Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Porto stretches along the last 5km (3 miles) of the river Douro and is the hub of northern Portugal's communication network. The quickest and easiest way to get there is by plane. TAP, the Portuguese airline, provides connections between Lisbon and Porto, and there are daily flights year-round. Flights arrive at the Aeroporto Francisco de Sá Carneiro (tel. 22/943-24-00). The main office of TAP is at Praça Mouzinho de Albuquerque 105 (tel. 22/608-02-00) in Porto.
A taxi, the most convenient way to get from the airport into the city center, costs around 25€ to 30€ ($33-$39) for up to four passengers with luggage. Less expensive is the Aerobus. Painted white with a blue stripe, it picks up passengers on the sidewalk adjacent to the luggage-retrieval carousels at the airport. Buses run at 30-minute intervals every day between 6:45am and 7:15pm, making stops at many of the city's major hotels and at strategic points within Porto. The fare costs 4€ ($5.20) per person each way. For more information, call tel. 22/507-10-54, or click on www.stcp.pt.
By Train -- There are two main rail stations in Porto. The Estação de São Bento, Praça Almeida Garrett (tel. 808/208-208), is in the city center, only a block from Praça de Liberdade. Trains from here serve the Douro Valley and destinations in the north, including Viana do Castelo and Braga. East of the center, but connected to São Bento by rail, is the busier and more modern Estação de Campanhã, Largo da Estaçao de Campanhã (tel. 808/208-208). It serves the south, including Lisbon, as well as international routes. For any other rail information, go to www.cp.pt.
Twenty-six trains arrive per day from Lisbon; the trip takes 3 to 5 hours and costs 25€ ($33) one-way in second class and 39€ ($51) one-way in first class. Ten trains a day make the 90-minute trip from Viana do Castelo; a one-way ticket costs 8.50€ ($11). Twelve trains per day arrive from Coimbra; it's a 75-minute trip and costs 12€ ($16) one-way. One train per day arrives from Paris; the trip takes 27 hours and costs 170€ ($221) one-way. A sleeper car costs 195€ ($254).
By Bus -- There are at least five daily departures from Lisbon. The trip takes 3 to 4 hours and costs 14€ ($18) one-way. It ends at the bus station, Rua Alexandre Herculano 366 (tel. 22/205-24-59 or 22/200-69-54). Service is provided by the national bus company, Rodoviária Nacional (tel. 22/204-35-20). There are also 10 buses per day from Coimbra; the trip takes 1 1/2 hours and costs 10€ ($13) one-way.
By Car -- The Lisbon-Porto superhighway cuts driving time between Portugal's two leading cities to just over 3 hours. For motorists, Porto is the center of the universe -- all major roads in the north fan out from here. From Spain, the nearest border crossing is at Tuy-Valença do Minho. After that, you can head south for some 125km (78 miles) to Porto on N13.
One of the most helpful tourist offices in Portugal is the Porto Tourist Board, Rua do Clube Fenianos 25 (tel. 22/339-34-70; www.portoturismo.pt). The office is open July to September Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm, and Saturday and Sunday 9:30am to 4:30pm; in the off season, it's open Monday to Friday 9am to 5:30pm, and Saturday 9:30am to 4:30pm. Another tourist office at Rua de Infante Dom Henrique 63 (tel. 22/200-97-70) keeps the same hours.
Regardless of your method of transport, you'll need to acquaint yourself with the geography of this complicated city. It's probably best to start with the city's justly famous bridges. Connecting the right bank to the port-wine center of Vila Nova de Gaia and the lands south is the Ponte de Dona Maria Pía, an architectural feat of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). Another bridge spanning the Douro is the Ponte de Dom Luís I. An iron bridge of two roadways, it was completed in 1886 by Teófilo Seyrig, a Belgian engineer inspired by Eiffel. Another bridge, Edgar Cardoso's Ponte de Arrábida, which opened in 1963, is bright and contemporary. Totally Portuguese in concept and execution, it's one of the largest single-span reinforced-concrete arches in Europe.
