It might not be the biggest city in Europe - it's not even the biggest in Portugal - however, the culture-centric, wine-loving, colorful locale that is Porto is quickly rising up the ranks in the world of tourism.
Aesthetically, nothing quite compares to this coastal city, with narrow cobblestoned streets, interchanging, colorful buildings and formidable, medieval bridges, Porto is finally starting to be recognized as what it truly is - a beautiful, welcoming destination.
Compared to the like of Paris and London, Porto is already as cheap as it gets. That being said, there is still a number of activities on offer that are completely free if you know where to look!
10 Venture across the Dom Luís I Bridge
Let’s kick off our budget-friendly journey through one of Europe’s hottest up-and-coming cities with a stop at the iconic, photogenic arching iron bridge - the Dom Luís I Bridge. As the link between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the symbol of Porto has stood strong since 1886, welcoming locals and tourists alike who want to soak in the stunning vistas on offer from its center.
The unique structure boasts two levels and proves itself as a formidable piece of architecture - considering that it was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel, it makes perfect sense.
9 Take in the beauty at the Crystal Palace Gardens
While the home of Port wine has no shortage of impressive, picturesque locales, for an immersive experience ready to offer countless photo opportunities, head out to the Crystal Palace Gardens. Here, wandering visitors welcome a breath of fresh air amidst natural, bright, greenery, winding walkways, bubbling fountains, and if you’re lucky, even a few peacocks. As far as Porto parks, it’s hard to bypass Crystal Palace as the frontrunner.
There are a number of ways to access the Crystal Palace Gardens from the city center - either jump on one of the metro lines or take the No. 200 bus toward Bolhão.
8 Sample local goodies at the Mercado do Bolhão (Bolhão Market)
It would be a crime to avoid sampling the infinite (and incredibly cheap) Portuguese delicacies when in Porto. For any foodies out there, or even those who want to learn a little more about the local culture, a stroll though open-air Mercado do Bolhão (Bolhão Market) is a must. Since opening its metaphorical doors back in 1850, the market has never lacked energy, constantly welcoming locals and tourists alike in search of delectable treats and quick snacks.
Entry to the market is totally free, however, if you’re planning on taking some fruit, bread cheese home with you, bring along some spare change.
7 Port wine tasting, of course!
In the same vein as Champagne and Bordeaux, when a city shares a moniker with a type of wine, it can’t be argued that the aromatics blends are worth at least a few sample glasses.
In Porto, the locals live and breath Port wine. Across the city, on the outskirts, and further into the regional areas, a number of Port cellars offer guided tours and wine tasting - a few of which do so for free! Taylor’s and Croft are a couple of the more popular cellars, each providing tours and samples free of charge - which means for cash left to take home a couple of bottles, of course.
6 Get your Sunday morning culture fix
Assuming that we haven’t downed too many glasses of Port the night prior, if you’re raring to explore Porto’s art and history on a sunday morning, the majority of its museums open their doors to the public, free of charge. The catch is that they’re only cost-free until 2pm, so there’s no time for a lazy Sunday if you’re looking to maximize your time and money.
Choose between the Port wine museum, Tram museum, Photography museum, or Serralves Foundation of Contemporary Art - each offer intriguing displays suited to whatever tickles your fancy.
5 Party the night away at Piolho
Compared to the big-name neighboring cities like Barcelona, Paris, and London, a night out on the town in Porto is as cheap as they come. Thirsty travelers can wet their whistle with a beer, or opt ffor something a little stronger, usually for no more than 1 euro, while popular cocktails like caipirinhas sit around the 3-euro mark.
While it costs a few bucks to drink, evidently, the atmosphere at Piolho (a popular square next to the building of University of Porto) is entirely free to enjoy. If you’re looking to take your night up another level, most of the clubs have no entrance fees.
4 Make it up to the Serra do Pilar Viewpoint
For the travel photographers or simply anyone who can appreciate a stunning view, there’s arguably no vista of the colorful city more impressive than the one of offer at Serra do Pilar Viewpoint. Kill two birds with one stone and soak in the impressive monastery while you’re up there as well.
While it is possible (and free) to reach the peak by foot, for those who perhaps indulged in a few too many Alheira (Portuguese sausages) and couldn’t think of anything worse than a tough hike, there’s also a cable car than can takes you effortlessly to and from the river
3 Head to the local beach
If time is your friend and a little reprieve from the city is what you’re after, then the Praia de Matosinhos is eagerly awaiting. While it might not boast the same jaw-dropping scenes as some other beaches along Portugal’s stunning coastline, the fact is that it’s an easily-accessible, enjoyable, and relaxed opportunity to soak in the sun and admire the crashing waves.
Sure, relaxation opportunities are aplenty, however, for those looking for a touch of heart-pumping adrenaline, surfing and watersports are also available
2 Admire the flora at Porto’s botanical garden
If a visit to the Crystal Palace Gardens didn’t manage to quench your thirst for nature, this next locale is sure to do the trick. It might not be the largest botanical garden in Europe by any means but don’t let that detract from its beauty.
Spread across 10 acres of land, Porto’s botanical garden displays hundreds of different plant species, brought in from all corners of the globe. It markets itself as an excellent, relaxing, and most importantly, totally free opportunity to spend a couple of hours in the outdoors.
1 Just stroll!
As long as you’ve brought along a comfortable pair of shoes (because with the neverending hills, you’ll need them), then one of the best ways to explore this fascinating city (and most cities, for that matter) is simply by wandering around on foot. Compared to Europe’s behemoth metropolises, Porto is relatively small, meaning that it’s very walkable, and around every corner, there are hidden gems waiting to be discovered by those willing to venture.
If you need a touch more incentive to explore on foot, all of that exercise justifies the copious amounts of tantalizing Portuguese food you’re bound to devour.