Europe can be pricey. It’s certainly no Asia where you can live for £20 a day quite comfortably and not resort to sleeping in a cardboard box and picking food out of bins. But Europe is a fascinating place to visit and has a whole load of history and beautiful architecture to explore.
Porto in the west of Portugal is no exception and if you’re willing to push your budget up a little, it’s definitely a European city easy to explore on a budget. Here are some hints and tips if you want to visit Porto on a budget.
- Things to do
- What and where to eat
- Where to stay
- Getting there
Things to do
Believe it or not there are quite a few things to do in Porto that won’t break the bank. Here are our favourites.
Join a free walking tour
Now we all know that a free walking tour isn’t actually free – don’t we?? These guys work their nuts off for tips and so sloping off into a crowd near the end of the tour is NOT acceptable. Tours work by paying the guide what you think they’re worth or what you can afford.
We debut our exploration of cities all over the world this way and find it’s a great way for us to get a little context, our bearings and learn a lot of information all in one hit. We’ve not had a bad one yet and Porto was no exception.
Porto Free Walking Tour with Eugenia is a fantastic local one-woman band who is engaging, funny and knows her stuff. She’s been running tours for five years and hers is the longest and earliest starting tour we could find. Meeting at 9:20am she took us on a tour of the city for four hours as if we were her friends. She also gave us some great restaurant tips off the tourist trail. We’d definitely recommend looking her up if you fancy joining a tour.
Visit the port wine cellars
A visit to Porto is not complete without tasting the local port. The wine is actually born in the Douro valley, 45 minutes away but is moved down to the city to age in its cooler temperatures by the Atlantic Ocean.
Looking from the Porto side across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, the vista is jam-packed full of signs from well-known port makers – Dows, Grahams, Taylors, Sandeman and many more pepper the sky line.
Head across the Dom Luís I bridge to spend an afternoon (or a whole day!) wandering around the little stone back alleys and discovering the different port cellars.
There is a great mix of really old (Casa Kopke), little independents (Quinta dos Corvo) and more well-known (Taylors) cellars to seek out and choose from. Most will offer tours and tastings for a nominal fee – a map of the most famous port wine cellars can be found here.
We headed for a couple of the less well-known producers; Quinta dos Corvo and Augusto to try something a little different and joined both of their cellar tours. Being small, family-run businesses, they only produce 30,000 bottles of port per year which was quite quaint to experience in itself. For €7 and €5 respectively, we were shown around their cellars and taught the making of port. The price includes three tastings following the tour and if you decide to buy one (or five…or ten!) of their bottles, they will discount the entrance fee from the price. The only thing we’d recommend is that you don’t really need to do both tours, they are very similar and we didn’t feel we gained a whole lot more information by doing so. The taste of the port, however, is quite different so drop in for tastings if you want to check out their selection.
Once we’d had a tour of a cellar and were equipped with our new knowledge of the port making process, we decided to continue our tasting trail. Go crazy but drink responsibly!
p.s. The Croft cellar, although a bit of a mish up a hill has some wonderful views and a lovely outdoor terrace to sit and sample a flight or two. The Croft Pink was our favourite.
Take a bus, tram or walk to one of the many beaches
Portonians (if there is such a thing?!) are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches; there is a good selection in walking or public transport distance and even more if you want to drive out for a day. Most convenient to the city is the collection of beaches along the coastline known as Foz (pronounced Fosh). The closest is Praia do Carneiro and then follows Praia dos Ingleses, Praia do Molhe and Praia Castelo do Queijo (translated as cheese castle beach). Keep going and you reach Matosinhos beach, known for its large golden stretch of sand with good waves for surfing and backed by apartment blocks, an esplanade and cafes.
We caught bus 500 from Alfândega which starts from Praça da Liberdade and runs all the way along the coast to Matosinhos. It departs every 15 minutes during the week, 20-30 minutes at the weekend and costs just €1.95 for a single trip.
Alternatively, take the blue metro line to Matosinhos Sul stop where the beach is just a five minute walk away.
There’s a Lidl not far from the beach and so we popped in there to pick up picnicky bits for lunch and voila! Cheap picnic at the beach!
After catching a few rays and forty winks at Matosinhos we walked back down the coast towards Foz. It was a lovely walk, taking around 45 minutes to reach the Passeio Alegre tram stop to ferry us the final stretch back to the city.
Tram 1 – “Infante-Passeio Alegre” follows the bank of the Douro river, passing beneath the Ponte da Arrábida bridge and costs just €3.00 for one trip. In summer, the last tram back is at 20:10.
Doing it this way meant we experienced the historical tram of Porto which dates back to the 1930s, is full of character and charm and it also kept our costs down.
Fancy a pitstop?
As a little rewarding pitstop along the way we popped into Tavi, a cute little confeitaria selling beautiful cakes and pastries overlooking the sea. We also found that it is cheaper to have a glass of wine at €1.95 than a cup of tea – if that’s not a good enough excuse, we don’t know what is.
Picnic in a park overlooking the river
There are some lovely green spaces in Porto that are just perfect for a picnic and a bottle of vinho verde or port. Our favourites are Parques Das Virtudes and Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (Gardens of the Crystal Palace). Both have beautiful views over the river and on to Vila Nova de Gaia.
Pop along to a local deli or supermarket and pick up some cold meats, bread, snacks or perhaps some local cheese to go with a local bottle of port. Do not forget the pastéis de nata!! Dreamy.
Go street art spotting
Do not look at your feet while walking around Porto – look at the walls!
Not only will you find beautiful Portuguese ceramic tiles adorning the buildings, you’ll also discover a load of street art.
