There are plenty of things to do in Porto to warrant spending a long weekend in the vibrant Northern Portuguese city. After basing myself in Porto for two months, I decided to compile this guide to help you discover the city’s highlights and lesser-known hidden gems.
- 1 Falling in Love With Porto, Portugal
- 2 28 Awesome Things to do in Porto
- 2.1 Eat Francesinha
- 2.2 Organise a Port Wine Tasting
- 2.3 Indulge in Local Foodie Delicacies
- 2.4 Stroll Along the Promenades of Porto and Gaia
- 2.5 Have a Coffee at Cafe Majestic
- 2.6 Hunt for Eclectic Street Art
- 2.7 Enjoy a Show at Casa da Musica
- 2.8 Get Lost Among the Narrow Cobbled Streets
- 2.9 Take a Douro River Cruise
- 2.10 Admire the Tiles and Artwork at Sao Bento Station
- 2.11 Taste Wine & Charcuterie Pairings at Upscale Riverfront Bars
- 2.12 Visit the BookStore that Inspired Harry Potter
- 2.13 Obtain a Bird’s Eye View of the City from Torre de Clérigos
- 2.14 Ride the Old Porto Trolley
- 2.15 Have Tea and Brunch at Rota da Cha
- 2.16 Visit the Se Porto Cathedral – the Most Important Religious Spot in Town
- 2.17 Unearth the Porto Craft Brewery Scene
- 2.18 Watch a Breathtaking Sunset over the River Douro
- 2.19 Dine at a Michelin Chef’s Restaurant
- 2.20 Visit the São Francisco Catacombs and the City of the Dead
- 2.21 Ride the Teleferico de Gaia Cable Car Across the Douro
- 2.22 Spend a Lazy Morning in Matosinhos
- 2.23 Tread Through the City’s Beautiful Gardens
- 2.24 Learn About Porto’s History on a Free Walking Tour
- 2.25 Lounge on the Beaches of the Costa Verde
- 2.26 Join in with the Porto Social and Expat Scene
- 2.27 Take Day Trips to Douro Valley and Beyond
- 2.28 Go Hiking in the Peneda-Gerês National Park
- 3 Getting Around Porto
Falling in Love With Porto, Portugal
Quaint pastel-coloured houses that cascade down the hilly banks of the River Douro, beautiful churches laden with azulejos tiles, narrow back streets bursting with life – Porto is like something straight out of a pop-up storybook.
This is Portugal’s second-largest city. Despite its size, Porto possesses something of a small-town ambiance that captures the hearts of all of those that visit. Charming Porto has been recognised as the “best European destination” for the last three consecutive years and upon arrival, you will note that it’s not difficult to see why.
Porto sits at a wonderful crossroads between tradition and modernity. The hilly districts of Ribeira, Massarelos, and Miragaia seemingly transport you back in time, to an era when British sailboats would sit in the picturesque Douro port, waiting to ship Port wines back to England. In recent years, Porto has become known as a city of art and architecture. Fabulous contemporary structures sit among the traditional houses and ramshackle streets – most notably Rem Koolhaas’ Casa Da Musica.
28 Awesome Things to do in Porto
Whether you are interested in food and history, or art and culture, you will not be short of things to do in Porto. Porto’s title as the “best European destination” means that the city has seen a greater influx of foreign tourists in the last few years. Even so, it is not difficult to find authentic, off-the-beaten-path districts away from the tourist hordes.
This guide is a beast! Feel free to use the table of contents above to help you navigate to the most relevant sections.
If there were a “classic dish” of Porto, Francesinha would be it. This dish is not necessarily for everyone but when in Rome (or when in Porto as it were), you should try it at least once!
Francesinha is a traditional Porto sandwich!. It is made by layering pork, smoked sausage, beef steak, bacon, cheese, and a fried egg on top of the bread. The sandwich is then drizzled with a spicy beer sauce and served with a generous portion of french fries.
There are more than 1,000 calories in a portion of francesinha so this is certainly not something to eat on a daily basis! You will find variations to the way that francesinha is made from restaurant to restaurant.
Francesinha sandwiches are served everywhere in the touristic centre of Porto. Some of these places are simply tourist traps and the Francesinha will likely be sloppy and low quality!
