Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

From seeking out hidden gems to visiting off-season, here are some tips on making the most of this beautiful Portuguese city

With its historic neighbourhoods, vibrant culture and exquisite food and wine, Porto is an incredible destination. While it doesn’t see the same number of visitors as other European cities like Venice or Paris, it’s becoming more popular daily. The throngs of holidaymakers and tourist-packed attractions can detract from Porto’s charm, but luckily, there are a few ways around this. The travel experts here at Plum Guide have a few tricks up our sleeves and have put together this handy guide – from areas to avoid in Porto to hidden gems worth exploring – so you can enjoy a more laid-back side to the city.

Travel in the shoulder season

View at Ponte de Dom Luis bridge River Douro with red flowers in front, Porto, Portugal

View at Ponte de Dom Luis bridge River Douro with red flowers in front, Porto, Portugal

When searching for ways to avoid the crowded areas in Porto, consider visiting when others don’t. Like many places in Europe, it tends to get very busy during the summer months, with tourists making the most of the hot weather. While it’s a great time to visit beaches and attend festivals, it does mean that you’ll have to contend with big crowds. Instead, why not visit during the spring or autumn? The weather is still warm, and fewer people are out and about, so you’ll get a much more relaxed experience.

Porto is beautiful in the spring. Between March and May, the city erupts in a colourful display of flowers – it’s a perfect time to see wildflowers on a hike through the surrounding countryside. Don’t fancy the trek? Stroll around Jardins do Palácio de Cristal instead, a stunning 19th-century landscaped gardens with a gorgeous crystal palace.

Meanwhile, between late September and October, the city’s bright colours turn into vibrant shades of red and gold. The autumn scenery is especially picturesque along the banks of the Douro River, making it a perfect spot for a romantic stroll. Oenophiles will also love to visit in the autumn as this is grape harvest season. Take a day trip into the Douro Valley to see how port wine is made. Do bear in mind that although temperatures are still mild, you will have a couple of rainy days here and there. The weather continues to get colder and wetter towards November and December. Still, if you don’t mind layering up, winter can be a great time to visit for festive cheer and various indoor activities.

Explore off the beaten path

Gilded gold interior of the Igreja dos Carmelitas church, Porto, Portugal

Gilded gold interior of the Igreja dos Carmelitas church, Porto, Portugal

While the Porto Cathedral and Ponte de D. Luís Bridge are a couple of the city’s most iconic landmarks, they can get very busy if you don’t time your visit right. During the day’s peak, these are areas to avoid in Porto due to the groups of tourists you’ll likely have to fight through. Still keen to visit the iconic places? We recommend sightseeing during the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the worst of the crowds. However, we also recommend venturing away from the ‘tourist traps’ and seeking out some of Porto’s hidden gems. For example, if the famous Livraria Lello is too crowded (and it usually is), head to Livraria Alfarrabista Académica instead. This centuries-old bookstore specialises in antiques and rare books, without any Instagrammers getting in the way.

The views from Ponte de D. Luís and Miradouro da Vitória are breathtaking, but if you’re seeking somewhere a little quieter, there are plenty of alternative viewpoints around the city. One of our favourites is Jardim do Morro, a gorgeous botanical garden atop a hill. There’s plenty of green space to set a blanket down and admire the pastel-hued buildings and river below.

There’s no denying that Porto Cathedral is a stunning piece of architecture, but did you know that the city has another religious monument that’s equally beautiful with fewer visitors? The Monument Church Of St Francis (Igreja de São Francisco) dates back to the 14th century and, in contrast to its rather sombre facade, boasts a magnificent Baroque interior. It’s said that over 300 kilograms of gold dust was used for the interior. During a time of poverty, it was considered so extravagant that it was closed for several years. Other beautiful churches worth popping into include the Church of Saint Ildefonso (Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso) and Igreja dos Carmelitas.

