Our Hotels in Porto
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Waterways and wines are interwoven throughout its long history of seafaring trade and exploration. Indeed, Porto means harbour, and the area's most famous export – port wine – gets its name from this ancient European city.
Places to visit in Porto
The Douro estuary is where the original settlement sprang up and flourished, and it is here that the top attractions are found in abundance. Hugging the river's northern bank is the Ribeira district, Porto's historic centre with its charming praças, colourful buildings spanning centuries and a warren of narrow cobblestone streets. This neighbourhood features some pretty impressive hills, making for even more impressive views of the river, its stately bridges and the city's landmarks. It's little wonder that UNESCO lists the Old Town, Dom Luís I Bridge (Ponte Luís I) and the Monastery of Serra do Pilar – located on the opposite bank – as a World Heritage Site.
If Ribeira is Porto's historic heart, then neighbouring Miragaiais its soul. This compact quarter feels like a tight-knit village, with modest homes and traditional tavernas packed on the hillside above the Douro. Roam the maze of lanes and alleys for serendipitous finds, like a family-run tavern serving caldo verde (green soup), tripas à moda do Porto (Porto-style tripe) and other classic Portuguese dishes in an unbeatable ambiance.
No visit to the area would be complete without discovering its rich wine-making heritage. Across the river, dotted with wine caves and cellars, is Vila Nova de Gaia, officially a separate city but effectively part of Porto. The Romans of antiquity found the upper Douro Valley, with its hills and dry climate, to be an ideal spot for growing grapes that produce full-bodied vintages. Centuries later, the English developed a thirst for these fortified wines, leading to endless barrels of port being sent downriver to Gaia, where they were loaded onto ships destined for England. Today's port is transported overland, but opportunities for tastings still abound in the many port wine cellars that line the waterfront. To really immerse yourself in northern Portugal's wine culture, take an excursion upriver for a Douro Valley tour of its many vineyards.
A few kilometres west of Porto, where the river meets the sea, is Foz do Douro (Mouth of the Douro), an affluent neighbourhood known for beaches, upscale shops, historic monuments and incredible sunsets. Make time for a late afternoon cocktail and incredibly fresh seafood, available in one of the many romantic restaurants that line the shore. If riding waves is your thing, the Foz do Douro surf action is among the finest in Portugal.
Top attractions in Porto
For visitors staying in a Ribeira hotel, a natural place to begin Porto sightseeing is at the Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto). This fortress-like edifice, which has been rebuilt and renovated several times throughout its long history, combines several architectural styles – from its Romanesque façade and Baroque temple to Gothic cloisters. The latter is one of the best places in Porto to see Portugal's famous, vibrantly decorative azulejo tiles. (Another locale to see this iconic art form is inside the nearby São Bento Porto train station.) The grounds of the Sé do Porto, at the city's highest point, are also magnificent, with a historic square on one side and a panoramic vista from the other.
To live – and eat and shop – like a local, head to Santa Catarina Street (Rua de Santa Catarina). This partly pedestrianised thoroughfare begins at Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, another landmark with blue-and-white wall tiles, and ends two kilometres later. Along the way are a myriad of independent and chain stores, restaurants, pastry shops and cafés. Be sure to stop by Bolhão Market. This traditional indoor-outdoor mercado sells an array of fruits, vegetables, flowers, seafood and meats, most of it raised or caught nearby. Small restaurants and food stalls offer authentic local cuisine at reasonable prices.
A must-see while in Porto is Livraria Lello, which bills itself as "The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World". The proprietor isn't being hyperbolic. The façade is lovely, but the interior truly takes one's breath away. Stained-glass windows and skylights, lavish ceilings and fanciful walls, an ornate red spiral staircase that looks like it came directly from a movie set... Lello Bookstore is said to have inspired several scenes in the Harry Potter series – JK Rowling lived in Porto for two years – and there is even a room dedicated to the boy wizard. But admittance to the legendary store is almost as difficult as getting into Hogwarts. Since Livraria Lello is so popular, but tiny, you need to purchase a voucher online and then join the queue to enter.
Slightly less crowded but just as vibrant is Miguel Bombarda Street (Rua de Miguel Bombarda**)**, the hotspot for art galleries and alternative shops in Porto. This cultural district also draws residents and visitors with a variety of entertainment, cafés, restaurants, independent bookstores, and boutiques for new and vintage fashions.