Try to ask Portuguese locals or your hotel owner where they like to eat the dish. Two popular choices among locals are the Brasao Cervejaria Coliseu Baixa (R. de Passos Manuel 205, 4000-385) and Cafe Santiago (R. de Passos Manuel 226).
Organise a Port Wine Tasting
Porto is famous for its port wine. The wines are produced in the nearby Douro Valley, but there are plenty of wonderful wine cellars that you can visit in Porto itself.
Port wine tastings range from $15-25 per person depending on the specific wine cellar. Each place has its own specialty wines and the price typically includes a tasting, a tour, and a discussion of the winemaking process.
I visited Graham’s wine cellar. For $24 you can sample a tawny, a ruby, and a vintage port. It is a little pricey, but the ambiance is very classy and there is a great bar where you can slowly enjoy your port, along with some incredible views across the Douro, after the tour.
Other wine cellars with good reputations include Ramos Pinto winery (this also has a very interesting wine museum), Taylors (also has a rooftop bar), and Cockburns (the biggest wine cellar in town). You should contact the wine cellars in advance by email/phone if you wish to organise a tour.
Indulge in Local Foodie Delicacies
There are lots of sumptuous local delicacies to try in Porto. If you like seafood, you should be sure to order up a plate of bolinhos de bacalhau when dining at a restaurant or cervejaria. These are bite-sized fish fritters made from potatoes, codfish, parsley, onions, and eggs. You will find bolinhos de bacalhau listed as an appetiser on virtually every menu. The port town of Matosinhos is a great place to try seafood and the diners here serve up only the freshest catches.
One of the most famous dishes in Porto is Tripas a Moda do Porto, aka tripe! This dish dates back to the fifteenth century. At this time, people sent all of their good meat to their seafaring fleet and made the most of what was left by eating tripe. If you have an adventurous palate and would like to try this dish, you can sample it at O Antunes (R. do Bonjardim 525).
Stroll Along the Promenades of Porto and Gaia
Wandering along the riverside promenades and reveling in the views is a major highlight of visiting Porto. The scenery is stunning at every angle. You can embark on a long, self-guided walking tour of the city – starting at Massarelos and the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal.
From Massarelos, pass through Miragaia, and have brunch at one of the cute spots on the Cais de Ribeira. Cross the Ponte Luis I bridge to Gaia and then admire the Porto skyline from the opposite side.
Have a Coffee at Cafe Majestic
Cafe Majestic is the oldest cafe in Portugal and a really beautiful place to experience high tea like the old-fashioned Portuguese aristocracy. The interiors here are opulent – think grand hanging chandeliers, marble statues and decadent ceiling patterns.
JK Rowling spent a lot of time in Porto while she was writing the Harry Potter books, and it is understood that she wrote a couple of chapters from within Cafe Majestic! The ambiance at Cafe Majestic is pleasant but not necessarily worth the €6.50 per coffee price tag.
High teas here start from €30, and club sandwiches are €18. Sadly the Cafe has become something of a novelty tourist trap so order a small drink for the experience if you desire.
Hunt for Eclectic Street Art
The streets of Porto are filled with eccentric, vibrant street art pieces. Many of the works reflect Portuguese culture and traditions. The pieces here have been created by a range of different graffiti artists.
Four well-known figures on the Portuguese street art scene are Costah, Mr. Dheo, Vhils, and Hazul. Each artist has their own signature style which you will come to recognise as you spend more time exploring Porto.
One of the most spectacular Porto street art pieces is “Trinidade” – a collaboration between Hazul and Mr. Dheo which combines abstract paintings with a large scale image of a man holding a miniature version of Porto’s Clerigos Tower. Another unique piece is Bordalo’s Half Rabbit which sits on the Gaia side of the River Douro, and was made from trash!
It is possible to explore Porto’s street art pieces independently and simply work through a checklist of the different art locations. You can also participate in a street art tour like this one if you would like a little more history and context to what you are seeing.
Enjoy a Show at Casa da Musica
Casa da Musica is a neighbourhood that sits on the outskirts of Porto’s historic centre. This neighbourhood has been named after the unique contemporary music hall that occupies it. It can be reached via a short metro ride and sits just three stations away from Trindade station.
Musical and theatrical performances are hosted at Casa da Musica almost nightly. You can find everything here from well-known international bands, to live jazz and traditional Portuguese Fado music. On certain nights of the week, the events here are free to attend.
