Yes, there is plenty of port in Porto (and I drank a lot of it!), but there are so many other fun things to do and reasons to visit Portugal’s second-largest city: the impressive bridges that span across the water with the sailboats below, the stunning Baroque architecture, traditional Portuguese restaurants and, mostly importantly, the warmth of the people.
From walking the UNESCO world heritage protected streets of Riberia to drinking at a traditional port house, there is definitely some of the best things to do in Porto. Don’t know where to start? Let me help you out with what top attractions to see and activities not to miss.
1.✦ Climb Livraria Lello’s Red Staircase
Livraria Lello is the stunning bookshop said to be an inspiration for J.K Rowling’s famous series, Harry Potter—and if its red winding staircase doesn’t take you to Hogwarts, then I label you as a muggle. Besides Rowling, a large number of renowned writers have hung out here buying books, exchanging reviews, and having some coffee. There is a plethora of Portuguese, English, and French literature to choose from. If you’re a bookworm, it’ll be heaven for you, but truth be told most people these days go there just to get a selfie on the staircase.
Tip: Get there early! It is almost always crowded with tourists.
2. ✧ Wander Through Parque de Cidade
When you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city center, go to Parque de Cidade. The spacious park is ideal for jogging, picnicking or simply wandering about. The lawns are manicured and well-maintained, flourishing with blossoming flowers and greens. You may also spot flocks of geese and swans fluttering in the calm water of lakes!
3. ✦ Climb to the Top of Torre dos Clérigos
Clérigos is another spectacular church boasting a facade of Baroque finery. But one of the main features is the iconic bell tower, the Torre dos Clérigos, which is a symbolic monument and can be seen from various points of the city. Devised by an Italian architect, Nicolau Nasoni, the 249 foot tall tower was the tallest building of the country when it was first completed in 1763.
It will take you about 240 steps to ascend the Torre dos Clérigos and take in the marvelous panoramas of the city. Climbing the six stories will leave you gasping for air and once on the top, the sweeping views will also take your breath away.
4. ✧ View the Art at Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha
Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha is a uniquely set up nineteenth-century aristocratic house museum where you can view fascinating pieces of period art, exquisite furnishings, billiards room, ballroom, and impeccable gardens with stunning views of the river. It is located within the parameters of Jardins do Palácio de Cristal and it is the very same house where Charles Albert, the King of Sardinia, spent last few years of his life and died in exile.
5. ✦ Walk the Maze of Streets of Ribeira
One of the oldest neighborhoods of Porto and a designated UNESCO World Hertiage site, Riberia is a quaint riverside quarter where you will float back in time. Here you’ll come across medieval cobbled streets, an array of 18th-century townhouses, a quay with colorful boats, local art galleries, cafes and shops selling handmade crafts.
Walking through this historic district is one of the highlights of Porto, but make sure to make a few stops too. Grab a traditional Portuguese meal at Jimão Tapas e Vinhos. Take in the architecture of Capela da Lada, a small church tucked in between historic buildings.
6. ✧ Visit Soares dos Reis National Museum
Featuring Neolithic carvings and artwork inspired by Portuguese modernism to furniture and metalwork, Soares dos Reis National Museum is the oldest public art museum in Porto housed in the neoclassical Carrancas Palace. It is mainly focused on Portuguese art of the 19th and 20th centuries, and it is visual treat for art enthusiasts and history buffs.
7. ✦ Do the Porto Bridge Climb
Porto has some amazing bridges and for me, the Arrábida Bridge beats the rest for sure—because you can climb it! How’s that for bucket list worthy? You can book a tour with Porto Bridge Climb who will guide you all the way to the peak. You will love not only the challenge of climbing the approximately 18 floors, but also the spectacular views of the city, seashore, and the mouth of River Douro from the top. Did I mention that there is Port and chocolate at the top?!?
8. ✧ Visit FC Porto Museum
Are you simply in love with European football? Then leave everything and head towards FC Porto Museum which is all about Portuguese association football club and its fascinating history. There are 27 thematic rooms that exhibit historical events, matches, awards and trophies, club’s players, and managers. Besides footballs, visitors can also catch a glimpse of other sports such as handball, basketball, and roller hockey.
9. ✦ Eat a Francesinha Sandwich
One of my favorite things to do when visiting destination is to indulge in an iconic dish—and in Porto that is a Francesinha (aka: little Frenchie). This traditional Portuguese sandwich actually originated in Porto! Typically, it is made with slices of bread stuffed with ham, liguica, steak or roast beef and smothered with a beer-based sauce. It won’t be hard to find a place that serves them (here are 13 of the best), but I ate mine at O Golfinho where most of the patrons were locals.
