Porto Car Hire
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Porto is a small city of just under 250,000 inhabitants (although the greater metropolitan area of Porto is around 2.5 million people). However, Porto is fast becoming a popular destination. It received the European Best Destination award in 2012, 2014, and 2017, and the core of the city is a World Heritage Site. The airport has also benefitted from serious refurbishment and is serviced by many airlines.
The cost of living is considerably cheaper than that of the UK and that’s evidenced by the economical deals on car hire. Presently, a Fiat 500 or similar mini-size car costs just £30 for 4 days and the compact Ford Focus is only £42 for 4 days, while even a compact elite car such as the Volkswagen T-Roc works out at just £19 a day. Rent a car with Enjoy to explore Porto and northern Portugal – but first, here’s the lowdown on this legendary city.
About Porto: Porto is famous for many things, among them football: FC Porto is perhaps the country’s most successful football club. And of course, former player Cristiano Ronaldo and one-time manager José Morinho are renowned worldwide for their football achievements. Despite being small by international standards, Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city and part of a major metropolitan area on the Iberian Peninsula.
The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and settlement here stretches back at least as far as the Roman Empire. Indeed, the name ‘Portugal’ is said to come from the old Celtic-Latin name for the city, Portus-Cale. In 2014 and 2017, It’s easy to see why Porto is so highly rated by visitors ̶ areas like the medieval Ribeira (Riverside) district are full of narrow, cobbled streets and dainty old houses. It’s also experiencing a cultural resurgence, from world-class concerts at Casa de Musica to enthralling art exhibitions along Rua de Miguel Bombarda. Unlike some other European travel hotspots, overdevelopment hasn’t tainted the area and it retains a slow pace of life and warm atmosphere.
Airports and Access: Porto is served by Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, or simply Porto Airport (OPO) located 11 km (7 miles) northwest of the city. It’s a spacious, modern airport which consistently ranks among Europe’s top three. It has a superb metro which will take you to the city centre (Trinidade Station) for just €60
Driving Around Porto: there’s so much great motoring around Porto and the surrounding region! Here a few of our favourite trips:
Lamego is an old Baroque village in the Douro region that is famous for making port wines. Portugal’s first king ascended the throne here in the 12th Century, when he built Lamego’s main church, the Se. The Our Lady of Remedies Sanctuary is the village’s most visited spot, but there’s also a 12th Century castle and 13th Century keep, and a stone cistern which dates back to Arab rule. Lamego is approximately 90 minutes from Porto along the A4.
Nestled next to the Paiva River (considered the prettiest in Portugal) are the Paiva Walkways (Passadicos do Paiva) a 5-mile (8 km) walk of wooden stairs and walkways. You’ll see wildlife, waterfalls, lush vegetation, and crystal-clear waters and at Van you can even swing into the river from a ropeswing! It’s an intermediate-level route, so if you want to ease up a little, start your walk at Espiunca as it’s less strenuous.
The Douro Valley is an enchanted place: terraced vineyards climb every mountain, the Douro River meanders through lush green landscapes, and adorable little villages dot the valley. It’s famous for its port wine (of course) and table wine, so prepare to slake your thirst! The world’s first designated wine region, it’s no wonder that Travel + Leisure magazine named it No. 8 on its list of places to visit in 2017. Take the N122 and A4 for just over an hour and a half to get there.
Considered the birthplace of Portugal, Guimaraes is oozing with history and scenery. There are mediaeval cobbled streets, Gothic buildings, and lots of inviting cafés on pretty stone squares. Visit the castle ruins, site of numerous battles against the Moors and Normans, or take the Penha Park cable car to enjoy stunning panoramas and nearby hikes. At just 40 minutes’ drive from Porto – take the A3 and A7 – it’s a must-see part of northern Portugal.
Considered to be Portugal’s most religious city (and third-largest), Braga is so full of religious monuments like churches it’s impossible to see even half of them in a single day! Start with the Baroque Sanctuário do Bom Jesus do Monte, the city’s leading tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage Site, built over 600 years. The Archbishop’s Palace is another notable destination, as is the Tower of Santiago, part of the ancient city wall. Braga is only 40 minutes by car along the A3.
Famous Porto: As you might expect from a country with a maritime imperial past, notable people from Porto include Prince Henry the Navigator (1394 – 1460) who was responsible for developing early European exploration and intercontinental maritime trade, and Ferdinand Magellan (c1480 – 1521) who first circumnavigated the globe and who was probably born here, but certainly lived and worked here. More recent persons include the footballer Duda and Chelsea FC goalkeeper Hilario.
Guide to Porto
You’re never far from a beach in Portugal. There are several within easy reach of the city, and as Porto has a mild climate, a visit to the beach is a must. Aguda Beach, Vila Nova de Gaia (17 km from Porto) still has traditional fishing boats and a wooden boardwalk over the dunes with plenty of spots to eat. Meanwhile, Moreiró Beach, Vila do Conde (19 km) is possibly the area’s quietest and is popular with families, while Gondarém Beach, Foz (8 km) has golden sands, rock pools, lagoons, and tasty restaurants.
The Livraria Lello is considered the world’s most beautiful bookshop, featuring intricate, golden carving throughout – JK Rowling (who lived in Porto for a time) is said to have drawn inspiration for the Hogwarts Library from this stunning site. Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from where you’ll see the Douro River and the impressive D. Luis Bridge, but it’s still a residential area for locals, which only adds to its charm. Serralves has a world-class Museum of Modern Art set in a stunning pink building and perfectly maintained gardens.
