Porto is Portugal’s second city. While Lisbon may be the capital, Porto has the claim to fame as being the inspiration behind the country’s name. Historically, Lisbon was the political seat of power, and from here in Porto the bishops and priests ruled. Instead of the usual European “castle on the hill”, in Porto, it’s the Bishop’s house that sits in that prized location.
Thanks to their different “leaders” throughout the years, Porto and Lisbon are both very different cities, and I highly recommend visiting each of them while in Portugal. If I had to pick a favourite though, Porto would be it. There is just such a lovely feel about the city. The historic centre has also been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Here are some of the best things to do in Porto Portugal.
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- 1 Take a walking tour
- 2 Taste some Port Wine
- 3 Visit the beach
- 4 Eat Francesinho, the local specialty
- 5 Visit the São Bento train station
- 6 Cruise Down the Duoro River
- 7 Do a Harry Potter Tour
- 8 Visit the Livraria Lello book store
- 9 Visit Palácio da Bolsa
- 10 Relax in Port of Ribeira Square
- 11 Check out the Dom Luis I Bridge
- 12 Experience Peneda-Gerês National Park
- 13 Admire some of the many Churches
- 14 Choose a Porto Museum
- 15 Experience Fado
Take a walking tour
When I first arrive in a new place, my favourite thing to do is a walking tour. Usually, I will opt for a free (tips-based) walking tour, as I have found them to be fantastic. In Porto we did not one, but two walking tours with Porto Walkers. First, we did the Classical Tour, which covers many of the popular historical aspects and tourist attractions of Porto, Portugal. We got a great background to help us understand many of the things we were to see in the city.
The second tour we did was the Porto Lifestyle Tour, which goes to an entirely different part of the city and focuses more on Portugal today and how people live.
I enjoyed both of these tours, and would happily recommend them, but there are many more out there. These really are some of the best free things to do in Porto. Here are just a few more options you may be interested in.
- Private Porto Secrets Walking Tour
- Porto Jewish Heritage Walking Tour
- Porto Food and Wine Tasting Tour
Taste some Port Wine
You cannot come to the home of Port Wine without doing some sort of port wine tour, and this is one of the best Porto things to do. Now I have never been a fan of fortified wines. I always thought of them as sweet and sickly. I now have a whole new appreciation though of the original versions of this wine.
Fortified wines can now only be called Port if they come from this region. They are not actually made in Porto though. The grapes are grown further up the river in the Douro Valley. They are then brought down the river to be stored and aged. Still, they do not end up in Porto though, but across the river in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia.
That side of the Douro River gets the right amount of sunlight to store the wine at the perfect temperature. It also means that from the Porto side, there is a lovely view of all the cellar doors along the banks of the river.
For our tour, we did the paid tour offered by Porto Walkers since we had enjoyed their free tours so much. We visited three different types of wine cellars, and I learnt a lot about Port Wine. I previously only thought there was one version, Tawny Port, but there are three more – White Port, Rose Port and Aged Port.
Of these, the tawny was my least favourite. We also learned a lot about the history of wine in the area, and some of the different winemaking techniques of each of the wineries. One also had a small museum put together by the larger-than-life founder.
There is a second, lesser-known Portuguese wine that is also worth a taste, vinho verde, literally “green wine”. The wine is not green though, it can be red or wine, but it is a very young wine, usually available for sale about three months after the harvest.
Made in the north of Portugal, it’s easy to find versions of this wine in Porto restaurants and shops. This wine will also be included in some of the tastings or it’s possible to do whole tours just tasting vinho verde.
There are dozens of other options for wine tours in Porto. They range from tours of a few hours like I did, to multi-day tours to the Douro Valley. Here are just a few of them.
