Heads up: some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you click and make a booking or purchase, I’ll make a commission (at no extra cost to you). I partner with companies I personally use and the $$ goes towards creating more awesome, free travel content.
Porto, the beautiful coastal city flaunting a rich tapestry of history, culture, and vibrant nightlife, is a gem worth exploring. Famous for its stunning architecture, delicious cuisine, and, of course, its world-renowned port wine, Porto is truly a window into the authentic Portuguese lifestyle. Here are some of the top things you can do when you wander in the character-filled streets of Porto.
A Brief History of Porto
Porto, or ‘Portus Cale’ as known in the 4th century, has roots dating back to Roman occupation, marking its importance as a commercial port. This strategic location by the Douro River guided Porto’s economic and developmental trajectory. During the 9th century, the city succumbed to Moorish invasions; however, it regained prominence in the late 11th and 12th centuries when Portugal achieved independence.
The Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries saw Porto producing numerous explorers, including the famed Henry the Navigator. By the 18th century’s Industrial Revolution, Porto’s wine industry prospered—most Port wine found its way to England from here.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Porto underwent major infrastructural changes, like the construction of the iconic Dom Luis I Bridge. The city’s cultural contribution was globally recognized when it was named European Capital of Culture in 2001.
Through centuries, Porto, with its amalgamation of historic charm and modern dynamism, has embraced transformation while maintaining a strong connection to its past. Today, every corner of the city narrates a tale of its fascinating history.
Top Things To Do in Porto
Explore the Ribeira District
Ribeira, Porto’s enchanting old district, is a maze of narrow, twisting cobblestone streets adorned with charming pastel-colored houses.
This vibrant neighborhood, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers a rich array of restaurants, bars, and shops that exude contagious energy.
Perfect for strolling, visitors can explore the scenic paths lining the Douro River. At twilight, illuminated by vintage lamps, the riverfront promenade casts an even more captivating spell. Ribeira represents not only Porto’s architectural splendor, but also provides a genuine glimpse into the city’s local life, traditions, and soul.
Visit São Bento Train Station
Exuding an aura of stunning grandeur, the São Bento Train Station stands as one of Porto’s most striking architectural jewels. It is a must-visit landmark when exploring this vibrant city, and not just for the purpose of travel – it’s essentially a living, breathing art gallery.
Decorated with more than 20,000 meticulously detailed ceramic tiles, the station is a monument to Portugal’s rich history and diverse culture. These tiles, commonly known as ‘azulejos’, an iconic element of Portuguese design, depict a series of historically significant events and cultural representations.
Notably, scenes displayed on these blue and white tiles include King João I’s 14th-century encounter with the English, the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez, and the conquest of Ceuta. Additionally, amid the historic narratives, the tiles also effortlessly encapsulate rural Portuguese lifestyle.
Of significant mention is the mastermind behind this artwork, Jorge Colaço, one of the most renowned azulejo painters of Portugal. His dedication and craftsmanship have turned a humble train station into an exquisite tableau, effectively making São Bento Train Station a repository of Portugal’s past, embossed in hues of blues and whites.
The grandeur of the station doesn’t end only at these tiles. The building itself is a triumph of Beaux-Arts architecture, with its intricate stonework, ornate chandeliers, and an elegant glass canopy.
Climb the Clérigos Tower
Climbing the Clérigos Tower is an iconic Porto experience that rewards visitors with breathtaking city panoramas. This 18th-century Baroque bell tower, an impressive 76 meters tall, requires ascending 225 steps to reach the top. Navigate the spiral staircase and be treated to stunning 360-degree views from the belfry, showcasing the vibrant urban landscape, the Douro River, and distant Atlantic Ocean. Besides testing one’s endurance, climbing the Clérigos Tower also allows appreciating its architectural significance and the historical charm that surrounds it.
Tour the Port Wine Cellars
Your visit to Porto wouldn’t be complete without exploring the city’s port wine heritage. Take a tour of the famous port lodges situated across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, where you can learn about the winemaking process and savor the sweet taste of the city’s signature drink.
