The Ultimate Guide to Porto

Updated: Nov 30, 2019


Disclaimer: Thank you to InLapa Local Apartments for hosting us as your guests. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

First Off, Why Should You Visit Porto?


Porto is a land of diversity; conveying a unique blend of culture, history, and unrivaled cuisine.

Built upon the rolling hills that border the Douro River - this picture perfect city is a pure delight. Douro directly translates to “River of Gold” named after locals noticed the sun's cascading rays at sunset give the river an opulent glow.

The landscape here is incomparable to anything we’ve seen before: from the cornucopia of colorful, painted houses among the hillsides, that blends medieval and modern architectural styles, to the UNESCO World Heritage City Centre, complemented by grandiose bridges, a bustling wine scene, and trendy cafes to entertain your every culinary desire, this city is bursting with culture. Porto truly has it all - providing a little something for everyone.

Where to Stay in Porto?


When determining where to stay in Porto, Portugal, location is the key to an enjoyable vacation. With so much to see and do, you’ll want to situate yourself in a place that's centrally located to all the best that Porto has to offer.


We found InLapa Local Apartments to meet our every need for convenience, comfort and affordability. Here, guests become a part of history. The apartments are located in a 100 year old building, decorated with Oporto tiles (also known as “Azulejos”); Azulejos are an emblematic representation and integral part of Portuguese culture and historical tradition. These white and blue tiles have a fascinating narrative that transcends generations (which we promise to touch on more later). The InLapa Apartments feature traditional Portuguese architecture that play on the symbolism of the city, extending their guests a unique insight to local, modern-day living.

We were fortunate enough to stay in the InLapa 03 Apartment, offering guests a colorful Morrocan style setting with modern features, upscale amenities, a fully equipped kitchen accented with garden decor, and so much more - you’ll feel right at home.

The style is wonderfully unique - set in a verdurous courtyard, engulfed by various shades of green, the two story apartment has a mezzanine that contains a bed for two. Downstairs presents an additional sofa bed, along with a cosy bathroom, dining table, and kitchen with an outdoor garden area for additional lounging and relaxation.

Upon arrival, guests receive a Welcome Package containing fresh fruit, coffee, tea, cookies and of course - the staple that this city was built upon - Port Wine.

Located near all the iconic attractions, guests are only a short walk away from Aliados Avenue, Lello Bookshop, São Bento Train Station, Port Wine Caves, the acclaimed Cathedrals and everything in between. Management also provides you with a highly detailed map of the area to help you ease into navigating the labyrinth of colorful city streets.

With so much to see and do it can be overwhelming where to even start, but we’ve mapped out the ideal itinerary just for you. You’re on holiday, why stress when you don’t have to? We’ve got you covered.

What Should You Do While There?


FREE WALKING TOUR


One staple we stick to with each new place we visit is joining a free walking tour. This is honestly one of the best ways to get introduced to a new city. These tours are usually led by locals, who have a strong understanding of their particular cities long standing historical traditions and cultural influences. Free Walking Tours are accessible to all - regardless of your budget. The guides work off of your tips, so give what you feel the tour is worth once your tour concludes, the final amount is up to you. It’s our favorite way to explore and discover new places, while also supporting the local economy, so we think you’ll enjoy it as much as we do.

We highly recommend doing your Free Walking Tour with Porto Walkers. Tours are held daily from 10:45 am to 1:45 pm, with English, Spanish, and Portuguese speaking guides, typically lasting around 3 hours. The walking distance is approximately 3km but worth every step. Your guides will wind your through the colorful cobble stoned streets of Porto, past charming squares and breathtaking viewpoints that are postcards captured in time.

Here you’ll discover locals’s favorite hideaways for food and wine, while also taking in the historical sites of places like Batalha Square, Santa Clara Church, Luis I Bridge, Barredo Neighborhood, and Ribeira Quarter while learning about each of their dramatic histories. Our favorite stop during the tour was at the São Bento Railway Station - one of the most beautiful train hubs in the entire world. Completed in 1903, the high rising walls are decorated with over 20,000 white and blue Azulejos tiles, depicting various historical scenes and iconic battles throughout Portugal’s history. This was one of the best displays of Azulejos tiles we had ever seen.