The heart of Porto is Avenida dos Aliados, with its parklike center where families sometimes go for a stroll. It's bounded on the south by Praça General Humberto Delgado. Two major shopping streets lie on either side of Praça de Liberdade: Rua dos Clérigos and Rua 31 de Janeiro. Rua Clérigos leads to the landmark Torre dos Clérigos, which some consider the symbol of Porto.
Foz do Douro, set about 5km (3 miles) to the northwest of Porto, stands adjacent to where the River Douro empties into the sea. Foz is scenic, calm, and mostly residential, a verdant, middle- and upper-class suburb whose income level is in distinct contrast to the grinding poverty of some neighborhoods in downtown Porto. Foz (that's the way its name is shortened by most residents of North Portugal) is known as a "green lung" for Porto, with a rather high percentage of nightclubs and restaurants.
Presently, the most obvious means of public transport between downtown Porto and the oceanfront of "downtown" Foz do Douro is via tram no. 1E, and that is the time-tested traditional means that everyone uses. But in the making are two additional routes, both of them newfangled but as yet unbuilt metro lines. Both are in their infancy, and both might be completed around 2010. They include a metro line that will run immediately parallel to Avenida da Boavista, presently the "motorists' favorite route" between historic Porto and Foz. The other metro line will be an extension of the "yellow line," a metro line which presently stops in Gaia, across the river from Porto. When it's extended (don't hold your breath about when this will happen), it will access the southern suburbs of Foz, not Foz itself.
Matosinhos is set about 11km (7 miles) to the northwest of Porto, beyond Foz. It is metallic, industrial, intensely commercial, and dominated by the heavy machinery that's in place to unload some of the biggest transport ships in the world. Much of it is devoted to vast warehouses, unloading docks, and cranes. But all is not purely industrial here: Matosinhos has at least one very well-known restaurant, Trinca Espinhas, and about a half-dozen well-known dance clubs.
Vila Nova de Gaia -- For more than a century, the "other" bank of the Douro has sheltered representatives of the port wine industry, many of which maintain a sales outlet and, in most cases, warehouses. It lies just across the river from Porto, within a very short walk from the Praça de Ribeira, but spiritually, it's a long way away. Poverty is a little more obvious on this side of the river, and the buildings are a bit less well maintained. Hotels are extremely limited here, and only a few of the restaurants are oriented to the tourist trade. The port wine lodges are by far the most visible entities here. Despite occasional flashes of bravura from the local tourist board, the mostly residential district has far fewer monuments and attractions than Porto. To reach it from Porto, take bus no. 57 or 91.
Porto's Metro system is both aboveground and underground (more underground, of course) in the center of the city. Future expansion is planned. At present, the network consists of five different lines and serves the center of Porto but also reaches out to certain municipalities within the Greater Porto area, including Matosinhos, Vila Nova de Gaia, and Póva de Varzim. Service is daily from 6am to 1:30am. Waiting time for subway cars can range from 12 to 30 minutes. To ride the Metro, you must purchase a card for .50€ (65¢). Depending on the distance, your ride will cost from .80€ to 1.60€ ($1.05-$2.10). Machines, placed in all the subway stops, determine the cost of your ride. You press in your ultimate destination, and the machine will indicate how much money you will need to feed it. To validate your ticket, you have to put the amount of money owed into the machine. For more information, contact Metro do Porto, Avenida Fernão de Magalhães (tel. 22/508-10-00).
Porto is also well serviced by a network of buses, trolleys, and trams; tickets begin at 1.50€ ($1.95). If you plan extensive touring in the area, a Passe Turístico is a good deal. It includes 3 days of transportation for 9€ ($12). Tobacco shops and kiosks around town sell the pass. The Passe Porto, costing 7.50€ ($9.75) for 1 day and 16€ ($21) for 3 days, includes transportation, free entrance to seven museums and monuments, and other tourist discounts. These passes can be purchased at kiosks, tourist offices, hotels, and travel agencies. For more information, contact the Porto Tourist Board at Rua do Clube Fenianos 25 (tel. 22/339-34-70; www.portotourism.pt).
Taxis are available 24 hours a day. Call tel. 22/502-11-32 for radio taxis, or hail one on the street or at a taxi stand.