Portugal’s second city has long been overlooked by expats interested in moving to Portugal but, as rental and purchase prices continue to rise in Lisbon, more and more people are seeing the appeal of Porto.
It isn’t just cheaper accommodation costs and an overall lower cost of living that make Porto appealing, however. Porto is an incredibly beautiful city and, when it comes to choosing between Lisbon or Porto, it’s usually the city that the Portuguese prefer.
Pros & Cons
Everywhere has its pros and cons, and the following are some of the pluses and minuses of living in Porto.
- Affordable – Although Porto’s cost of living has increased in recent years, particularly in terms of renting, Porto is still very affordable when compared to most Western cities.
- Safe – Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world, and that includes Porto as well.
- Compact – Porto’s city centre is small and walkable, which is ideal for those that don’t like the big city life.
- Good public transport – Public transport in Porto is very good, particularly thanks to its excellent metro system. Porto is also well connected to the rest of Portugal by trains, buses, and flights.
- Good Airport – Although Porto Airport isn’t as big as Lisbon Airport, it does have a good number of international flights – particularly to other European cities.
- Access to beach – Praia de Matosinhos, Porto’s nearest beach, is just around 15 minutes by car from Porto City Centre or around 30 minutes by public transport. In comparison, people living in Lisbon will take around 25 minutes to get to Estoril or Costa da Caparica by car. Public transport from Lisbon to Estoril normally takes around 40 minutes and even longer to get to Costa da Caparica.
- Proximity to Spain – Porto is situated close to the Spanish border: around 70 minutes from Tui and around 90 minutes from Vigo by car. This proximity to Spain is ideal for those that are moving to Portugal with the aim of also exploring other parts of Europe.
- Weather – Porto may have easier access to the beach than Lisbon, but Lisbon has more days of sunshine to enjoy the beach. While Porto has plenty of good summer days, winter is normally wet, grey, and damp – similar to a Northern European country but without the central heating to make it bearable.
- Rising costs – Although Porto isn’t as expensive as Lisbon, rental costs and the cost of buying a home have increased dramatically and pushed up the cost of living.
- Tourism – Tourism has increased dramatically and during the summer months the city is often crowded with tourists. This problem isn’t specific to Porto or even Portugal – it’s a problem you can expect in most nice European cities.
- Smaller expat community – Most expats flock to either Lisbon or the Algarve, which means there are less internationals to make friends with. While this is a con it can also be a pro as it means you’re less likely to end up getting caught in an expat bubble.
- Smaller airport – Porto does have a good airport, and often it has some great deals, but there are definitely less flights out of Porto Airport than Lisbon Airport.
- Smaller job marker – Most big companies and most tech startups are based in Lisbon, so there are often less opportunities to find a job or switch jobs in Porto when compared to Lisbon.
Local food & drink
Bifana: Bifanas à moda do Porto (bifanas in the Porto style) are not only my favourite type of bifana, but one of my favourite sandwiches in Portugal.
Francesinha: The Francesinha isn’t Porto’s main traditional dish, that’s Tripas à moda do Porto (tripe). However, since very few people actually like tripe and it’s not something anyone is going to recommend to a tourist, the Francesinha has become the de facto dish of Porto.
Éclair: Unlike traditional French éclairs, which use vanilla pastry cream made from eggs, milk, and vanilla extract, the classic éclairs at Leitaria da Quinta do Paço use just whipped cream.
Port Wine: Port wine is one of Portugal’s biggest and most famous exports. It’s a drink that has a bit of a stuffy reputation but, after spending a few days drinking it in Porto, you’ll very quickly fall in love with it. Visiting a Port wine cellar is an absolute must, but it’s not the only way that you can experience Port wine while you’re in Porto. Visit bars, order it after dinner in restaurant, buy a bottle from a garrafeira – everywhere you can really.
Douro Wine: Porto wine isn’t the only type of wine associated with Porto: it’s also famous for the Douro Wine that comes from the nearby Douro Valley. The Douro is widely considered to be Portugal’s best wine region and almost all of Portugal’s award-winning wines come from this part of Portugal. You’ll find Douro wines everywhere in Portugal, but it’s definitely something to try while you’re in Porto as well.
Super Bock: Sure, it might seem like just a pale lager but it’s also the beer of the North of Portugal (Sagres is the beer of the South of Portugal). It’s light and simple but, in a climate like Portugal has, that’s exactly what you need.
Sovina: Although Portugal’s beer culture is still essentially Superbock or Sagres, there’s a large craft beer scene here and Porto is one of the best places in the country to try some beers from indie breweries. Sovina is one of the biggest names in Portuguese craft beer, and it’s locally produced here in Porto. Two of the best places to try it are at Armazém da Cerveja (map), a bar and shop, and Catraio Beer Shop (map), a beer shop with a good selection of craft beers.
Read more about food & drink in Porto
Getting around & public transport
Porto is a small and compact city, and it’s extremely walkable. Most attractions are located right in the heart of the city centre, so you should be able to do the majority of your sightseeing on foot.
Porto has a good metro system that includes connections to the airport and Matosinhos (where the beach is). Google Maps is the easiest way to get directions using the metro. Alternatively, Porto’s Metro has a good website.
While the tram is a major mode of transport in Lisbon, in Porto there are only a few tram lines left and it’s only really tourists that use them. Everyone else uses the metro or takes the bus. Riding the traditional wood trams is definitely a unique experience, and something that you won’t really find outside of Portugal. If you want to take the tram, the most scenic line to take is Linha 1 as this goes along the river.
Taxis & Ubers
Taxis are available throughout Porto. Uber is also available, along with a number of other taxi apps which you may not have used before.
Trains connect Porto to most major destinations in Portugal including Lisbon, Braga, Guimarães, Évora, Faro, and Lagos, however, some parts of the country don’t have train lines and you may need to look at travelling by bus.
Note: There are two train stations in Porto; Campanhã and São Bento. Campanhã is located slightly out of the city centre and is the station where most long distance trains stop, but you can easily connect from here to São Bento or take the metro or a taxi to another part of Porto.
While Portugal’s trainline only covers part of the country, particularly the Western side close to the coast, its bus network covers almost the entirety. It’s worth comparing both buses and trains to see which is the faster, cheaper, and easier-to-get-to option.
Porto’s main bus station is at Campo 24 de Agosto (map).
Bus tickets and timetables can be found on Rede Expressos.
It’s possible to cross from one side of the river – from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia – by boat rather than walking or taking public transport. Tickets and a schedule can be found at dourorivertaxi.com. You can purchase tickets online or at the pier.
Porto’s regional airport, Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, is located around 10 km from the city centre and you can easily get to and from the airport by metro, bus, taxi, and airport transfer. Porto Airport is smaller than Lisbon Airport, Portugal’s main airport, so if you’re flying from an international destination it may make more financial sense to fly into Lisbon and then get the train or bus to Porto.