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Situated along the banks of the Douro River, Porto is a beautiful old city in Northern Portugal. It has quite a number of things going for it, not least that it is an architectural gem filled with baroque churches and masterpieces of modernity. Ribeira, the city’s historic centre, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and how can anyone miss the fact that Porto is the origin of deliciously sweet red Port wine? While many areas can be explored on foot or via the ultra-modern public transport in the city, it’s still worth renting a car to take advantage of the fantastic drives right outside of Porto.
Who to Book With
While car hire firms are always available for tourists arriving in Porto, it is often wise to check and compare rates online before arrival. Booking before arrival will cost you less than when hiring a car at any of the international car rental depots in Porto. International firms represented here include Sixt, Hertz, Alamo, Budget, Avis, Europcar and National, which local companies, such as Turvela, Atlantisrent and Cael, can also be found.
Best Time to Go
Although Porto enjoys a Mediterranean climate, its weather is affected by the Atlantic Ocean. Temperatures can be extreme in the summer, up to 40ºC at times. Late spring or early autumn is a good time to visit.
Need to Know Essentials
The following are needed when retrieving your vehicle at a car hire depot:
- A national license or International Driving Permit
- Valid ID with a photo
- Booking confirmation
- Your credit card
From Lisbon, Porto is an easy drive away along the A1, with the whole trip taking around three hours. Drivers are advised to plan ahead and avoid arriving during peak hours, when traffic can be heavy. Driving around the city can be a bit tricky as many of the roads are narrow and go up and down a very hilly terrain. Local drivers tend to have their own traffic rules too, so it’s best to always drive defensively.
The system of public transport in Porto is quite modern and efficient. You can arrive by train from Madrid, Paris and Lisbon, and taxis can be counted on for convenient service within the city centre, especially outside rush hour. Buses cover the city extensively and are relatively cheap. To explore the outer areas of town, however, driving is the best option.
A ticket for Porto’s rapid transit rail network, the Porto Metro, can be bought at the station. You will get a card called the Andante, which costs around €0.50. Using the Andante within an hour affords you as many journeys as you want, and you can ‘recharge’ the card after the journey. The Andante can also be used for travel on Porto’s local buses. Otherwise, bus tickets can be bought onboard the bus, at the office of the main bus operator (see below) and at newsagents.
Regular trains arrive from Lisbon, Madrid or Paris at either of the two stations in Porto: São Bento in the city centre and Campanhã, the city’s main station east of the city centre. Within Porto is a very modern rapid transit railway system, the Porto Metro, serving both the city centre and the suburbs around the city. The hub of this network is Trindade Station, from which five lines expand. Line E stops at the airport.
Taxis are available at the many ranks found around the city. Raditaxis is one of the cab companies operating in the city that can be contacted by phone. Visitors are advised to pay around €5 to €6 for trips within the city. For night trips, a 20 per cent surcharge is applied.
The Sociedade de Transportes Colectivos do Porto is the main bus operator in Porto. The hubs are Cordoaria, Praça Almeida Garrett and Praça da Liberdade. The network is quite extensive and very useful for getting around. A single-journey ticket costs a little more than €1.50, while a day pass costs about €3.
Porto’s charms, including the majestic the river, the city’s imposing steel bridge and the magnificent architecture, are quite obvious. When you head into the city’s narrow lanes and alleyways, you will also discover why UNESCO named Porto’s historic district a World Heritage site. Just outside the city, however, many other fabulous destinations are just a short drive away.
Espinho - A beach destination to head to in the summer, can be found south of Porto along the Portuguese coast. Apart from the fine beaches, Espinho has many other great attractions to offer tourists. It boasts open-air markets, an excellent beachside promenade, a planetarium and plenty of bars and restaurants.
Amarante - This is easily reached from Porto by driving inland (east) along the A4. This beautiful city in the country’s Oporto district is situated on a hill with great views of the Tamega River. It is a laidback little town with beautiful old architecture. Wandering around on foot is the best way to appreciate this town.
Peneda-Gerês National Park - Portugal’s one and only national park, is definitely worth a visit. Apart from the park’s stunning natural scenery, comprised of mountains and winding rivers, the area is also home to many ancient settlements.