CYCLE THE CITY


After experiencing the rise and fall of the Portuguese empire through the artfully detailed tile mosaics, we think one of the best ways to experience the vast complexity of a city like Porto, is to embark on a self guided bicycle tour.


We suggest renting a bike for the day from Velurb, available in two convenient locations to start your tour off right no matter where you are. We personally recommend renting from the Velurb Cedofeita Rent A Bike location to begin your tour; that’s what we did and it was perfect! From there you can follow this comprehensive map we’ve built for you to see parts of the city that very few get to experience by foot.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE DAY INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:


  • LIVRARIA LELLO - Built in the early 1900s, this bookshop is iconic to Porto's literary and architectural scenes.

  • CLERIGOS TOWER - Built in the 18th century, this Baroque-style bell tower is a famous landmark in the Porto cityscape.

  • PORTO CATHEDRAL - Completed in the 18th century, the Porto Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church located in the historical center of Porto.

  • LUIS I BRIDGE - Completed in 1886, Luís I Bridge, is a double-decker metal arch bridge spanning the Douro river and connecting the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.

  • MONUMENT CHURCH OF SAINT FRANCIS - Built in the 15th century, the Church of Saint Francis is the most prominent Gothic monument in Porto and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • BOLSA PALACE - Built in the 19th century, the stock exchange palace is an outstanding example of Neoclassical architecture.

  • MURALHA FERNANDINA - Porto was once surrounded by medieval walls whose construction began in 1336 under the reign of King D. Afonso IV. Today, the Fernandina Wall is the only proof left that a medieval castle ever existed.

  • FORT OF SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER - Built in the 15th century, this seaside fort guarded the coast but locals quickly realized it was in a bad strategic location and was thus never used.

  • CASA DA MUSICA - Constructed in 2001 as a celebration to Porto’s title as the European Capital of Culture, the “House of Music” was the first building in Portugal to be exclusively devoted to music, used only for public performances and artistic training and creation.

As you can see based on the above, you’ll have a jam packed day filled with exploration and historical significance. But not to worry, Velurb Rent A Bike closes at 7:30 PM, giving you ample amounts of time to explore and see all the wonderful sites this city has to offer.

BOUNTIFUL BRIDGES


Porto has been recognized worldwide as “The City of Bridges” and once you’ve been it’s easy to see why. Each bridge holds an important degree of significance to the citizens of this metropolis, standing as momentous landmarks in Porto’s composition. Porto and its neighboring borough Vila Nova de Gaia are the only cities in Europe that have six bridges within their borders, each conveying their own infectious charm.


The most famous of the six is the Dom Luis I Bridge. Completed in 1886 by the pupil of Gustave Eiffel (you know… that one guy who made the Eiffel Tower) this double decker bridge spans over the Douro River, connecting Vila Nova de Gaia to Porto, spanning 172 meters (564 ft) across, and 45 meters (146 ft) high which at the time was a tremendous feat of engineering and the largest iron construction in the world. A must see when visiting this iconic city.

Other bridges include the Maria Pia Bridge, the oldest bridge found in Porto. Followed by the Arrábida Bridge, known to be the most contentious and least attractive bridge (or so they say - but we still found it to be breathtaking in its own right). The most recent addition to the Porto bridge lineup is Infante D. Henrique Bridge that contains a much more simplistic modern design. The Ponte de São João or St John's Bridge is the most futuristic looking bridge made of prestressed concrete, followed by the Freixo Bridge, the most easterly lying bridge, that tends to draw less attention due to its remote location. Each bridge conveys its own defining charm and character, adding intrinsic value to this bustling city.

PORTO TASTING


Porto, Portugal has acclaimed notoriety all over the world as a region famed for its production of Port (a sweet fortified dessert wine). To this day, Port wine is still stored and matured in massive cellars that span the southern banks of the Douro River. When visiting this region, you can’t leave without trying this signature staple, but with over 50 port wine cellars it can be daunting which to choose, so we’ve chosen for you!

