With an old-world charm, Porto is home to rows of narrow buildings spliced by cobblestone streets. Creating the perfect environment for those who like to wander (and get a little lost), travelers can stumble upon cozy cafes, historic port lodges and ancient churches around every corner.
Rising on each side of the Douro River, Porto began as a prominent trade city. You can still see and feel this today among lively seafood restaurants in front of the traditional rabello boats cruising the river. As you walk away from the water, passing baroque architecture and ornate balconies, you’ll turn to enjoy amazing views of the city.
Small enough to travel with ease but with so much to see, let us guide you through the best things to do in Porto, Portugal
Visit Igreja de Sao Francisco
Simple yet classic on the outside, Igreja de Sao Francisco is a 15th century church and one of the last remaining examples of Gothic architecture in Porto. However, it’s the interior of the church that steals the show, making it a must visit for all travelers.
The intricate designs and gilded woodwork will make your eyes pop, featuring over 800 pounds (362kg) in gold. Peer up to see the vaulted ceilings and vibrant walls of Sao Francisco before admiring the Tree of Jesse. The enormous sculpture traces the family tree of Jesus and was introduced to the church in the early 18th century.
Before departing, check out the museum for historic portraits of bygone bishops along with the catacombs. Although there are no longer any services held within the Igreja de Sao Francisco, it still plays host to baptisms, weddings and classical music concerts.
Cross the Dom Luis I Bridge
One of Porto’s most recognizable sites, Dom Luis I Bridge, opened in 1886. The landmark was designed by a student of the architect who brought you the Eiffel Tower. Its striking iron design, the longest of its kind at the time of completion, stands out in a city of many bridges.
The bridge connects the city to Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Duro River. Visitors can drive, ride the metro or walk across. For those walking, make your way to the upper deck of the bridge for incredible views of the hillside and the numerous historic buildings.
Popular with locals and travelers alike, the Dom Luis I Bridge becomes a hub of activity in the late afternoon as the workday ends and locals walk or cycle the bridge. Stick around for some brilliant sunset views.
Explore Se do Porto (Porto Cathedral)
Known simple as Se, the Porto Cathedral features a wide mix of architectural influences that have to be seen with your own eyes. Standing tall above the city, the original cathedral’s construction began in the 12th century, combining baroque, gothic, and Romanesque designs.
Se is the largest church in Porto and is instantly recognizable from afar thanks to the duo of towers at each end. Like Sao Francisco, the Porto Cathedral offers a simple stone facade that belies its mesmerizing interior. Inside the cathedral gaze upon an extensive collection of ancient sculptures, the giant stained rose window and a large silver altarpiece.
Upon spotting the cloisters, you’ll notice the dazzling white ceramic tiles. Each one covering a different era in the history of Christ. Upon exiting the Se do Porto, take some time to explore the terrace with views down to the valley filled with clay-colored rooftops.
Walk Avenida dos Aliados (Avenue of the Allies)
With a taste of local history, believe me, we are just scratching the surface, take in some modern culture by walking down the Avenida dos Aliados. One of the best things to do in Porto, the avenue is packed with inviting cafes, local boutique stores and restaurants selling many local treats, including the famous francesinha (listed below).
Honoring the alliance struck between Portugal and the British Empire in the 1300s, the avenue has long been the city’s main boulevard. When you aren’t jumping between cafes and shops inside impressive old buildings, you can simply watch the local life happen all around you.
Along the Avenida dos Aliados you can see the marble and granite Camara Munical do Porto (city hall), Delgado Square and Liberdade Square. The latter featuring a statue of King Pedro IV and is the traditional beginning of the street. Start here and pass live music and street performers on your way to trying some classic local coffee.
Have a Picnic in Parque da Cidade do Porto
There’s no better place to take a loaded picnic basket in Porto than to the city’s largest urban park. Covering over 200 acres, the sprawling Parque de Cidade do Porto is a great way to escape the action of downtown and enjoy some nature. With so much space to roam, find the perfect spot and set up shop for an afternoon under the Mediterranean sun.