Get Lost Among the Narrow Cobbled Streets
The bustling riverfront may be filled with touristic bars and restaurants, but the little narrow residential streets of Old Porto tell a different tale entirely. Follow the twists and turns through this labyrinth-like network of alleys as they open out to reveal crowded piazzas and beautiful hidden churches.
Rua dos Flores and Rua de Santa Catarina are two of the main pedestrianised streets in Porto. They are arguably the most important shopping streets, and you can start your city exploration by strolling their length, and then following the little uphill pathways that veer away from them.
Take a Douro River Cruise
A Douro river cruise is a nice alternative way to enjoy the Porto skyline. There are a variety of Porto river cruises available.
One of the most popular is the “six bridges” cruise. This journey takes you in the footsteps of the old wine merchants as you travel from Arrábida bridge to the Freixo bridge. The focus of these tours is on learning the history and architecture of the various bridges while you enjoy the views and the photo opportunities. Douro river cruises cost around $20 per person. You can reserve your tickets here.
Admire the Tiles and Artwork at Sao Bento Station
Many buildings around Porto are decorated with beautiful blue azulejo tiles. One of the best places in the city to see these tiles is at the Sao Bento station.
The interior walls of Sao Bento contain more than 20,000 ornate blue tiles. They depict important scenes from Portuguese history – the Portuguese Royal family, wars that affected Portugal, etc. The station itself services routes to various destinations in Portugal – Braga, Lisbon, etc.
Taste Wine & Charcuterie Pairings at Upscale Riverfront Bars
The port wine cellars in Gaia are a great way to sample Porto’s famous alcoholic beverage, but they are not the only choice. You can also stop by one of the many delicatessen style restaurants which offer wine pairings with charcuterie boards. Some of these places enable you to sample a range of cured meats and cheeses in an incredibly elegant ambiance.
Portologia ( 552, R. de São João 28) is a wonderful wine bar close to the infamous Ribeira Square that enables you to enjoy a tasting menu of a wide range of port wines from both small and big-name producers. Wine Quay (Rua, Cais da Estiva 111) is another popular choice among locals and travellers alike. This spot combines tapas cuisine, local ports, and beautiful views over the Douro.
Visit the BookStore that Inspired Harry Potter
The Livraria Lello in Porto is one of the oldest bookstores in the world. It is consistently ranked as being one of the world’s most beautiful book shops, and it has soared to Instagram fame after rumours surfaced that the library inspired JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
There is a $5 admission fee to enter the bookstore and it is not uncommon to see queues snaked outside. The shop sees an average of around 4000 visitors per day! The interiors of the stores are stunning – stained glass ceilings, opulent wooden interiors, a spiral staircase. While the crowds can make the bookstore feel like a tourist trap, they do not distract from its charm.
Obtain a Bird’s Eye View of the City from Torre de Clérigos
The Clérigos church and tower has a strikingly beautiful exterior that makes passersby stop in their tracks. The baroque-style church dates back to 1735 and its interiors are every bit as majestic as the exterior.
The church is free to enter and explore. The Clérigos Tower (Torre de Clérigos) is the tallest of its kind in Portugal. You can ascend the 200 steps to the top of the tower for spectacular panoramas over downtown Porto.
Ride the Old Porto Trolley
Old-fashioned trolleys still operate in Porto. Opting to ride one of these is a great way to save your legs and knees from the city’s hilly streets and the experience feels like a journey back in time.
Porto’s trams are reminiscent of a bygone era – their interiors are decorated with polished wood fixtures and furnishings, and the conductors operate brass knobs and dials. The tram network is not extensive (there are only 3 lines), but a pleasant route to take is the Linha 1 tram which takes you from Infante to Passeio Alegre Park along the banks of the River Douro.
Have Tea and Brunch at Rota da Cha
Rota da Cha (Rua de Miguel Bombarda 457) is one of the most artistic spots in Porto. It is the perfect place to stop for tea or a lunch break during a long day of sightseeing.
The menu boasts more than 300 varieties of teas sourced from across the globe. Patrons can opt to sit inside or enjoy their tea al-fresco style on the patio. Seating is Asian-style, and guests sit on colourful cushions on the floor. The atmosphere at Rota da Cha is calming and you could spend hours here enjoying your tea and getting lost in a good book.
