In this historic city flanked by the sea and the Douro River, striking modern art and architecture, like the diamond-shaped Casa da Música, mingle with the region’s traditional granite buildings cheered by colorful ceramic tiles. Welcome to Porto.
The second-largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, Porto is a budget traveler’s paradise. Eating and drinking, even in more upscale, sit-down restaurants is substantially cheaper here than elsewhere in Europe, and centrally-located, comfortable accommodations can be had for less than a nice meal out in London or Paris.
While Porto proper reaches further than you might imagine, its historic old town, Ribeira, is easily explored on foot. If you want to wander beyond the center, city transit options (trams, buses, and metro) are reasonably priced and relatively easy to use if you buy an Andante ticket — which is valid for all three.
A Budget travel guide to Porto, Portugal
From Lisbon, Porto is an hour and twenty minutes via plane, 3 hours and 20 minutes on the train, or between four and five hours on the bus.
Flights: Budget airlines fly direct to Porto from all over Europe and Lisbon, and start at around €50 round-trip.
Train: From Vigo, Spain, or Lisbon, you can also catch the train to the lovely São Bento Railway Station in Porto from about €15-20. You can search for tickets on the official train site, Comboios de Portugal.
Car: If you’d rather rent a car, expect to spend €50 or less (not including gas) for a two-day rental. For groups traveling together and planning on exploring the countryside, renting a vehicle is probably worthwhile for flexibility and cash savings. Just remember, Portuguese drivers are notoriously aggressive on the road, and centrally-located budget accommodations don’t usually include free parking, so it might be best to rent a car just for trips out of town.
The city is great for walking (and even biking), and Porto is well-connected with a modern metro system, a few tram lines, a light rail, and buses.
If you plan on using transit to get around the city, go for an Andante Tour ticket. At €7 for a one-day pass or €15 for a three-day pass with unlimited trips on buses, metro, and train, it is well worth the investment. You also won’t have to worry about figuring out the zone system.
However, if you’re only planning to grab the metro to and from the airport, grab an Andante card for €.50 and charge it up with one Zone 4 (Z4) trip. Wait to add a return trip until you’re ready to leave Porto, as each Andante card can hold only one type of zone ticket at a time. For example, if you wanted to use the bus to get around the city center on a rainy day, you’d either have to waste a Z4 ticket, or buy another Andante card to keep track of it.
Whatever Andante ticket you choose, make sure to validate it — the fines can be steep, to say the least.
The city’s historic tram lines are popular with visitors, but they are not included in the Andante ticket. You can buy tickets on board for €2.50 or combine with a visit to the Museu do Carro Eléctrico for €4. If you really love old-school trams, for €8, you can visit the museum, and ride the trams to your heart’s content for a 24-hour period.
Free and Cheap Entertainment and Attractions
Your number one free option in Porto is touring its charming old town, Ribeira, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Enjoy great people-watching in the city’s sun-soaked plazas and venture into free attractions as you go. Don’t miss the city’s massive Sé Cathedral and the stunning golden interior of São Francisco Church or tile murals at São Benton Train Station.
It’s a little dilapidated, but the 19th-century Mercado do Bolhão is a great place to buy olives, local sweets, sample local cheeses and charcuterie, and eat freshly caught fish on the cheap. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a street performer with an accordion, a marionette, and a parrot playing the theme from Amelie in the entrance. Browse a wide range of local wares (everything from soap to sneakers) on display at A Vida Portuguesa.
Later on, continue to Avenida Miguel Bombarda to get a glimpse of some of the city’s coolest graffiti and galleries full of work by local artists and artisans. Peruse the ancient shelves at the stunning Lello & Irmão Bookstore, considered by many to be the world’s most beautiful bookstore.
Douro River Walk
Another great option is a walk along the Douro River, snapping shots of the colorful houses along the banks and the city’s iconic bridges.
The most famous is the Ponte D. Maria railway bridge, designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame), often confused with the strikingly similar Ponte Dom Luís, designed by one of Eiffel’s former partners. There’s a trick to distinguishing the two: The Ponte D. Maria is a one-level bridge whereas the Ponte Dom Luís is a double-decker. Head to the pedestrian walkway on top for views of the city’s old town from above.
Porto’s Green Spaces
Get away from the traffic and noise in the center. Pack yourself a picnic and spend an afternoon exploring the city’s green spaces. Head to Portugal’s biggest urban park, City Park, designed by landscape architect Sidónio Pardal or the Pasteleira Urban Park to see a few of Portugal’s famous Cork trees.
You can also follow one of the themed learning trails from the Romantic gardens at Palácio de Cristal to the riverside to find interesting factoids about the city plus sweeping views of the river Douro and Porto. If you’re after avoiding the crowds, midweek is best.
Related: The perfect Cheapo day in Porto
Eating well in Porto without breaking the bank
Local restaurants serve up hearty traditional fare, like the ubiquitous Francesinha, a Portuguese take on a Croque monsieur, as well as Italian, Chinese and Turkish options. The Francesinha is made with local sausage, steak, and ham with a thick tomato and beer sauce, and usually served with fries or tripe and bean stews (if you’re not a fan, avoid dishes listing tripas among the ingredients),
As in the rest of Portugal, creamy pasteis de nata pastries and bacalhau (salt cod) are ever-present, and portions are generous, to say the least. Order up a “Prato do Dia” (dish of the day) at small local cafes from €4, or a multi-course menu at upscale establishments for as little as €9.
Wine in restaurants and bars is very cheap, particularly if you stick to Vinho Verde whites and Douro reds. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying a glass of the heady local drink famous the world over, Port. You can sample this fine fortified wine at one of the city’s oldest makers, The House of Taylor’s.
For the freshest fish and seafood at the best price, take the metro to Mercado station in Matosinhos and choose from dozens of restaurants that grill fresh fish in the area around Rua Herois de França. For the best Francesinhas in town, head to Capa Negra (Rua Barros Lima 487), but expect to set down between €10-15 for your Francesinha and fries with a beer or two. (That said, it’s totally worth it, as chances are you’ll be so stuffed you’ll want to skip your next meal.) Or you could always learn to share and split the plate with a friend.
Comfortable mid-range budget hotels can be had from around €45 a night. Like neighboring Spain, Portugal has plenty of clean, basic accommodations at rock-bottom rates. Want to go even cheaper? Dorm rooms in hostels start at around €8 per night.
A few hotel suggestions:
- We like the clean, and stylish Moov Hotel Porto Centro –within walking distance to historic sights in Porto’s city center. Make sure to request a room on an upper floor facing away from the Praça de Batalha for a quieter night. Just in case it’s a deal-breaker, note that the use of a hairdryer isn’t included (if you want it, you have to pay a deposit). On the bright side, what the rooms are lacking in hair-care accessories, they make up for in one of the most important hotel commodities: electrical outlets.
- Traveling with a big group of friends? For a slightly more expensive but infinitely cooler hostel experience, we recommend CATS Porto Hostel. It’s centrally located and bright and airy with a boutique feel.
- Or book a room at Mimhostel — it’s cozy and there are free linens, Wi-Fi, and bicycles to borrow.
Want more suggestions? Search over 700 hotels in Porto on EuroCheapo.
The Porto Card
Starting at €6 for a one-day “Walker” card (with no transit included) and €13 with unlimited transportation, the Porto Card can be a good deal if you’re really interested in seeing many of Porto’s museums.
That said, much of what you want to see in Porto is outside, and if you want to see museums, consider going on the free or discount days. For example, the manicured 19th-century gardens and amazing modern art collection at the Serralves Foundation are free Sunday mornings from 10 am to 1 pm.
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Source: Euro Cheapo