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If you’re looking for the top things to do in Porto, this guide will take you through 26 memorable things to do in Porto: a quaint, charming city, soaked in history and culture. In my eyes, Porto strikes a great balance between the energy and excitement of a large city and an intimate, localized experience.
Whereas investment in Lisbon has been rapid over the last few decades, Porto has largely maintained a fun, local-vibe. I believe that’s set to change over the next decade, as Porto’s already been earmarked as ‘up and coming.’ Hence, the investment will be aggressive in the 2020s. So now, more than ever, is the perfect time to take a trip to this wonderful city.
What I love about Porto is its architecture. Whereas Lisbon is vast and very difficult to walk around, Porto, particularly the old city, feels cozy, and intimate. You can spend hours walking along the cobbled streets and between the squares, and always spot something interesting.
As Portugal’s second-largest city, is it surprisingly small on a global scale, with a population of under 300,000. Its defining feature is the River Duoro. Unlike in Lisbon, where the river runs through the south, the Duoro runs through the heart of Porto. The river is a huge focal point, and its banks are lined with bars, shops, and activities.
Cheaper, also, than Lisbon, its daintiness, intimacy, greenery, and all-round energy, will have you hooked from the moment you set foot on those sun-drenched cobbles.
How to get to Porto
Although nowhere near as populated and visited as Lisbon airport, you can still get to Porto via many major European airports. Be sure to check both RyanAir and TAP, as they are the airlines that operate most prolifically to and from Porto.
It’s also common for travelers to fly into Lisbon and then take the train north to Porto. The train station is in the heart of the city, and the journey will take around 3 hours. You’ll be looking to buy your tickets from CP, and from the airport, you’ll want to make sure your ticket is booked from Parque das Nações, the station closest to the airport.
Via bus, book through Rede Expresso. The buses run every ninety minutes and take around 3 hours and 30 minutes.
Top 26 Things to Do in Porto
1 – Walk across the Ponte de Dom Luis I and enjoy the views
Arching magnificently across the Duoro, the Ponte de Dom Luis I is a bridge that’s worth trekking up the steep cobbles for. At the center, you get a breathtaking view of the river carving through the middle of the city, from either side.
The spot for plenty of selfies, the bridge is also a great way to get from downtown Porto to the Gaia region. There, you can people watch and admire the luscious views. Watch the tram as it sails on by, taking tourists and people to and from the city.
2 – Wine taste at the vineyards in the gorgeous Douro Valley
World-famous for its port wine, the Douro Valley region very much holds its own against the likes of Italy, France, and Argentina, when it comes to deliciously crisp wines.
Plenty of tour companies operate half and full-day tours. It’ll take 2-3 hours by car, at least, to get to the region, which sprawls across many hectares of land. If you’re willing to rent a car and make the drive yourself, you can book tastings with the vineyards themselves.
The tours will take you to several different vineyards, and some will add optional lunches and meals in between, which I’d highly suggest doing. For the views alone, even before your lips touch that sweet swill of red, it’s a wonderful way to spend your weekend.
3 – Climb to the top of the Ponte da Arrábida
The other magnificent bridge that connects Porto to Gaia, the Ponte da Arrábida is further east, on the way to the coastal area of Matosinhos. It’s a beautiful structure to behold, and plenty of companies offer climbing tours to get to the top.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can also abseil back down the structure! A great way to spend some time in the livelier area of the city.
4 – Take a cruise along the Rio Douro
Porto is very much defined by the snaking waters of the Douro, curving its way through the heart of the city. Still a significant access route for trade, the Douro, over the years, has evolved as a tourist attraction in its own right.
Many river cruises and boats operate along the water. It’s a great way to see the city and have a guide to give some insight into its fascinating history. My personal recommendation is to look on Airbnb for a boat stay and ask if they’ll take you out on the water. An enjoyable and fun way to see the sights from the comfort of your own private boat.
5 – Visit during the wonderful São João Festival
One of the most unique festivals I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in, São João very much goes under the radar on the international scene.
