Whether you’re jetting into town for a long weekend or looking for an atmospheric place to write that best-selling novel, Porto is a fascinating city to explore. You’ll find cutting-edge art, medieval streetscapes and an overflowing bounty of great food and wine.
Porto is a fairly easy-going place, but you can help ensure your trip is a success by learning a few essentials – like how to get around on public transportation and what to wear for the weather. You’ll also learn that asking someone if they are a tripe-eater is OK, but saying "gracias" is generally not. Below are our top 13 tips for a successful trip to Porto.
Decide where to stay
Near the riverfront, the Ribeira is a popular choice for its historic architecture and lively dining and drinking options. However, it can feel a bit touristy and places tend to book up months in advance. Just up from Ribeira, the neighborhood of Aliados puts you in the heart of the city center and has great lodging and dining. As with Ribeira, you’ll have to move fast to book your preferred spot. For more of a seaside feel, consider Foz do Douro, which lies near beaches on the Atlantic and is an easy hop (by bus or tram) from the center.
Make restaurant reservations
Porto has some excellent dining rooms, including over a dozen places listed in the Michelin guide. If you hope to enjoy a meal at Pedro Lemos, Antiqvvm or one of Porto’s other celebrated restaurants, reserve several weeks in advance – or at least one month ahead if booking during the high season (May to September).
Don’t drive in the center of Porto
Porto’s narrow, one-way streets, heavy traffic and challenging parking situation can be quite nerve-wracking even for local drivers. Add in hills, trams, lots of pedestrians and bikes, plus the odd construction zone with detours, and you have the makings of a stressful day indeed. If you’re arriving by car, it’s best to park on the outskirts and take a metro into the center of town.
Get an Andante Card and travel on public transportation
Porto has an efficient public transportation network with six metro lines that link districts across town. You can also take the metro out to the beach and get to, and from, the airport (violet line E). In addition, there are buses, trams and even one funicular. For convenience, purchase an Andante Card (€0.60) and load it with credit for use on the metro and buses.
Trams have a special rate (€3.50/6 one-way/return) and can be purchased on board. The Funicular dos Guindais, also charged separately (€2.50 one-way), runs from the riverfront near the base of the iconic Luís I bridge up to Rua Augusto Rosa near the Igreja de Santa Clara.
Pack reliable footwear and a smart-casual wardrobe
Porto’s hills and uneven pavements will give your legs a workout. Make sure you bring good walking shoes so you don’t twist an ankle. Save the heels for dining out and nightclubs.
Footwear aside, locals tend to dress in smart-casual wear. Shorts are fine for the beach, but if you wear them around town, you’ll quickly be labeled a tourist. At nicer restaurants, you’ll want to dress up a bit.
Bring a raincoat and scarf, and prepare for changeable weather
Porto has a Mediterranean-esque climate with warm, dry summers and cool, wetter winters. Even if you travel in July or August, though, you should bring a rain jacket for the occasional shower. In winter, precipitation is a greater possibility with a few wet days followed by pleasant, sunny skies. Whenever you come, you’ll want to bring layers as the days can start off chilly and then warm up considerably. Porto also catches some strong breezes off the water, so always pack a scarf.
Don’t forget to throw in the swimsuit
Porto’s western neighborhoods border the Atlantic, with some wide sandy beaches easily reached by metro or bus. The water is chilly, but a welcome relief on the hottest of summer days when temperatures can reach upwards of 33C (93F).
Fork into a francesinha
The francesinha is to Porto what poutine is to Québec. It’s a much-loved if decidedly un-fancy dish made of thick bread topped with ham, linguiça (Portuguese sausage), steak and cheese, then topped with yet more cheese (this time melted) and a mildly spicy sauce (made of tomatoes and beer) with perhaps a fried egg thrown in for good measure.
Try it in Porto when you have the chance as you’ll rarely find the francesinha outside of the city. And make sure you’re well fasted before partaking of this deliciously high-calorie meal. Cafe Santiago serves up one of the best.
Try the tripas
Calling someone a tripe eater (tripeiro) might seem like a fine prelude to a fistfight. But in Porto, locals have adopted the moniker as their own, and proudly call themselves tripeiros. Why, you might ask? Quite simply because of their love for tripa (tripe), in particular, the somewhat enigmatically named dish tripas à modo do Porto (meaning Porto-style tripe). Carnivores will delight in this stew-like delicacy made from veal tripe, white beans, sausage, carrots, paprika and various other spices. Nearly every tripeiro has their own favorite place to eat the signature dish, though you can’t go wrong with the authentic, home-style cooking at O Buraco.
Prepare to tip (or not)
In Porto, as in many other parts of Portugal, some locals don’t tip at all, or simply round up when paying for a meal or a taxi ride. In more tourist-oriented establishments a tip is more common – usually around 10% – and may even be added as a service charge. Tipping is not expected in cafes or bars. However, if you’re in a high-end place, you should plan on tipping (along the lines of €1 or €2 for a specialty cocktail).
Learn how to say "bom dia" and other essential Portuguese phrases
Many people speak English in Porto, especially those who work in hotels, restaurants and shops. Learning to say a few phrases in Portuguese, however, can help you during your stay. If nothing else, locals appreciate the effort to speak their language, never mind the rudimentary accent. When entering a room, it’s polite to say "bom dia" (good day) or "boa tarde" (good afternoon) to those around you. "Muito obrigada" (many thanks) or "muito obrigado" (if you’re a man) will also earn you respect.
Don’t assume you can speak Spanish
If you speak Spanish, perhaps you’re thinking that you can get by speaking Castellano in Porto. Portuguese and Spanish, after all, are related (as are English and Dutch) and the two countries have a bit of shared history that sets them apart from the rest of Europe. Spanish, however, is not widely spoken. In fact, more Portuguese speak English (around 30% of the population) or even French (15%) than Spanish (10%). Some locals might take offense if you jump straight into Spanish, so you’re better off sticking to English – perhaps after trying out some Portuguese first.
Be mindful of petty thievery
Porto is generally a safe city, and the crime rate is low. Pickpocketing and bag-snatching are the main concerns to keep in mind, especially when traveling on the trams and metro. Avoid moving around during the crowded peak times, and don’t zone out on your phone wherever you are. At night, be cautious walking around the dark alleys of the Ribeira and near São Bento train station. You’re better off taking a taxi.