Porto is a charming city, warm and vibrant and happy to accept visitors. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your first visit to this beautiful historic destination.
Porto has excellent local transport, with efficient and rapid service in the city and in the region by train, metro, bus, streetcar, funiculars, and even a cable car.
The airport is new and modern, but well outside the city proper. The fastest and least expensive way to get into the city from the airport is by metro, although it is also served by busses, shuttles, and taxis.
The metro is fast, modern, reliable, and inexpensive. It is operated by the Andante transport network, and tickets range from 1.20€ to 5.20€, depending on the distance/number of zones you will travel. Tickets can be purchased at machines in metro stations, and from tourist offices at the airport and in the city.
The busses are operated by STCP transport network. Metro (Andante) tickets can be used on a bus, but not vice versa. Tickets cost 1.80€ per journey, and can be purchased from the driver.
Porto offers special tourist passes with unlimited travel by bus and metro for 24 hours (7€) or 72 hours (15€). For a special treat, you can also choose the Porto Premium 3-in-1pass for 26€: this pass includes hop-on-hop off access to scenic bus tours, three historic street car lines, and the funicular car ride between Batalha and Ribeira.
While Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, English is widely spoken in Porto, particularly among the tourist and service industries, and communication with visitors is typically not a problem.
Local currency is the Euro, and money is easily accessed through widespread and frequent ATM machines. While you can also often pay with a credit or debit card, American Express and Discover cards are not widely accepted, and you should expect to pay for small purchases in local shops with cash. Many taxi drivers are reluctant to accept payment with credit cards, and prefer cash, so it’s good to clarify how you will pay before the ride begins.
The Portuguese are extremely proud of their local cuisine and wines, and take their time enjoying their meals. It’s worth noting that the locals eat very late in the day, compared with other countries, and dinner generally begins at 9 or 10 pm. Even if a restaurant opens for customers before 8pm, often the kitchen isn’t open until 8 or later, although the kitchen will stay open and serving food until midnight or after. If you are accustomed to eating earlier in the evening, you may want to visit a cafe or bakery in the late afternoon to take the edge off your appetite.
For newcomers to Portuguese food, or if you don’t understand the menu, it is best to express a willingness to try anything and ask your server what they recommend. Such a request is often greeted with enthusiasm, and the suggestion is often a seafood dish, since they know which seafood is the freshest that day. Lingering after a meal with a glass of port is the local expectation, and, again, your server will usually happily recommend one for you.
Be mindful with your camera
Many tourist sites do not allow photographs, or only allow photographs with the purchase of a photography permit in addition to any ticket or entrance fees. Pay attention to signage regarding the rules for photographs and obey stated policies. Also, in general, be polite and respectful when taking pictures and silence your shutter, particularly in houses of worship. Good camera behavior along with paying attention to the general cultural and social etiquette in Portugal could lead to fewer camera restrictions in the future.
The Portuguese are warm, welcoming, generous people, who don’t worry too much about things starting on time. It’s best to take a cue from the locals, and not schedule anything too precisely. Porto’s narrow, climbing, winding streets offer endless charm and unexpected moments, and these basic tips will help you make the most of your time there.