Every year, for one night in late June, the entire city spill out on to the streets. In their hands, they carry plastic hammers, that they cheekily bop each other on the head with. In amongst the madness, there’s drinks, grilled sardines, celebrations, and fireworks over the river to draw the festival to a close.
It’s one of the most bizarre and incredible experiences, and celebrations go on long into the night. If you can time your visit with the festival date, I’d highly recommend it. You won’t be able to avoid it: it’ll, quite literally, be happening all around you!
6 – Enjoy a live Fado performance
Fado, a style of Portuguese singing, dates back to the 1820s. Incredibly, it’s part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Naturally, many in Portugal are doing their bit to keep this beautiful style of singing alive.
Plenty of theatres show live fado music. My personal pick is the Fado na Baixa auditorium. Sit back amid the moody lighting, with a glass of port wine in hand, and prepare your ears for an audio experience like none you’ve listened to before.
7 – Visit the world-famous Livraria Lello
This historic bookstore became world-famous courtesy of JK Rowling. It is said the library was a direct inspiration for her Harry Potter books, and now draws huge crowds every day.
And for good reason: the architecture is simply spell-binding, excuse the pun! I’d personally recommend going early in the morning, or late at night, to avoid the queues. During the day, the bookstore is packed with tourists.
Despite its wildfire fame, it’s still worth visiting. The spiral staircase, decorated rafters, and stacks of books all tingle with magic and will enchant your mind as you awe. It’s very easy to spot the inspiration, particularly when watching the Harry Potter films.
8 – Watch live music on the Praça do Município
The paved squares between the Praça da Liberdade (museum) and the Câmara Municipal do Porto (town hall), are a hotbed of activity and energy, particularly on weekends.
There’s always concert stages set up, with plenty of live music, or sporting broadcasts. Christmas time, too, is a great time to visit. They erect a giant, light-studded tree in the center, and cover the lampposts and buildings in glittering lights.
With plenty of street food and drinks vendors in the area, you’ll quickly discover Porto is a city that comes alive at night. You’ll be amazed at the number of families out drinking and dancing well beyond midnight.
9 – Visit the world-famous port wine cellars
No visit to Porto is complete without tasting the region’s iconic and deliciously smooth port wine. Many cellars exist in the city, but all are found across the river from the old city center.
My personal pick is Caves Taylor’s, but there are many to choose from. Pretty much all will give you a guided tour of the cellars, and give an in-depth insight into the processes used. The tastings, as you can imagine, are sublime, and there’s plenty of opportunities to take home a favorite bottle or two if your heart so desires.
10 – Watch a football match, or take a stadium and museum tour, of the Estadio do Dragago
Home to Portugal’s most successful football club, FC Porto, it won’t take you long to see how football-mad Portugal, and particularly Porto, is.
Getting tickets to a match is very difficult. However, if you’re in Porto during the summer, the football off-season, you’ll have a good chance of acquiring tickets for a friendly match.
Failing that, their stadium tour is well worth purchasing a ticket for. An enthused guide will take you through the stadium, take you to the club’s official museum, and tell you plenty of facts and stories about the club.
11 – Walk to the top of the Torre dos Clérigos
At 75 meters, Clérigos Tower is the highest bell tower in the whole of Portugal. Officially opened in 1763, the tower’s accompanying church pays homage to the Brotherhood of Clérigos, and is a museum to a wealth of fascinating Portuguese history.
The tower is an unmissable stalwart of the Porto landscape. If you climb all its step and reach the top, you’ll be treated to a stunning view of the city. Head up there at sunset, naturally, for some truly spectacular Instagram opportunities!
12 – Marvel at the beauty of the Igreja de Sao Francisco
With a deep history rooted in Christianity, naturally, there are many churches to visit in Porto and Portugal. While the wow-factor undoubtedly can wear off the more you visit, the Church of St. Francis is one that should go straight to the top of your ‘must-see’ list.
Complete with its own museum, the gold-laden architecture, alone, will take your breath away. Between the walls, hundreds of pounds of gold were used in the crafting of the interior. Wood sculptures, beautiful carvings, and gold statues are some of the many delights you’ll find within the church. The catacombs, in particular, are an intriguing visit.
