After being the European Capital of Culture in 2001, a revolution to open the north of Portugal, and Porto in particular, to foreign investment and tourism all over the world started to get shape.
Since then, Porto was elected 3 times the Best European Destination, saw its number of overnight stays increase to 6.8 million in 2016, hosted international sport events like RedBull Air Race (again in the 2017 calendar!) and the WRC Rally Championship, and welcomed 9 million passengers in its modern airport, very far away of the 2 million it had back in the 90’s.
Unfortunately, everything comes with a price and Porto is not an exception. The tourist traps and the not always friendly face-lifting of the city’s downtown — many times at the expense of its residents — took over the daily routine of the city.
After being asked for tips on how to best experience Porto by many friends around the world, I decided to collect in this article some of the things I still like to do when I go back home which I hope you enjoy too, very far from the crowds, rip offs and tourist traps!
1. Take a bike ride along the riverside headed to the beach
One of the first things I do when I’m back in Porto is to drive to the river and take a long walk / bike ride till the edge of the city along the riverside. This is my favourite path in the entire world and I never miss a the chance to feel inspired and overwhelmed with such beauty.
Check the 8km / 2 hours route through the coastline on the map below:
2. Enjoy a meal of freshly caught fish and seafood in the streets of Matosinhos
One of the privileges of living in a city by the sea is definitely to be able to enjoy freshly caught fish and seafood any day of the year. After the long walk I suggested above, nothing better than stopping for an outstanding lunch in one of the many street restaurants at Rua Heróis de França.
Check below my top 3 (if you have time please do visit all 3, I can’t choose my favourite!):
3. Watch a live FC Porto football match
If you’re a football fan, FC Porto doesn’t need any introduction. Try to catch one of the home games of the 4 times European Champion and experience the vibrant environment in the dragon’s nest “Estádio do Dragão”, one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world.
- Official Site: http://www.fcporto.pt/en/Pages/fc-porto.aspx
- Games Calendar: http://www.fcporto.pt/en/agenda/Pages/agenda.aspx
4. Taste the traditional Francesinha
One of Porto’s flagship is definitely its Francesinha: a steak sandwich (also with sausage, ham and many other goodies), swimming in a very hot tomato and beer sauce, topped with melted cheese and a fried egg.
Forget the calories, don’t eat anything before, specially do not go to sleep in the following 8 hours and get ready for the experience of a lifetime. There are countless places to have one and if you ask 100 different locals for the best, you will get 100 different answers, so I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Last but not least, NEVER ask for only half of one. You’ll immediately lose all respect of every local in the restaurant, me included!
My top 3 places by order of awesomeness:
- Café Hamburgo (Vila Nova de Gaia)
- Café Santiago (Porto downtown)
- Restaurante Bufete Fase (Porto downtown)
5. Watch the sunset from the “Virtudes” garden
One of the hidden gems located behind the massive courthouse building is a small garden called “Virtudes”. From here you can enjoy a beer with a view, while the sun goes down and you get ready for dinner in one of the many local restaurants around.
Check its location below:
6. Visit the Blue Flag beaches of Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia is known for its amazing coastline, with large beaches, some with famous coastal sand dunes. The beach landscape stretches for 15kms of coastline with the largest number of Blue Flag beaches in Portugal! There has also been considerable investment in creating a wooden walkway that runs the full stretch of Gaia’s coastline, providing a sea view along the entire route. Perfect for a walk, run or a bike ride! You can’t miss it!
You get there easier by car or táxi crossing the Arrábida Bridge but there’s also the bus number 16 from Espírito Santo lines (check the map here) going multiple times a day from the metro station Casa da Música. Hop off on the last stop at Salgueiros beach. After a little exercise don’t miss having the perfect meal with ocean view at Restaurante Mar à Vista. You’re welcome.
7. Get a coffee break by D. Luis I Bridge
Specially in an early spring morning when the crowds are still asleep, head down to the river and enjoy a relaxed coffee right on top of the water. The bar is located near an old structure where a bridge made of barges used to be. This bridge was destroyed during the invasion of the french Marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult in 1809, causing the dead of 4000 people that were trying to make it to the other side of the river.
8. Get a breathtaking view over the Douro river
Visit the gardens of Palácio de Cristal for a romantic escape with the most stunning views in town over the Douro river. This time don’t take my word for it, you need to see with your own eyes.
Check the exact location on the map below:
9. Visit the spa of The Yeatman Hotel for a relaxing afternoon
Nothing better than after a few hours of street crawling go for a relaxing afternoon in one of the most beautiful and luxurious spas the city has to offer. You don’t need to be a guest in the hotel to have the chance to experience the Roman bath, hammam, the shower experience as well as a relaxation area enjoying stunning views from the hotel’s indoor panoramic infinity pool.
Official website: http://www.the-yeatman-hotel.com/en/
10. Make a picnic in the City Park
Last but not least, very close to the sea in the border with Matosinhos you can find the massively green City Park (“Parque da Cidade” in Portuguese). It’s the biggest urban park in the entire country with 83 hectares and more than 10km of trails. A mandatory location for a picnic and maybe some sports if you are into that kind of nature stuff!
You can’t miss it:
There are tons of other things to do in Porto that you can find within any tourist guide that I will not detail here. A few examples:
- Go to the top of Clérigo’s Tower for a panoramic view of the city
- Enjoy a guided tour closed with wine tasting in one of the many Port wine cellars across the D. Luis I bridge.
- Cross the D. Luis I bridge by foot, specially from it’s upper board and feel it shaking while the metro crosses it.
- Visit Porto’s main shopping street: Rua de Santa Catarina
- Visit Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s oldest fruit and vegetables street market (which is now a polished version of what it used to be).
- Watch a show in Casa da Música, the best concert house in town. Make sure you don’t miss the fine dinning in its top floor restaurant.
You can this and much more in these free brochures from Porto’s tourism office with everything you need to know to have an amazing time in the city.
Hope you find this article useful, enjoy your stay in Porto, be nice and try to stay away from the crowds!