For a journey deep into tradition, a visit to Sandeman, established in 1790, is highly recommended. They present a theatrical tour, complete with a mysterious cape-wearing guide. Another worthwhile stop is Taylor’s, one of the oldest port houses, with exceptional views of Porto from its terrace. Here, you can not only taste their exquisite wines but also enjoy a meal at their esteemed Barão Fladgate restaurant.
Discover the Beautiful Bookstore, Livraria Lello
Recognized as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, Livraria Lello is a treat for the book lovers. Even if you’re not an avid reader, the bookstore’s architectural beauty – think neo-gothic features and a uniquely whimsical, red staircase – is sure to enchant you.
Stepping into Livraria Lello is akin to walking into a literary haven; its shelves brimming with an alluring collection of books that span genres and languages. Rich with history, the bookstore, established in 1906, retains a wonderful sense of nostalgia and intellectual allure.
Visit Serralves Museum and Gardens
A modern art delight, the Serralves Museum is a masterpiece of stylish, minimalist design. It’s embraced by lush, manicured gardens, providing a tranquil setting for immersing in the arts. The museum boasts a varied collection from celebrated international contemporary artists, as well as a rotating spectrum of exhibitions.
Try Francesinha at Cafe Santiago
An endeavor to gastronomically explore Porto isn’t complete without trying the iconic Francesinha at Café Santiago. This revered sandwich, composed of various meats blanketed in melted cheese and doused with a tangy tomato-beer sauce, is a culinary institution in this cafe. With each bite, you’ll understand why locals deem Café Santiago’s Francesinha the city’s best. Its balance of hearty ingredients and the secret sauce’s distinct flavor bears testament to its popularity.
Walk across Dom Luis I Bridge
This towering, double-deck metal arch bridge offers amazing city views from both levels. The upper deck is now reserved for Metro Line D and pedestrians, providing an invigorating walk with panoramic views of Porto. Sunset is the best time to walk across the bridge, allowing you to snap photos of Porto and the Douro River in beautiful pink and orange hues.
Admire Portuguese Art at the National Museum
Housed within the exquisite neo-classical Palacio das Carrancas, the Soares dos Reis National Museum in Porto is an enticing destination for art lovers. As Portugal’s first public art museum, it boasts an extensive collection of Portuguese art, spanning from the 16th to the 20th century. Here, you’ll encounter remarkable sculptures, paintings, decorative arts, and more, offering a vivid portrayal of Portugal’s artistic evolution. Notably, the work of its namesake, sculptor Antonio Soares dos Reis, forms a prominent part of the exhibit, making the museum a worthy stopover in your Porto exploration.
Ride the Funicular dos Guindais
The Funicular dos Guindais, with its panoramic view of Porto, offers an unforgettable journey. This vertical railway connects the Ribeira district with Batalha square, navigating the steep slopes of Porto’s landscape. As you ascend or descend, catch breath-taking glimpses of the Douro River, iconic Dom Luís I bridge, and the city’s historic buildings. Not just a transport tool, the Funicular delivers an immersive, picturesque experience that serves as a remarkable reminder of Porto’s topographical and architectural beauty.
Stroll Through the Jardin do Palácio de Cristal
Jardim do Palácio de Cristal is a beautiful 19th-century landscaped garden in Porto, known for its scenic views, lush greenery, and tranquility. Dominated by a large domed pavilion, the gardens are scattered with romantic pathways leading to viewpoints overlooking the Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia. Visitors can enjoy the various thematic gardens, a library, and a charming café, or join fellow locals watching the peacocks and roosters freely roaming the grounds. This idyllic retreat offers respite from the city buzz and a relaxing way to appreciate Porto’s landscape.
Try a Pastel de Nata at Natas D’Ouro
Natas D’Ouro in Porto offers one of the best renditions of the Pastel de Nata – a quintessential Portuguese custard tart. The bakery’s version is celebrated for its perfect balance of textures and flavors; the flaky, buttery crust cradles a sweet, creamy custard filling topped with a thin layer of tempting caramelization. Regulars and tourists alike queue to savor the warm, freshly baked tarts, often accompanied by a robust Portuguese coffee. Enjoying a Pastel de Nata at Natas D’Ouro provides a gastronomic connection to Portugal’s rich culinary heritage.
