Paul Fournier
By Paul

Ribeira: A Guide to Porto’s Beautiful Riverside Neighborhood

With its prime waterfront location and colorful architecture, Ribeira is no doubt one of Porto’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Ribeira’s appeal goes beyond looks though, as it’s also a good spot for nightlife, architecture, and home to Porto’s biggest street festival, Festa de São João.

On this page, I’ve written a comprehensive guide on what to do, where to stay, and where to eat along the riverside. This should give you a solid idea of you can expect from this popular district in Porto.

About Porto’s Ribeira

Ribeira is one of Porto’s oldest, most historic neighborhoods, protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. The name Ribeira is taken from the Portuguese word meaning river, and Cais de Ribeira refers to the area’s location on the Douro River’s banks.

The district is a great place to visit if you enjoy lively and picturesque places. The district is famous for its bright, colorful houses stacked closely together along the river. You’ll also catch passing fishing boats going along the river.

In the past, Ribeira was one of the Douro River’s busiest spots as cargo would pass through in both directions before arriving at the center of the city. Nowadays, this area is busy welcoming tourists.

Walking around Ribeira’s cobbled streets will bring you to some of its most popular attractions, such as the bustling main square Praça da Ribeira, the grand Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace), the beautiful Igreja De Sao Francisco gothic church, and Casa de Infante (House of the Prince).

As the sun sets, Ribeira comes to live as cafes and bars open their doors. You’ll find plenty of restaurants serving traditional Portuguese cuisine, with tables facing the river, as well as a good variety of nightlife spots.

Things To Do in the Ribeira District

Ribeira may be a small district, but it has lots to offer, from laid back nightlife spots, to impressive churches, and places to enjoy some truly unique regional delicacies.

Below, I list some of the best things to do to give you a good idea about what’s there in order to make the most out of your visit.

Walk Across the Dom Luis Bridge

The Dom Luís bridge was completed in 1886 by Téophile Seyrig, a student of Gustave Eiffel, the man who built Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower. It was important as it replaced a previous clunky bridge where people crossed the river using a series of old boats tied together.

The bridge has two levels – the top level carrying Porto Metro trains, and the bottom carrying regular road traffic. Pedestrians can cross at both levels, though I recommend crossing at the top for stunning views of Ribeira at 60 meters above the ground 🙂

Take in the Vibe at Ribeira Square

At the heart of Ribeira is Ribeira Square, or Praça da Ribeira in Portugese, a place to both sightsee and be seen as the square is lined with many bars.

One of Ribeira Square’s main features is a big fountain, about 3 stories high. Built in the 1780s, it is engraved with the Portugal coat of arms. The fountain is accompanied by an modern cube-shaped sculpture, designed to cover up the ruins of another damaged fountain.

Marvel at the Church of Sao Francisco

The Church of São Francisco, or Igreja de São Francisco, is one of Porto’s most important monuments. Its interior is decorated with carved panels covered in gold, and it is believed that over 300 kg of gold dust was used there.

Under the church, there are also catacombs where monks and members of Porto’s richest families are buried. You can even look at a vault with thousands of human bones through a glass floor 😮

Go Port Tasting at a Wine Cellar

Unless you’re a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, you can’t leave Porto without tasting some port 🙂 Visiting a wine cellar gives an excellent opportunity for this. Most cellars are located in Vila Nova de Gaia, an area on the opposite side of the Douro River from Ribeira. Porto wine has been produced here for centuries.

You can visit these cellars or wine lodges to learn about the wine-making process with guided tours, which usually end with a tasting of the cellar’s wines. Some cellars charge a small entrance fee, while others are free to visit.

See the 6 Bridges of Porto from a Boat

You can take a boat trip starting at Ribeira or Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side, which will take you along the Douro river for beautiful views of Porto’s 6 bridges – the bridges of Dom Luís, D. Maria Pia, Arrabida, São João, Freixo, and Infante D. Henrique.

The trip takes roughly 50 minutes. To get the most value for this boat trip, you can purchase it along with a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket that takes you around the city, like this package from Klook.

Experience Ribeira’s Nightlife

As the sun sets over Ribeira, the place livens up with many restaurants and bars. Savour some of Portugal’s delicious cuisine while you sip wine and enjoy views of the Dom Luís bridge, and the Vila Nova da Gaia’s cellars as they lit up along the horizon.

Take Part in the Sao Joao Festival

One of Porto city’s highlights, the São João festival takes place on the night of 23rd June every year, and has been celebrated in Porto for about 700 years.

The night usually begins with dinner, serving dishes such as grilled sardines, grilled spare ribs, a Portuguese broth called caldo verde, and bifanas (pork sandwiches). Fireworks then go off next to the Dom Luís bridge at midnight.

Bring a plastic hammer with you while you mingle (they’re available throughout Porto during that time), as it’s tradition to lightly hit the head of everyone you meet with a plastic hammer 🙂

The Best Restaurants & Must-Eat Foods

There are many of choices for restaurants in Ribeira, from small neighborhood shops to relaxed restaurants by the waterfront.

Here, I describe 3 of the best places, where you can taste some of the most popular and unique foods in Porto – francesinha, Alheira sausage, and cod.