We stumbled across our first taste of Porto’s street art as we bee-lined out of Sao Bento train station to find our apartment on our first day.
Perspéntico, the big blue cat by street artist Liqen stands tall on the smallest street in Porto, just off Avenue Dom Afonso Henriques. Perspéntico is a fascinating piece of art – he carries buildings on his back which depicts that nature is stronger than anything human’s build .
Check out Costah’s two girls just around down the road from Perspéntico.
You can find this mural in Miragai of one of its residents, painted by the talented sketch artist Daniel Eime.
The artist, Draw, used the entrance to the Dom Luís I bridge for his AN.FI.TRI.ÃO piece.
When you’re touring the wine cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, try and find the “Half Rabbit” by Bordalo II, just one street back from the waterfront near Quinta dos Corvo wine cellar. Bordalo II used rubbish and materials found around the city to create this masterpiece that has been deliberately left half-unpainted.
There’s a load more to discover…
..and we didn’t find them all, so let us know if you find more!
Watch the sunset over the Douro while listening to jazz
This is probably our favourite…imagine sitting on a terracotta coloured roof terrace on a warm summer’s evening with the sun turning progressively orange as it slides toward the Douro river. You have a glass of vinho verde or (insert favourite drink here) in your hand and there is a lady in the corner singing sweet chilled jazz to you (and others on the terrace). The table in front of you is laden with plates of Portuguese cheese and assorted tapas dishes…
…and all is right with the world.
If you fancy a slice of that action, head over to Mirajazz. We have absolutely no affiliate link with this place – it’s simply an amazing find.
Our tip? Get there early to bag a table.
What and where to eat
It’s pretty easy to find affordable food in Porto. Cafe Mariana is a great little local find in Alfândega with cheap and tasty port, vinho verde and some amazing favaioz wine/brandy wonderfulness for €1.20.
If you’re after some traditional grilled sardines, check out O Caseirinho, opposite the helipad by the river. We sat on the pavement and shared simple fresh fish, boiled potatoes and a bottle of wine facing the Ponte da Arrábida bridge for a very reasonable sub €15 price.
Another delicacy (in the loosest sense) is francesinha, a disgustingly good Portuguese sandwich, originating from Porto and made with doorstep bread, smoked sausage, ham, bacon and a beefsteak. It’s then covered with melted cheese and a hot beer-based tomato sauce.
Of course it comes with French fries.
Literal heart attack on a plate material. But when in Porto…
A restaurant recommended to us for its francesinha is the restaurant above the World of Discoveries, Alfandega Douro. We were really sceptical about going there because it looks a little touristy. However, for €14 between us we shared their famous francesinha and had a (huge!) glass of vinho verde each. It was the cheapest, most filling (albeit crazily calorie-filled) dinner we had.
Portugal is known for its Leitão assado da bairrada or roasted suckling pig and you can sample this pretty cheaply at O Forno Do Leitão do Zé, located in Mercado Bom Sucesso in Vila Nova de Gaia. For €7.40 each we had a Leitão suckling pig roll, crisps, glass of fizz and a coffee. A pretty good stomach-liner pre port tasting if you ask us.
…and if you want to treat yourself…
We’d 100% recommend heading to Intrigo, a gorgeous little restaurant with a terracotta terrace overlooking the Douro. Watch the sun slip into the river as you sample their tasty tapas and main dishes. The food, wine, service and view are all incredible – it is simply divine and we expected it to cost a whole lot more than it did. A top tip – book in advance! It’s crazy popular and we sat out a half hour wait as we didn’t have a reservation.
Where to stay
We stayed in the Alfândega area of the city overlooking the river Douro which we found to be a perfect location as we could walk in to Ribeira, the city centre, across to Vila Nova de Gaia and get out to the beaches really easily. It was also close to a bunch of local restaurants Mirajazz, Intrigo, Cafe Mariana, Alfandega Douro and O Caseirinho. We rented this apartment but there’s a lot of decent accommodation to choose from in Porto. The Best Guest Porto Hostel looks great!
So, if any of that tickles your pickle, here’s how to get to Porto.
Flights from the UK can be super cheap. Ryan Air is a good starting point for cheap flights – they fly direct from Liverpool and London Stansted and we found some from London Stansted for £79 return at the beginning of July.
Porto Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport is 11km from the city centre and there are three options to reach it. Depending on the time you arrive, the most convenient and cheapest is the metro.
It’ll cost just €2.30 and take 30 minutes to get to Trindade station in the city centre from the airport on purple line E. We changed at Trindade to line to reach Sao Bento station and walked to our apartment from there. They run every 20 – 30 minutes and tickets can be paid by cash or card. Metros run from around 6am to 1am to and from the airport and if you’re on the move outside of this time we’d recommend taking the bus.
There are a few bus lines running from the airport to different points in the city. Head to the STCP or Resende website to check out the routes, times and destinations. City centre routes are 601, 602 and 604 during the day and run every 30ish minutes between around 6am to midnight.
If you have a flight at an unsociable time (like we did), the 3M night bus is handy. For €1.95 you can catch an hourly bus that shuttles you to and from the city centre to the airport in just 30 minutes. We caught a bright and early 5am bus from Avenida dos Aliados to the airport…mm yummy!
Taxi – our least favourite, most expensive yet most convenient option. This should cost you around €23 for the 20 minute drive into the city centre. Uber also run in Porto which could work out as a cheaper taxi option.
So, if you find yourself poor in Porto like we did, or just want to visit Porto on a budget this is proof that you can have an absolute blast and not break the bank.
We hope you love Porto as much as we did – let us know how you got on.