The Best Area to Stay in Porto
Rising up from the north bank of the Douro River, Porto – one of Portugal’s oldest cities dating back to the Roman Empire – beguiles visitors on arrival. It’s a charming mix of traditional, colorful houses, characterful medieval lanes that wind their way up and down hills at the city’s heart, terrific food and wine, and riverside landscapes. Porto is a relatively compact city and the majority of the main attractions are clustered in the city center. As for sights further out (or if you want to stay in a quieter part of town and commute to the iconic landmarks), Porto is covered by an efficient public transport network: getting around by metro and bus is easy, while taking the riverside tram is even more fun.
The majority of the best historic hotels as well as boutique hotels and guesthouses are concentrated in central Porto, Ribeira, and Baixa, though there are some outlying options in Miragaia and Vila Nova de Gaia, while the luxury chain hotels are situated further away, in Boavista.
One of Porto’s most photogenic neighborhoods, Ribeira is compact and mostly flat with colorful houses, and stretches along the river from the Dom Luis I bridge to the adjoining neighborhood of Miragaia. With a handful of sights and tiny streets densely packed with restaurants, cafes, and hotels, Ribeira is one of the most iconic – and the most touristy – parts of the city.
Just across the river from Ribeira, Vila Nova de Gaia isn’t officially a part of Porto. However, it’s an essential stop for many visitors due to the proliferation of port wine lodges (for which the city is famous) dotted about its hilly streets. It’s connected to Ribeira by the Dom Luis I bridge and cable car, and to Baixa by metro.
Baixa/Sé is Porto’s downtown and consists of two hills rising immediately to the north of Ribeira. It’s home to some of the city’s most famous sights: the cathedral, Clérigos Tower, and Lello bookstore. A terrific location for history buffs and view seekers, Baixa also has several restaurants for every budget and the city’s liveliest nightlife. Its medieval streets are steep and feature some of Porto’s most characterful hotels inside historic mansions. There are some very exclusive hotels in the vicinity of the grand Avenida dos Aliados, and Baixa is also a transport hub, with intercity trains arriving at the São Bento train station.
An easy walk to the west of Baixa and Ribeira, the relatively quiet riverside neighborhood of Miragaia is rooted in Jewish and Armenian history and features colorful traditional houses, like its more popular neighbor, Ribeira, and eye-catching street art. There’s a handful of family-friendly attractions here, some good guesthouses, and a smattering of restaurants. The tram between Ribeira and Foz de Douro passes through Miragaia.
Connected to Ribeira and Miragaia by riverside tram, Foz de Duoro is Porto’s westernmost neighborhood by the sea. Short on attractions (besides a centuries-old fort), it’s great for experiencing sedate local life, going to the beach, strolling around public gardens, or hiking along seaside trails. But be prepared for the half-hour commute to downtown Porto and for the limited range of accommodations.
Adjoining Baixa, Ribeira, and Miragaia to the west/north, Cedofeita is a young, arty neighborhood, home to one of Porto’s best museums. It’s also unofficially known as the Bairro das Artes (Art District) due to its many pop-up galleries and design schools. There are some great guesthouses and boutique hotels here, and it’s ideal for travelers who want to avoid the noise of downtown while being an easy stroll away from the main sights and nightlife.
Northwest of Cedofeita and Miragaia, Boavista is Porto’s business district and one of the city’s most affluent residential neighborhoods. It’s quite a spread-out area, radiating outwards from the circular Mouzinho de Albuquerque plaza, and has good metro and bus connections to downtown Porto. Several notable attractions are located here, along with the lion’s share of Porto’s 5-star chain hotels.
Bonfim is the spread-out, mostly residential neighborhood located east of Ribeira and Baixa. It’s hilly and connected to the riverbank by a funicular. There are no notable attractions here, but it’s a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood with specialty coffee shops and craft beer breweries proliferating as a result. Accommodation is quite sparse, but there are some good guesthouses and mid-range hotels here, and the attractions and nightlife of downtown Porto are within easy walking distance.
The Best Places to Stay in Porto
Where to Stay in Porto for…
- Best Neighborhoods in Porto for Sightseeing: Ribeira, Baixa
If you’re a culture vulture, then head for the bank of the Douro in Ribeira to admire the colorful riverside architecture for which the city is famous, or take a boat tour to see the city from the water. Then wander the steep streets of Baixa for a glimpse of Porto’s monumental cathedral, and opt for a bird’s eye view of the city from the Clérigos Tower, before admiring the ornate tilework on the grand buildings lining the Avenida dos Aliados. If art is your passion, then it’s well worth checking the pop-up galleries of Cedofeita and Museu Serralves in Boavista.
