Although Porto may be famous for its fortified wine, the city’s beautiful architecture, buzzing atmosphere and cheap prices make it perfect for a sophisticated city break on a budget. To help you save your money for important things like sardines, pestiscos (Portuguese tapas) and their local beer Super Bock we’ve compiled a guide for how to see the city from the inside out for (nearly) free.
A great way to familiarise yourself with a city is to look at it from a bird’s eye view – from there you can see everything that a city has to offer, sparking your curiosity in a way that the guide books just can’t match. In Porto, the most obvious place to go is the Torre Dos Clerigos – a baroque tower in the centre of the city. Whilst the view from this tower is great, the huge number of tourists that flock through its very (believe us when we say this) narrow passages make the experience somewhat claustrophobic – and it will also set you back a whole 3 euros. If you can think of a better way to spend those euros, instead try walking along the Ponte Luis I (from where you’ll get a great view of the river Douro in both directions) to the Jardim do Morro. The garden is at the top of a hill famous for the storage of Port and is one of the highest points in the city. From here you can see the whole city rolling out through the surrounding hills and the beautiful River Douro – most importantly, it’s all for free. Next to the garden is the distinctive former Monastery ‘Serra do Pilar’ which costs just over a euro to look around and is well worth a look.
This is a great way to see the city from a local’s point of view whilst avoiding spending all your money queuing with everyone else. Whilst there are a lot of companies, such as Pancho Tours, offering ‘free’ tours (usually some form of tip is expected) of the city, for a truly unique look at the city go with ‘The Worst Tours’. The group was set up by three architects made redundant during Portugal’s particularly tough recession. Offering personalised tours of the city as seen through the eyes of local, they’ll show you the hundreds of beautiful abandoned buildings scattered throughout the city, uncover Porto’s rich social history and bring the historic landscape to life.
Situated next to the picturesque João Chagas park (a perfect place to eat a sandwich whilst people-watching), the Portuguese Centre of Photography is set in a beautiful historic building and entrance is entirely free. Although the museum caters primarily for locals (you won’t find too many foreign language translations for tourists), it offers a personal insight into the region’s history and art. Hosted in a site central to the 1974 Revolution, the military coup which peacefully overthrew Portugal’s authoritarian ruler, the museum hosts a fascinating collection of eye-witness photographs, showing the communal spirit of Porto‘s population. The poignant photographs allow visitors to patch together the insider’s view of a city that remains as yet largely undiscovered.
An hour’s stroll along the north bank of the Douro (or if you’d prefer you could ride one of Porto’s vintage trams) lies the pebble beaches of Foz. The perfect spot for sun-bathing whilst overlooking the Atlantic, Foz also offers a great range of parks, bars and restaurants away from the bustle and tourists of the city. There’s even a 17th century Fortress called Castelo do Queijo (Sadly there’s no actual cheddar at this ‘Cheese Castle’ – it’s so named because it sits on a rock which looks like cheese), as well as the huge Parque da Cidade do Porto which is a great place to relax with a picnic.
For a cheap night out with the locals, try heading to this little known gem. Hidden behind the cathedral and the impressive Luis I bridge lies the Hotfive Blues club. With live music most days of the week, an impressive array of cocktails and a cool, understated sophistication which breathes a speakyeasy vibe into the sultry atmosphere, the Hotfive club is the perfect place to unwind after a day exploring the hot streets of Porto. Just don’t forget, they may put the drinks on a tab but you still have to pay for them at the end…