Climb the Ponte da Arrábida Bridge
Ascending the Arrábida Bridge presents an exhilarating adventure in Porto. This iconic structure, with an arch reaching 52 meters high, offers stunning panoramic views of the city and the Douro River. Guided climbing tours start from the river bank, traversing the inner arch, until reaching the summit. Here, climbers are rewarded with a 360-degree vista, encompassing both the urban landscape and the natural scenery beyond. As an experience blending adrenaline with awe-inspiring beauty, scaling the Ponte da Arrábida is a must-try for thrill-seekers visiting Porto.
Take a Boat Cruise on the Douro River
Taking a Douro River boat cruise provides a unique perspective on Porto’s picturesque landscape. As you glide past steep terraced vineyards, stunning valleys, and historic quintas, you’ll appreciate the region’s splendid natural beauty. Some cruises also offer insightful visits to wine estates for tasting sessions of the celebrated Port wine. Highlights include the striking view of Porto’s Ribeira district and the iconic double-deck iron bridges. Whether opting for a short city trip or a multi-day journey upstream, a Douro River cruise offers an enchanting exploration of Porto and its surroundings.
Enjoy the Views From Jardim Das Virtudes
Jardim das Virtudes is a multi-tiered urban park nestled in a residential Porto hillside. Known for its stunning viewpoints, it offers panoramic vistas of the Douro River, Vila Nova de Gaia, and the iconic Ribeira district. Visitors can bask in its peaceful ambiance, marvel at its terraced gardens, and enjoy a drink at the park’s outdoor bar. With its breathtaking sunset views, Jardim das Virtudes is a hidden gem that provides tranquility amidst the bustling city life, making it a perfect spot for both leisurely escape and romantic rendezvous.
Have a Night Out in Galerias de Paris
Galerias de Paris, in downtown Porto, is the pulsating heart of the city’s nightlife. This lively district unfolds a vibrant mosaic of trendy bars, clubs, and restaurants, each boasting distinct vibes and flavors. Its streets buzz with energy, transforming into an open-air party populated by diverse locals and tourists every weekend. From grooving to live music, sampling craft cocktails, to soaking up infectious rhythms on dance floors, Galerias de Paris offers an exhilarating immersion into the dynamic, after-dark culture of Porto.
Observe Local Life in Mercado do Bolhão
Mercado do Bolhão is an emblem of Porto’s vibrant local culture. This bustling market, held in a two-tiered neoclassical building, offers a vibrant snapshot of daily life, with vendors selling fresh produce, homemade goodies, and local craftsmanship. Its stalls brim with bright fruit, aromatic herbs, fresh-caught fish, and delectable pastries. Patrons can also savor traditional Portuguese dishes at small tascas (taverns) nestled within the market. Visiting Mercado do Bolhão offers a rich sensory and gastronomic experience of Porto’s authentic, down-to-earth charm.
Check Out The Views From Foz do Douro
Foz do Douro is a picturesque seaside district where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. With its distinct charm and relaxed atmosphere, it’s renowned for tranquil beaches, buzzing boardwalk cafes, and elegant 19th-century architecture. The charming Pergola da Foz, a neoclassical seaside promenade, and Farol de Felgueiras, a historical lighthouse, are must-visit landmarks. Whether enjoying a glorious sunset, savoring fresh seafood, or exploring trendy boutiques, Foz do Douro offers a captivating seaside experience within striking distance of Porto’s bustling city center.
Hit the Beach
Porto’s beaches are a thrilling blend of golden sands and rugged coastal allure. The city’s beachfront is dotted with wide stretches where the melody of lapping waves accompanies visitors unwinding or engaging in water sports. Matosinhos Beach is popular for surfing, while the Foz district hosts serene, scenic beaches perfect for leisurely walks. At Praia da Luz, visitors can relax at charming beachfront cafes. Witnessing a mesmerizing sunset over the Atlantic at any of Porto’s beaches tops off an enchanting day of sun, sand, and surf.
Relax in Jardim do Morro
Jardim do Morro, located in Vila Nova de Gaia, is a serene green space beloved for its expansive views of Porto. As you relax amidst the garden’s calming ambiance, your eyes will be drawn to the spectacular panorama encompassing the Douro River, Ribeira district, and the imposing Dom Luís I Bridge. Whether at sunset, when the city is bathed in a magical golden light, or under a starlit sky, this park offers an exquisite, unhurried perspective on Porto’s charms. The Jardim do Morro is an enticing urban retreat for both locals and visitors.