- Best Neighborhood in Porto for Nightlife: Baixa
Porto is not a party town by reputation, but it does have an excellent selection of bars to suit all budgets, ranging from swanky cocktail bars to raucous student bars, and the majority of them are dotted around Baixa. If you’re after the best craft beer, then head to Bonfim’s microbreweries, and if you’ve come to Porto to sample its port, then head to Vila Nove de Gaia where the majority of port wine lodges are concentrated; they arrange tastings on the premises and also run tours out to their respective vineyards.
- Best Neighborhood in Porto for Food and Restaurants: Baixa
While there are individual Michelin-starred restaurants in Vila Nova de Gaia and other far corners of the city, there’s no doubt that Baixa is Porto’s foodie heartland. There is no other neighborhood in the city with the sheer variety of cuisines found here, and there are good restaurants in every price range as well. You’ll find anything from traditional Portuguese food to cutting-edge fusion dining. And if you want to recreate those Portuguese dishes at home, you can find all the necessary ingredients in the specialty food shops here.
- Best Neighborhoods in Porto for Families: Boavista, Foz de Duoro, Miragaia, Ribeira
Boavista is ideal for families looking for 5-star comfort and facilities, since that’s where most of Porto’s chain luxury hotels are located, and it’s also a quiet neighborhood with some kid-friendly attractions. Foz de Duoro may have limited accommodation choices, but there’s beach and park access, and riding the tram to Ribeira is a fun, family-friendly way of getting around. Miragaia and Ribeira are both largely flat (ideal if you have a stroller); the former features a kid-friendly museum, while the latter is a jumping-off point for boat rides. Parts of Ribeira can get a bit noisy at night, so Miragaia might be a better choice for families with younger kids that want to be within walking distance of Porto’s main attractions.
- Best Neighborhoods in Porto to Stay for First-Timers: Ribeira, Baixa
If it’s your first time in Porto and especially if your vacation time is limited, it’s hard to go wrong with basing yourself either in Ribeira or Baixa, since that’s where many of the city’s top attractions are concentrated. They are right next to each other, both extremely walkable and with a range of accommodations to suit all budgets. Ribeira has the edge if you’ve dreamt of enjoying sunsets over the River Douro from your hotel window, while Baixa has a greater number of atmospheric hotels and better range of dining and nightlife venues.
- Most Romantic Neighborhoods in Porto: Baixa, Ribeira
Baixa features many of Porto’s most romance-worthy boltholes: graceful mansions transformed into luxury retreats. Some have great views, high above the bustle of the city. There are some superb restaurants here for romancing your other half and the medieval streets are wonderfully atmospheric after dark. Ribeira also offers wonderful views over the river, its riverside restaurants are ideal for sunset-viewing, and boutique hotels here are perfect for a romantic getaway.
- Best Neighborhoods in Porto for a Local Vibe: Bonfim, Cedofeita
Mostly residential Bonfim features a popular local produce market, Mercado do Bolhão, inside a wrought-iron, 19th-century structure. It’s a low-key neighborhood where you can stumble upon Porto’s oldest cemetery and get to know the locals over a cup of coffee in a specialty coffee shop. Young, up-and-coming Cedofeita is full of independent businesses, and travelers looking for art and an alternative vibe will find it here.
- Best Neighborhoods in Porto for Walking: Ribeira, Baixa
While much of Porto is walkable and a pleasure to wander around, it’s hard to beat Ribeira for its scenic waterfront promenade, or Baixa for the sheer number of sights packed into its winding medieval lanes. Your leg muscles will get a proper workout, too, from walking up and down hills. For beautiful night-time views of Ribeira and Baixa, cross the River Douro along the Dom Luis I bridge and walk along the promenade in Vila Nova de Gaia.
- Safest Areas of Porto
Porto is one of the safest cities in Europe. Pretty much all neighborhoods are safe to walk around at any time of day, though at night, it’s a good idea to stick to well-lit areas and avoid shortcuts through dark alleys.