If you begin to get restless, not to worry. Porto City Park has 6 miles (9.5km) of trails to explore whether that be on your feet or on a bike. As you explore, you’ll notice the diverse landscape that shifts between the trees, shrubs and delicate flowers. It all combines to add another layer of color to a beautiful environment.
On your adventures along the trail, you’ll pass Sea Life Porto, a private aquarium within the park’s boundaries. If you have the time, pop in and see marine life from all around the world. Continue on until you reach the Atlantic Ocean, from which you’ll have easy access to a range of local beaches.
Take in the Views at Miradouro da Vitória
Get off the beaten path and venture out to Miradouro da Vitória and experience one of the top ways to enjoy the sunset in Porto. Surrounded by abandoned buildings and the smattering of broken glass next door, it all begins to feel a bit suspicious. But press on for storybook views of the terracotta rooftops that cascade down into the Douro Valley.
From the Miradouro da Vitória, you can spot a couple of attractions already listed, including the iconic Dom Luis I Bridge and the Se do Porto. As the sun falls, the city lights flicker on one by one, creating a stunning contrast against the blazing orange, red and purples coating the horizon.
When the sky fades to black, you’ll have the eclectic and historic Ribeiro district on your doorstep. Wander the cobblestone streets, passing buildings from the Medieval era with never ending views of the sparkling river below.
Shop at Mercado do Bolhão (Bolhão Market)
As you approach theBolhão Market, in one of the coolest areas of Porto, the scents of hot bread, strong cheese and flowers float through the air. Dating back to the mid-19th century, the market has long been the go-to spot for locals in search of fresh produce and sweet treats.
Like a lot of similar historic markets found around Europe, and indeed the world, Bolhao is as much about enjoying the lively atmosphere as it is searching for ingredients and items for lunch. You’ll received an amazing look at everyday life as residents hunt for bargains and buskers play their six-string guitars in the background.
The market, which was held in the same spot since 1914, was moved in order to complete renovations on the space. It’s expected to be completed in 2021 right on time for your travels to Porto.
Sunbathe on the Beach
Placed along Portugal’s northwest coast, the country’s second largest city has an envious selection of amazing beaches to enjoy. Tick off two activities in one by venturing further afield and seeing more of the surrounding regions while getting the chance to bask in the local warmth and swimming in the cool Atlantic Ocean.
Just out of Porto is Vila Nova de Gaia. Here you’ll find local beaches with the important Blue Flag, a symbol of water quality, management and safety, given to only the best beaches in Portugal. Walk on beaches with soft white sand that glides between your toes. Sun bake, take part in some volleyball action or ride along the coastal bike paths.
Another popular option is Foz do Douro. The popular beachside town fills quickly with residents of Porto in the summer months. Lined with inviting cafes, ice cream parlors and stunning seaside views, enjoy the festive atmosphere before having lunch in the nearby town of Matosinhos (listed below).
Jardins do Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens)
Another wonderful way to spend a sunny day (or any day) in Porto is to venture into the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal. The Crystal Palace Gardens comes with an array with paved paths that meander through the manicured oasis, guiding you pass colorful flowers and the pitter patter of fountains.
As you explore, you’ll inevitably come across the resident peacocks that call the gardens home. With your eyes peeled for the large birds, enjoy views of the Duoro River with panoramic views afforded at the very top of Crystal Palace Gardens. Gaze through the trees to the busy river with the Dom Luis I Bridge providing an elegant backdrop.
Named after the Crystal Palace, which stood until 1956, the gardens now feature a wonderful domed events center and arena, Pavilhao Rosa Mota.
