[PORTO, PORTUGAL] — I was only in Porto overnight, on my way up the Douro River. Here are my top sites in Porto.

The Bridge.

The Bridge is everything in Porto. It looks like the Eiffel Tower on its side crossing the lazy Douro River — which makes sense since it was designed by Gustave’s company. It’s hard to believe that this beast has been carrying traffic since it was built in 1886. At that time, it was the largest bridge span in the world.

Porto at night
This is the view from my room at the Pestana Vintage Porto.

Such a stunning setting, which is why, when looking where to stay in Porto, I found a hotel that had the above amazing view  on TabletHotels, my favorite go-to hotel site. This was literally the view out my window of the Pestana Vintage Hotel. Can’t ask for much better. You can see why the city’s core is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Douro has long been the lifeblood of this city, the receiving end of all the great wines and ports of one of the first true export vineyards in Europe, shipping boatloads of claret to all the pink cheeks in England. All the famous port lockers sit on directly across the river where they were stored before shipping off to Great Britannia. Today, it’s all still there for our amusement.

When I came to Porto in Spring 2015, it was a completely different city than today

When I came to Porto in Spring 2015, it was a completely different city than today (as is all of Portugal). I was just there one night, before heading up the Douro Valley. It was still in an economic recovery, low in population, many buildings were boarded up in the main center by the Douro. Tons of graffiti, not the good kind.

Now, if you look at current times, Porto is a thriving bustling city. Amazing what a few years can do. Consider this a lookback to 2015, but many things remain as cool as they’ve ever been.

The Pestana Vintage Hotel

Even though it’s really old building, the rooms are nice and modern and roomy. It sits right on the water and the views can’t be beat. A great location.

Pestana port room view
It’s hard to beat a perfect room right on the Douro.
Porto Gaira boater
V new of Gaira at night
Gorgeous views of Gaia from my hotel room.
Porto Ribeira bridge in fog
Woke up early one morning and looked outside my window to this eerie scene. Like a Jack the Ripper movie.

Porto is actually pretty small, so it only takes a couple of days and you’ve seen most of it.

Porto buildings on a hill
Porto is pretty much and up-and-down city, much like Lisbon.
Much of the nicer areas seem to be on top of the hill, by the big cathedral.

(See the 36hours articles in the Reference section below). From here, you can base your adventures to tour the stunning, world-famous wine region on the upper Douro River, which I’ve posted before. You can even book a day-long wine tour with the lovely Ana and her husband Marco from Douro Exclusive wine tours.  There’s a lot of driving, so would suggest you actually stay out in the valley, but you can have an awesome day-tour for Porto and Ana and Marco will pick you up, take you on a full day and then drop you back off before nightfall. (Do the Gold Experience, which includes a killer meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant right on the river).

Porto skyline

Touring Porto

I’d read about the famous tiles in the São Bento/San Benito train station as a must-see. At first I thought “meh”, more decorative tiles. But then I saw a dramatic picture and said “Wait, where is that??”  The tiles. It was there. So I went. One of the prettiest train stations I’ve ever seen.

You gotta go here.

São Bento railway station tiles in sunlight
Time your visit when the sun hits it just right, from the south.

It’s just stunning at the end of the day. The light changing by the minute. People bustling to catch a train and then bunches of tourists just to take pictures.

São Bento railway station sun
Come back multiple times if it is cloudy or sunny. Morning or afternoon. You can see the difference in these pictures, I stopped in several times.
San Benito train station tiles
San Benito train station entrance
Porto art deco garage
Livraria Lello stairs
Livraria Lello is one of the most photographed bookstores in the world. A little jewel box of a bookstore that’s been open since 1908. Unfortunately, it has become so jammed with Instagrammers, I don’t think anyone is actually buying anything. I feel so bad for them. I had to get out of there. Bought a travel book and left. 🙁

You can do Porto in 2-3 nights. Tour the port bunkers and climb around the town. But you can really knock it out in a day and a half. The main reason you come here is to get to the Douro Valley which is just stunning.  If you’re driving to Spain, you could stay in Porto for two nights, then stay in the Duoro and then keep going on into Spain.

Where to Eat in Porto

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to have many fine dinners in Porto — coupla nights I just stopped into nondescript little local places on the Ribeira.  But if you do go, look for these places.

Rui Paula business card
Rui Paula is one of the best chefs in Porto and has several places here and in the Douro. Look for DOP. DOC. And I think he has one called DOM.
I found this more casual place walking around the top of Porto. Really great food and super nice people. José Avillez is one of Portugal’s best chefs, with a half dozen restaurants in Porto, Lisbon, Cascais, Alentejo, Dubai and Machau. Go to any of them and you’ll be wowed.

I did go to an amazing meal at the Graham’s cellars across the river, in their restaurant Vinum.  Amazing views over all of Porto and great food.  Unfortunately, I got the flu going right up to the meal, huge fever and cold sweats, I felt like throwing up. So I literally had to leave right when they brought a bounty of lamb and Douro Valley red. I was so looking forward to the meal.

“This looks wonderful, may I have the check?”  They were stunned, for obvious reasons. As I was. Had to leave the entire meal there. Very embarrassing. But you should make reservations here, try to get there for a cocktail before sunset.  Check out these views from their website:

Vinum Restaurant Porto
The Vinum restaurant has killer views all over Porto. Go there for a drink before sunset. You need reservations. Ask for a table by the windows. (This is from their website)

Here are some other eating suggestions:


Here’s another great list from my new friends Culture Trip. Solid recommendations.

The KING of all things food in Portugal is Nelson Carvalheiro. Trust whatever he writes. Follow his instagram. He’s also very responsive with questions. Met him once at a travel blogger conference, super nice guy.

Where to Stay in Porto

Besides the Pestana, I’ve heard great things about River House and The Yeatman.  I saw Anthony Bourdain recently stay there on Instagram.  The Yeatman is unusual in that it sits way on the top of Porto, so you get to look down at the city and river…. and don’t have to walk as many hills. Click on that link and look at those views!

More Information on Porto

Here’s a link to another post I made on wine tours through Portugal’s stunning Douro Valley.

Here’s a great overview of 36 Hours in Porto from the New York Times. And another 36 hours article in The Telegraph. And the UK Conde Nast Traveller’s Porto Guide. And a beautiful website, unusual for a tourist board, from the Porto travel website. A great overview from The Guardian.  And another deep guide on Porto from Travel & Leisure. And a Weekend Guide from The Times of London.

Portugal is fairly small with awesome new tollways (expensive, though) so you can easily get anywhere. Here are some relative drive times I found in my ten days there.

Portugal driving times
Driving times in Portugal

— Last visited April 2015 —


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