That’s the first trip I did not plan at all. Heading to the city of Porto in Portugal was like a dream come true and I took the decision to just go with the flow, to enjoy whatever comes my way and to let each step being taken spontaneously. The flight from Malta was landing kind of late and the choice I had was to take the Metro from Porto airport to the city. I learned most of the tricks being a Porto tourist by my own experience and do believe it could be kind of help sharing it with the other travelers. Here comes the first.
Do not pick a taxi from the airport
It could be unpleasantly and surprisingly expensive. You have a much better, speedy and comfortable option called Light Metro. It’s a bit confusing to find it, as the access is located on level – 1, going through the parking (you can miss it) and from there to the main Metro gate and the platforms. There is a metro employee (speaks English) that navigates you how to buy a ticket from the ticket machines and if necessary, where to change the metro trains.
My ticket cost me 2,5 euro from the Airport to Bolhao (pronounced Bulyao) with one change on Trindade station. The ticket in the Metro covers minutes, not distance, so I paid for a 45-minute ticket and reached my destination in 35 minutes.
In case you are not a Metro fan, then download UBER application and order a taxi online. It comes in approximately 5 to 10 minutes and will cost to the downtown between 12 to 15 euros.
Do not stay out of the best Porto areas
There are two areas in the city of Porto where it’s worth to stay – Ribeira and Baixa/Se. Both of them very close to the Douro river, the mainline that makes sense and difference for the tourist. Most of the sightseeing is near the river so if you want to explore it as much as you want, just choose to stay in one of the quarters mentioned above.
I would definitely recommend Baixa/Se. I stayed opposite of Mercado de Bolhao, in a quiet apartment, cozy and super convenient, in the middle of the city fiesta. The Metro station of Bolhao was just steps away. All the big shops, bars, restaurants and sightseeing within short walking distance. All over around cute family bakeries, cappuccino and cafe latte available, lots of different pastries, local joints and fancy restaurants for each taste, including McDonalds, for the junk food admirers.
By the way, this is the most spectacular McDonalds I have ever visited, looks mostly like a 5-star restaurant than like a fast food stop.
Do not take Hop on Hop off tour bus
It doesn’t make any sense to pay 18 euros for a day ticket at a hop on hop off bus, as everything is really within walking distance. I paid and found it highly irritating and wasting of time. The bus is non-stop stuck in the traffic, gas and break frequently, rolling around and passing by one and the same place several times. All the sightseeing could be easily seen and visited on foot, as the distance in between is 5 to 15 minutes.
In addition, all the information you receive on board is already available on Google. Nothing thrilling or fascinating to hear and most of the stops on the red line are added there artificially, without any reason to be visited. The description coming through the earphones is short and sometimes ridiculous. For instance, “on your right side you can see a monument of a young man who is trying to tame a wild horse”… and that’s all.
In Malta, the tours were really informative and funny, as they provide you with lots of additional information, legends, stories and feed your curiosity with facts beyond the expectations. Nothing like this in Porto, I would call the hop on hop off tour in Porto annoying, a real waste of time and money.
The tour on the other bank of the river is completely pointless. Nothing to be seen in there. The only reason to cross the river is to have a great view to the iconic symbol of the city of Porto Dom Luis I Bridge. But this could be easily solved on foot because the bridge has a pedestrian zone and is crossable.
Do not miss the shopping in Porto
It’s absolutely worth it. All the brands are available here, very affordably priced in euro. Coming from Jordan, where the currency is extremely expensive (1 Jordanian dinar is more expensive than 1 British pound), I used to appreciate the great price levels in Porto. In Porto, all the purchased items cost me half the price of what I would pay in Jordan, the same design, quality and brands.
Also, the food is fresh, healthy and in generous portions. A huge tuna salad and a glass of beer could be ordered for less than 7 euro. Cappuccino in the very fancy areas but purchased in the local family bakeries – 1,5 Euro. Pastry between 2 to 4 Euro, depending on the size and the type.
Do not skip the wine cellars
Porto is full of wine cellars. You can book a wine tasting everywhere, can ask your host, hotel, or neighbour. They will be happy to assist as the Porto region is extremely proud of its wine production and the very popular Port-wine and Porto. The wine tour lasts about 2 to 3 hours, includes tasting of 3 to 8 wine samples plus food snacks.
I liked the wine samples a lot, especially the fruity one with a sense of citrus – lemon or orange. During the tour, the provided information is lovely, from how the grapes grow, the type, the peculiarities to the level of sweetness. I adored the white wine from grapes that are aged in oak casks or barrels with a well balanced fresh taste. The atmosphere is very authentic and cozy. Drinking or just tasting wine turns to be a fantastic memorable experience.
Do not visit Porto after September
It’s quite cold, windy and rainy after September. With day temperatures between 12 and 16 C could be really chilly and unpleasant. Do not forget that Porto is located just steps away from the Atlantic Ocean, the weather is unpredictable and could turn from sunny to cloudy within minutes.
Staying in Baixa is kind of sheltered as the area is well built and not that windy. Anyway, I would recommend keeping a raincoat in the backpack just in case. Sometimes, you can expect rain showers, but the forecast to be incorrect and a slight mist to replace the rain. I love the heat, so the best time, in my opinion, to visit Porto is in May- June and then August – September. I assume July would be too hot, even for my taste.
Do not underestimate the Fado influence
In case you do not know what Fado is, it’s an amazing music genre, originated by Portugal, well spread through the country. It’s presumed to probably come from the Latin word fatum that means “destiny”. To me, Fado sounds like a spell, nostalgic and highly influential. It’s a must go to a Fado bar but better do not overdo, as it could lead to a constant change in the mood.
I was so curious about Fado and tried listening to it as often as I could in each joint, little bar or a restaurant I got in. Truly loved it, but listening to Fado in Porto and later on in Lisbon, made me feel like I got too much from it. Shortly said, I overdid it and at the end of my Fado journey, I had the feeling that the singer (usually a woman) is non-stop crying, shouting, complaining, suffering, putting a spell and grieving, the mentioned above altogether. A bit depressive if you have it daily.
Do not rent a car
Frankly, it might be a big mistake. The traffic in Porto could be awful, which is supported by the narrow streets in the downtown. I can’t see any reason for hiring a car when everything is within walking distance. The infrastructure and the public transportation are brilliant, everything runs on time, quite smooth and comfortable.
Same if you want to go out of Porto. At Campanha railway station the trains are available to cross the entire country of Portugal. Punctual, clean, comfortable, providing complimentary WiFi and chargers onboard, the Portuguese trains are the best way to move from a city to another. I took one from Porto to Lisbon, speedy and convenient. Highly recommended!
I completely loved Porto, the people, the atmosphere, the infrastructure, and the price levels. I did my mistakes but also learned my lessons and will be well prepared for the next time I am visiting. Hopefully, my experience would assist the other travelers to avoid faults and omissions 🙂 While visiting Portugal, do not skip Porto – it’s colourful, friendly and spontaneously charming.