Our award winning recommendation for a proper port tasting is with Churchill’s Porto. Founded in 1981 by John Graham (a successor to the Graham’s dynasty. The Graham family has pioneered port wine cultivation for the past 200 years, and is now a leading innovator in winemaking techniques to this day); John wanted to continue his family’s legacy and port tradition while appending his own unique style to port creation, thus creating Churchill’s Porto, in honor of his wife Caroline Churchill.

At Churchill’s, Ports are classified into three categories: Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage, and Reserve - each organized by color intensity, quality, structure and pedigree. Guests can book reservations for tailor-made tastings in the Churchill Tasting Room that overlooks the Rio Douro, starting as low as €7.50 and increasing in price, dependent upon your preferences and desires. We chose the budget friendly €7.50 option, which included three tastings: Churchill’s Dry White Port, Reserve Port and 10 Year Old Port - all conveying their own elegance and style.

The price also includes an in depth tour of the facility, where guests will learn about the grape varietals, harvest, inspection, treading, fermentation, aging and bottling of each vintage. It’s fascinating to see how much precision and care goes into the production of port and a visit to Churchill’s lets you savor the technicality and tradition of this ancient process.

TRY TASTY PORTUGUESE TAPAS


Porto is the food capital when it comes to Portuguese cuisine, raising the culinary bar of excellence on every level. From markets filled with inexpensive stalls to smoked meats and delectable cheeses on every corner, bakeries serving pastries hot out of the oven to stores stocked with sardines, and of course, their world class wine, Porto covers it all. But our personal recommendation is to dive head first into the prominent Petiscos (Portuguese Tapas) culture that resides here.

There are two restaurants in particular that will blow your mind, both quintessential examples of Portuguese Petiscos cuisine, known as Porta 4 and Tábua Rasa.


Porta 4 is an adorable tapas restaurant that only has 4 tables for a few lucky diners, so be sure to book in advance.

  • What to Order? Try the “Menu Do Chefe” for two at €35.00 for a whirlwind of flavor.

  • What Do You Get? You get freshly baked bread, olives, a mixed plate of cheese and sausages, two entrees such as tuna tataki with celery bulb and sweet potato puree or cod fillet with hummus and pepper oil, plus dessert. Make sure to order a bottle of Vinho Verde (also known as “Green Wine”) with your meal, a Portuguese favorite that has a crisp, aromatic flavor with light carbonation. It's delish.

Tábua Rasa does three things and they do it well. Think specialty cheeses, cured meats and traditional canned seafood.

  • What to Order? Try the “Tasting the Earth Menu Degustacao Da Terra” for €50.00

  • What Do You Get? You’ll get a large mixed board of cheeses and cured meats, along with an Alheira and Black Iberian Pig Sausage. Alheira is a smoked Portuguese sausage that is handcrafted with meat, garlic and bread, giving the sausage an earthy aroma and subtle texture. Black Iberian Pig Sausage is a type of chorizo that is sweet and savory, with a complexity of flavors that can’t be beat. Dessert and a bottle of wine are also included, so make sure to arrive with an appetite. Come hungry and leave happy.

EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC OF THE DOURO VALLEY


The Douro Valley is a wine region full of mesmerizing enchantment. Only 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Porto, the Douro Valley is easily accessible for wine enthusiasts seeking to learn and experience the best of Portuguese viniculture. The Douro Valley has been labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its uncommon wine cultivation process and striking, standout scenery.

The famous Douro River snakes its way through these stunning vineyard laden landscapes, past rolling hills of green and vibrant, terraced vineyards as far as the eye can see; this place is both breathtaking and unique. Grape harvest and wine production here dates as far back as 2,000 years, making the Douro Valley one of the oldest wine regions in the entire world. Talk about impressive! The fruits of their hard labor have become a Portuguese national treasure: Port Wine.

To experience all the best that the Douro Valley has to offer we highly recommend you book a tour from Porto. CMTours was a fantastic choice for us, providing guests with a full day tour of various port tastings at two separate vineyards, a gourmet lunch including a glass of wine, and a Douro River cruise that ferries you back through time - to an age when the transport of Porto wines was strictly done by boat. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

As you can see, Porto truly is a land of diversity; a rare fusion of culture, history, and incomparable cuisine. This city will fill you with wonder and keep you begging for more! So why wait? Get to it and have the best week of your life exploring this extraordinary city!


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