Can't get enough of panoramic views? Cross the Luís I Bridge and climb another steep hill to reach the Monastery of Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia. Better yet, take the Gaia Cable Car (Teleferico de Gaia) to Jardim do Morro, an exhilarating 5-minute ride. The former monastery's most distinctive feature is its circular architecture, and even more stunning is seeing the Douro and the Old Town from these heights.
Best museums in Porto
Whether you're planning a family trip or a last-minute weekend in Porto, make time to visit some of the area's most interesting museums. Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis, Portugal's oldest public museum and housed in a 18th-century neoclassical palace, focuses on Portuguese applied and fine art from the 16th to 20th centuries. In the early 1900s, when it acquired pieces by Portuguese sculptor António Soares dos Reis, the museum adopted its current name.
Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, designed by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, features an eclectic collection of modern paintings, sculptures, photography and art installations. The building is located in Serralves Park, a vast green space with fountains, paths and a fascinating treetop walkway 15 metres above the ground.
Located adjacent to the Porto Cathedral, the Museu do Vitral explores the incredible stained glass produced by Atelier Antunes. For three generations, the Antunes family has created magnificent multi-coloured windows for local and international churches and businesses, including Lello bookstore.
To learn more about the outsized role that port wine played in Porto's history, check out the Museu do Vinho do Porto. An 18th-century warehouse right on the north bank tells the tale of the Alto Douro Wine Region (another a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the traditional rabelo boats that carried oak barrels downriver, and the trade relationship between Porto and England. The museum also displays a selection of antique casks, period uniforms and ancient wine bottles and labels.
The local gastronomy of Porto
Portugal's second-largest city may be known for port wine, but the local delicacies are just as delicious and memorable. At the top of the list is francesinha*.* It is supposedly inspired by the croque monsieur, but the sandwich is so much more than a grilled ham and cheese. On a generous bed of fries are bread and meat, topped with melted cheese, a beefy tomato sauce and a soft fried egg. In fact, Porto has several takes on pork sandwiches: pernil com queijo (ham with cheese), bifana (pork steak) and cachorrinhos (hot dog bites).
Tripas à moda do Porto is another classic dish, dating back some 600 years. The people of Porto used to eat so much tripe that they were called Tripeiros, a nickname that remains today. The city also has its own version of salt cod casserole called bacalhau à Gomes.
The Portuguese love salted and dried cod, but all the other seafoods are enjoyed fresh. In Porto, many deeply satisfying dishes feature shellfish – clams, mussels, prawns, lobsters. Fried sardines (sardinhas) is a favourite starter and main course.
How to get around in Porto
A network of transportation options await you in Porto. The train from Lisbon to Porto takes about three hours and arrives at Campanha Station. The metro serves the entire metropolitan area, including the city centre and the Porto Airport. This comprehensive underground system edged out carros eléctricos, but the three tram lines that remain are very popular among visitors. One line goes to Foz du Douro and back, while the other two loop around top attractions in Porto.
The Gaia Cable Car climbs the almost 60-metre elevation from Cais de Gaia on the riverfront to the Monastery of Serra do Pilar. The Ribeira district also has a solution for its steep hill: the Guindais Funicular travels from the north end of Luís I Bridge to Batalha, and from there it's a 5-minute walk to Porto Cathedral.
A romantic way of seeing Porto is by traditional cargo boat. Laden with wine barrels, rabelos used to ply the waters between the upper Douro and the docks of Vila Nova de Gaia. Today, these lovely wooden boats ferry passengers down the river, passing under the city's six bridges and turning around at the Atlantic Ocean.
Where to stay: Porto hotels
Porto accommodation ranges from inexpensive hostels and modest pensãos to upscale hotels with a pool. To immerse yourself in Porto's fabric of life, opt for a hotel in al centro or just outside of it. Both banks of the Douro River offer excellent choices. For convenience and ease of movement, stay in a city-centre hotel near São Bento Porto train station, Praça da Liberdade, Bolhão Market or Rua de Santa Catarina, all of which are served by public transportation.
Accor offers a variety of Porto hotels for every taste and budget, from economical ibis to 4-star Mercure and Novotel. Come discover this fascinating city while enjoying the warm hospitality, comfortable rooms, thoughtful touches and generous breakfasts that make Accor a top name among hotels in Porto.