Roam the Sao Bento Railway Station
It’s not every day that you head to a train station with the purpose of experiencing local art, but Porto grants you that very opportunity. Within Sao Bento Railway Station is one of the best examples of azulejos (tile art) in the city. The gorgeous station, a major transport hub, features a grand entrance where you’ll gaze upon 20,000 azulejos, each depicting the history of Porto.
You could stand in awe of the breathtaking view for hours following the stories or simply taking in the delicate and detailed art. Among each tile painted in the traditional colors of blue and white, discover the history of local royalty, battles won and lost, along with the story of transportation.
After admiring each individual tile, there are other locations to complete your azulejos adventure. These include the Capela das Almas along with the Carmo and Santo Ildefonso churches.
But to really appreciate the art scene in Porto, sign up for this guided urban art tour that covers everything from azulejos to architecture and modern street art.
As the city’s most renowned dish, you can’t leave Porto without getting your hands on francesinha. Throw the diet out the window and devour this hearty dish comprising thick steak on top of ham on top of sausage.
Lathered all over this gluttonous selection of meat is melted cheese and dense tomato sauce along with an egg. You know, for extra protein. Wash it all down with a side of fries and truly feel like a resident of Porto. For the non meat-eaters among us, vegetarian and vegan options of this culinary institution are becoming increasingly common.
Once you’ve tried this local favorite, you’ll be inspired to discover more of Porto’s cuisine. One this guided food and wine walking tour, explore the city’s Old Town, learn about its heritage and discover local specialties, paired with delicious wine.
Check out Livraria Lello & Irmao (Lello Bookstore)
As enthralling as any bookstore you’ll come across on your travels, the Lello Bookstore is often rated as one of the most beautiful anywhere on earth. In downtown Porto, the bookstore is found within an equally historic building featuring a white facade and intricate carvings.
As you walk through the entrances, you’ll immediately come to admire the sheer amount of precious scripts and novels adorned on the wooden walls. The amazing interior design complemented by stained windows and the mahogany red staircase is worth the trip all by itself. But with an extensive collection of Portuguese, English and French works, you may just find your next great read.
Cruise Down the Douro River
After some time spent crossing the river on the Dom Louis Bridge I, take some time to enjoy life out on the water. The river stretches for more than 500 miles (800km) eventually cutting through Porto. From the water, you can cruise under the six bridges that connect the city to the other side of the valley.
Along the way, gaze up at monuments, historic buildings and the hillside, gaining a different perspective as you go. There are many ways to experience some time on the Douro River, from short 1 hour trips that will barely make a dent in the travel budget to more extensive journeys that last all day taking you to the river mouth on traditional boats which once carried Port wine.
For those short on time, cruise the Douro River on the traditional rabello boats under the six bridges on your way to Foz do Douro.
Ride the Number 1 Tram
Super touristy, but admirable nonetheless. One of the best things to do in Porto is to travel around on the Number 1 tram. Porto has a long history of tram transport. In fact, Porto beat Lisbon in having the country’s first tram network. The first tram began operating in 1895, with three routes, complete with the classic yellow trams, still running today.
Driving and cycling are the most common way for locals to get around the city, so you’ll likely be hanging with other travelers on the famous Number 1 tram. This route features some of the top sites in Porto, including the Igreja de Sao Francisco, Foz de Douro and the neighborhood of Ribeira. Keep your camera ready, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Palacio da Bolsa
At the height of merchant trade, Palacio da Bolsa was the home of the local stock exchange. The seven decade construction, complete in 1910, stands on the old ruins of Sao Francisco and offers some incredible designs in its own right.
From the outside, you can gaze upon the exceptional neoclassical facade and gilded work. But you must take the time to appreciate the inside masterpiece with such incredible attention to detail. Explore the Hall of Nations along with a collection of historic portraits located around the Arabian Hall.
In order to see it all, join one of the 45-minute tours that depart from the entrance every thirty minutes.
