10 de January, 2023
If you have ever visited the center of Porto or Lisbon, you have probably noticed that these cities are full of hills and stairways. Generally speaking, Portugal is a country with a hilly terrain. For tourists, this means a bit too much physical exercise. This is one of the reasons for the growing popularity of guided Tuk Tuk tours in Porto and Lisbon. Tuk Tuk tourism has become a fashion in Portugal!
Being a light and small car, it is perfect for the narrow streets and hills of Portugal. Its transparent plastic cover allows a privileged view of the city, even on rainy days. It can carry up to 6 people, and is usually driven by tour guides, which allows the visitor to learn more about the history of the city, its symbols and monuments.
In 2021, when Portugal began to reopen its borders to tourists, I worked as a guide in a Tuk Tuk in the city of Porto. I will tell my story in more detail at the end of this article. Beforehand, I guarantee, from personal experience, that these tours can be much more interesting than we imagine at first. Come with me and understand why.
The Tuk-Tuk is a very popular vehicle in Southwest Asia, such as Thailand. Originating in Japan, its most common model has three wheels, a handlebar similar to that of a motorcycle, and a cabin for transporting passengers.
Initially, it was used for luggage transportation and as a cab, and more recently it has been assimilated by the tourist industry. You can find them in many countries in Europe: Spain, Germany, France, England, and, of course, Portugal.
The first Tuk Tuks to transport tourists used gasoline engines. Because they were noisy and polluting, they were replaced by electric vehicles. Initially, lead batteries were commonly used. Heavy, sensitive to low temperatures, and with a short life span, they soon gave way to lithium batteries.
There are models of various sizes, with capacity from 3 people to 7 passengers. Although in Asia there are versions pulled by bicycles and even by men, in Portugal the formats used are all motorized.
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Getting to know a city on board a Tuk Tuk allows a differentiated experience. The tour is personalized, with a guide trained to answer passengers’ questions. The Tuks go through the busiest tourist areas, and also through more exclusive places that are not always included in the suggested itineraries on the internet. This depends on each guide. I usually sound out the client’s profile beforehand in order to present what might interest him/her the most.
Tuk Tuk tours are usually charged by duration and number of passengers. The price also varies somewhat depending on the area of the city you intend to visit. The further away from the center, the more expensive the trip will be.
In Porto, the minimum duration is usually 50 minutes. There is no maximum time, customers can have a driver at their disposal for as long as they wish. The Tuk Tuks usually run from 9am to 6pm (in the summer it is possible to go even later). During off-peak seasons, these vehicles also provide transfers and pick up guests at hotels. Some people rent these vehicles for birthday parties, bachelor parties, and even weddings!
The tours usually include stops at strategic points, where it is possible to take beautiful photos of the city.
The price varies depending on the city where the tour is being done, the number of passengers, the time of the year, and the route chosen.
In Porto, there is an à la carte service, where the customer chooses where to go and the amount is according to the duration of the tour. Prices start at 80€ for up to 3 passengers and 100€ for 4 to 6 passengers.
Comfort and access to information are the biggest the biggest advantages, especially when it comes to a place as culturally rich and with many ups and downs as Porto. But that’s not all. Have you ever imagined getting to know the heart of a city through the history of its monuments and characters? And what about changing this approach to a gastronomic perspective and getting to know it through its typical dishes, visiting the most renowned bars and restaurants? For those who like urban art, there are also routes that explore streets decorated with graffiti and contemporary sculptures. The customer can also create his or her own itinerary.
For all people, especially the elderly and those with reduced mobility. Children – and even dogs – usually love the ride, too.
You are wrong if you think that Tuk Tuk tours are only for tourists. Armed with a good guide, even local residents will be surprised at how many new things they will learn about the city.
In addition, these tours are a great alternative for rainy days, because the vehicles are covered with transparent plastic covers, which allow good visibility from inside the vehicle.
If it is possible, avoid the high season and prefer a less busy season. There will be less traffic and travel will be more dynamic.
I usually suggest Sunday mornings and the months of May, June, September, and October.
In any case, this is an activity that will always be a plus for anyone visiting the city, no matter in what season. The sunny days of winter can be quite charming too.
Several Portuguese cities already have Tuk Tuk aimed at tourism.
Besides Porto and Lisbon, you can already find them in Aveiro, Covilhã, Tavira, Madeira, Albufeira, Sintra, Funchal and Braga.
In the company where I work, Tuk Tour Porto, we have 3 most popular tours. One explores the right bank of the Douro River, going from the historic center to the mouth, and reaching the Matosinhos beach.
Another one, along the left bank, on the Vila Nova de Gaia side. It leaves the center, crosses one of the city’s bridges and follows the Douro river bank, until Cabedelo beach.
And the most famous one explores the Historical Center. It is my favorite, because there are so many famous monuments to feature. The oldest part of the city is studded with Baroque gems, beautiful churches and hand-painted tiled murals that enchant anyone!
Among the famous places in Porto that I usually include in my tour are:
Clérigos Tower and Church;
Rectory Building of the University of Porto;
Lello and Irmãos Bookstore;
Santo Antonio Hospital;
São João Novo Church;
Alfândega do Porto Building;
São Francisco Church;
Stock Exchange Palace;
Luiz I Bridge;
Painting of the Cat, by Liquen;
São Bento Station;
Porto Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace;
Santa Clara Church;
Dona Maria Pia Bridge;
Serra do Pilar Monastery;
São João Theater;
Old stores on Rua de Santa Catarina Street;
Paintings of rua da Restauração
Soares dos Reis National Museum;
Gardens of the Crystal Palace.
Choose certified companies with information available online. Check Google reviews, which are often an excellent thermometer of satisfaction.
The older companies usually work with qualified and well-trained guides. The use of uniforms can be a good indication of professionalism. In the company where I work, the guides have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in tourism and related areas, and speak several languages. It is possible to do tours in up to 6 different languages.
If you are hiring a street tour, observe the behavior of the salesperson. I personally suggest you avoid those who negotiate too much the price of the tour. Serious companies usually work with fixed prices or with very little variation.
I had just finished my master’s degree in communication, with an emphasis on guided tours in the city of Porto. I was unemployed because of the covid pandemic, which closed all the cultural production companies. I had always been a true lover of Porto’s cultural heritage, and had already participated in almost a hundred guided tours around the city. Despite this, my professional experience was almost all in journalism and television, with a quick stint in event production.
When I was invited to the job, I hesitated. The tuk is a long vehicle with very heavy steering. And I had never worked in tourism before. I didn’t know if I would make it! By the end of the training, however, I was completely won over by it!
Our clients are always in a good mood and we also receive some famous people. Last year, I was the guide for Iker Casillas, the former goalkeeper of the Spanish national team.
I continue to work as a guide for the same company, conciliating with my work in the marketing and communication department of Atlantic Bridge. So, if you want to get to know Porto with me, click here and schedule your tour. It is perfect for those who are thinking about moving to Porto and want an overview of the city! Atlantic Bridge clients get special treatment, I’m sure you will love it!
And if your destination is Lisbon, I recommend the services of Boost Portugal. Talk to me and I’ll help you organize your tour in the capital too!
*Silvia Resende is marketing manager at Atlantic Bridge. From Bahia, she arrived in Portugal in 2015 to build a new life with her family. She has a degree and a master’s degree in Communication Sciences and has worked as a TV presenter, event producer, public relations, copywriter and tour guide in Porto. She loves to travel and to discover the cultural heritage of each place she goes to. And loves to talk about the city of Porto!