10. ✧ Tour Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro
Casa-Museo Guerra Junqueiro is yet another house museum located in a sublime neighborhood of Cedofeita, a civil parish. The Baroque-styled museum was a former residence of Guerra Junqueiro, a renowned Portuguese writer and poet. As you enter the museum, you will see a magnificent statue of Guerra Junqueiro in the courtyard designed by Leopoldo De-Almeida. Once you are inside the mansion, you will be amazed by its finery, furnishings, and exhibits. See the exquisite collection of jewelry pieces, sculptures, ceramic figurines, and unique glass and metal items.
11. ✦ Walk Across the Dom Luís I Bridge
Spanning over the River Douro between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the metal double-deck arched bridge is one of its kind. Cross the bridge on foot through the upper level (or take the Metro bus). But, make sure to stop at the halfway point to get the best view of Porto. This is one of the things to do in Porto that you must do more than once!
12. ✧ Party at Festa de São João
If you happen to be in Porto for the time of Midsummer’s Day Celebration, count yourself lucky! The jovial Festa de São João has been taking place every year during Midsummer, on the night of 23 June for the last six centuries. It lures thousands of people from all over the country who come to pay a tribute to Saint John the Baptist. The festival includes street concerts, dances, jumping over flames, barbecued meat, and drinks, and releasing sky lanterns. The climax of Festa de São João is the stunning display of themed fireworks that continue till the sunrise.
13. ✦ Explore the Church of São Francisco
Arresting Baroque interiors combined with an austere Gothic layout makes Church of Sao Francisco an extraordinary monument in Porto. The site has a dazzling collection of gems waiting to be explored – the walls and pillars blanketed with gold leaves and cherubs,and the intricate nave embellished with vines and curlicues. The cold and eerie catacombs is also a must see!
14. ✧ Take in the View of Bridges from Miradouro da Serra do Pilar
Stand atop the Monastery of Serra do Pilar and take in enchanting panoramas of the entire city including the rugged coasts, green-clad hills, the serene river and its banks, colorful houses, port wine lodges and buildings, and most importantly, the stately Luís I Bridge. The monastery is perched upon a quiet hill which is still being used a military barracks by Portuguese army. As your turn arrives to go up to the roof, two army officers will come to escort you. Once you have climbed the tightly spiraled staircase, you will come upon a platform that will offer you 360 degrees views of Porto and its gems.
15. ✦ See the Foz do Douro Seafront
Your trip to Porto won’t be complete if you don’t explore the sun-bleached beaches facing the Atlantic Sea. Whether you are a wave junkie, a beach bum, or an avid foodie, Foz do Douro Seafront has something for everyone. The unspoiled shores merge with clean waves, and across the horizon, you can see the sun gloriously merging into the water.
16. ✦ Visit Praça da Liberdade
Connecting the old town with the modern part of the city, Avenida dos Aliados, the Praça da Liberdade (Liberty Square) stands in Santo Ildefonso parish, in the heart of Porto. Right in the center of the square, there is a 10-meter bronze equestrian statue of King Peter IV from 1862 built to pay homage to his valor and sacrifices.
17. ✦ Cruise the Douro River
Cruise your way through a portion of the scenic waterway and let the fresh breeze cleanse you inside out. Besides the lapping water and vast spaces, you will see the green-clad hills, Portuguese countryside, pastel townhouses and twisting vineyards on the distance.
Get Your Guide’s Douro Valley Tour will have you tasting wine (and ports!), cruising a portion of the beautiful river and enjoying a traditional Portuguese lunch. Or opt for a bucket list worthy 2-hour Private Cruise on the Douro River.
18. ✦ Drink Port in Porto (at a Port House)
If there is one thing not to miss in this city it is to “drink port in Porto in a port house”! The fortified wine was actually named for the city of Oporto (aka: Porto!) where it is aged, bottled and widely drank. It’s mostly an after dinner drink, but tastings take place at almost any hour.
Most of the delicious and renowned port houses can be found on the southern district of the city, the Vila Nova de Gaia. Some are situated along the riverfront, while others are perched upon a hill—so be prepared for a breathtaking climb. I’ve had tastings in many of them, but a few of my top picks are Taylor’s Port Cellar, Graham’s Lodge and Churchill’s Port.
You can navigate to port houses on your own, but if you’d like a more in-depth tour and tasting, book one of these highly rated tours:
19. ✦ Tour Palácio da Bolsa do Porto (UNESCO)
Situated in the center of the city, the neoclassical-style Palácio da Bolsa was built in 19th century in hopes to grab the attention of influential European investors. The national monument is classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most beautiful landmarks in Portugal. There is a spacious courtyard, Courtyard of the Nations, which is completely enveloped by glass walls that bring in warm rays of sunlight. Then, a grand staircase takes you to the Golden Room, embossed with gold-leaf, the wood-filled General Assembly Room, and the Moorish-inspired Arab Room among other highlights.