Explore the Ribeira Neighborhood
One of Porto’s oldest neighborhoods, Cais da Ribeira, is a conglomerate of colors hugging the Douro River. The dense residential area is packed with bars and cozy cafes along each narrow and winding street.
The neighborhood is a hive of activity and offers some of the best looks at local life, not just in modern day Porto but through the ages. Wander the steep streets once home to the hub of commerce in Porto, with many homes untouched through the ages.
As you stroll around, try as many street eats as possible to experience more local cuisine and don’t forget to turn around to admire the views of the valley below.
Try Some Local Port
By some odd technicality, the famous port wine is best found across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. Once you’ve crossed the Dom Luis I Bridge, have an envious selection of port lodges to choose from. These lodges, home to some of the best port vintage cellars, provide exceptional tasting experiences with wonderful views as a welcome bonus.
Some of the more renowned lodges include Graham’s, Ramos Pinto and Taylor’s. The latter has an extensive history, dating back centuries, with a museum that covers every step along the journey. As you tour the cellars at your chosen lodge, learn about the addition of grape spirit which halts fermentation, allowing the wine to keep its iconic sweet flavor, before being placed in oak barrels from two to forty years!
On this guided tour, explore Graham’s Port Lodge. Try their classic and premium wines and embark on a journey back to 1890 when the lodge first opened.
Porto Bridge Climb
After running under five bridges on its way to the Atlantic Ocean, the Douro River finally crosses the Ponte da Arrabida. The final bridge was complete in 1963 and at the time was the longest concrete arch bridge on earth. Today, the bridge is a popular crossing point, seeing almost 140,000 cars daily.
But walking across the bridge isn’t the top activity, however. Instead, those that choose to come here will embark on a bridge climb to amazing views above the Douro River. Wearing plenty of safety gear along with a connecting line, make your way up the historic 885ft (270m) long arch. As you quickly ascend, the views continue to expand until you reach the peak. From there, one of the oldest districts in Porto will be right underneath your nose, while the ever present river continues to surge towards the ocean.
Visit the Camara Municipal do Porto
Standing proudly at the end of Avenida dos Aliados is Porto’s town hall. The marble and granite neoclassical building opened in 1920. However, construction continued for almost four decades. The town hall continues to house the local government body to this day.
Upon completing the walk down the famous avenue, you will be greeted with a beautiful facade complete with a memorable clock tower in the center of the building. In front of the Camara Municipal do Porto is a statue of Almeida Garrett, a renowned poet who was the founder of Portuguese Romanticism.
After admiring the imposing town hall, head to Cervejaria Brasao Aliados for some of the best francesinha in Porto.
Stroll the Rua das Flores (Flower Street)
As the name suggests, you can expect a colorful and downright beautiful walk along the Rua das Flores. With homes dating back to the 1600s, stunning symmetry is on full-display. Its appearance is matched only by the array of colors on offer, similar to the canal houses in Amsterdam.
Once home to aristocrats and upper-class residents, Flower Street is lavish and charismatic. As you walk, keep your eyes peeled for coat of arms and decorated balconies and the baroque Misericordia Church. To add to the experience, the street is car-free, allowing you to wander without a care in the world.
Climb the Torre do Clerigos
Once the tallest building in Portugal, the Torre do Clerigos remains an imposing monument. Standing at 246ft (75m) tall, it offers impressive views of Porto’s Old Town and the river. So it makes sense that the thing to do here is to climb to the very top of the 18th century bell tower.
Inspired by similar towers in Tuscany, you will need to walk up 240 steps in order to reach the top. To keep you company as you trudge onwards and upwards are the ornate carvings. Admire the delicate work before being rewarded with exceptional views.
Torres do Clerigos is also home to a museum, the House of the Brotherhood. Dedicated to the clerics who founded the church, discover artifacts dating back to the beginning of the tower.
To experience much of Porto’s history in one hit, sign up for this guided walking tour. See the Torre do Clerigos along with many of the renowned medieval buildings in town.