Francesinha at Pe D’Agua Bar

One of Porto’s most famous dishes is francesinha, which roughly means “little French girl”. It’s typically filled with sausages, steak, and topped with melted cheese, a beer-based sauce, and a fried egg.

A good place to try this very hearty sandwich is Pe d’Agua, a small and cozy bar located along the waterfront on Vila Nova de Gaia, just a short walk across the river from Ribeira. It even has a vegetarian version of franceshina, which is not typically found in many other places.

Alheira Sausages at A Bolina

Alheira sausages were traditionally made with chicken, turkey, duck, rabbit, or other non-pork meats. However, nowadays you can find some alheira sausages made with pork. The difference is that these pork-based sausages are mixed with bread.

One of the places to try Alheira sausages is A Bolina, a laid-back tapas restaurant by the river. It’s just a short walk away from the Dom Luís bridge, so you can enjoy beautiful views while dining on the outdoor terrace. Other than the sausages, A Bolina also has sardine dishes worth a try.

Bacalhau at Terra Nova

Another famous Portuguese dish is bacalhau, or salted cod. There are many ways bacalhau is served in Porto, and you’ll find it in some form in most restaurants you come across.

If bacalhau tickles your fancy, head to Terra Nova on the Ribeira waterfront, a short walk away from Ribeira Square and the Dom Luís bridge. It serves salted cod in quite a few different forms, including cod linguine, cod tomato pasta, cod fish cakes, and cod tacos!

Where to Stay, from Budget to Luxury

There are quite a number of choices for accommodation in Ribeira, so help you decide where to stay, I’ve listed a few of Ribeira’s best hotels based on budget.

Budget: Ibis Porto Centro

Ibis Porto Centro is a good budget choice in the center of Ribeira. The hotel has basic, no-frills room with all you’ll need for a comfortable stay, as well as free WiFi access.

The hotel’s key selling point is its location. It’s right next to a large supermarket, and the main shopping street is just a 5-minute walk away. You’ll find trams, metro trains and buses all within a 10-minute walk, and the popular Majestic Café is also a short stroll away.

Mid-range: Eurostars Porto Douro

Eurostars Porto Douro is just a short walk away from the Dom Luís Bridge. It’s a good mid-range option if you want to be a little further from the lively city center, but still within easy walking distance to most attractions.

The hotel has room types that offer good views of the river, so it’s worth a splurge if you can. Alternatively, you can also head to the hotel bar to enjoy the river view.

Luxury: Maison Albar Hotels Le Monumental Palace

For a truly luxurious stay in a central location, have a look at Maison Albar Hotels Le Monumental Palace. It’s a relatively new hotel renovated from a building dating back to 1923, elegantly decorated in 1930s-inspired furnishings.

The hotel has a bar and restaurants serving Portuguese and Parisian dishes, and also a spa where you can unwind in the sauna or pamper yourself with other treatments.

How to Get There from Porto Airport

There are several ways to get to Ribeira from Porto Airport. The most convenient way is by taxi or private transfer, and the cheapest way is by metro or bus.

By Airport Shuttle

There are a few shuttle bus companies traveling between Porto Airport to Porto Aliados station in the city center. A one-way trip will cost between 5-12 EUR depending on which company you choose, and take between 25-40 mins. There are roughly 20+ departures a day in both directions.

By Metro

The metro is a good choice worth considering if you’re on a budget, with a one-way journey costing around 2-3 euro. However, a transfer is required making the journey slightly longer, around 35 minutes.

From the Porto Airport, take the Line E train, represented by the color purple. Stop at Trindade station and switch to the yellow line, and get off at São Bento station. From there, it’s about a 5-minute walk to Ribeira.

By Bus

Another way to get to Ribeira on a budget is by bus. These are operated by the STCP bus company, and run even late at night. The bus station is located near the arrival hall, and you can buy a one-way ticket on board for 1.95 EUR.

A one-way journey will take roughly 35 minutes. Take buses number 601 or 602 and stop at Cordoaria, after which it’s around a 10-minute walk to Ribeira. Alternatively, the number 3M night bus stops at Avenida dos Aliados, which is a 5-minute walk away from Ribeira.

By Taxi

For a more comfortable airport transfer experience, consider a taxi. A one-way fare from the airport to city center will be around 20-30 EUR depending on your destination, and can cost up to 20% more on weekends and in the evening. Depending on the traffic, your journey should take around 20-30 minutes.

By Private Transfer

Another more comfortable alternative is a private transfer, which will take you directly to your destination. As with taxis, a one way journey should take around 20-30 minutes. Prices for a basic sedan seating 4 start from 26-30 USD.

Ribeira Neighborhood Map

Conclusion & Summary

Ribeira is a great place for appreciating the old-world charm of Porto, experiencing nightlife, and enjoying delicious Portuguese cuisine with views of the Douro river’s skyline.

It’s also a great place to be based, thanks to its compact layout. You’ll be just a short metro ride away from many historic attractions like the Church of São Francisco, world-class port wine cellars, and an easy walk away from hitting someone on the head with a plastic hammer if you happen to visit during the São João festival 🙂

Hope this helps you make the most out of your visit to Ribeira.

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