For a relatively small European country, Portugal is packed with diverse natural scenery and a thriving sense of culture.
From the bustling capital of Lisbon, to the stunning beaches of the Algarve, to the vast countrysides of the northern wine regions, Portugal never fails to attract travelers from every corner of the globe.
Porto, the second largest city after Lisbon, represents a true gem of this wonderful country. Despite its large size and population, the pace of life in Porto remains relaxed and unhurried, allowing travelers to slowly absorb the vibrant Portuguese culture with ease. Here are 10 reasons why this amazing city should be at the top of your destination list.
Compared to its Mediterranean neighbors, like Spain or Italy, the cost of living in Portugal is very affordable. Basic necessities like food, toiletries, and transportation are extremely cheap, and you can find amazing, centrally located hostels for less than 20 Euros a night.
2. Easy Day Trips
For those who like to venture outside of the city, Porto is surrounded by many other gorgeous destinations that are perfect for day trips. For a 7-Euro round trip ticket on the local train network, travelers can visit quaint coastal towns like Aveiro or Viana Do Castelo, as well as exciting cities like Braga.
3. Enticing Music
One of the most accessible expressions of Portuguese culture is Fado, a genre of music where locals belt out their emotions and memories through soulful, heart-wrenching song. In restaurants and cafes all over the city, Fado singers draw crowds with their intoxicating music, and these performances are truly unforgettable. In addition, street performers often fill the alleyways and public squares with captivating music, so there is never a dull moment in the streets of Porto.
4. Scenic Views
Many travelers visit new cities in search of a perfect photo opportunity; luckily Porto has many of them. Visit the upper walkway of the iconic Ponte Luiz Bridge at dusk to see the golden hues of sunset melt into the Duoro River, or walk along the Ribiera and admire the tightly packed rows of colorful houses. Or pay 4 Euros to climb the Torre Dos Clerigos and enjoy a panoramic view of the chaotic, hilly city below.
5. Delectable Food
Porto has a rich local cuisine, full of hearty dishes and fresh seafood. Some must-try foods include Bacalhao, a tasty salted codfish often prepared in casseroles or in savory breaded cakes, and Pastel De Nata, a thick, sweet egg custard encased in flaky pastry crust. Portuguese cuisine also includes lots of high quality meats and cheeses, though Porto is home to an incredible vegetarian buffet called DaTerra. Also be sure to pick up some delicious roasted chestnuts from the sweet old lady who sits at her cart outside São Bento Train Station every day.
6. Port Wine Tours
In addition to the food, Porto possesses a special wine culture that draws connoisseurs from all over the world. Right across the river from Porto is Vila Nova de Gaia, the town most known for storing Port Wine. Not only can you enjoy this sweet, fortified wine in Porto’s restaurants and bars, you can book an informational tour that brings you through famous wine cellars and allows you to sample various Port Wines. There are endless tour companies in Porto offering wine tours, but Porto Walkers has a very fun, educational tour for a decent price.
7. Impressive Architecture
With countless cathedrals, museums, and public squares, Porto has no shortage of aesthetically pleasing displays of art and design. Some notable churches are Igreja do Carmo and Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso, both of which are plastered with azulejos, the traditional, delicate blue and white Portuguese tiles. Also, the main square known as Praca de Liberdade is lined with magnificent buildings exuding architectural greatness. Aside from these popular places, every street in Porto is decorated with either colorful tiles, unique street art, or photogenic buildings, so spend an afternoon wandering aimlessly and you are sure to find hidden beauty.
8. Green Spaces
Every city needs a few green spaces to bring life to the metropolis. Porto’s Jardim da Cordoaria and Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique are two small, centrally located gardens perfect for reading or having a picnic. For a more immersive afternoon in nature, visit the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal, a large, peaceful park full of flower gardens, statues, ponds, and towering trees.
9. Exercise Opportunities
Take advantage of Porto’s warm, sunny weather by spending as much time outside as possible. The wide walkway alongside the Duoro River is perfect for combining exercise with sightseeing in the form of walking, running, or biking. Heading west along the river provides a quieter, more peaceful atmosphere, where runners share the walkway only with local fishermen. Heading east along the river leads towards the Atlantic coast, where sandy beaches and palm-tree laden parks line the path. Continuing east also leads towards the largest urban park in Portugal, Parque da Cidade. This park is full of sports fields and open, grassy spaces where people can further enjoy an active lifestyle.
10. Cheap Shopping
Porto overflows with stores selling nice shoes, fashionable clothing, and attractive souvenirs for cheap prices. Rua de Santa Catarina is a centrally located avenue full of well-known shops, Rua de Cedofeita is a street packed with trendy vintage shops, and Rua de Miguel Bombarda is home to numerous fascinating art galleries selling creative works.
This list could continue on and on, as the attractions in Porto are endless. Aside from physical beauty, Porto exudes a welcoming energy that invites travelers into the enjoyable, exciting city life. The people of Porto are so hospitable and willing to help foreigners embrace the local culture. Though English is a widely known language, people will appreciate if you stumble through some Portuguese when asking for directions or suggestions. Porto is one of those cities that makes you feel right at home, even if you are just stopping by.