Visit the Se Porto Cathedral – the Most Important Religious Spot in Town
Se Cathedral is one of the most important religious structures in Porto. It has also been declared as a Portuguese National Monument. The cathedral was built in the 12th century but it has been renovated a number of times since then, making it a mishmash of architectural styles – Baroque, Gothic, Romanesque.
Se Cathedral and its cloisters are well-worth visiting. From here, you also have a wonderful view across the Douro, and over the ramshackle narrow streets of Batalha neighbourhood below.
Unearth the Porto Craft Brewery Scene
Porto is home to more than just port wine. Over the last few years, a growing independent brewery scene has begun to emerge. Craft beer bars in the city serve a variety of brews – from pale ales and IPAs to stronger tipples.
Letraria Craft Beer Garden (Rua da Alegria 101) is a good shout if you want to try Portuguese beers. This bar is owned by Cerveja Letra – the largest craft beer producer in the Porto region. Letraria has 24 beers on tap. If you don’t want to commit to full pints, you can order 1/3s for tasting.
Cervejaria do Carmo (Praça de Carlos Alberto 124) is another popular choice. The bar serves a mixture of Portuguese, Belgian, and German beers. It is close to Livraria Lello and therefore right in the heart of the action.
Watch a Breathtaking Sunset over the River Douro
The views of Porto are endless. The city cascades down hilly terrain along the banks of the Douro. It seems that wherever you are in Porto, you are greeted with a wonderful panorama. The scenery is especially beautiful at sunset when the sun dips behind the colourful houses and the sky is illuminated with hues of pink and orange.
There are several parks and beauty spots around Porto where the locals will go to watch the sunset. You will arrive at these places to find dozens of locals sitting with their friends, enjoying a picnic or cracking open a cold can of Super Bock.
The Jardins do Palácio de Cristal is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Porto. There is also a little van here that sells refreshments. Equally lovely is the area next to the Dom Luis bridge on the Gaia side of the Douro.
Dine at a Michelin Chef’s Restaurant
Cantinho do Avillez is a relatively new addition to the Porto gastronomy scene. The restaurant is the brainchild of Portuguese Michelin Chef José Avillez. The menu serves up traditional dishes with a modern twist – think a modified francesinha made with truffles and gravy or a farinheira cooked in a cornbread crust.
Visit the São Francisco Catacombs and the City of the Dead
The Monument Church of St. Francis is a worthwhile place to visit. The church is a UNESCO protected site. Its exterior has been created in gothic style, while its interior features grand baroque decor. Wealthy families in Porto and Northern Portugal contributed funds towards the construction of the church. It is estimated that more than 400kg of gold makes up the church interior!
Be sure to visit the eerie catacombs that lie in the cellars of the church. Numbered wooden floorboards creak beneath your feet, marking the anonymous graves of the deceased. At the farthest corner of the catacombs, there is a glass window that you can peak through into the ossuary. Here lie piles of thousands of human remains.
Ride the Teleferico de Gaia Cable Car Across the Douro
You can reach Gaia by taking a boat, walking across the Dom Luis bridge, or by taking a cable car. The latter is great for views and photo opportunities.
A Porto cable car ride costs $5.A free port wine tasting on the other side of the river is included in this price!
Spend a Lazy Morning in Matosinhos
Matosinhos is a sleepy fishing town that sits just north of Porto. The town is renowned for its excellent seafood delicacies.
In the morning, fishermen sell their latest catches on the stalls of the Matosinhos morning fish market and at night, the smell of grilled fish fills the air as the countless seafood restaurants open for business.
If you are not a seafood lover, there is still plenty to see and do in Matosinhos. The town may not be the most beautiful, but it’s cultured and unapologetically Portuguese. The Castelo do Queijo (Cheese Castle) is worth exploring and offers unparalleled views over the coast. The Praia de Matosinhos and Praia de Leça da Palmeira beaches offer some much-needed respite from the Mediterranean sun during the summer months.
Tread Through the City’s Beautiful Gardens
There are lots of green open spaces in Porto. You never feel claustrophobic or trapped in a big city here.
The Jardins do Palácio de Cristal is a lovely place to stroll through and enjoy the landscaped gardens and fragrant flower beds. Peacocks roam freely among the rose gardens and at every turn, you are met with sweeping views over Porto, Gaia, and the Douro.
