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Beginners Guide: Porto, Portugal

beginners guide to porto

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.

While most travelers stick to Lisbon (with good reason, I love Lisbon), you want to add the country’s second city, Porto, if you have two or three days to spare in your itinerary.

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!

Book your trip to Porto. 

beginners guide to Porto

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.

beginners guide to Porto

Hostels

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.

beginners guide to Porto

beginners guide to Porto

beginners guide to Porto

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.

beginners guide to Porto

beginners guide to Porto

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?

Have you bought your guidebook yet?

beginners guide to Porto

beginners guide to Porto

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.

beginners guide to Porto

beginners guide to Porto

beginners guide to Porto

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.

beginners guide to Porto

Mmmm, Port!

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.

beginners guide to Porto

beginners guide to Porto

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.

Are you planning on visiting Porto? How about Portugal? Share your travel experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Some links are affiliate-based, meaning if you make a purchase, I’ll make a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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5 Responses to Beginners Guide: Porto, Portugal

  1. Kelly July 17, 2016 at 9:12 am #

    Ooh, love this! Porto has been on my shortlist for a while now… I need to make it happen.

  2. Amanda | Lesson Plans & Layovers July 19, 2016 at 6:39 am #

    My mom is Portuguese, but our family hails from the islands. I have always wanted to travel to the mainland and visit Lisbon and Porto. Porto really seems to have an old world charm to it!

    • Rachel Elizabeth July 19, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

      Amanda —

      Porto is totally the definition of “old world charm!” I need to visit the islands one day. Soon!

  3. Rashaad August 3, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    I stayed five nights in Porto in 2007 and I greatly enjoyed my stay there. I don’t know if the museum still exists but I visited a building dedicated to Porto’s trams. I thought the place was interesting.

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