- Douro Valley Small-Group Tour with Wine Tasting, Portuguese Lunch and Optional River Cruise
- Guided Visit and Tasting at Poças Wine Cellar
- Wine Tour Porto
- Green Wine Region-Small Group Tour with Lunch and Wine Tastings
Visit the beach
Porto is located only a few kilometres upriver from the Atlantic coast, so why not take a trip to the beach while you are here. The best place to go is Matosinhos. Many of the tourist buses (such as the City Sightseeing buses) visit this area on their loop, so if you have already purchased a ticket for them you can use that.
Otherwise, catch the 500 bus from near the Dom Pedro IV statue in the Praça da Liberdade (sort of opposite the Intercontinental Hotel). It’s only a Euro or two, paid to the driver of the bus.
Once at Matosinhas, consider dining on the amazing seafood served up fresh at one of the many small fish restaurants. Wear off your meal by walking along the wide sandy beach, or taking a dip if the weather is warm enough.
Check out the pilgrim statues, and keep your eyes open for the modern-day variety, as this stretch of beach forms part of the Portuguese Way, one of the many Camino de Santiago paths.
Here in Matosinhos, you will also find many surf schools, teaching beginners to surf the Atlantic waves. Even on the cold March day we were there keen learners were having a go. Click here to book a surf tour.
Eat Francesinho, the local specialty
Francesinho is the local specialty food, and everywhere you go you will hear about it. While you are in Porto you just have to try one. They can be found all over, but our walking tour guides recommended two places that are the best – Cafe Santiago and Lado B. We ended up at Lado B, simply because it was the first of the two we came across.
The Francesinho is like an over-the-top toasted sandwich. It includes bread (the thicker the better) filled with ham, sausage and steak, then covered in lashings of cheese and a special beer and tomato sauce. It is often topped with an egg and served with hot chips on the side. A local would easily eat this whole thing in one meal, but we had been warned to share.
And I am glad we listened. This is truly a heart attack on a plate. It is so heavy, I could almost feel my arteries hardening with each bite. It didn’t taste terrible, but it wasn’t amazing either. There is no way I could have finished a whole serve. If I had to eat it again I would, but there are so many better meals out there to choose from.
Visit the São Bento train station
Located on a site that was originally a convent, the São Bento train station is known for its beautiful traditional tiles and this should absolutely be on your list of things to see in Porto.
Yes, they are lovely to look at, but the station has some interesting stories too. When the location was decided, the bishop of Porto agreed the station could be built there, but only after all the existing nuns moved or passed away.
The final nun lived on and on, and it was 58 years after the agreement was made that work was able to commence on the now badly needed new train station. The ghost of the final nun – who did not want the convent to be demolished – is said to still haunt the train station today.
The building of the São Bento railway station did not go to plan. Acclaimed young local architect Jose Marques da Silva designed the building and all its amazing tiles. It wasn’t until they were about to open it, they realised that the design did not include anywhere to sell tickets! Whoops! An extra section for the ticket office was hastily tacked on the side of the building.
Cruise Down the Duoro River
The Douro River is one of the most scenic and picturesque rivers in Europe. It flows through Portugal and Spain, offering breathtaking views of vineyards, mountains, and charming towns along its banks. One of the best ways to experience the beauty of this river is by taking a day trip on a river cruise.
Here are three options for different types of cruises:
- Sunset or Daytime Sailboat Cruise
- 6 Bridges Douro River Cruise
- Douro River Sailing Cruise with Port Wine
Do a Harry Potter Tour
If you are a huge Harry Potter fan, you would know that JK Rowling was living in Porto when she came up with the concept for the books and wrote the first few chapters before moving to Edinburgh. Therefore many sights in Porto relate to the book.
Many fans like to go and eat at the Majestic Cafe on Rua Santa Catarina, a place where JK Rowling spent a fair amount of time while she was here. It’s a beautiful, historic cafe, but I was warned that unfortunately, it is home to tourist prices and less-than-great food. One of our guides mentioned that locals will not eat here, even though it is one of the most popular Porto places to visit for tourists.
If you really want to visit, perhaps call in for a coffee or tea, and leave the meals for one of the many much better restaurants.