13 – Watch a concert at the stunningly designed Casa da Musica
Worth the walk through the winding cobbled streets just to see the building alone. The Casa da Musica is a gorgeous piece of contemporary architecture and a unique splash of modernism in amongst the historic architecture.
With their outdoor seating and two restaurants, it’s a great place to come, relax and watch the world go by. If you’re willing to listen to a concert in Portuguese, there are plenty of great shows on most evenings. Be sure, however, to book in advance on their website.
14 – Wander through the bustle and beauty at Cais da Riberia
The dock of the Riberia, with its colorful houses and boats sailing by, captures everything that’s so romantic about the old city area of Porto.
Watch the street performers dazzle and amaze with their trickery and stunts. Listen to the music of the talented buskers. Watch the world go by from one of the cozy little restaurants or bars. It’s a wonderful place to spend an evening, and the memories will stay with you for a lifetime.
15 – Soak up some rays on the beautiful beaches of Matosinhos
Around 10km from the old city, east, lies Matosinhos. This is the coastal area of Porto and home to some glorious beaches and coastline.
Hugely popular on weekends, there is a range of beaches to choose from. Some are free to use, and some are paid, depending on your preference. On the golden sands, with a view to die for, relax, and read a book. Or, take a dip in the lapping waters of the ocean, while the rays kiss your skin.
Uber operates in Porto, and getting a taxi is also straightforward. If you’re keen for a walk, however, the walk from the old city, along the river, to Matosinhos, is truly beautiful.
16 – Relax in the saltwater pool at Piscina das Marés
While you’re in Matosinhos, you should definitely spend some time at the outdoor pools. There are several in the area, but my personal pick is Piscina das Marés.
If you’re going on the weekend, be sure to get there early. The locals love to spend their time at the pools and on the beach at weekends. The enclosure is great for relaxing, and you get a stunning view of the coastline. There are restaurants and cafes, plenty of sunbeds and sunbathing areas, and a crisp, soothing saltwater pool to soak and relax in. From the pool edge, you can look out over the ocean, and let your worries and stresses fizzle away.
17 – Visit the Palacio de Cristal and enjoy a tranquil afternoon in the gardens
A real gem of Porto, the Crystal Palace and it’s gardens are an area you can spends hours at a time.
Unfortunately, the Crystal Palace itself, a pavilion that hosts everything from art fairs to concerts, has been under refurbishment for several years, due to its age. You won’t be able to see a show there for some time, but you can still enjoy and marvel at its architecture.
The gardens, however, are the real stars of the show. Luscious, green, and diverse, you can wander between the pillars, nose around the garden keeper’s house, and sit beneath the trees and watch the peacocks. From the ledge, you get a phenomenal view of the water.
Head down in the evening, and it’s common to catch live music in the gardens. There are also a few vendors selling great food and drinks.
18 – Let The Storyteller take you on a guided tour of Porto
The success of a walking tour is always defined by its guide, and The Storyteller very much takes his place at the table of some of the most insightful, and passionate, tour guides in Portugal, if not the world.
The tour, around 2-3 hours, largely focusses around Miragaia, a gorgeous parish in the city. You’ll stroll through stunning estates and vibrant gardens, all while working your way through to the historic center of the city.
The Storyteller will tell plenty of enthralling tales along the way, involving the likes of King Ramiro and Princess Mira. Well worth a few hours of your time, and a great way to see a more scenic, beautiful side of the city.
19 – Take a guided tour around the Palacio da Bolsa
One of Portugal’s most prestigious monuments, rich in history, people from far and wide come to visit the Palacio da Bolsa.
It’s worth noting that you can only see the building with a guided tour. Queues are often very long, so be sure to go early in the morning, or in the early evening. The guides, however, are well-informed and will give context to everything you see.
The building itself is stunningly beautiful. All the rooms have their own unique features and fascinating history. The Arabic room, through many people’s eyes, is the highlight of the tour, and worth the admission fee alone.
20 – Embrace the atmosphere at Mercado do Bolhão
Seen as one of the most decorated markets across Portugal, the Market of Bolhão, under renovation until 2020, still has charm, energy, and quality by the bucket load.
