Welcome to my Beginners Guide to Porto.
Are you visiting Portugal? Great choice. In my opinion, Portugal is one of the best destinations for new solo travelers. It’s affordable, safe, diverse (cities, beaches, and more!), and plain ol’ awesome.
I loved Porto’s “rough around the edges” charm, as well as its scenic river location and taste for good port. I’m sure you’ll love it too!
Arrival By Train
For my own visit, I took the train between Lisbon and Porto. Portugal’s second city has two train stations: São Bento and Campanha. The former station, adorned with gorgeous blue tile, is located right in the city center, but most Lisbon trains arrive in Campanha.
Upon arrival, take the metro to São Bento. It’s very affordable and takes approximately five minutes to reach the center.
Porto is also easily accessible via rail from other major cities such as Coimbra and Braga.
Porto has a variety of award-winning hostels. Seriously, Portuguese hostels are legendary in their quality.
I stayed in Tattva Design Hostel. The hostel was spacious and well-designed, and honestly felt more like a hotel than a hostel. Each dorm bed had a privacy shade, which was especially nice for someone like me (aka someone who values her “alone time” very much). At Tattva, a restaurant is also on site and dinner with the staff is offered on a regular basis.
If Tattva doesn’t appeal to you, so many other options are available for the choosing. I’ve heard great things about Gallery Hostel, too.
For Literature Nerds
Porto is a great destination for those of you who have literary interests. JK Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter here at the Majestic Cafe. Be warned that Majestic Cafe isn’t a cheap affair, but the inside is beautiful with a classy coffee menu and a smartly dressed piano player serenading you as you drink. Worth spending a bit of money.
And if you’re obsessed with book stores? Ohhh, you’re in for a major treat. Livraria Lello & Irmão is a dream come true.
If you’re a literature lover, like me, then check out this post on literary Porto for more details on how to enjoy your stay.
See the Blue Tiles
Blue tiles decorate many of Porto’s buildings including São Bento train station. Some tiles depict incredible scenes from Portugal’s extensive history, while others are simple and soft, showing flowers and leaves. Who doesn’t love free art?
Enjoy the Waterfront
Porto’s waterfront is definitely a hot spot, a bustling dock where all the tourists gather for boat rides and food. However, don’t let the crowds turn you off. I found this area an absolutely lovely place to relax. If you want a meal here, venture a few streets away (avoiding restaurants aimed at tourists) and you can discover cheap and delicious food.
Eat Cheap and Right at Bolhão Market
Still thinking about food? You can eat right at Bolhão Market. This lovely market dates back to 1850, and has a diverse selection of fruits, vegetables, fish, cheeses, and more. It’s also an ideal place for you to try some local Porto cuisine – which is quite different than the meals you’ll find in the south of the country. For example, you can chow down on Francesinha at this market. Francesinha is a sandwich made from bread (erm, obviously, haha), ham, and sausage. Then it’s covered with cheese, fries, and beer sauce. Mmmm, calories. Love it.
For more information about food in Porto, check out this post about where to eat.
Don’t forget to sample Port on your trip to Porto! I wasn’t a big fan of port before going on this trip. I highly recommend booking a tour at Taylor’s and enjoy a port tasting! From Taylor’s, you’ll have a great view of the city, and learn a lot about the art of making port.
Take in the beauty of Porto
Don’t come to Porto expecting to see sweeping European sites similar to Ben Big or the Eiffel Tower. Instead allow yourself to soak in Porto’s atmosphere: colorful tiles in the walls, small boats with chipped paint rocking in the harbor, the tram’s rickety wheels hauling passengers uphill. You’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a completely different time.
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