There are some tours that run which are dedicated to visiting Harry Potter sites and telling all the tales the locals know about the author. We only got a taste on our general walking tour, and some of the stories are very interesting.
Click here to have a look at the Porto Harry Potter TourSearch for Harry Potter and other things to do in Porto, Portugal
Visit the Livraria Lello book store
If you don’t want to do a whole Harry Potter tour, you can still visit some of the well-known Porto attractions. One of those is the Livraria Lello bookstore. Originally opened in 1906, this is another of the contenders for the most beautiful libraries/bookstores in the world.
Its most prominent feature is the beautiful staircase, dark timber, and a lovely bookish feel about the place. And that’s where Harry Potter comes in. It is said that Livraria Lello was the inspiration for the bookstore in Diagon Alley called Flourish & Potts.
Thanks to the success of the Harry Potter books combined with the beauty of the store, tourists began to flock here for a visit and a photograph. Unfortunately, this meant a lot of people, but barely any sales.
Today if you want to visit, you have to pay an entrance fee – €5 at the time of writing, which is deducted from the price of any books you may purchase. Tickets are available from the ticket office a few buildings down from Livraria Lello. It is likely that you will easily see where to go, as every time I walked past during my visit to Porto, there were long lines at both the store and the ticket office.
Visit Palácio da Bolsa
The Stock Exchange Palace in Porto is a beautiful example of neoclassical architecture and one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Built in the 19th century, this grand building was once home to Portugal’s stock exchange and today it serves as a cultural centre, hosting exhibitions, concerts, and other events throughout the year.
The palace was designed by architect Joaquim da Costa Lima and construction began in 1842. The building was completed in 1850 and opened its doors as the headquarters of the Porto Commercial Association. Over time, it became known as the Stock Exchange Palace due to its role as the hub of trading for Portugal’s financial markets.
As you approach the Stock Exchange Palace from its main entrance on Rua de Ferreira Borges, you are immediately struck by its imposing facade. The building features ornate columns, intricate carvings, and an impressive dome that towers over all who enter.
Inside, visitors can see some of Porto’s most beautiful rooms. The highlight is undoubtedly the Arab Room (Sala Árabe), which was built to impress foreign investors during Portugal’s heyday as a colonial power.
Another must-see room is the Hall of Nations (Sala das Nações), which showcases magnificent paintings depicting scenes from Portuguese history.
Today, visitors to the Stock Exchange Palace can enjoy guided tours for just a few Euros.
Relax in Port of Ribeira Square
Many of the photos you will see of Porto show the Luis I bridge on the right, the river in the foreground and the bishop’s house high on the hill. Below the bishop’s house is a cluster of houses cascading down to the riverfront. These buildings form the historic district of Ribeira. It is one of the oldest areas in Porto and is now UNESCO listed.
Spend an hour or two winding your way down through the old, colourful houses until you reach the square on the riverbank. This is a major tourist spot, filled with restaurants, bars and cafes. This is a lovely place to sit in the evenings, have some tapas and a drink, and enjoy the views across the River Douro as the sun goes down. Beware though, it is popular, so expect to be paying tourist prices here.
Check out the Dom Luis I Bridge
It’s unlikely that you will be able to miss the Dom Luís I Bridge while you are in Porto, but just in case, do make it a point to have a look up close. This double-decker bridge was built in 1886 by the one and only Gustave Eiffel. Yes, the same guy who built the famous tower in Paris.
Originally both decks carried motor vehicles, but in 2003, the upper deck was closed to vehicles so that it could be adapted for the Porto Metro system. Now it is used only by trains, and pedestrians can also cross over on foot. The bottom deck is still used by motor vehicles and pedestrians alike.
Experience Peneda-Gerês National Park
Peneda-Gerês National Park is a stunning natural reserve located in the northern region of Portugal, a little over an hour north of Porto. The park covers an area of 700 square kilometres and is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna that thrives in its unique ecosystem.