The fresh produce is out of this world. You can smell the freshness in the air. If you’re a big seafood lover, you’ll not know where to turn next. What is refreshing about Bolhão is the relaxed manner in which business is conducted. The people of Portugal know how to relax and take their time, and that very much shows through the demeanor of their vendors.
They’re very friendly, and not too pushy. You can casually walk through the stalls, even on busy weekends, and still not feel overwhelmed by the energy. There’s plenty here to get excited about, particularly if you plan to cook some of your meals.
21 – Visit all six bridges on a Duoro river cruise
A great way to explore the length of the river and visit plenty of ‘off-the-beaten-track’ regions outside of the city.
The cruises follow the route of the old Rabelo boats, with wine merchants at their helm, trading wine, and other goods. You’ll get some stunning views of the city, and you’ll also learn a lot more about Gaia.
Gaia is a far less touristy area than some of the developed areas of the city, and a great place to experience local eateries and activities. Also, your guide will give you plenty of interesting facts and historical insight. All the bridges that cross the Duoro are wonderful feats of engineering, and beautiful structures to behold.
22 – See the sights on the Magic Train
Departing every 30 minutes from Porto Cathedral, the tourist train is a fun way to explore the major attractions of the city. There are onboard multi-lingual audio guides, and the train will take you as far as the wine cellars in the south. There, you can alight and spend a few hours sampling Porto’s world-famous port wine.
All the major landmarks are covered in the tour, including the National Theatre and Bell Tower of Clerigos, and you can hop-on and hop-off as you please.
23 – Enjoy a cocktail and live music atop Praça de Lisboa
Flanked by the Livraria Lello and the Bell Tower of Clerigos, the Praça de Lisboa is much more than a designer shopping outlet.
On the roof of the structure, they’ve laid down a large grassy area, where you can come, sit, and unwind after a busy day of work, or seeing the sights. The bars are lively, and on weekends they always have DJs or live music.
Many locals hang around in this area, so it’s also a perfect place to meet some Portuguese people. I spent many an evening here during my summer in Porto, and the energy, the music, and the memories are still so vivid in my mind.
24 – Take a wine tour through the best bars in the city
As you’ve probably already realized, wine is a big component of the city’s culture. We’ve already explored the Duoro Valley and port wine cellars, but if you’re looking for something a little closer to the city, I’d highly recommend one of the walking wine tours.
It’s a great way to visit some of the best bars in the city. Although not done at a vineyard, the tastings are still expertly conducted, and the guides are always enthused, insightful, and passionate about wine.
Couple it with a hearty lunch, and you’ve got a fantastic afternoon or evening spent seeing the city, and tasting some truly delicious wines.
25 – Ride through the city and along the coast on an e-bike tour
Portugal has invested heavily in green transportation initiatives in its major cities, and the rise of e-bikes in the city has risen tenfold. It’ll take some time to set up, but once you’re in the system, you’re away. Once you’ve located your nearest pick-up and drop-off, you can spend hours sailing through the beauty of Porto.
If you’d like your route to have a little more direction, in the company of a tour guide, the e-bike tours are a great way to see the city, cheaply. Many operated from the old city, and often they’ll follow the river, taking you up the coast to Matosinhos.
Be sure to check out the Castle of Cheese when you’re there. It’s a fortress built during the King John reign, dating back to the mid-1600s.
26 – Enjoy some delicious and adventurous dishes at Cruel Restaurant
Lastly, if you’re a foodie, you’ll love Porto. There are a lot of top-rated restaurants in the city. However, my pick, for a unique experience, is Cruel.
They have three menus. ‘Cruel’ is for the most adventurous, ‘Cautious’ for those looking for a middle ground, and ‘Fearful’ for those looking to play it safe. It’s advised to go with a partner, or party, and share the dishes between you all. Beyond the traditional Portuguese food of francesinha and risotto, there’s some truly interesting and mouthwatering food on the menu.
My personal picks include the duck tataki and mushroom risotto, but there is so much creativity and variety on the menu. One of Baixa’s best restaurants, and well worth booking.
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