Learn About Porto’s History on a Free Walking Tour
A Porto walking tour is a great way to put the sights and sounds of the city in context. There are several free (tip-based) walking tours that operate around the city on a daily basis.
Passionate local guides will tell you about the history and legends behind Porto’s most important sites and buildings. The tours focus on different locations or aspects of the city – e.g. history, street art, etc.
Lounge on the Beaches of the Costa Verde
Southern Portugal may have the Algarve, but Northern Portugal has the Costa Verde. Costa Verde translates to “Green Coast” – a name awarded on account of the crystal-clear green waters that shimmer beneath the sun and run parallel to the area’s immaculate beaches.
The weather is often cooler in the northern part of the country, but a major benefit of vacationing here is the fact that it is more off the beaten path and there are far fewer tourists. Piscinas beach is famous for its rugged, desert-like appearance. Here, miles upon miles of undisturbed sandy beach runs along the coastline. An old shipwreck sits beneath the waters of the Atlantic here. Bring your snorkel for a magical swimming experience.
Cala Domestica beach sits within its own private cove, encompassed by dramatic cliffs and rock formations. The beach is well-serviced. You can purchase refreshments or hire diving equipment here, and there are showers and bathroom facilities.
Join in with the Porto Social and Expat Scene
Porto has been trending as a European travel destination over the last few years. With the influx of tourists, there has also been an influx of Digital Nomads and remote workers. Porto locals are very welcoming and friendly to those travelling in their country.
If you browse Couchsurfing, Meetup, and Facebook Groups, you will find a plethora of events happening in Porto every week. If you don’t find an event that you like the look of, you can easily just create your own!
Take Day Trips to Douro Valley and Beyond
Porto sits on the outskirts of the Douro Valley – Northern Portugal’s premier wine region. The vineyards here date back over 2000 years, making Douro Valley one of the oldest wine countries in the world!
Even before you consider the exquisite ports and vinos, the Douro Valley is worth visiting for the scenery alone. The landscapes here are comprised of beautiful rolling green hills, terraced vineyards, and flowing rivers that carve through mountains. There are also several idyllic country villages here also – stop by Lamego, Pinhão, and Peso da Régua if your schedule permits.
You can opt to explore the Douro Valley on an organised winery tour like this one, or hire a car and explore the region independently (with a designated driver in tow of course). There are more than a dozen vineyards to choose from. Truthfully you will not go wrong with any choice. Quinta de la Rosa vineyard is a popular stopping point on account of its beautiful setting overlooking the river. The Quinta da Pacheca vineyard is one of the oldest in the valley.
Go Hiking in the Peneda-Gerês National Park
If you wish to escape the city and get back to nature, the Peneda-Gerês National Park is a good place to do that in Northern Portugal. The hiking trails here lead you along the foothills of mountain peaks, past beautiful waterfalls and dense woodlands.
The Peneda-Gerês National Park is known for its traditional granite villages that are seemingly frozen in time. Many of these villages date back to the 12th century. They boast ancient churches, ruined castles, and secluded monasteries nestled in the woodlands – a perfect medley for off the beaten path adventurers.
Getting Around Porto
It is very cheap and easy to get around Porto. The public transport network is excellent, as is the selection of taxi apps that are available.
Explore Porto by Metro and Bus
A one way trip on the metros and buses of Porto costs between €1.20 and €2 depending on the zone that you are travelling to. There is a €0.60 charge for the reusable paper card. If you are going to stick around a little longer, a monthly Porto transport pass costs €40.
Understanding the various Porto bus routes and zones can be a little confusing. You can download the Moovit app for detailed schedule information.
Explore Porto by Cab
It is cheap and easy to get around Porto by cab. Uber operates in Portugal, as do several other low-cost Portuguese alternatives. A journey from one side of the city to the other should cost you no more than €3-4 euro. Kapten is a local Uber alternative which generally has cheaper slightly cheaper prices
Getting from Porto Airport to the City
Porto International Airport is connected to the city centre by metro. Trains depart every 30 minutes and the journey takes approximately 20 minutes. Trinidade is essentially Porto’s main metro station. You can connect here to switch lines as needed.
Have any additional questions about the best things to do in Porto, or planning a trip to Portugal in general? I based myself in Porto for 2 months in 2020 and got to know the city pretty well during that time. Please don’t hesitate to reach out or drop me a comment if you need anything. Safe travels! Melissa xo
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