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We went to Porto last year. It is definitely worth the visit if you are in the area. Neema, from the blog Adventures of An African Dutchess, who last wrote about Melbourne and Auckland recently went and here are practical tips.
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I was in Seville, Spain in the spring of 2015 at a restaurant called Eslava when I met two guys from Portugal. In between enjoying delicious meals, our conversations ended with me promising to visit Portugal within the next 2 years. Fast forward to 2017, I get to experience the real Portugal. The real beauty of Portugal is in the people. Their kindness, their friendliness and the need for them to educate you on the history was enough for my friend and I to realize that this was going to be a special place and one of the best countries to visit in Europe.
After spending about five days in Lisbon, we headed off to Porto. We loved Lisbon but we did not know was that Porto was going to steal our hearts and keep it.
Getting to Porto
Porto is about 200 miles from Lisbon and can take between 1.0 – 4.5 hours to reach. There are several ways to get to this beautiful city. It all depends on what you can afford and the time you have.
Flying – It takes about an hour from Lisbon and it can cost between $30-$300 depending on the season that you are traveling. They have low cost airlines such as Ryanair that you can use. But when you think about the time to fly and spend at the airport, it is cheaper and quicker to just use the public transport.
Driving – You can rent a car in Lisbon and it will take you about 3 hours without traffic. You will have to pay for toll roads and gas which is a little expensive in Portugal. It is recommended you check with the renting company for the process of paying for the toll roads since it’s complicated.
Car Hire – This is honestly not a good idea as they have such excellent transport system that you will end up paying so much that it might not be worth it.
Bus – We considered this option when I was planning our trip. It would take between 3.5 hours to 4.5 hours for us to get to Porto. Rede Expressos provides transportation between the two cities. Its clean, efficient, modern and safe. The main Bus Station in Lisbon is called Sete Rois and can be reached by the Blue Metro Line from Jardim Zoológico Station. The station serves as the major hub for bus routes within Portugal. It is clean and has a ticket office, snack shops and café. You can get your ticket for about $25-$30 online at rede-expressos.pt and tickets can be purchased up to 30 days in advance. It requires an ID to complete the transaction. There are more than twenty daily buses between the two cities and more during the summer and some weekends. In Porto, the buses stop at Garagem Atlantico Bus Station. It is about 10 minutes’ walk to Sao Bento Train Station which is right in the city center.
Train – This is one of the best ways to get to Porto. It was fast, modern and inexpensive. We bought the roundtrip tickets online at cp.pt which is the national rail company of Portugal. Just like the bus, tickets can be purchased up to 30 days in advance. This is especially important if you are traveling in the summer when the tickets get sold out due to specific departure times. You will be allocated a seat number/carriage depending on the class you purchase. Depending on the train you choose, The Alfa Pendular train takes about 2.5 hours while the intercity train service is about 3 hours because it makes stops a few stops. A single ticket on the Alfa Pendular Train from Lisbon to Porto costs $30 – $50 while the Intercidades costs $25 – $30. You can get the train from Oriente Train Station but my advice would be if you are in the city, board the train from Santa Apolonia Train Station.
In Porto, all trains services stop at Campanha Train Station and is about 10 minutes from the city. We took a taxi to our hotel which costs us less than $10 but you can also take the local train for less than 10 minutes to Sao Bento which is in the central Porto Station and the ticket is include in the ticket price.
Love at First Sight
Nicknamed “Invicta” which stands for unconquered because it withstood siege for over a year during the 19th century Portuguese civil war, Porto was love at first sight for us. Voted the best European destination to visit in 2017, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this city is breathtaking. From when we first met our host who showed us around the city with so much pride, to the endless bridges, the Duoro River, the alleys of Ribeira, the azulejos (tiles), the San Francisco Church, the musty cellars of big-name ports, the high-spirited nightlife but also day life at the river, the glorious food – did I mention the 2-Star Michelin Restaurant? I was in love. It is a city that you sense and feel. And we spent our first day just feeling. We walked around the river enjoying breathtaking views and in the afternoon, we enjoyed our evening sipping excellent Port wine. And we loved that it was not a big city, we could cross the bridge and enjoy the views from different angels.