Stay in the outskirts of the city

Waves crashing near Farolim de Felgueiras lighthouse in Foz do Douro, Porto, Portugal

Waves crashing near Farolim de Felgueiras lighthouse in Foz do Douro, Porto, Portugal

When looking for places to stay, one of the best ways to avoid crowds is to extend your search further out of the centre. Ribeira is at the heart of the Old Town, and while it’s a wonderful place to see during the day, the busy crowds make it the top of our list of areas to avoid in Porto. If you’re not big on nightlife, you’ll also want to skip Baixa – it can get quite lively in the evening.

Instead, search for accommodation in the relatively quiet neighbourhood of Miragaia. It’s set alongside the river – during the 14th century, this neighbourhood was outside the city walls and was home to large Armenian and Jewish communities. There are a few interesting things to see, including Church São Pedro de Miragaia, the English Club of Porto, and the Soares dos Reis National Museum. One thing to look out for is the narrow streets, which can get quite steep – the trams are a good alternative for getting around.

If you want to be closer to the landmarks, Bonfim makes a good base. It’s a mostly residential neighbourhood with easy links to the centre. Instead of typical tourist attractions, you’ll find cosy eateries and shops frequented by locals.

Another area worth looking at is Foz do Douro. Facing the Atlantic, this is the most western part of Porto. It’s a twenty-minute tram ride into the city, and although it’s a bit further out, it’s a great place to stay if you’re after somewhere a bit more upscale. There aren’t many attractions here – instead, your day will involve strolling along the promenade to the Fortress São João Baptista da Foz, relaxing on the sands at Praia do Homem do Leme, seeing the gardens at Jardim do Passeio Alegre, and browsing the goods at Mercado da Foz.

Plan day trips further afield

River running through vineyards, mountains and hilly villages in the Duoro Valley, near Porto, Portugal

River running through vineyards, mountains and hilly villages in the Duoro Valley, near Porto, Portugal

While you’re in Porto, you may as well make the most of your surroundings. There are plenty of day trips to take, whether you want to seek out quiet little villages or breathtaking mountain scenery. Leave Porto’s crowds behind and head for the blissful sanctuary of the Douro Valley. This is the home of Portugal’s famous port wine, where endless rows of vineyards make their way up the mountainside. While the views alone are worth the visit, a vineyard tour really makes for an unforgettable experience. We love Quinta do Seixo, particularly for its terrace boasting splendid panoramas. However, the best way to drink in the views is a river cruise tour – some even offer wine tasting on board.

Another place to spend time in nature is Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês. Extending over a series of mountain ranges, the park consists of dense pine and oak forests, Roman ruins, and picturesque waterfalls. Take on the various hiking trails, swim in the crystal-clear natural pools, go kayaking or canyoning, or visit small villages like Lindoso – home to a 13th-century castle – and Soajo, with its peculiar stone granaries.

Just a forty-five-minute drive from Porto is Guimarães, Portugal’s former capital. Its centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with pretty streets, colourful buildings, and cobbled squares. You’ll find plenty of well-preserved medieval architecture here, with landmarks such as the Igreja e Oratórios de Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos (try saying that after a few glasses of port), the Padrão do Salado, and the impressive Castelo de Guimarães. Be sure to take a cable car ride up to Penha for jaw-dropping city views.

Choose private tours

Historic gate to the medieval city of Porto with view of Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Portugal

Historic gate to the medieval city of Porto with view of Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Portugal

If you want to steer clear of the crowds but don’t want to compromise on seeing Porto’s sights, one of the best things you can do is book a private tour. Sure, it’ll cost more than a group tour, but at least it’s just you and your tour guide. Plus, you’ll get so much more out of it as they usually include skip-the-line tickets, meaning less time spent in long queues and more time spent exploring. Another reason we recommend going private is that it’s easier to get off the beaten path. Your guide can take you to locals-only places that aren’t included in standard tours, offering a much more authentic experience.

When it comes to choosing a private tour in Porto, there are plenty of options. You’ll find everything from city walking tours and food and wine tastings to after-dark adventures and tuk-tuk expeditions. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, one of the best things you can do is hire a private boat and cruise down the Douro River. We can vouch for Seadouro’s tailor-made experiences, whether that’s a romantic sunset cruise or a family day out. However you choose to explore, a private tour is a fantastic way to explore.

source: https://www.plumguide.com/

By Lala