There are millions of reasons to visit the second city of Portugal, Porto, at any time of the year, but if you are looking into a perfect winter getaway then this is definitely your go-to destination this year!
The city is located in the North of the country only 3 hours driving or by train/bus from the capital city Lisbon, and there are frequent flights to and from Porto to numerous international destinations. The airport is conveniently located about 30 minutes from the city center and the main train and bus stations are located right in the center. Any way you choose to arrive in Porto will be a good way: in all cases, you will be right at the heart of a historic city, thousands of years old and with many affordable attractions, restaurants and hotels, right at hand. If you are almost convinced, take a moment to go through the following list of other reasons why you should visit Porto this winter: it will certainly make you feel like packing straight away for a relaxed and enjoyable holiday in the North of Portugal within the next months.
First of all, the weather
It is what everybody talks about, right? When you think of winter maybe what comes to your mind are the snow-covered fields or cityscapes with temperatures dropping dramatically and extra high bills on heating. Well, let us tell you that in Porto things are a little different from that.
Porto is located in the North of Portugal, and therefore tends to be colder than in the South. Even so, the climate in general is mild and oceanic, pleasant all year round without any snow fall or low temperature peaks. The average temperature in winter is 10ºC (50ºF), and although it seems high, it is worth remembering that it is a humid climate. The average temperature in January, which is the coldest month, is 9ºC (48ºF), with highs of 14ºC (57ºF) and lows of 6ºC (42ºF). The months of November, December and January are wetter months, but pack raincoats and boots along with your regular clothing and your camera, and you are ready to go! You will see that there are many moments when even during the rainiest day, the clouds clear away. You will be able to take those incredible photos from any point of one of the most instagrammable cities in Europe!
Once you are in Porto…
You now know that the Portuguese idea of winter is very different from the one of other colder European or American countries. Strolling along the city streets is possible throughout the year and is probably the best way to move around in a historic city center like Porto’s. The narrow, cobbled streets and the charming culs-de-sac leading to the most impressive viewpoints are some examples of scenic walks and unique experiences that you will only be able to get if you walk instead of driving.
Public transport is widely available in all sections of the city and you can count on a reliable and affordable system that includes buses, trains and even the old-times trolleys that run along the tracks, some of them with the most stunning views over the River Douro. A River Cruise is also a great way to get a different perspective from both Porto and the next city of Vila Nova de Gaia, gliding along the river waters and passing the six bridges connecting them.
Even if you have your own car, we recommend parking it somewhere safe and go for that perfect winter walk along the centuries-old neighborhoods which are classified as UNESCO heritage, discovering the local gastronomy and fully enjoying the city like a true Portuense!
Enjoy the outdoors, even in the winter!
Traveling to Porto in the winter time has the incomparable advantage of reducing the chances of getting any crowds wherever you decide to go. The city is all yours to explore!
As you are traveling in the winter, the risk of finding crowds is minimum if any! Take the chance to visit some of those places that are often difficult to access due to the masses of people looking to do the same in the summertime. You might even end up saving a rainy afternoon from being a total loss and instead getting to see stress-free some of the most well-known monuments of Porto.
If the day is dry and clear, we suggest taking a slow walk along the center of town, where you will find the recently reopened Mercado do Bolhão, a farmer’s market that was closed for years because of renovation works, much due after over a century of History. Keep going south and pass the impressive blue and white glazed-tile façade of the Church of Saint Ildefonso and the Cathedral of Porto, a sturdy medieval building overlooking the historic neighborhoods. Head towards the pretty Parque das Virtudes with gardens built on slopes, ending in a 17th-century fountain that has been considered National Heritage.
Walk around the center of town for a while and take a peek at the many squares with bistro-like cafes and bars like the Galerias de Paris section or the Praça Carlos Alberto on the way to the colorful Rua de Cedofeita, with its back to the Movida area of Porto. Right next door are some of Porto's main tourist attractions, such as the incredibly decorated Baroque Church of Carmo, the Old World style bookstore Livraria Lello and the famous Torre dos Clérigos, an indispensable symbol of Porto. Go there on a Saturday afternoon to find the second-hand flea-market where you can buy a little bit of everything - from used clothes to jewelry, used vinyl, cameras and film material, coins, illustrations, etc. You can also find one or two stalls selling organic agriculture.
Head towards the Ribeira or take a street car and ride through the Foz district. Both areas are by the river Douro, so from any point you will be able to enjoy the views of the Rabelo boats that used to carry the Port Wine from the Douro Valley to the city, and that are now used for touristic cruises. Spend some time in the Palácio de Cristal Gardens, a french style designer’s garden from the 19th century and a masterpiece of beauty and organization, or continue down to the main squares to listen to some music by local street artists. If all the wandering about opens your appetite, you will be glad to know that there is an abundance of good Portuguese and international food restaurants and snack-bars along the river.
