Porto is half the size of Lisbon, and twice as wonderful. It sits perched on the hillside on the north bank of the Rio Douro and has a historic center that would take two days minimum for only a casual stroll. If you plan on having a rest day, this is the town to do it in. If you had not planned on a rest day but had a long walk into Porto keep in mind that they way out of town is an arduous one too.
In Porto the buildings to see are the Igreja do São Pedro dos Clerigos and it's adjoining tower (5€, but the view from the top is unparalleled and 360°; don't bring your backpack with you as the 200 steps to the top are a tight enough squeeze as it is), the Igreja do Carmo (unassuming from the outside but spectacular inside), and of course the Sé do Porto (the Cathedral of Porto is one of the oldest surviving building in the city).
If you entered town along the upper bridge crossing you will have missed the Cais da Ribeira, the riverside boardwalk popular with tourists and locals alike. Somewhat overpriced but the atmosphere makes up for it.
Before you set off be certain to pick up a pilgrim’s credencial if you have not already done so. It can be found at the Sé Cathedral. This accordion-fold booklet is your passport to the camino and will become your most cherished souvenir of the trip. It is a required document in most pilgrim-specific accommodation, earns you pilgrim prices in many museums, and will serve as proof of your journey when presented to the Pilgrim Office in Santiago if you are planning on getting your Compostela Certificate.
As large towns go, Porto is no different when it comes to finding the camino. In fact, it is complicated somewhat by the fact that there are three different caminos between here and Santiago, be aware that you may see signs indicating the ‘Coastal Route’ or the ‘Braga Route,’ or the ‘Central Route’; amongst others.
Porto has a nice nickname among Portuguese historians, who call it The Unvanquished City for having resisted the unlawful siege by King Miguel I. He wasn’t too keen on implementing the liberal constitution that was drafted after a local rebellion but after 18 months of attacking the city he abdicated the throne and the constitution was restored. It was a victory for the Enlightenment and those who sought to distance themselves from the traditional Roman Catholic values.
Between Porto and the border with Spain, the camino splits into three distinct routes. They are known as the Central Way, the Coastal & Litoral Ways, and the Braga Way. Additionally, there are several paths that connect each of these options, creating a network of trails that can sometimes seem confusing. The best plan is to pick one of the options and simply follow it to its natural end.
Leaving a large city is often a challenging combination of searching for arrows, heavy traffic, and durable city pavements. As an alternative, it is possible to take the Porto Metro to the city limits or beyond.
THE CENTRAL WAY
The Central Way is currently the most popular and well-developed option. As the name implies, the route continues due north from Porto up the center of Portugal. It crosses into Spain at Valença/Túi and continues from there through Redondela to Santiago.
THE COASTAL and LITORAL WAYS
The Coastal Way is gaining in popularity as the infrastructure and signage improve. It is sometimes referred to as the Senda Litoral, although this name is technically reserved for the sections of the route that strictly follow the coast. As the primary motivation for choosing the route is the proximity to seaside views, the route set out in this book is a combination of these two routes and the blue line indicated on the map should be interpreted as such. It leaves Porto along the Litoral Route, rather than sharing the first day of walking with the Central Way before turning westward. Where options exist they are indicated on the inset maps. The route passes through Vigo and rejoins the Central Way in Redondela.
THE BRAGA WAY
Some would consider this the original way, as it passes through the city of Braga where many of the Church's earliest decisions regarding Santiago were made, and where the first Bishop ordained by Santiago (Saint Peter of Braga/Rates) officiated. It was once the capital of Galicia and remains an influential city and massive tourist attraction. These days the infrastructure along the route has not kept pace with the needs of pilgrims and it is seldom traveled. Tours to Braga can be arranged in Barcelos (on the Central Way) if you wish to visit the city. This route is not included in this guide.
THE VARIANTE ESPIRITUAL
The Variante Espiritual is a popular alternative route north of Pontevedra. It is a two day walk which ends in a 29km boat ride to the town of Pontecesures.