Porto is one of those places that is perfect for a quick short visit or an extended slow travel stay. Filled with gorgeously tiled buildings, great vibe and culinary delights
Have you ever wondered whether this place is called Porto or Oporto? You can rest assured that both are correct. Oporto is mainly used in English, while Porto is the Portuguese name. As the popularity of the destination grows, so does the use of the native pronunciation. No matter what you call it, this is an awesome place to discover.
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We arrived in Porto on a sunny afternoon, eager to explore the city. As we were still riding high on the awesomeness of Portugal we discovered in Lisbon, we were excited to uncover all the Porto attractions awaiting us. And let me tell you, we weren’t disappointed.
Even though I knew that Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city, it still surprised me at how large it actually is. There was no way we would’ve been able to see all of it on foot in the short time we had. Thankfully, like any other touristy city, there are a number of hop-on, hop-off bus tour companies that can make seeing the city a bit more manageable.
You can quickly hit the main Porto attractions on the tour. It’s quick and easy to get around Porto on the bus tour, plus you get to experience the city views from above. As it turns out, Porto definitely is a beautiful place. Also, 72 hours in Porto gives you a great taste of what you can find here.
I enjoyed being in a place with no plans. Wondering around the city and discovering different gems almost on every corner. There are ornate churches, buildings with wrought-iron balconies, cobbled streets and plenty of bars and restaurants to indulge in. It’s a cultural and culinary paradise perfect for any cultural and history lover.
Best way to visit Porto in 72 hours
We chose to take the hop-on, hop-off bus that gave us two day’s worth of transportation around town. I enjoy these types of tours as they offer a chance to see more of a place, especially parts that are too far to walk to. I think there are about three different bus companies, all offering pretty much similar routes, prices and promotions. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.
In addition to the bus tour, we took a boat “cruise” along the waterfront. It was a great way to see Porto from a different angle and perspective. The boat ride is long enough to enjoy and not get bored. I highly recommend it.
Visit Porto and all its unique neighbourhoods
The city is divided into five zones that offer a little something for everyone. This can be confusing at first, but it all comes together once you get a quick overview.
As the name implies, City Centre is the heart of Porto. As the city is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, here you’ll find numerous architectural gems like the Camara Municipal, Sao Bento Railway Station and the Santo Antonio Hospital. Our Airbnb was in this area so we were able to explore this part of the city quite a bit.
Historical Centre is the oldest part of the city. Porto dates back to the Roman times when it was a fort for the trading routes. Thanks to the Roman trade and later the Portuguese discoveries in the new world, it prospered greatly over the centuries. Here you’ll find a wonderful blend of streets, buildings and squares that have evolved with the city as it grew over the years.
This is a newer part of the city and reflects its expansion. Numerous shops, hotels and tall buildings line the Avenida da Boavista, Porto’s urban centre. They say that some of the best shopping can be done in this area. As we weren’t that interested in shopping, I can’t attest to that. But I did come across so many nice shoes!
Foz Velha and Foz Nova
The “foz” literally means “mouth.” This part of the town extends from the mouth of the Duoro River to the Atlantic Ocean. Like any other place on the water, this used to be the home of fishermen until the second half of the 16th century when it gave way to military purposes. Along the shores are numerous restaurants, beachfront promenades, bars and oceanfront living. The boat tour offers many great views of the shoreline and photo ops.
Not as historical or exciting, the Eastern Side is the newest addition to the city. It came about as a result of growth and expansion. It was mostly rural farmlands until the end of the 19th century when the city’s population grew and expanded. Some of the farmhouses are still there, dotting the vista.
A few of Porto attractions worth adding to your itinerary
I must say we loved walking around Porto. It felt safe, interesting and welcoming. Much like Lisbon, most people spoke English, which made things easier for us, as our Portuguese is non-existent. There were so many little spots here that made us pause.
If you enjoy reading about Porto, you might like Lisbon’s Castelo de Sao Jorge!
It’s one of those places that has a laid back feel and embraces you from the moment you set your foot in it. I loved the pretty buildings, decorated with intricate tiles so common in Portugal. Some are painted in pretty colours; others have imaginative carvings. There are some hills here, especially in the older parts of town, but overall not too bad to walk.
With a short time on your hands, you’re not going to see it all. The bus is a great option to get the lay of the land and pick some key points. Here are some of my picks.
Quinta da Boeira
A perk that comes with the sightseeing bus tour in Porto, is the opportunity to sample the local specialty – port. Port, more of a liqueur than wine, is sweet and fruity and made right in here in Porto. We got the opportunity to sample two different distilleries. And we might have brought some home too.
There are many great places to enjoy the port in the city, but since this is already included in the price of the bus tour, why not take advantage? Plus, you’ll get an opportunity to stop by Quinta da Boeira, a grand villa, dating back to 1850, with pretty gardens. Although, sampling some port in this setting is an elevated experience.
São Bento Railway Station (Estação Ferroviária de Porto-São Bento)
São Bento Railway Station in Porto is a stop worth making. What was once the site of a Benedictine monastery, opened to the public in 1916 as a train station. While that might not seem like anything special, the beautiful decorations of over 20,000 tiles inside will make you pause.
Reflecting on the history of Portugal, the blue and white tiles are simply stunning. Much like other parts of the city, the tiles inside the train station are an experience for the visual senses. Expect to spend some time here, especially if you’re into photography.
The bridges of Porto
Porto is a city of bridges. There are especially two that might remind you of another grand European landmark – the Eiffel Tower. The famous Dom Luis I and Dona Maria Pia bridges have a complex ironwork framework supported by a great arch, supporting the traffic above. Gustave Eiffel did design the Dona Maria Pia bridge while the Dom Luis I was designed by one of Eiffel’s admirers.
You get to see these two, named after the Portuguese monarchs of the late 19th century, as well as the four others during the boat ride. You can also read more about Porto’s bridges and check them out when visiting Porto.
Not only is the Ribeira one of Porto’s most popular neighbourhoods, but it is also one of the most picturesque. Nestled on the shore of the Douro River in the heart of the old town, Ribeira is a great place to stroll around, people watch or partake in some food and drinks. No matter what time of the day, you’ll find the action here.
You can take the boat tour from here and get an even better view of all the wonderfully decorated façades of the properties along the shore. If you’re like me, you can even imagine which one you’d like to live in. Win, win.
Getting to Porto
We took the train from Lisbon, which took less than three hours. It was a good alternative to flying as it meant no check-ins, delays and waiting. It wasn’t too expensive and pretty comfortable.
The train dropped us off at the main station and we took the metro to our stop. That was also a short ride and our lodgings were across the street from the station. Even though we didn’t take transportation while in Porto, the infrastructure seemed pretty decent to get around.
As it was a very hot summer, we were running out of clean clothes. Normally we manage to do quick washes while on the road, but that didn’t work out this time. We found a laundromat a short walk away and did our wash there. There are several laundromats around town so if you need to use one, you’re good to go.
Have you ever visited Porto? Was there another part of Portugal that you have been to? Let me know!