Classical buildings, riverside promenades, modernist structures, medieval streets, and of course the famous Porto wine. Porto may be Portugal’s second city, but it is packed with hidden gems, exciting streets and a diverse food culture for visitors to enjoy.
Built overlooking the Douro River and situated between Lisbon and Braga, Porto is a hilly city with charming architecture and an enchanting history. In recent years, the pretty port town has been modernized, and its gothic churches now sit beside bridge links and metro stations. Although the Porto of today is dynamic and modern, the city still remains firmly rooted in tradition; it boasts one of the oldest city centers in Europe and is classified as a world heritage site. Sprawling squares and monuments form the backdrop to stylish cafes and local bars, where locals and tourists mingle and sip glasses of port into the evening.
Porto’s top neighborhoods
1. Baixa · 2. Ribeira · 3. Cedofeita · 4. Bonfim · 5. Boavista · 6. Vila Nova de Gaia · 7. Foz do Douro
The best way to explore the diverse city center is on foot, as many of Porto’s top attractions are in easy walking distance. Alternatively, you could try out the city’s slick metro system, or take a ride on its old trams and trolleybuses. The various districts of Porto each offer a slightly different viewpoint to the spirited wine capital and there is accommodation on offer to suit every budget. From arty boutique lodgings to mid-range chic hotels and luxury stays in historical buildings, there is a wide variety of places to stay in Porto. The city’s unchanging charm, fashionable atmosphere and traditional taste make it an intriguing and exciting destination for your next European break.
Central Baixa is a busy downtown area of Porto built up around the grandiose Avenida dos Aliados. Baixa is home to many of the city’s most famous landmarks, such as the Praça da Liberdade and the São Bento railway station. Here you can take a walk down the Rua das Flores – meaning ‘Street of Flowers’ – with its decadent baroque façades. The historical center is made up of a labyrinth of streets where terrace cafes and stylish boutiques can be found housed in the classical buildings.
Staying in Baixa would mean paying more for a hotel room than you would for a room slightly further out of the city, but if you only have a few days to spend exploring what Porto has to offer, then Baixa is the perfect place to base yourself as it has fantastic metro connections to the rest of the city along with easy access to the bus network.
One of the oldest districts in Porto, Ribeira is set along the river and is very popular with foreign visitors to the city. The historic center is protected by UNESCO and is home to some stunning architecture and a wealth of culture and history. The streets of this old part of Porto are full of restaurants and bars, quirky boutiques and museums, which come alive in the evening as locals gather for a supper of tapas along the river. This is also the best place in the city to sample some of Porto’s iconic tipple at the Port Wine Cellars.
The old traditional houses in the Bairro do Barredo offer visitors a glimpse into a Porto of the past. A great way to see the city from here is to catch a ferry or take the scenic bus route. Accommodation in the area is found in historic buildings, and made up of chic and stylish boutique hotels.
Creative Cedofeita is a trendy neighborhood that has a lot to offer visitors. If you want to spend time exploring Porto’s art scene, then Cedofeita is the district for you. With its interesting art galleries, urban cafes and stylish shopping, Cedofeita offers visitors the chance to learn more about Porto’s modern day culture as well as spend time enjoying the green side of the city at the sculpted Crystal Palace Gardens. The area is also great if you are traveling with children as it is less busy than central locations. There are some beautiful guesthouses to choose from in Cedofeita. Many are stylishly decorated and offer comfort for great value. The area is very popular with students and there is a fun party scene here, with street parties often taking place. Couple that with many top attractions being within easy walking distance and it’s a hip and happening place for your Porto break.
Up-and-coming Bonfim, in the east of Porto, extends all the way to the banks of the Douro River. Packed full of heritage, with decadent mansions along the Rua de S. Vítor close to the river, the area became a hub for the city’s industry in the 19th century and was well known for its textile industry, which shaped the skyline with tall chimneys. Bonfim’s church sits elegantly at the top of Rua Bonfim and is a pleasant spot for a stroll, along with Rua de Santa Catarina, a pretty shopping area.
Hotels in the area are mid-range and offer all the amenities you will need during your stay in Porto. Although further out from the center, Bonfim does offer a glimpse into a less touristy side of Porto. Public transport links are simple to use so getting to the top sites is easy.
If you want to see more of Porto’s modern side, then the beautiful Boavista district is for you. What was traditionally the business district has developed into a flourishing cultural quarter and is home to some iconic, award-winning architecture. The famous Serralves Museum of Modern Art and the Casa da Música are both located in Boavista, as well as many other interesting sites such as the large City Park and the planetarium. The longest avenue in Porto runs through the area, the eponymous Avenida da Boavista, with its happening bars, hangouts and boho rooftop restaurants.
Boavista is a great place to stay in Porto if you love shopping: pop into the modernist Bom Sucesso Market for a bite to eat and then take a stroll along the seafront esplanade of the Edifício Transparente building. The area has some fantastic, modern hostels to accommodate travelers on a budget and easy connections to the airport via the Casa da Música metro stop.
South of Porto, on the opposite side of the Douro, is the acclaimed wine center Vila Nova de Gaia. Known for its wine cellars, the famous Port wine is stored and aged in the district’s cellars which have become popular with tourists who enjoy tours and tastings. Not only known for its wine, the coastal district has some beautiful sandy beaches such as Praia da Madalena. A charming spot for dinner is along the historic Cais de Gaia, where there are many cafes and rooftop bars for you to enjoy great food and drinks with views across the city skyline.
Even though Vila Nova de Gaia is a separate city and a little further out from the center of Porto, it is still simple to travel around on the metro from the area, or you could catch a ferry across the river. Stay in a modern hostel or guesthouse in this uncrowded area or spend a little more and nab yourself a mid-range hotel with a view of the river.
Affluent and historic, Foz do Douro is a must see for every visit to Porto. Out in the west of town, with its blue flag beaches and sunset bars facing the ocean, the area is as laid-back and relaxed as an urban area can get. Take a walk along the Atlantic in the evening, pop into art exhibitions, dine in Michelin-star restaurants, and watch the sunset from the waterfront at the 17th-century Castelo do Queijo fortress. Mercado da Foz, a covered market, offers visitors the chance to sample traditional Porto food.
A great district to stay in if you are planning a romantic break, hotels in Foz do Douro are elegantly high-end with waterfront views and chic interiors. And once you’re here, it’s easy to reach the city center from Foz do Douro by taking tram one from Passeio Alegre to Infante.