Porto, the coastal city in the Iberian peninsula, is Europe done right! Sweeping landscapes with lush green hills, stunning waterfronts and vast beaches, heritage towns at a stone's throw from urban neighbourhoods, and a rich cultural fabric binding it all together has characterised Portugal's second largest city for long. And today, travellers from all over the world look at Porto for the best wholesome vacation experiences that one can hope for.
Perched at the mouth of the Douro river, Porto is one of the bigger cities in terms of area. And while the city's efficient tram routes and metro network might fool you into believing otherwise, choosing the right neighborhood for your stay is still an important decision. But leave that job to us. Here, we have made a list of some of Porto's best neighbourhoods and what they might have in store for you!
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The biggest of all major districts, Massarelos is also the closest to the International airport. The southwestern part of the neighborhood has one of the most picturesque green spaces in all of Porto, the 19th century landscape gardens of Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. Not far off is the Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha, a house museum with stunning period furniture and collectible art exhibits. The locale is very close to the Douro river and the adjacent walking trails offer stunning views of the riverfront. The landmark Ponte da Arrábida arch bridge is also situated at a stone's throw from here. The bridge is unique because it is the only one in Europe that offers a guided climbing experience. And if you choose to go forward with it, the view from the top will not disappoint.
Massarelos is also home to the University of Porto and has attracted younger crowds for a long time now. The neighborhood has some of the best modern restaurants in the city offering a wide variety of European and Asian cuisines. Also, the more casual yet charming cafes and bistros, especially the ones closer to the riverside are a treat not to be missed! The Mercado do Bom Sucesso indoor market is where the city comes alive, with crowds pouring in to buy the local produce and visit the wine bars and take out stalls. The many street performers and hipster crowds just enrich the vibe of the whole neighborhood altogether. You can look to end your day in Massarelos with a drink at one of the neighborhood's many rooftop bars, with sweeping views of their own.
In essence, Massarelos offers a nice insight into the fabric of Porto and can be a great precursor of what's there to come your way the deeper that you delve into the city. The neighborhood is accessible through the Linha B (Line B) of the Metro de Porto, with hotels concentrated around the southwest. Massarelos is also one of the best neighbourhoods to enjoy a tram ride across the city.
Much has been said about the UNESCO world heritage site of Ribeira, Porto and there's only one way of getting to know the part of the city well. Get out on the cobblestone streets and alleyways, accentuated by stunning buildings and meandering staircases and find your way around the neighborhood. All of these streets meet at the Ribeira square, the heart of all activity in the district ever since the Middle ages when it was the commercial centre of the city. Marvelous Portuguese townhouses, stunning 18th century fountains, the Palácio da Bolsa and the Porto Convention Bureau are one of the few landmarks that will immediately catch your fancy in this part of the city. The last of those is also a great place to get to know the city better.
Once you have gotten a move on that, you can start exploring the alleys, ones that will take your senses for a ride. Not only is Ribeira one of the most beautiful parts of Porto, it is also the city's best gourmet district. Not only does the neighborhood have the city's top cafes and bistros, it also houses the best tapas and local restaurants offering exquisite yet homely Portuguese meals like nowhere else. Grab a glass of the Port wine at one of these very establishments and enjoy a dessert, or a more wholesome meal starting with the distinctive meat and cheese sandwiches and going all the way to gripes, sardines, and codfish, Porto style!
Dom Luis I Bridge is another major landmark in Ribeira and the view is nothing short of breathtaking. While an overarching presence in the neighborhood almost all the time, the view of the bridge is especially during the night when the brightly lit district shines the most. Walks on the Douro river trails and tram rides in Ribeira will stir up the hopeless romantic within you and make you want to revisit for just them. Be on the lookout for the colourful fishing boats that have long brought the famed sardines to the kitchens of the neighbourhood's fanciest of restaurants. Waterside clubs are bars that have long hosted live musical shows, stand-up performances and theme events that will keep you invested long after the night has fallen on this vibrant part of the city.
Move a little northward and the streets start getting wider, the architecture grander and the hotels more luxurious. Baixa is the downtown part of Porto and the venue of the city central avenue of Avenida dos Aliados. And while the luxury hotels, some of which have transformed into big Porto institutions, remain to be a major draw of the neighborhood, Baixa has a lot more to offer you as a traveler. Lush streets make for great outdoors, and the historic sites in the sub district of Se (including the eponymous cathedral) are some of the most frequented by travellers from all over the world.