As in most European countries, football is the most popular sport. FC Porto is the most successful, but Boavista have also won the championship once, in the 2000-2001 season. Porto is also home to the Oporto Cricket and Lawn Tennis club, which for 100 years has played its Lisbon counterpart, the Casuals Club in the Kendall Cup. There’s also an annual marathon in the city held every October.
Things to do in and around Porto
Porto is one of northern Portugal’s premier tourist spots, yet it remains affordable and welcoming to all types of traveller. Whether you want to focus on beaches and sunbathing or immerse yourself in history and culture, you’ll never be stuck for activities.
The Dom Luis I Bridge is perhaps Porto’s most iconic monument. It connects Porto in the north with Vila Nova de Gaia in the south and has two levels (the top level carries the metro, and is one of the best viewpoint in Porto) and there’s even a funicular railway to the top level if you don’t want to climb it! Furthermore, the interior of the 13th-Century Igreja de São Francisco church will literally dazzle you with its gold-leaf-covered ornate carvings which literally adorn every surface – an estimated 300 kg of gold!
The Porto climate is mild all year round and there are plenty of marine activities. Porto has great river tours ̶ try a 1-2-hour excursion or a 1-day wine tour with lunch, which goes up the Douro River as far as the wine-growing region. The coastline to the south of Porto extends for 17 km (10 miles) and includes the towns of Miramar, Aguda, Granja, Francelos and Espinho. Portugal is famed for its surfing and you’ll find some of the world’s best big waves here. For families with children, go to the Praia de Leça da Palmeira, as there’s a nice beach and a lovely seawater lido (the Piscina das Marés).
Nightlife and family fun
While not as well-known for its nightlife as other (often more crowded) holiday destinations, Porto still has plenty of entertainment for after the kids have gone to bed. The nightlife along the Galerias de Paris is a great place to start for a night out, but even around the Old Town or Ribeira there are many inviting bars and restaurants to be found by simply wandering around. How about a family outing to the Mercado Bom Sucesso food hall, or a tram ride to the Foz district?
Eating out in Porto
Porto is home to a number of traditional dishes from Portuguese cuisine, such as the fish dish Tripas à Moda do Porto (Tripes Porto style). Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (cod in the style of Gomes de Sá) is another codfish dish born in Porto but popular throughout Portugal. The Francesinha is the most famous native snack in Porto ̶ it’s a type of sandwich of several meats covered in cheese and a special sauce made with beer and other ingredients. Here are some more choice eateries:
Old and New
A brand-new venture from renowned Alentejo winery and artisan brewery Esporão, the eponymous Esporão no Porto is already one of Porto’s most talked-about restaurants. Here, the food is simple Portuguese cuisine at its absolute finest, and it’s also open for petiscos (similar to tapas) in the afternoon.
Over in Vila Nova de Gaia, the two-star Michelin restaurant at The Yeatman is a beacon in Porto’s fine dining scene. Head chef Ricardo Costa has turned the kitchen of this cool five-star hotel into ‘a place of gastronomic wizardry’. The standard ten-course tasting menu €170 (£153) is packed with subtle and succulent flavours full of sophistication and surprise.
Brunch and Cocktails
Porto’s Vogue Café is super cool, spacious and as glam as you’d expect from the magazine of the same name. The cocktails are particularly good, especially the port-based mixes. If you’re going for an early evening snack, pick 2-3 small dishes like the salmon poke bowl to share, and if you’re going for a proper evening meal get ready for some serious cuisine.
Don’t miss Zenith Brunch & Cocktails, the city’s hippest brunch spot. With seating inside and out it’s spacious enough, although it’s a good idea to avoid weekends around noon to beat the crowds. The mojitos go down a treat and the fresh fruit juices are indescribably good.
Suspended over the estuarine flow of the River Douro, the three-storey building which houses Casa D’Oro boasts one of the most spectacular locations of any restaurant in Porto. The ground floor houses the more serious dining area, the 1st floor has a relaxed yet sumptuous pizzeria, and the roof has a superb playful rooftop bar.
Porto’s Airport is Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, or just Porto Airport (OPO), located 11 km (7 miles) northwest of the city. There are a number of car rental choices at Porto Airport, provided by our trusted hire partners like Avis, Alamo, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar and Sixt, not to mention smaller local companies, and pre-booking online almost always provides discounts of 5% – 10%.
Buses, Trains and Trams
Although Porto is small enough to explore on foot, and hiring a car is still the best way to explore, Porto has excellent public transport in the form of a metro network of six lines and 81 stations, a bus service which is handy for getting to the beach, a tram network which has become a tourist attraction in itself, and even a funicular ̶ the Guindais Funicular. The bus tends to be the least useful option here, in part because the drivers rally around cobbled streets and narrow corners, meaning the passengers have to hold on tight!
If you come by train to Porto you’ll arrive in the modern Porto Campanha station. However, even if you’re not taking a train, be sure to check out the São Bento station, considered one of the most beautiful in Europe due to its elegant tile-artwork depicting Portuguese life through the ages.
You drive on the right-hand side of the road in Porto. The speed limits are: 120 km/h (74 mph) on motorways, 90 km/h (55 mph) on non-motorway main roads, and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas. Here are some other key points:
Drivers must carry a valid driving licence, passport (police routinely stop foreign cars to check ID), insurance documents, MOT certificate if the car is more than three years old, and car hire documents.
Speed limits are strictly enforced, speed cameras are commonplace and driving offences will result in an on-the-spot fine, which must be paid immediately (the police helpfully carry mini card machines).
Drink-driving is strictly prohibited and anything over 0.05 mg of alcohol in the blood could result in a fine, suspension of licence, imprisonment, or all three. You’re not allowed to drive and use your phone in Portugal, or to honk your horn at night unless it’s an emergency or necessary to perform a safe manoeuvre.
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