Nightlife in Porto is long and varied, so let’s take it slowly. At the end of the day, the best place for you to relax is in one of the historical cafés, like the famous Majestic in Rua de Santa Catarina, the busiest in the city. Sitting at one of its tables is like travelling back in time to the luxury and glamour of the 1920s. Porto’s main square is Avenida dos Aliados, where you will find the Guarany café, built in the 1930s, currently featuring live music shows and fado singing at dinner time.
You won’t be short of options for dinner: try a francesinha, the brilliant spicy meat and sausage sandwich (some say it’s the best in the world), try also the new restaurants with signature or fusion cuisine; some offer traditional Portuguese cooking, and there are international cuisine restaurants, hamburger places and Japanese restaurants.
You could dine out at one of the restaurants in Cais da Ribeira and see the River Douro with its lit-up bridges. This is where you will find plenty of regional dishes that go down well with a glass of Douro wine or Vinho Verde. We suggest you try the octopus rice, salt cod with bread panade and turnip leaves, or salt cod fritters.
After dinner, the best thing to do is to walk over to the historical centre. Some of the streets have recently been done up, like Rua das Flores connecting to the former São Domingos Convent, now an event centre. How about a concert? Close to São Domingos Convent you will find the former Ferreira Borges Market, a hallmark of iron architecture from 1885, renovated in 2010 as a concert hall, hosting a variety of shows (from hip-hop to rock).
If you feel like it, why not take in a show at the Coliseu do Porto, a landmark in the city’s cultural life; otherwise, go to Casa da Música, in Boavista, to listen to a live concert (from classical to modern dance music) and admire the work of Rem Koolhaas, renowned throughout the world.
At the top of Casa da Música, there is a bar, which shares the space with a restaurant that opens twice a month. Famous world-known and local DJs grace the dance floors with dance music. The wine, sparkling wine and champagne list is top category. Take our advice: go to the rooftop of Rem Koolhaas’s polyhedron building and enjoy the view over the city from a different perspective.
Downtown Porto has become the centre of nightlife in recent years. Not a month goes by without a new bar, restaurant, disco or café opening up.
Begin your evening at the Piolho café (Piolho is the name given by all locals to Café Âncora D’Ouro), in Praça Parada Leitão. On your left, you have the Church of Carmo and its impressive glazed-tile panel and in front of you, the Rectorate of the University of Porto.
Ever since it was founded, in 1909, Piolho has been the meeting point of university students in Porto. The café walls are covered with messages from former students. Inside, at the weekends, the café is bustling with activity, but most of the time you can find a free table.
Alternatively, you can go to the revamped Largo de Mompilher, a very short walk from Piolho (you can walk to everywhere downtown at night). This is where you will find some bars that have recently joined the 1930s kiosk. At the weekend, dozens of locals and tourists come here to drink sparkling wine, regular wine or the fino – the name used in Porto and in northern Portugal for draft beer.
Largo de Mompilher is also the place of choice for gin enthusiasts, a drink that has in recent times become more popular among Porto night owls. There’s a gin roadmap – from the dry, most common ones, to the fruity gins – served by expert bartenders in many places in downtown Porto. Don’t miss out on the Port wine and the new cocktails made with the “gold of Porto”.
Nightlife in downtown Porto is enjoyed out in the streets (talking and drinking) or in one of the many bars. Some of them will surprise you: there’s even a bar where you can have an alcoholic drink (tequila, gin, vodka, Port wine) together with the right cracker. There are also many gay friendly spaces and mix spaces, a very common trend in Porto, a mix between an art gallery, a concert hall and a bar.
Most of these new leisure places are now housed in buildings that once served other purposes: textile, tea or coffee warehouses, bookshops, sweets factories …and most of them have preserved the original architecture. A night out like this is also a history lesson.
You will find most of these places in the two parallel streets Cândido dos Reis and Galeria de Paris, known by the locals as the “galleries”: bars with varied soundtracks – from killer house music to the secrets of indie rock. Places really get going after midnight.
Until then, perhaps you should visit one of the many vintage cafés and sip a glass of wine or some tea. There are also plenty of snacks to keep you fuelled – try a cured or uncured ham sandwich at the famous tascas (taverns).
In Porto, the night only ends when the first sunrays peek through the sky. For dancing options, you can go downtown, or to Foz and the industrial quarters. Porto is already on the agenda of many of the most popular DJs in the world.
The longest night of the year
All evenings can be long in Porto, but one is definitely longer than the rest: the evening of São João.
You can’t go wrong: if you’re in town and someone out of nowhere hits you on the head with a plastic hammer, then you’ll know it’s party time! It takes place every year on the evening of 23 June to the 24th. Although the festivity is Catholic (celebrating the birth of Saint John the Baptist), it has strong pagan traditions and, therefore, is celebrated by everyone alike.
It is all about tradition: you have the more modern martelinhos (thousands of people join in the party with little plastic hammers), and the age-old tradition; the fireworks near the River Douro, uniting Porto and Gaia, and the democratic sardine barbecues at every street corner in town.
As if that weren’t enough, there are dozens of folk dances all over town. Note this down: Fontainhas and Miragaia are the favourite ones, so get there early if you want a front-row view.
The fit party-goers walk the marine parade along the River Douro from Ribeira to Foz do Douro, to watch the sunrise on the beach. You can rest on the 24th as it’s a well-deserved municipal holiday.
How to get there
There are several direct connections to Porto. If you choose to fly low cost, you can fly from London (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseille, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan Bergamo, Roma Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg Lübeck , Munich Memmingen and Dusseldorf Weeze.
In the summer, low cost companies fly from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.
Traditional airlines fly to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, and Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto, and Luanda. In the summer, you can also fly from Montreal, Brest and Brive.
At the Francisco Sá Carneiro International Airport take the Metro – ‘E’ line – this takes you to the city centre in just 30 minutes.