Though the downtown area of Porto is fairly walkable, you can’t easily get everywhere on foot. There is a lot of elevation that might make it unpleasant to walk up and down the city and there are attractions like the beaches and the Serralves Museum that you can only get to by the metro or train. The public transportation system can also be confusing, but fear not. I’m here to explain it to you.
Knowing where you’re going
The public transportation system in Porto works according to zones (here’s a handy map). So a flat rate ticket isn’t going to cut it. You need to purchase a fare that corresponds to the distance you’re traveling. If you’re traveling by metro, this is fairy simple to do because each ticket machine has a unique guide which tells you exactly what ticket you need to get from that station to every single stop in the system. For instance, if you’re arriving from the airport, and you need to get to Trindade, which is in city center, you would take a look at the guide and it will tell you what ticket you need (z4).
If you’re traveling by bus, this may be more confusing and you have to know the area you’re going to and check which zone it’s in on a map.
Generally, if you’re traveling within a zone and an adjacent zone, you need z2. If you’re traveling to zones adjacent to one zone away from you, you need z3, etc. If you’re not sure where a bus goes, take a look at the metro stops around it to determine which ticket you need.
Buying and using public transportation tickets
When you buy a fare from a machine, you get something called an Andante card. You pay for the card (60 cents) in addition to the fare, so you can and should reuse it. You can fill it with an unlimited pass or one or more one way fares. So for example, if you’re going round trip to the beach from city center, you would fill it with two z3 fares and be covered both ways.
Though the Andante card is generally easier to use, you can also pay your bus fare in cash when you board. It’s not as simple and you’ll need cash but if you’re in a pinch and you need to grab a bus, you just need the 1.90 bus fare.
Recharging your Andante card
When you’ve used all your trips or you want to add trips, you can recharge your Andante card at any of the ticket machines in the metro stations. The only thing to know is that you can only have one ticket type on it at a time. So if you have four z2 fares on your Andante card and you want to add a z3 fare, you must use up your existing fares first or buy a different Andante card.
Riding the public transportation in Porto
Your usage is tracked by your ticket. Before you enter any train or bus, you should validate your ticket by holding it up against the small yellow and black readers in the train stations or at the front of the bus. Each fare has a time limit, in addition to zone restrictions, that increases depending on the distance. Your time is tracked every time you validate.
Even though the system is generally open and you could theoretically just walk onto a train without a ticket, there are random checks which can lead to costly fines. And a ticket that hasn’t been validated is like having no ticket at all.
Important to note, every time you switch to another train line or bus, you must validate again. It will only charge you the first time, but this way, it keeps track that you’re staying within the zones you paid for and that you’re doing so within the time allotted by your ticket.
Other transportation tips
If you can, check the train schedule before you board. The train from the airport, for instance, tends to run at very long intervals up to 30 minutes. If you validate too early, it will limit your ability to continue using the same ticket to transfer to another train.
Traffic can be gnarly especially to popular areas of the city during certain parts of the day. If possible, the train is preferable to the bus.
The air conditioning on all public transportation in Porto is poor or nonexistent at best. If temperatures are greater than 85 degrees, riding the metro is like being in a sweaty sauna fully clothed. So maybe opt to Uber if it’s hot out.