Try Octopus in Matosinhos
Beyond historic buildings, Porto has an exciting culinary scene. You would have gotten a taste thanks to the francasinhas, but if you like your seafood, then make some time to visit Matosinhos. Escape the tourist path and eat where the locals eat. The busy fisherman’s port is home to an abundance of seafood “restaurants”. Instead of four walls, be greeted with rows of outdoor grills at what is essentially a large open-air market.
Each restaurant or marisqueira serves up fresh catch right from the Atlantic with the smoke from each grill rising in unison. A sensory experience in every way, popular eats include codfish, sardines and, yes, octopus. But for something even more adventurous, why not sample some goose barnacles?
Igreja do Carmo
From the 18th century, Igreja do Carmo is the younger sibling of Porto’s many baroque-style churches. Featuring Rococo architecture, this church is famed for its large azulejo (blue-tiled) wall.
From the base of the church to the top, the stunning wall tells the story of the founding of the Carmelite Order. Across from Igreja do Carmo is Igreja dos Carmelitas. The former being for the monks and the latter home to the nuns, a not-so-subtle way to keep the two parties in separate spaces. After admiring the wall, don’t forget to wander inside to appreciate the gilded wood carvings, sculptures, and the expansive altar.
Casa da Musica
With so many ancient buildings to discover, we’d forgive you for thinking that there aren’t any modern attractions in Porto. Casa da Musica will help change that perception. The concert hall, housed within an elaborate building, opened in 2005.
Designed by Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect, the casa is worth a visit even without seeing a live performance. Tour the 1300-seat arena with unique glass panels, foregoing acoustic-friendly solid walls. Along the insightful tour, you may hear the Porto Symphony Orchestra rehearsing. If that got you excited, return in the evening in your best clothes and enjoy a night of culture and music.
Visit the Mercado Bom Sucesso
Once a run-down marketplace, today visitors can enjoy a modern adaptation alongside the Hotel da Musica. Bright and colorful, the market has a series of fresh produce stalls, and an expansive food hall where you can try a variety of eats and sample craft beer.
With some light shopping behind you, settle into the vibrant hall as locals and travelers alike enjoy Portuguese cuisine. Popular eats include pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and traditional pork-filed pastries. Regular live music is found within the Mercado Bom Sucesso, creating an exciting atmosphere to match the delicious treats.
Take the Kids to Zoo Santo Inacio
One of the best things to do in Porto with kids is to make the trip to Zoo Santo Inacio. Here, the entire family can see over 200 types of animals from all corners of the globe. Just ten minutes from downtown Porto, the zoo covers over 35 acres with a number of spacious habitats home to rare species, including snow leopards.
You could spend all afternoon roaming from one section to another, from North America, to Africa and onto Asia. Highlights not to be missed, however, are the daily feeding of the resident penguins, educational talks for the young ones and the Asian Lion Tunnel.
Ride the Cable Car
See it all from above as you travel along the Douro River on the Vila Nova de Gaia side. Beginning alongside the Dom Luis I Bridge, travel above the terracotta rooftops and historic port cellars on your way to Cais de Gaia Market.
The journey lasts for 5 minutes. But for only 6 euros, it’s an efficient, stunning and cheap way to travel along the river. After getting off the cable car, you’ll have easy access to Porto wine lodges, the traditional rabelo boats, and the riverside promenade with the local market being yet another magnificent spot to enjoy some local culture.
See F.C. Porto Play
If you’re a sports fan, then exploring local stadiums and even seeing a live match always ends up on the itinerary. If this is you, then you can’t depart Porto without visiting Dragao Stadium. Home to FC Porto, one of the most successful teams in Portugal, take a tour of the stadium and see the player’s benches, locker rooms and presidential box.
The stadium also has an on-site museum that dives into the history of the club, showcasing trophies and highlighting famous players. But if you’re in town through winter and spring, then nothing beats seeing FC Porto in action.
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