivals and Fiestas that the city has to offer. As Porto is so close to the beaches you can take time out to enjoy some water sports too.
Fall (September – November):
Autumn in Spain and Portugal is one of my favourite times. It’s still very warm and it still tends to be dry but the summer crowds start to lessen and you get to enjoy harvest festivals and the local produce that comes with this season. This is a fabulous time to be walking too! And if you love wine, you can witness the grape harvest in action.
Getting Around : Public Transport in Porto
Public transport in Porto is really well-developed and offers several options for getting around the city and beyond. One things to consider is the traffic; rush hour gets very busy in Porto!
Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (OPO) is Porto’s main airport, located about 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) from the city center.
There is a Metro station at the airport; Metro do Porto offers a direct connection to the city centre on the Violet Line (Line E). The journey takes around 30 minutes and it’s a simple and affordable option for getting to and from the airport.
You will need to purchase an Andante metro card first. You can buy them everywhere, look for the red flags, and there are also machines at the stations, including the Airport. You only need to buy one card as you top it up depending on the number of journeys you’ll take.
Many stations are on the street level in Porto, the metro doesn’t always go underground and often there are no barriers to access trains. Just as on our Bordeaux Trams, you must validate your ticket/card before getting on the train; just follow the locals and ask if you’re unsure. The metro operates from around 6:00 am to 1:00 am, depending on the line.
The Sociedade de Transportes Colectivos do Porto (STCP) operates the local Porto bus service, including those that connect the airport to other parts of Porto and Portugal. There are regular buses into the city centre; ask as you leave the airport and you’ll be directed to the correct service.
Buses in Porto are generally reliable and offer extensive coverage of the city, including routes not covered by the metro. The bus offers an affordable form of transport but it may be slower than the metro due to the Porto traffic.
Taxis and Uber
City Taxis and Uber are both available and you will find taxi ranks in various locations, the airport, train stations, and major tourist areas. Taxis in Porto are safe and reliable, but do make sure the meter is used and feel free to ask for a receipt for added security.
Uber is also available in Porto, offering an additional option for on-demand transport
If you prefer to be organised and like to know that you have transport arranged in advance then you can also book airport transport via Booking.com and Viator. The drivers will be waiting for you at the arrivals hall and take you directly to your hotel. The cost is usually around 30€; we’ve done this several times and always been happy.
Use This Link to Book Your Private Airport Transfer into Porto Centre
Travel from Santiago de Compostela
We regularly use public transport in Portugal and Spain and find it a great way to travel. I’ve you’re walking the Camino de Santiago there is an ALSA bus service that runs direct from Santiago de Compostala to Porto. We have used this service when our flight back home left from Porto. When buying your ticket do ensure that the bus will stop at both the Airport and/or the centre; not every bus stops at every stop.
Madrid to Porto
If you travelling to or from Madrid to start your Camino there are a few options for your arrival in the city.
- There are direct flights from Madrid to Porto with low cost carriers in Europe. They offer excellent prices but do check the luggage requirements before you arrive at the airport.
- There is a train from Madrid (it’s easy to travel between airport in Madrid to the train station) although the journey is not direct, so you’ll have a couple changes.
- There is a bus service that runs between the two cities; Flixbus offers a very affordable option for travel.
Lisbon to Porto
if you are travelling from Lisbon there are low cost flights but the best choice will either be a direct train and one of the regular bus services. Both are simple, direct and affordable.
Porto and the Portuguese Camino de Santiago
Porto is an important stage on the Camino de Santiago. The historic pilgrimage route travels through the city and the route splits in Porto and pilgrims opt for either the Central route or the Coastal option. Porto is also a stage on the Pilgrimage to Fatima. Today, thousands of pilgrims start their pilgrimage in Porto and walking to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The Portuguese Caminos are now the second most popular choice for pilgrims and there are plentiful services; albergues, hostels and eateries are available and you can also arrange for luggage transfers.
The pilgrimage starts at the steps of the holy Sé do Porto, the city’s Romanesque 12th century cathedral. From here you either head inland on the Central Camino or down through the narrow streets to the river front and follow the might Douro river to the Atlantic. Many pilgrims opt to walk the coastal route on their first day, regardless of the later route. There is a crossing point later to take you back to the Central route. Having walked both I’m inclined to agree that the coastal option on day one is superior.
If you are starting your Camino from Porto I strongly recommend that you allow a few extra days to visit the city and explore it’s rich history before starting your journey to Santiago (and allow a couple of extra days there too!)
The Last Word : What is Porto Famous For?
Porto is most famous for the Port Wine but it’s growing in popularity because it’s a wonderful destination. The Camino de Santiago led me to Porto but it’s so much more than the starting point for the Camino Portuguese.
If you’re a history buff there is a range of stunning architecture, if you’re a foodie then its rich gastronomy heritage will leave you enthralled, and wine lovers will be charmed by the cities wines. Art and music lovers can enjoy the vibrant creative scene, and the heathy busking culture in the old town.
There are many tourist attractions to keep you busy and if you have the time, explore beyond the main centres and discover hidden gems along the way.
We’ve visited Porto several times and we never tire of the city. As a first-time visitor I would recommend you allow at least three days to explore everything on offer. Porto will get under your skin, you’ll want to return whether you choose to stay for just a few days or more.
Never leave home without travel and medical insurance. Accidents happen so make sure you have full travel insurance before leaving home.
Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.
TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions
Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me. although we’ve not used them personally.