Portugal’s captivating northern city has its share of five-star hotels and Michelin-listed restaurants. But Porto also has good-value B&Bs and family-run tabernas where you can feast on Portuguese classics without draining your bank account. In fact, travel here can be surprisingly affordable, even during the high season.
Some of the best things to do in Porto don't cost a thing, from lounging on beaches near Foz do Douro to watching the sunset from a hilltop miradouro (lookout). You can head out on free walking tours or design your own adventures on scavenger hunts around town. You can also plan your trip around big free festivals, and it won’t cost you much to use Porto’s excellent public transportation network when you need a break from immersing yourself in the city’s rich culture.
Figure out the cheapest point of arrival
Discount airlines connect Porto with airports all over Europe, but if you’re coming from the US, Australia or other distant countries, look at flights into Lisbon. From there, it’s a little more than three hours by train or bus to Porto. Even with the extra cost of moving between cities, you might save substantially by flying into Portugal’s capital.
Visit from October to April to save on accommodation
In spring and autumn, Porto has pleasant weather and plenty of color in the parks (blooming flowers in April, changing leaves in October). You’ll also notice fewer crowds and lower accommodation prices – typically around 25% off high-season rates. You can save even more by visiting from November to February when many hotels slash their rates by 50% or more. Just be sure to bring a rain jacket, scarf and warm layers, as the skies can sometimes bring wet, chilly weather (alternating with invigorating sunny days).
Ditch the car and get around by public transportation
The city center of Porto is not a great place to find yourself behind the wheel. Pricey car parks and everyday urban challenges (one-way streets, heavy traffic) make for a stressful driving experience. If you’re arriving with a vehicle, you’re better off parking it in the outskirts and using public transportation around town. The price of a one-way trip on the metro or bus is just €1.25 (US$1.30) traveling within the central part of the city (zone 2).
Take the metro from the airport
If you’re flying into Aeroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro, you can save money right away by taking the metro into town rather than opting for a pricey taxi. Just buy an Andante card (€0.60/$0.65), add credit for one zone 4 trip (€2/$2.10) and hop on the E (violet) line. Afterward, you can add more credit to use the same card to get around.
Make lunch your big meal
You can save by eating your main meal at lunchtime. Even high-end restaurants offer less-expensive lunch options. The menu do dia (fixed menu) or prato do dia (daily special) is always a good-value option.
Time your visit for Serralves em Festa and other free festivals
One of Porto’s best arts festivals features 50 hours of non-stop cultural programming over one long weekend in June. There’s music, dance, theater, circus arts and multimedia exhibitions, among other things.
The event at Serralves is just one of many admission-free events Porto throws throughout the year. The celebration of São João (around June 24) brings much merrymaking to the streets. You can also catch free summer concerts on the esplanade of the Casa da Música, or ring in the new year with street parties and fireworks over the river.
Watch the sunset from a miradouro
Porto is blessed with many scenic overlooks (miradouros) to enjoy the panoramic views and cool breezes. A local favorite is the Passeio das Virtudes, where you can stretch out on the grass and gaze out across the rooftops, down to the Douro River and off to the Arrábida bridge beyond. You can have a drink at one of the terrace cafes nearby, or bring your own beverage to save a bit more.
Book a room in a budget hotel
Even during the busy summer months, you can save a bundle on accommodation if you’re willing to forego a few luxuries. At places like the Poets Inn, you can book a stylish literary-themed double room for less than €70 ($74) a night, though you’ll have to share a bathroom. You can keep the bathroom and go even lower if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of aesthetics. At Hospedaria Boavista you’ll find clean but Spartan quarters that run €45 to €55 ($47 to $58) a night during high season.
Save even more money by staying in a hostel
Porto has dozens of beautifully designed hostels that are packed with upscale amenities and artful individuality. Some of the best have rooftop lounges, terraces and private gardens, and offer a welcome cocktail or stage in-house concerts. Trainspotters should consider a night in the Passenger Hostel, hidden inside the historic São Bento train station.
A bed in a dorm room typically costs about €25 ($26) a night during high season. Many hostels also have double rooms that run from €60 to €90 ($63 to $95), if you’re looking for a social atmosphere but want a bit more privacy.
Spend some downtime on the beach
Among the many ways to enjoy an inexpensive outing in Porto is to head to the beach (traveling by bus or metro, of course). The oceanfront district of Foz do Douro has an inviting selection of sandy beaches to choose from, including Praia dos Ingleses, which you can reach on bus 1M from the center of town (a sub-30-minute ride from the Ribeira).
If the seas are too rough, you could head instead to Praia de Matosinhos (accessible by bus 1M as well as the metro). This wide sandy beach is a good option if you’re traveling with kids. You can enjoy some sandcastle-building on the shore and swim safely with lifeguards on duty in the summer.
Get an insider’s perspective of Porto on a free walking tour
You could spend days exploring Porto’s many layers of history, though if you want a crash course on the pivotal moments in the past, book a free tour with Porto Walkers. You’ll learn how the city has evolved over the years, while visiting locations like the Sé (cathedral), the top of Dom Luís I bridge, the Ribeira district and scenic viewpoints over town. Tours run most days and are gratuito (free), though tipping is encouraged (guides can’t earn a living without them).
Eat at a taberna without breaking the bank
Porto has many classic places where you can fork into traditional Portuguese dishes at excellent prices. One place not to be missed is the Taberna de Santo António, which has a changing menu with a rotation of delicious plates of codfish, roast pork, fried sardines, as well as the city’s iconic dish tripas à modo do Porto (tripe and bean stew).
Go on an azulejo scavenger hunt
The blue-and-white tile known as the azulejo is emblematic of Porto, and you’ll see it on some of the city’s most important landmarks. Azulejos depict scenes from Portuguese history, apocryphal stories of national saints and socially themed works by contemporary artists. You can spend a morning or afternoon hunting down and photographing azulejo-covered buildings, and it won’t cost you a thing.
Be sure to include the following places on your list: Igreja do Carmo church, São Bento train station, Porto’s cathedral, Capela das Almas, Igreja de Santo Ildefonso and the Ribeira Negra ‘painting’ near the Dom Luís I bridge. You’ll undoubtedly stumble upon other azulejo works of art along the way. Photograph them all, then put together your greatest-hits list at the end of the day.
Daily costs in Porto
Hostel room (dorm bed): €22-28 ($23-29)
Basic room for two: €55-75 ($58-79)
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from €100 ($105)
Metro or bus ticket to Matosinhos beach: €1.60 one-way ($1.70)
Um cimbalino (an espresso): €0.80-1.30 ($.85-1.40)
Tripas à modo do Porto (Porto’s classic tripe dish): €7-9 ($7.40-9.50)
Dinner for two: €40-70 ($42-74)
Glass of wine from the Douro: €3-5.50 ($3.15-5.80)