If there is a drizzle or the morning is misty and you feel like the best thing to do is to go somewhere you can walk outdoors but with a possibility of hiding indoors if the weather takes a turn for the worse, you need to go up the street from Foz and reach the Fundação de Serralves Park and Museum. This is an incredible 18 hectares (or 44 acres) park that includes woods, lakes and themed gardens. At one of them, the Camelia Garden, you can even buy your own aromatic herbs and plants. Still within the park, you will find the Casa de Serralves: the original house and formal gardens that belonged to the estate before it was turned into a museum. Finally, before you leave make sure you visit the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art. The building was designed by the architect Álvaro Siza Vieira and it is a fabulous landscaping project that integrates perfectly into the surrounding nature. You can easily spend a whole morning or afternoon exploring the site!
Sometimes it feels better indoors!
If the day is starting to get a little gray and you feel like you would do better with some indoors time, then there are plenty of options for you in Porto too!
Halfway between the Foz and the center of town you will find the Casa da Música building. This is one of Porto’s leading cultural venues, designed by Rem Koolhaas, a renowned Dutch architect and urban designer. The structure has a new, bold architecture, almost like a building from the future, and was designed to host all types of music events, from national to international productions of all scales. The site boasts a dynamic, innovative and prestigious programming, and the best of all: it is open for guided tours every day.
If you are looking for a cozy nook on a rainy day, you might want to hide for a few hours in the Soares dos Reis National Gallery Museum, a space that celebrates the famous 19th-century painter and Porto’s artistic movements of around the same time.
The World of Discoveries is an interactive museum focusing on the Portuguese navigations around the world and the many discoveries made after those. It is located by the river and together with the Casa do Infante, where Henry the Navigator is said to have been born, is a good option for one of those days when you are better off indoors, but still want to learn about Portugal and the Portuguese!
Traveling during Christmas time
If you are so lucky as to travel in December, you will be delighted at how Christmassy the city will feel!
The Christmas illuminations are a must-see item on your bucket-list, as this is the most luminous time of the year, when 2.4 million led micro bulbs will be turned on to bring joy and color to the city. The Christmas tree, 30 meters (about 98ft) high in front of the City Hall building, should also be included in the itinerary! In addition, stores compete to have the most beautiful window display and there are several Christmas markets, an ice rink and street shows.
It may be hard to imagine this but yes, Porto gets even prettier and lively during the Christmas season!
Why Porto after all?
The best thing about Porto is that it is the perfect city to ramble around without plans or without always looking at the watch: there’s always something beautiful to see and a lot to do, whether indoors or outdoors, and the best part of traveling in the winter time is that you can do it without having to face the crowds!
The food, oh the food!
The Silver Water Aqueduct is an icon of the city of Évora along with its medieval ramparts and Roman ruins. The Aqueduct was built in the 16th century, rebuilt in the 17th century and added extra decoration in the 18th century. It runs for about 18km all the way to the Divor Dam and it is the perfect excuse for a family hike or bike ride to see the cork and olive tree fields of the Alentejo. Of course, all the exercise must be well balanced with one or two local wine and cheese tastings or even a heartier meal of lamb stew or Iberian Pork on the grill at one of the many amazing restaurants in town.
Enjoy grilled fish with a sea view
The food in Porto is said to be the heartiest and most generous in the country, with a variety that includes the best cheeses, locally-sourced vegetables, the freshest fish and regional meats, as well as the best wines (of course!).
Make sure you try the local specialties like the surprisingly tasty beans-and-offal stew called Tripas à Moda do Porto or the Francesinha, a massive oven baked sandwich with different meats, melting cheese and a special sauce that might make you addicted to it on the first bite! Stews and oven baked dishes are actually Porto’s specialty and there is a reason why most Portuguese people agree to the fact that the best comfort food in the country is found in Porto and in the region around it! Nowadays, Porto boasts a unique gastronomic panorama and is a rising star in the culinary world.
If you have a sweet tooth, congratulations - you have found your city! The many confectioners and pastry shops in Porto will make you drool at every corner just by looking at the windows. The pastel de nata, a filo pastry tartelette with a creamy inside, is a national specialty of which you will find many different versions - but the ones in Porto are truly fantastic. The jesuitas are also an all-times favorite of the people of Porto: this is a triangular shaped sweet made out of flaky pastry filled with an egg paste and a coating of icing sugar on top. Try a sample of each and of many more at Confeitaria do Bolhão or at the grand icon Cafe Majestic.
If your idea of a good holiday time in Portugal includes frequent pit stops for sampling some of the best foods and wines of Portugal without the hassle of having to wait a long time in line for a table, then Porto is definitely your destination for this winter.
To wrap it up:
One thing to keep in mind is that you get much better hotel and flight deals in the winter months. This means you get the very best of Portugal and the North of the country for a very reasonable cost. Sounds like a bargain, right? So, you better sit down, relax and start thinking about your fantastic winter holiday to Porto! There are many tours and itineraries that you can go for but let us know a little more about you and what your heart desires, and we will help making the magic happen for you!
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