Notable landmarks in and around Baixa include the majestic central building of the town hall (with the iconic clock tower), the 75 metre high Torre dos Clérigos (which will draw you in with glimpses even from far off areas), the Banco de Portugal and Imperial cafe buildings. The distinctive Portuguese azulejo (brightly coloured in glaze) tiles feature prominently in many buildings in the area, which despite having been reconstructed in the 1900s maintains its old-world charm. The most prominent of the azulejo usage can be seen in, among others, the Sé do Porto cathedral, the Sao Bento railway station and the nearby A Pérola do Bolhão store and Capela das Almas. Baixa (and to a large extent Ribeira) is serviceable through the São Bento station on the Linha D (Line D) of the Porto Metro.
The western coastal neighborhood of Porto, Foz do Douro is all things beaches. A little far off from the city centre, the area is frequented by large crowds looking for a calmer and more relaxed vacation. Vast sandy beaches dominate the area, but the ones that have the biggest number of footfalls are the Praia do Carneiro and the Praia dos Ingleses. While the former is best known for its picturesque setting and prominent lighthouse, the latter is known for the large number of cafes and restaurants that have come up in its vicinity. Sunbathing and surfing are major activities on the nearby (though a little outside Foz do Douro towards the north) beaches of Gondarém and Matosinhos, both of which also have enough take out eateries and shacks to keep you interested.
Entertainment options spread eastward into the central parts of the district too. The covered marketplace of Mercado da Foz has a nice range of establishments serving Portuguese cuisine and selling a wide variety of merchandise including clothes and fresh farm produce. Chic boutiques and high-end clothing stores headline the other major shopping districts of the area. Live music venues are an increasingly popular choice for travellers after a long lazy beach day.
The best way to reach Foz do Douro is through a tram ride from the central districts. The transit line that runs parallel to the riverside is a trip that you will have you fall in love with the city all over again. Hotels are in plenty and easy to find in the central part of the neighborhood.
An artsy and alternative appeal looms large over Porto's eastern district of Bonfim. The neighborhood has come a long way from being just an industrial district and today has a special status of being the city's up and coming neighborhood that attracts the city's younger crowds. And that's largely because of the presence of University of Porto campuses in the area. The Fines arts campus, housed in a 19th century townhouse with lush gardens and art exhibits is an architectural dream, the kind that Bonfim has in plenty. Student crowds also frequent the nearby Francisco Sá Carneiro Square, which has become the hub for new and innovative businesses including cafes, antique stores, and monthly flea markets. And then there are the art galleries of Bonfilm that double up as collectible stores; the Bizzaro's art gallery (opposite the chic shopping centre of Via Catarina), the Mundane Objects, and the Porto Oriental Gallery are must visits.
And not far off from the burgeoning younger crowds lies probably the most untouched and under-explored part of Porto, the largely residential Fontainhas neighborhood. Now one would think of the Portuguese townhouses dotted along the steep slopes of the city's hillside would be the major draw here. And that's all very true, but the riverside neighborhood also has some of the most pristine mountain trails in the city. Untouched by as many travellers, this part of Porto is perfect for a weekend getaway that refreshes the mind and body. The viewpoints of Fontainhas warrant a special mention as you get unparalleled views of not only Porto and all its tour iconic bridges, but also of the southward city of Vila Nova de Gala.
Getting to Bonfim is easy as many metro stations including the Heroismo and Campo 24 de Agosto of the Porto Metro fall in the vicinity. When in Fontainhas, the surroundings are best explored on foot. Also, hotels and homestays are in plenty in the central part of the district.
Also tucked away into the southern part of Porto are hilly residential quarters of Miragaia. Once home to the Armenian and Jewish diaspora of Porto, the pastel-coloured neighborhood is not only the most charming of all districts in Porto, but also the most local in its appeal and entertainment options. Just take a stroll on the wayward cobblestone paths on the Miragaia, lined with beautifully petite townhouses and lush forest patches in the background. The food and drinks in the area are as Portuguese as they can get, with most of the restaurants and bars being run by the local owners. The streets of Miragaia come alive in the evening, but they are never as crowded as the rest of the city's major thoroughfares.
Miragaia is also one of the best parts of Porto to enjoy a tram ride. A regular ride on the city's historic Electrico can turn into quite a rewarding experience owing to artsy graffiti painted walls, a glimpse of the neighborhood's labyrinth-like street network and of course sweeping views of the waterfront. Talking of views, while in Miragaia, take on the huge stone paved stairway that leads up to Palácio das Sereias, the 16th century palatial house. The views from the summit will definitely be worth the effort. The list of sights worth visiting continues with Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, Museu de Carro, and Alfândega convention center. Head back to one of the home-grown bars on the hillside and end your day with a nice meal or a drink to cap off the end of a long day of exploration.
That, then, is our list from Porto. Take your pick and start planning your next getaway; the unconquered city awaits you, traveller!