Challenging Lisbon for influence and silverware

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Porto is the powerhouse of the Portuguese north, panoramically set at the mouth of the river Douro, its famous port wine lodges and hilly, atmospheric old quarter linked by vast, spectacular bridges.

Flagship club FC Porto, Europa League winners in 2011, Champions League winners in 2004, once dominated the domestic game. After allowing Benfica to get back in, the Dragons won the title for a 30th time in 2022.

Based at the impressively modernised Estádio do Dragão, built to host Euro 2004, FC Porto have been steered by controversial chairman Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa since 1982.

Welcome to Porto/Peterjon Cresswell

The other clubs in town are Boavista and Salgueiros. Portuguese champions in 2001, Boavista were ruined by the costs of rebuilding their Estádio do Bessa. In 2014, after six years of lower-league ignominy, Boavista were allowed back into an expanded top flight by the Portuguese League.

Little Salgueiros are still revered by many despite falling on hard times. undergoing name changes and dredging the lowest depths of local-league football. Now playing once more as  Sport Comércio e Salgueiros, this storied club has gained new impetus, climbing back to the third tier in 2022. Home is the Campanhã Sports Centre, just the other side of the A20 highway from FC Porto at Rua Peso de Régua 9493. 

Salgueiros enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame back in 1991, when their only European appearance paired them with AS Cannes. Beating the French team 1-0 at Boavista’s Estádio do Bessa, the Porto side held the advantage until an 89th-minute equaliser by the hosts sent the second leg into extra-time and, fatefully, penalties. 

Livraria Timtimporttimtim /Peterjon Cresswell

Scorer of that vital late goal for Cannes was François Omam-Biyik, who had headed Cameroon to a shock win over Argentina at the World Cup opener the previous summer. And in the Cannes midfield? Two later stars of the World Cup 1998, Croatian Aljoša Asanović and a certain Zinedine Zidane.

No groundhop of Porto would be complete without a visit to Leixões. Founded back in 1907, cup winners (over Porto) in 1961, the Sea Heroes represent the community of Matosinhos, halfway to Porto Airport. After a short spell in the Primeira and relegation in 2009, they have taken up residence in the Segunda. 

While their Estádio do Mar sits disappointingly inland, with its own metro stop on light-blue line A, there’s no denying the magic of the club badge, a cricket bat, a tennis racket and a football drawn in the style of a gentlemen’s sports compendium of the Victorian era. The metro stop Hospital Pedro Hispano is equally, if not more, convenient.

Back in town, look out for bookshop Livraria Timtimporttimtim (Rua da Conceição 27-29), which specialises in vintage football magazines, postcards and photographs.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Porto airport is 11km (7 miles) north-west of the city. It is conveniently linked to town, and directly to the Estádio do Dragão, at the other end of violet line E, by metro. Town is 20 minutes away, the stadium 35. 

The metro and buses operate with the andante chip card. A single ticket to the stadium is €2.30, including the price of the blue card. A 24-hour pass (andante tour 1) is €7. 

A taxi  from the airport to town should be around €25.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Where to watch the match in Porto has changed in recent years. Whereas Ribeira, down by the Douro in the shadow of Dom Luís I Bridge, was once the bar vortex, this atmospheric riverside location now focuses on gastronomy. One lovely exception is the Guindalense Football Club (Escada dos Guindais 43), happy to welcome everyone to its sun-catching terrace overlooking the river. The club, sadly, is now more, but its bar carries on, as affordable as always.

The location of the Adega Sports Bar in the city’s commercial centre, Baixa, around focal Avenida dos Aliados, is no coincidence. This is where Porto knocks off work and kicks back. The first and best of its kind, Adega greets visitors with a ‘You’ll Never Drink Alone’ logo over the door. Long and deep with comfy booth seating, it features large TVs throughout, plus pool, darts and beer pong. This may also be the world’s only sports bar to serve port, along with British, Belgian and global beers.

Nearby you’ll find Bonaparte Downtown, whose history dates back to when Klaus Teichgräber arrived here from Germany in the early 1970s and opened a revered pub in waterfront Foz. Half a century later, his children took it over, then added a sister operation in downtown Baixa at Praça Guilherme Gomes Fernandes 40. Quality pub food comes with draught Paulaner and TV football. Pictures of their father, sadly no longer with us, decorate the eclectic interior.

In the same vicinity, the Gulden Draak (Rua de José Falcão 82) serves the Belgian beer in question, brewed on-site, poured from one of 12 taps lining the bar counter. There’s TV football, too. and at least six places where superb selections of craft beer overshadow the need for TV sport.

Nearby, on Praça Carlos Alberto, the Craft Beer House is the outlet for the Cervejaria do Carmo, opposite the beautiful Carmelite church of the same name, offering scores of brews and football on terrestrial TV. The other side of the church, the Café d’Ouro on Praça Parada Leitão, better known Piolho, is a local legend dating back to 1909.

Espaço 77 (Travessa de Cedofeita 22) attracts a young, table-football spinning crowd by day, nighthawks after dark. For big games on TV, few other places in Portugal shift more mini bottles of beer. 

Expat pubs are surprisingly few.  Music- and sport-focused Ryan’s (Rua do Infante D Henrique 18) sits just behind Ribeira, its signature flying toucan neatly traced atop your perfect pint of Guinness.

A real FC Porto hang-out is found at Alfredo Portista (Rua Cativo 14), unmarked about from its blue façade and Portugal flag. Team line-ups down the ages decorate this tiny bar, where cheap wine is served to a loyal local clientele.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadiums and city centre

Visit Porto has almost no online information about hotels.

Right beside the Estádio do Dragão, the Hotel AC Porto is an upscale Marriott with occasionally attractive deals. There’s a bar on the first floor, with the day’s football press. Nearer to town but still convenient for the stadium, the Vila Galé Porto features a decent pool.

Down by the river, the Pestana Vintage Hotel offers luxury overlooking the Douro in the Ribeira. Nearby Ribeira do Porto is a stylish spot in a renovated historic building, as is the Guest House Douro.

Up near the Cathedral, the Grande Hotel do Porto dates back to 1880, grand and centrally located. More mid-range, close to the cafés and bars of Baixa, Selina is the perfect urban home-from-home, staging DJ sessions, film nights and boat tours down the Douro.

in the same downtown vicinity, the Mercure Porto Centro Aliados makes the best use of its space with a rooftop pool and terrace.

Around São Bento station, cheapies Residencial Triunfo (Rua do Cativo 9, +351 222 021 166) and the Hotel Peninsular offer simple, convenient comforts. The nearby Legendary Porto Hotel, the former Quality Inn is notch above thanks to a recent makeover.

Also a short walk from the station, the InterContinental Porto fills the former Palacio das Cardosas with five-star luxury. 

Boavista’s stadium is surrounded by upscale chain hotels, the nearest being the swish, business-friendly Bessa, with its equally chic BRestaurant and bar not five minutes from the ground. A rooftop terrace and jacuzzi add a special touch – the Bessa now has to compete with other five-stars in the vicinity – and airport transfers are offered.

Also close, the stately Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa offers an indoor heated pool as well as massage treatments. The nearby Crowne Plaza Porto throws in fine dining as well as its spa options.