In a couple of decades, this waterside city in northern Portugal has gone from shabby to chic. Historic terracotta-roofed buildings and ornate churches now rub shoulders with cool restaurants, fashion-forward shopping and world-class museums; visitors swarm the cobbled streets and pack out the cosy bars. Whether you’ve come for the local port wine culture or for WOW, the new Vila Nova de Gaia cultural district, you’re guaranteed a great time.
The Porto lowdown for solo travellers
Few cities are this Instagrammable. Between the steely old bridges – soaring over the squiggling Douro River – the rainbow townhouses and the treasure-packed museums, you’ll be reaching for your camera all day in Porto. Every few metres it seems there’s a new gilded church or cobbled alley to look at.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
You could easily spend a week here, exploring lesser-known neighbourhoods, striking out to the nearby beaches and embarking on countless port tastings, but most people find that a long weekend is enough for the highlights.
Porto can be visited at any time of year, but it can be wet in winter. If you want to spend most of your time outside, aim to be here between late spring and early autumn.
Where to stay in Porto
Because Porto is listed on the Unesco World Heritage list, new buildings are generally a no-no, so you can expect plenty of atmospheric historic places to stay to suit every budget.
Architecture buffs will swoon on glimpsing this cool property, set within the old art deco waterside fish market. A soaring arched ceiling, lined in windows, vaults over the lobby, while bedrooms come in steely blues with pops of juicy orange. There’s on-site parking if you’re driving (great if you’re planning on exploring further afield in the Douro Valley) and a terrace for evening sundowners. There’s a tram stop right outside.
Hostels aren’t normally synonymous with style, but like most things in Porto today, the Gallery has design cred. Mid-century furniture meets black-and-white vintage pics and all the mouldings of an atmospheric old-world townhouse. There’s a sunny terrace for morning coffees or downtime with a book, and you’re only a short walk from the Clérigos Tower and some buzzing nightlife streets.
Eat and drink in Porto
This city has it all – Michelin-starred meals, busy markets and hip, no-reservations places to dine. When it comes to drinking, it’s difficult to beat the sun-warmed central cafes lining the photo-perfect riverfront, where the people watching is as good as the icy port and tonics. When stomachs rumble, you’ll be best rewarded by seeking out local neighbourhood places such as these.
Take a seat at one of the small wooden tables and get ready to feast on reimagined Portuguese classics from one of the top chefs in the country, José Avillez. Start on octopus tartare with ginger and garlic mayonnaise, then carry on to your main: a delicious twist on Portuguese duck rice made with red curry and coconut milk. The decor – vintage plates on walls, cherry banquettes – combines old-world vibes with signature Porto cool.
After a day exploring the cultural district WOW, feast on octopus carpaccio, scallops with lemon foam or seafood stew at this glass-lined restaurant overlooking the landmark Luís I Bridge. On warmer nights, once darkness falls, grab a seat on the sprawling terraces for the impressive light show that illuminates the exterior of the WOW complex. Vegan? Order from the plant-packed menu of the next-door restaurant, Root & Vine, and have your food delivered right to your table.
When thoughts turn to weekend lunch, it’s hard to imagine a better spot than this laid-back assortment of food vendors on the riverfront. Get yourself a Super Bock, the locals’ favourite beer, and take your pick from pizza, seafood rice and charcuterie. Try also francesinha, the signature Porto sandwich stuffed with meat, covered with melted cheese and doused in sauce. If the inside is crammed, look for seats outside around the back – many visitors miss them.
What to do in Porto
Inhabiting converted old port houses in Vila Nova de Gaia is this new cultural district stuffed with museums, shops and restaurants. You could lose an entire weekend here, never mind an afternoon. Join a tutored chocolate tasting, see how bottle corks are made by way of an interactive display, learn about the history of Porto or dive into a pink ball pit in an outlandish space dedicated to rosé wine. There’s even an on-site wine school.
You can’t leave Porto without trying port, the sweet fortified wine that’s synonymous with the city. Imbibe proper old-world atmosphere at Graham’s Lodge, where a guide will steer you past the giant old wooden barrels in their historic cellars and show off dusty bottles dating back to the early 1900s. Afterwards, settle into the tasting area overlooking the river and sip through a range of fresh and fruity ruby ports and nutty, aged tawnies.
You’ll get the best view in Porto from the Clérigos Tower, an opulent baroque structure on a hill in the centre of town. Scale the narrow circling steps to the summit, then take in the 360-degree view of huddled terracotta rooftops below. Entry is timed and there is often a wait, particularly when the light is golden later in the afternoon, so aim to book in advance. Don’t forget to check out the opulent stylings of the adjoining church – entry is free.
Stay safe, stay happy in Porto
To make sure you see as much as possible – and, of course, enjoy yourself – do plan your days in advance. The must-see sights are bisected by the Douro River, which can take time to cross. Porto is also very hilly, and unless you fancy a thigh-burning weekend constantly ascending and descending slopes, it pays to group sights by neighbourhood.
Getting around in Porto as a solo traveller
One of the best things about compact Porto? Much of it can be explored on foot. And if you want to get about quickly, there is an extensive public transport system, including water taxis to speed you across the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia.
Fancy getting to know Porto as part of a small-group adventure alongside like-minded travellers? Sign up with us for the nine-day jaunt A Tale of Two Cities: Exploring Northern Portugal. You’ll enjoy time in the city of ruby tipples as well as visiting Lisbon, the Douro Valley and the wine-drinker’s favourite – the lesser-known Alentejo region.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.