- Unsafe Areas of Porto
There are no specifically unsafe neighborhoods in Porto, though the part of Baixa around the São Bento train station is a bit sketchy at night. Standard precautions against pickpockets apply at tourist hubs such as Cais da Ribeira and Rua das Flores, and on public transport during rush hour.
The Best Neighborhoods in Porto for Tourists
The first stop for visitors, Ribeira is Porto’s most recognizable neighborhood and is packed with colorful houses. It features a riverside promenade, and you can catch a tram all the way to Foz de Duoro. Attractions include the Palacio da Bolsa and the São Francisco church, and the neighborhood is packed with hotels, cafes, and restaurants. It’s also a favorite place for sunset-watching and staying, since you’re right in the heart of things and within easy walking distance from Vila Nova de Gaia’s port wine lodges. Unlike much of Porto, Ribeira is flat: a bonus for visitors with limited mobility.
Just above Ribeira, Baixa (‘downtown’) consists of clusters of streets winding their way up and down two hills: one features Sé, Porto’s cathedral around which the city was founded, and the other is famous for the Clérigos Tower (terrific viewpoint) and the famous Lello bookstore. The two hills are separated by the Avenida dos Aliados, Porto’s most important avenue which is lined with stupendous architecture. Baixa is packed with restaurants, inexpensive places to drink, and traditional grocery stores – ideal for shopping for Portugal’s specialty ingredients. Many of Porto’s best luxury hotels are found off or near the Avenida dos Aliados, and Baixa is also home to the São Bento train station, featuring some stunning examples of azulejo (tile) artwork.
Bordering Baixa, Cedofeita is a trendy, arty neighborhood, full of pop-up art galleries and design schools and home to one of Porto’s best museums: Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, located right next to the tranquil Crystal Palace gardens. There are some great concept stores here, an organic food market, some hip brunch cafes and restaurants, as well as accommodations consisting mostly of mid-range guesthouses, plus a handful of hotels. Cedofeita is an ideal location for those who want to be within easy walking distance of Porto’s top sights while avoiding the day and night bustle of Baixa and noisy nightlife of Ribeira.
East of the city center but within 15 minutes’ walking distance of the main attractions, Bonfim is Porto’s hipster neighborhood. While there are no popular landmarks here, you’ll instead find the first public garden in Porto, specialty coffee shops, craft beer breweries, and a good balance between authentic local life and tourism. There are several excellent restaurants popular with visitors and locals alike, and many major bus companies are based here, offering easy connections to other Portuguese cities. Accommodations consist of a handful of guesthouses plus several upscale hotels.
Adjoining Baixa and Ribeira to the west, the riverside neighborhood of Miragaia shares Ribeira’s colorful architecture. This part of Porto was once home to the city’s Jewish and Armenian communities who left their imprint. While Miragaia is just a short walk from the city center, it’s noticeably quieter and home to such attractions as World of Discoveries (a museum popular with families) and the landscaped Palacio de Cristal gardens. There’s a handful of places to stay and eat here.
6. Foz de Douro
Porto’s westernmost neighborhood used to be a fishing village and a summer retreat for the city’s well-heeled residents, which accounts for the mix of fishermen’s houses and grand mansions. It’s a sedate, mostly residential part of town, with one of Porto’s nicest beaches, a 16th-century fortress, public gardens, a seafront promenade, and over 10km of walking/running trails, as well as a smattering of low-key, waterfront restaurants. The drawback is that it’s not near the city center, and reaching most attractions takes around half an hour by public transport.
- Best Hotel: Hotel Boa-Vista
One of the most affluent parts of town, and Porto’s business hub, what Boavista lacks in charm, it makes up for with a smattering of attractions such as the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, the historic synagogue, the Casa da Música, and the wonderful, kid-friendly Gallery of Biodiversity. Boavista is northwest of the city center and connected to it by subway and frequent buses (10-minute ride); it’s within easy reach of the main attractions but at the same, it’s quiet and peaceful at night. This is also where you’ll find a concentration of 5-star chain hotels with ample facilities.
Technically not part of Porto proper, but heavily visited by tourists coming to the city, Vila Nova de Gaia is located across the Douro River from Ribeira. Also hilly, with an appealing waterfront, and reachable from Ribeira by bridge or cable car, this neighborhood is renowned for its proliferation of port tasting rooms as well as Porto’s best hotel (The Yeatman) and some excellent restaurants.