Where to Stay
Porto has so many places to stay but we especially loved the Guest Houses. When we came back from Duoro Valley, we stayed at a hotel on the riverfront but we still missed The Guest House we stayed in the first few days. You can stay in old-town neighborhoods such as Vitoria, Miragaia or Ribeira. You can also stay on the opposite side of Ribeira – Gaia which has one of the best hotels – The Yeatman’s. Just known that if you are going to stay along the Ribeira, you will not be allowed to drive in because it’s a protected UNESCO site and only specific vehicles are allowed. Most hotels do have deals with companies that can offer parking. Because we went before the high season, we paid an average price of $100-$150 per night but it can be cheaper or expensive depending on the time you travel.
Food and Port Wine
I have never had such a great time enjoying food and wine as much as I did in Porto. This city is filled with chefs that have made it a foodie heaven. We enjoyed an excellent chicken in Lsd Largo de Sao Domingos but what stood out was Chef Ricardo Costa at The Yeatman’s Gastronomic Restaurant which is a 2-Michelin Stars. I felt like a princess enjoying my meal and the extraordinary panorama of the Duoro River and historic center especially at night. The view was as spectacular as the meal and the wines that went with them (be sure to book a table at least a month in advance).
We spent one of our afternoons enjoying wine tastings at the port cellars. And they cost about $5-$10 per tasting. We loved Caves Ferreira because of the history it gave us, while The Croft Cellar located at the waterfront in Gaia gave us a real experience in blind tastings and chocolate pairings. The Port Wine Cellars in another one to try especially for its Port but our favorite was Taylor’s. Not only did we have excellent lunch here but the views when enjoying our drinks offered the most gorgeous views of the Port and river.
Other Things to do in Porto
Porto Cathedral – Also known as Sé do Porto, its perched on a hilltop with various architectural styles especially the gothic hard style that makes it so different. It offers some of the best views of Porto’s terra cotta-colored rooftops. This cathedral is located right in the city and is opened daily and closed at 6 p.m.
Sāo Bento Railway Station – One of the most gorgeous stations I have even seen. We loved the painted blue and white tile panels that highlight the history of Portugal done by Portuguese artist Jorge Colaço.
Church of Saint Francis (Igreja de Sāo Francisco) – My friend and I passed this place at least 2 or 3 times between our walks to the river front and never knew it was the much talked about church. When we stepped inside, ohh my! Lots and lots of gold and exceptional guilt wood carvings. We only paid about $4 to tour the whole place. Its right in the heart of Porto and you can’t miss it since it looks so plain from outside.
Lello Bookstore (Livrarua Lello & Irmāo – My friend kept insisting we make a trip here because of J.K Rawlings, Harry Potter Books and Movies. It is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and rated among the top in the world. The inside is exquisite with beautiful staircase and colorful glass windows. Opened Monday through Saturday from 10.00am to 7.30pm
Porto Bridges – Did you know Porto has 7 bridges instead of 6? And we loved running through them in the morning. Dom Luis I bridge is the most famous of them and connects Ribeira to Vila Nove de Gaia. It is the second of the six bridges across the Duoro River. The views from the top level is magnificent especially at night.
If you have more time, visit the Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa) located in the historic center of Porto. You can also check the Torre dos Clérigos and climb about 240 steps to the top of the tower. It has spectacular views of the river and the Duoro valley.
And don’t forget to spend a few days visiting and staying in the Duoro Valley. It was one of the best trips we ever took from Porto staying at Quinta de Sāo Bernardo.
My best memory of Portugal is Porto and the Duoro Valley. Wondering the old towns of Ribeira with its marvelous colored old houses of Miragaia on the Ribeira quay, enjoying amazing food by Chef Ricardo Costa, sipping port wine at the various Port Cellars, admiring the exquisiteness of S. Bento Station with its atrium lined with tiles. And off course, the stunning Church of S. Francisco.
About the Author
I am a Kenyan-American who is adventurous, foodie, wine lover, shoe addict, photographer, yogi and a runner. I also consider myself extremely blessed child of God. I enjoy traveling on a cheap budget by subscribing to the Flight Deal and other deal websites. I spend my days dreaming and planning my next trip. I enjoy traveling as a local. I love sharing stories of the places I visit and I do so through photography. I currently work in the Bay Area as a Marketing Professional. My free time is spent catching up on my favorite TV shows, reading, running and yoga. You can follow me on Instagram and my blog Adventures of An African Dutchess.
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