Tour Palácio da Bolsa
The Palácio da Bolsa, an iconic neoclassical monument in Porto, is a testament to the city’s prosperous trade history. Once a stock exchange, it now invites visitors to marvel at its luxurious interiors, including the renowned Arab Room, designed in exquisite Moorish revival style. With guided tours unveiling remarkable stories of commerce and culture, a visit to the Palácio represents a rewarding journey through Porto’s history. The grandeur and significance of this palace make it a highlight of the city’s architectural and cultural landscape.
Snap a Photo Outside Igreja do Carmo
Igreja do Carmo is a stunning example of Portuguese Baroque architecture, standing proudly in Porto’s vibrant cityscape. Decorated with lavishly gilded wood and ornamental tiles, the church showcases an intriguing blend of religious and historical artistry. Its highly distinctive tiled side wall, adorned with scenes of Mount Carmel, is one of its most striking features, drawing visitors worldwide. Between its compelling history, spiritual serenity, and aesthetic splendour, Igreja do Carmo is an absolute must-visit during any exploration of Porto.
Check Out The Views From Miradouro da Vitória
Miradouro da Vitória is a hidden gem in Porto, offering an unbeatable panoramic view of the city’s historic center. This lookout point brims with character, from its ivy-covered walls to its stunning vista of landmarks like Porto Cathedral and the Douro River. Regardless of whether you visit in the warm glow of sunrise or under the twinkling stars, the breath-taking scenery offers a captivating snapshot of Porto’s charm and vibrancy. It’s a must-visit spot for photography enthusiasts and those seeking to drink in the essence of Porto’s remarkable cityscape.
Tour Porto FC Stadium
Experiencing a tour of Porto FC Stadium, or Estádio do Dragão, offers a unique insight into the rich history of FC Porto. From the heart-stopping atmosphere on match days to seeing behind-the-scenes club operations, visitors savour an intimate perspective of this iconic sporting establishment. The comprehensive tour includes exploring the changing rooms, the VIP areas, and a compelling museum stocked with trophies and memorabilia. It’s an unmissable experience for football enthusiasts and anyone keen to understand the sporting passion imbued in Porto’s culture.
Navigating Your Way to Porto
Whether you’re traveling from within Europe, the U.S., or other parts of Portugal, getting to Porto is relatively simple thanks to its well-established transport links.
By Air: Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, also known as Porto Airport, is well connected with major European cities. Airlines such as Ryanair, easyJet, and TAP Air Portugal operate regular direct flights to Porto.
By Train: If you prefer ground travel, Porto is well integrated into the train network. The Campanhã Station connects Porto with cities such as Madrid, Lisbon, and other Portuguese and Spanish towns. Eurostar connections are also available from other parts of Europe.
From the U.S.
Direct flights to Porto from the U.S. are limited but possible. TAP Air Portugal operates direct flights from selected cities, including Newark, New York, and Boston. More often, travelers can fly into major European hubs such as London, Frankfurt, or Madrid, and then connect to Porto.
By Train: Rail travel in Portugal is efficient and offers scenic routes across the country. Trains operated by Comboios de Portugal (CP) connect Porto with Lisbon, Faro, and other Portuguese cities.
By Bus: Rede Expressos offers comprehensive bus service across Portugal. It’s an affordable choice for getting around the country, including travel to Porto. Buses are comfortable and provide a cost-effective way to navigate across regions.
Before planning your journey, always check the current schedules and any travel advisories.
Best Time to Visit Porto
The best time to visit Porto is during spring (April to June) and early autumn (September and October) when the weather is pleasant, and the tourist crowds are not as dense. During these periods, the city’s gardens are in full bloom, and various festivals, including São João, fill the streets with vibrant celebrations. However, those who crave solitude and want to savor Port wine in peace, winter can make for an equally wonderful experience with fewer tourists around.
A Final Word
Porto, with an exhaustive list of charms, effortlessly couples cosmopolitan flourishes with traditional allure, making it a must-visit for every traveller. Enjoy a stroll through its olden streets, savor a glass of wine, or marvel at its iconic landmarks – rest assured, Porto will surely steal your heart.