20. ✦ Stroll Through Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
When I walked down the scenic pathways with gorgeous views of the city and Douro River, I understood why these impeccable gardens are considered to be a rejuvenating escape. Landscaped upon a hill, the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal feature fountains, sculptures, trees, and immaculate lawns dappled with sunlight. Take out a couple of hours and wander about the never-ending mosaic of gardens.
Don’t forget to check out the Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha housed inside it!
21. ✧ Visit the Serralves Museum
If you want to take a look at Porto’s art deco architecture and iconic houses, head over to Serralves Museum, a part of Serralves Foundation featuring a rich historical and cultural heritage. The trip will be akin to traveling back in time. Built in 1930s, the museum and villa have intricate details, impressive decorative features, and unique furnishings. Many of these furniture pieces were sold off in auction, and today, only a fraction of pieces is left. The villa is encircled by a picturesque park and artistic water features.
22. ✦ Eat a Traditional Portuguese Meal
From a comforting bowl of Caldo Verde soup to the king of all stews, Cozido a Portuguesa, traditional Portuguese meals will please your taste buds and fulfill your cravings. You may even dare to have Porto’s traditional Tripe Dish, Tripas à Modas, or settle for a spicy linguica sausage. Definitely don’t forget the warm and delightful Francesinha sandwich and salted cod fish.
23. ✧ Ogle the Casa da Música
The Portuguese concert hall, Casa da Música is located in civil parish of Cedofeita and is quite a sight to look at. Rather unique, the contemporary building houses three orchestras and the cultural music center of Porto. The tall building is an asymmetrical polyhedron with over nine floors and plenty of glass windows to allow curious by-passers a quick glance inside the building! Not many people are aware, but it was supposed to be a house for a Dutch family and when it was first built, the locals disliked it due to its bizarre design and location.
24. ✦ Visit the Porto Cathedral
When you set out to explore Porto’s historic center, don’t forget to pay a visit to Porto Cathedral. The way the cathedral is perched on the top of the hill is absolutely outstanding. The Romanesque monument is one of the city’s oldest landmarks, and also the highest. Would you believe me when I say it is the spot where the city was first born? The edifices, built back in 12th century, are Porto’s first ones, and will remind you of its diversity.
25. ✧ Partake in the Galeria de Paris Nightlife
How can you miss a peek of Porto’s lively nightlife on your trip? Are you in a mood for some good food and friends? Make a beeline for the Galerias de Paris Street and lose yourself in merriment. The street is lined with a number of bars and clubs and invites night owls from all over the city to have a time of their lives. Indulge in luxurious gourmet meals, sip on exotic cocktails, and hang out with the locals.
26. ✦ Tour the Igreja do Carmo
The Catholic church is widely known for its impressive tile facade, and its connecting twin church, Igreja dos Carmelitas, and a small house in-between. The church features a fine Baroque architecture which was badly damaged after a massive earthquake that struck in 1755. It was rebuilt with some additional iconic features like bell towers by mason Diogo Gonçalves. While it is a beautiful church, there is something bleak going on its rear side. Funnily enough, it is the main reason the church draws so many visitors. At its backside, lies the Capela dos Ossos, the Chapel of Bones, where the wall is completely covered with skulls and bones of over 1000 Carmelite monks. It is supposed to remind us how short our lives are. Truth to be told, it is rather creepy.
. . .
So, isn’t Porto gorgeous? I can’t wait to go back. Built upon hills, the city’s culturally rich landmarks, calm ambiance, and scrumptious restaurants can steal anyone’s heart. On one hand, there are baroque churches and impressive bridges to awe you. Then there is a maze of medieval alleys where you can happily get lost. Lastly, let’s not forget the scenic views, superb sunsets —there are definitely some of the best things to do in Porto.
Essential Tips for Visiting Porto, Portugal
Getting There: Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport, also known as Porto Airport (OPO) is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination.
Getting Around: From the airport to the city center, you can easily catch a taxi to your central hotel for around $30 or prebook a private transfer for around the same price. For a cheaper option, the metro system is easy to use—just follow the signs!
Renting a car and driving in Porto is definitely a good option, especially if you want to make some day trips to the countryside. You can search RentalCars.com for some great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of options for getting around the city. Public transportation like buses, tram and the metro are easy to use. Taxis and Uber are available all over the city, plus most of the major attractions can be accessed with the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, plus includes a Douro River cruise and port cellar tour.
The city is pretty hilly, yet most areas are also very walkable.
Where to Stay in Lisbon: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. The historic Hotel Infante Sagres is a great choice in the heart of Porto, and you’ll definitely be wowed by the stained glass that dates back to 1945 and goes up a whopping five floors! For something a little more modern and trendy, Torel Avantgarde is a great choice and only a 10-minute walk from the Douro riverside and 2,450 feet from the iconic Clérigos Church. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
City Transportation Passes: The Porto Card with Transportation is an all-in-one transit card offering rides on multiple forms of transportation such as buses, metro and trains for one fee. It also gives you free or discounted admissions to dozens of attractions.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
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