Every time I visit a new city, my first instinct is to research everything that I can about it. This way I’ll be surer of what to expect and so I’ll be able to enjoy my stay better.
Less worries, less fuss.
And so, to make your first time in Porto as enjoyable as it can be, here’s a list of the things you should know about the city.
These are the things you should know if it’s your first time in Porto:
When is the best time to visit Porto
The answer to this question really depends on your age, who you are travelling with and your preferences. But there are a couple of things you should know if this is your first time in Porto:
April and May are a great time to visit Porto as there are not as many tourists as during Summer. Late August and September are the best months for wine lovers, as the harvest in Douro Valley takes place during that time.
If you are a party animal, then I recommend you come in June as it is when we celebrate São João festival in Porto, or the New Year’s Eve.
During July and August the city is completely packed with tourists – it actually gets a little bit depressing for the locals as you cannot hear Portuguese anywhere! During these months there are queues for every monument and the prices are higher.
If you want to avoid tourists, then I recommend you to visit between November and February – yes, it is colder and rainy, but it might pay off and everything is cheaper – including flights and hotels.
How to get from Porto’s airport to the city centre
If this is your first time in Porto you are probably wondering how to get from Porto’s airport to the city centre.
In my opinion, the most logical and environment-friendly way of getting to the city centre from Porto’s airport is to take the subway.
When you arrive at Porto’s airport you take the stairs or the escalator to Floor -1. There you have to acquire an Andante card, which is a transport card that you can use on the subway as well as on the buses in Porto. Each person must buy an Andante card and charge it with one Z4 trip (currently it costs 2€), which is enough to get you to the city centre. Then, just validate it, enter the subway and you’re ready to go! (If this sounds confusing just read my guide to the subway of Porto, where I explain everything in detail).
If you are traveling with a lot of luggage, with kids or with people with disabilities, then you might prefer to get a private transfer from Porto’s airport to the city centre. It costs 25€ which is very reasonable.
If this is expensive for you then I recommend you to get a shared transfer from Porto’s airport to the city centre as it only costs 10€.
How to get around in Porto
Even if it is your first time in Porto you’ll find it quite easy to get around in the city.
Porto’s city centre is very hilly but it is very compact as well. The main monuments, such as the Clérigos tower, the Lello bookshop, the cathedral of Porto and São Bento train station are close to each other. Therefore you can easily walk around – with some effort due to the steepness of the streets, but not to worry about if you are in reasonable physical shape.
In general, I would use these rules to decide how to get around in Porto:
- City centre: walk or take the subway of Porto (main stations: Trindade, São Bento, Aliados).
- Ribeira and Foz: these neighbourhoods do not have subway stations, and as they are very close to the river it takes some effort to get from there to the city centre. The best way to get there is walking. However, these are the flattest areas in the city, so I recommend you to rent a bike and ride from there all the way to Passeio Alegre, to Castelo do Queijo or even to Matosinhos. 🙂
- Boavista: this is the area where Casa da Música and the synagogue of Porto are located. To get there, you should go to the subway station Casa da Musica. If you are planning to visit Serralves’ contemporary art museum, you should then get an Uber from that particular subway station (you can also take a bus).
If you just want to get a general view over the city, I recommend you to buy the tickets to the Hop On Hop Off bus in Porto for 1 or 2 days. If you want to make a smart choice you can get the combo ticket to the Hop On Hop Off bus in Porto, River Cruise and Port wine cellar as it allows you to save a lot more money than if you purchased each activity separately.
If you are not so fond of the Hop On Hop Off buses you can replace it with a charming city train – you simply have to buy the online ticket the City train tour, River Cruise and Port wine cellar.
Monuments: which tickets to buy in advance
On your first time in Porto you’ll probably want to hit all the relevant monuments in the city.
Some monuments in Porto are always packed with people so you should buy the online tickets in advance to save you some time & money.
- You should definitely buy the online ticket to watch a Fado show as this is very popular in Porto and it runs out fast. You can buy the ticket to a 1h Fado show at Casa da Guitarra but you can also combine the Fado show with a visit & tasting at a Port wine cellar. If you like this idea, don’t forget to buy the online ticket to listen to Fado at Cálem’s Port wine cellar.
- You should also buy the ticket to the 6 bridges cruise as this is one of the most relaxing activities in Porto and one of the most popular ones.
- You can buy the online ticket to Lello bookshop, even though it is slightly more expensive than buying it there. However, buying this ticket does not give you priority on the entrance queue –the only perk is you skip the purchase queue. It doesn’t make much sense, in my opinion!
- Serralves’ contemporary museum and its gardens are my favourite place in town, even though it is not in the city centre. You can buy the online ticket to Serralves – you have to exchange it for a physical ticket there, but the ladies at the counter always give priority to people who already have online ticket. You just need to head to the counter that has the least amount of people – usually the one by the bookshop – and polite ask the staff person to exchange your online ticket to a physical one.
Where to Stay in Porto
I have already written about the best neighborhoods to stay in Porto, to help you on your first time in Porto, but I can summarise it here for you:
Cedofeita | Santo Ildefonso
Romantic neighborhood in Porto. It is full of art galleries and restaurants. It is close enough to the main monuments but quieter.
Sé | Vitória | Miragaia
The busiest neighborhood in Porto, where the main monuments are located and where the nightlife district is. It has plenty of transportation options.
Ribeira (S. Nicolau, Lordelo do Ouro e Massarelos)
The touristy area in Porto. Close to the Douro river, the Luiz I bridge and the tram line. Not too many transport options but it is great for a bike ride.
Cais de Gaia
This is in Gaia, not in Porto. It is the perfect location for those wishing to explore the Port wine cellars.
Corporate neighborhood in Porto filled with business hotels. It is close to Casa da Música, the synagogue of Porto and Serralves’ museum. It has plenty of public transport’s options, and quick access to the highway.
How to dress in Porto
Ah, the million dollar question for everyone on their first time in Porto 🙂
I have lived in Porto practically all my life and I still struggle with my everyday clothing choices. The truth is that due to climate changes the weather in Porto is very unstable – change of 10ºC overnight are not that uncommon anymore. It always feels windy though, especially if you go to the beaches in Matosinhos, Gaia or in Leça da Palmeira.
Therefore, regardless of the month when you are traveling to Porto, I recommend you to bring comfortable shoes, a raincoat, a warm sweater and a scarf to protect you from the wind. Trust me, you’ll eventually need all of them. 😛
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