Portugal’s second city, Porto, is very definitely not second best. Dramatically situated at the mouth of the Rio Douro, it’s a massively atmospheric place, a city that’s well worth at least a couple of days of your time - and more if you plan to make a serious assault on the famous port wine lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia, located just across the river. Porto’s cityscape of narrow streets and stepped alleys spreads up the steep slopes of the Douro river to a centre full of broad squares, Neoclassical buildings and lavishly tiled Baroque churches.
But it’s not all about the history. The city’s lively nightlife, hip cafés and restaurants and a newly revitalized art scene make it the perfect place for a long weekend away. Modern Porto looks better now than it has done for decades and in 2001 it was declared European City of Culture. Many of the streets and squares have been reconstructed and historic buildings restored. In recent years, the city has seen a massive tourism boom and this is reflected in the many hotels now on offer. Whatever trip you're planning, here's our guide on where to stay in Porto.
Best for history: The Sé and Aliados
Some of Porto’s oldest and most atmospheric streets are tightly knitted into the slopes below the Sé, Porto’s ancient cathedral which looms high above the Douro. The Sé district is home to the Paço Episcopal, the ornate palace of the bishops of Porto, and some of Porto’s most impressive churches including the Igreja de Santa Clara and Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. It’s also where you’ll find the fabulously tiled São Bento train station. Meanwhile Aliados is where you’ll find the city’s grand civic buildings.
Where to stay in The Sé and Aliados
Quirky, vintage vibes: Pão de Açúcar. This 1940s Art Deco hotel, whose former guests include fado diva Amália Rodrigues, boasts an amazing spiral staircase and a collection of historic fairground bumper cars.
Film-themed fun: Rivoli Cinema Hostel. A bright, airy townhouse with smart movie-themed dorms and double rooms, plus an outdoor roof terrace.
Best for riverfront wandering: Riberia
A hotch-potch of tall, colourful houses tumbling down to the Douro, the Ribeira (riverside) district was the heart of medieval Porto and is today protected by UNESCO World Heritage status. Undeniably attractive, its riverbanks are lined with bars and restaurants, while the winding backstreets harbour some of the city’s most historic buildings and are great for getting lost in.
Porto’s iconic double-decker bridge, Ponte Dom Luís I, provides one of the city’s favourite photo opportunities. You can walk across either level to the port wine lodges, bars and restaurants of Vila Nova de Gaia. There’s traffic on the bottom level and the metro across the top. The upper level crossing (a nerve-jangling 60m above the water) is especially worth doing at least once.
There are steps from the Ribeira up to the lower-level walkway. These lead past a café built on top of the surviving stone piers of an earlier bridge. A great location for a coffee with an unrivalled bridge and river view.
Where to stay in Riberia
River views: 1872 River House. Fantastic views over the Douro from its comfortable rooms, plus a fantastic location right on the riverfront. The free coffee, tea and beer during the day is the icing on the cake.
Good value with style: InPatio Guest House. A bargain for the location, this cosy guesthouse has stylish, well-designed rooms tucked away in a tranquil patio.
Riberia © ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Best for browsing and shopping: The Baixa
A lively, bustling district that is fun to wander around, the Baixa is where you’ll find some of the city’s most interesting sights. It’s home to the ornate Igreja do Carmo church, famed for its dazzling azulejos tiles, and the towering Torre dos Clérigos, Porto’s best vantage point. The city’s university is also here, along with a good clutch of cafés, bars, clubs and shops. Amongst these is one of Europe’s most visited bookshops, the over-the-top Livraria Lello, where JK Rowling gained inspiration for her Harry Potter books.
Great location meets boutique style: Flores Village. Located on the fashionable, and pedestrianized Rua das Flores. This eighteenth-century townhouse has been converted into a stunning boutique hotel. There is a hidden garden at the back and rooms are spacious and modern. Some have views over the city and there’s an atmospheric pool, secreted in the villa’s former wine cellars.
Where to stay in The Baixa
Great location meets boutique style: Flores Village. On the fashionable, pedestrianized Rua das Flores, this eighteenth-century townhouse has been converted into a stunning boutique hotel with a hidden garden at the back. The rooms are spacious and modern – some with views over the city – and there’s an atmospheric pool, secreted in the villa’s former wine cellars.
Igreja do Carmo © Allkin/Shutterstock
Best for port-tasting: Vila Nova de Gaia
No visit to Porto is complete without a tour and tasting at a historic port wine lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, birthplace of the famous drink. A succession of port wine lodges grew up in this riverside suburb in the twelfth century and continues to dominate the steep southern riverfront today – take a trip on the waterfront cable car for bird’s-eye views over historic Porto.
Tours of the smaller, lesser-known companies tend to be more personal than those of larger producers. They are all pretty informative and you’ll soon know the difference between a tawny, a ruby and which vintages are best.
The riverfront here – facing Porto’s Ribeira – also has a long line of cafés, bars and restaurants. Cruise boats dock along the esplanade, next to wooden craft with sails, known as barcos rabelos. These traditional boats once used to transport wine casks downriver from the Douro port estates.
Where to stay in Vila Nova de Gaia
Five-star views: The Yeatman. Porto’s best hotel has fantastic views over the city, a luxurious spa and a distinctively shaped pool. The two-Michelin-starred restaurant is a top choice for a treat.
Cable car from Vila Nova de Gaia © ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Best for art and culture: Masserelos
Home to the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, with its impressive displays of gold, jewellery, Portuguese glassware, textiles and ceramics, Masserelos is Porto’s creative district. At its centre is the trendy Rua Miguel Bombarda, where you can browse round contemporary galleries and craft workshops.
Where to stay in Masserelos
Hotel-style at hostel prices: Gallery Hostel. A family-run, 1906 townhouse with dorms, double rooms and a relaxing courtyard garden – it also hosts local artists’ exhibitions.
Elegance and tradition: Mercador Guesthouse. This lovingly preserved, former merchants’ house with a pretty garden combines comfort and old-fashioned style.
Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis © Fotokon/Shutterstock
Best for the beach: Foz do Douro
A short trip along the river from Porto by old-fashioned tram takes you to the affluent seaside suburb of Foz do Douro. With its attractive old town, long sandy beach and upmarket cafés, restaurants and boutiques, it makes for a great day-trip out of the city or a fine place to base yourself for a beachfront break.
The beach Matosinhos, lies further north from Foz do Douro and is where the locals go to eat seafood and for a night's clubbing. There are beaches and more restaurants across the Rio Leça at Leça da Palmeira. An easy walk away from Matosinhos.
Where to stay in Foz do Douro
Self-catering with sea views: Flattered to be in Porto. Light, airy, stylish apartments, some with fantastic sea views, in an old, beautifully renovated seaside house. The location is great – a stone’s throw from both the beach and the cafés and restaurants of the old town – and the helpful owner leaves a breakfast basket outside the door each morning.
Rooftop pool: Boa Vista. Ocean and river views are the thing at this traditional villa, which is located opposite the fort at Foz do Douro. There’s also a fine rooftop pool and a great sun terrace.
Foz do Douro © Duszan/Shutterstock
This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from The Pocket Rough Guide to Porto.