A Solo Traveller's Guide to Porto

Heres everything you need to know for your solo trip to Porto
Here's everything you need to know for your solo trip to Porto | © RossHelen / Getty Images
Ellie Hurley

Contributor

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.

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.

1. The Yeatman

Hotel

Terrace at the Yeatman Hotel, Porto, with sunloungers and parasols and a view over a swimming pool
Courtesy of the Yeatman / Expedia
Stays in Porto don’t get much more glam than this luxury stalwart in Vila Nova de Gaia. It’s not just the spacious rooms, with sun-drenched terraces opening up to views of the Douro River and the jumble of buildings. It’s the facilities, including a two-Michelin-starred restaurant and a vino-inspired spa where you can get a massage with grape-infused oil. Service is impeccable, the wine cellar is among the finest in Portugal and the must-see WOW cultural district is barely a five-minute walk away.

2. Vincci Porto

Budget Hotel, Independent Hotel

Bar at Vincci Porto with bold patterned carpet and seating
Courtesy of Vincci Porto / Expedia

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.

3. Gallery Hostel

Hostel, Luxury

Lounge space at Gallery Hostel with armchairs and a TV
Courtesy of Gallery Hostel / Expedia

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.

4. Cantinho do Avillez

Restaurant, Portuguese

Cantinho do Avillez in Porto with tables and chairs, booths and potted plants
Courtesy of Cantinho do Avillez

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.

5. The Golden Catch

Restaurant, Portuguese

Scallops on a green plate at the Golden Catch, Porto
Courtesy of the Golden Catch

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.

6. Mercado Beira-Rio

Market, Portuguese

Interior of Municipal Market of Beira Rio in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto
© Konrad Zelazowski / Alamy Stock Photo

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

7. WOW

Museum

People seated on deckchairs on Rooftop Flores with panoramic views toward Porto Cathedral
© Sipa US / Teresa Nunes/ ZUMA Wire / Alamy Live News

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.

8. Graham’s Lodge

Winery

The entrance to Grahams in Porto
© Jeremy Graham / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

9. Clérigos Tower

Architectural Landmark

Torre dos Clérigos tower and shops in Porto
© Jack Malipan Travel Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

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Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

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