The park is named after two mountain ranges, Peneda and Gerês, which are separated by the Cávado River. The rugged terrain of the mountains provides a breathtaking backdrop for visitors to explore the park’s many hiking trails.
One of the main attractions within Peneda-Gerês National Park is its vast network of waterfalls, cascading down from rocky cliffs into crystal-clear pools below. The most famous waterfall is called Portela do Homem, which can be reached via a short hike through dense forest.
For those interested in wildlife, Peneda-Gerês offers excellent opportunities for bird watching and animal spotting. Visitors may catch glimpses of wolves, wild boars, deer or golden eagles soaring overhead.
The park also boasts numerous historical sites that bear testament to human occupation over millennia. Ancient settlements such as Castro Laboreiro offer fascinating insights into prehistoric life in this part of Europe.
Aside from its natural beauty and cultural heritage, Peneda-Gerês National Park is renowned for its traditional cuisine featuring hearty dishes made with local ingredients such as roast kid goat or cozido (stew) made with various meats and vegetables simmered together over several hours.
So if you’re looking for an unforgettable day trip to see some of Europe’s most pristine wilderness areas then Peneda-Gerês National Park fits the bill!
Admire some of the many Churches
Because Porto was the seat of the church in Portugal, there are churches here, many churches, that are worth a visit. If you do a walking tour, you will surely hear about a few on the way. Some of the churches I suggest you visit are:
- Church of Carmelitas and Church of Carmo – these two churches sit almost touching, but in between you will find the smallest house in Porto, it’s only a metre wide. Find out how that came about during your visit.
- Clérigos Church – while visiting this church, climb the tower for fantastic 360 views over the Porto rooftops.
- São Francisco Church – the Franciscan Order was founded in Porto and this is the location of the first church. While that one no longer exists, the current church dates from the fifteenth century.
- Church of Santa Clara – the interior of this small church is entirely gilded. Dated from the fifteenth century, the woodwork and gilding are currently slowly being restored.
- Cathedral of Porto – the Porto Cathedral is located right up on top of the hill next to the bishop’s house. It is one of the oldest churches in Porto, dating from the twelfth century
Many of these churches require an entrance fee of a few Euros to enter.
Choose a Porto Museum
Looking for what to do in Porto in the rain? If you love to visit a museum or two when you are in a new city, you will not be disappointed in Porto. Here are five museums you should consider:
- Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves (Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art) – Located in Serralves Park, this museum is renowned for its contemporary art collection. It features painting, sculpture, installation art, and multimedia displays. The museum’s architecture is also noteworthy, with its modern design blending seamlessly with the surrounding park.
- Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis (National Museum Soares dos Reis) – Housed in the Carrancas Palace, this museum is the oldest public art museum in Portugal. It showcases a collection of Portuguese art from the 19th and 20th centuries, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and decorative arts. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year.
- Museu do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Museum)- As Porto is famous for its production of port wine, a visit to the Port Wine Museum is a must for wine enthusiasts. Located in a former wine cellar, the museum offers an immersive experience that explores the history, production techniques, and cultural significance of port wine. Visitors can learn about the vineyards, the winemaking process, and even participate in wine tastings.
- Casa do Infante (House of the Prince) – Situated in Porto’s historical district, the Casa do Infante is a museum dedicated to the city’s history. The building itself holds historical significance as it was the birthplace of Infante Henry the Navigator, a prominent figure in Portuguese exploration. The museum exhibits artifacts and documents that depict Porto’s past, including archaeological finds, maps, and historical manuscripts.
- Museu de Arte Sacra e Arqueologia (Museum of Sacred Art and Archaeology) – Housed in the stunning Church of Misericórdia, this museum showcases a collection of religious art and archaeological artifacts. Visitors can explore a range of religious sculptures, paintings, goldsmithing, and liturgical objects, providing insights into the city’s religious heritage. The museum also holds archaeological artifacts that highlight the region’s ancient history.
These are just a few examples of the museums available in Porto
Imagine sitting in a restaurant or bar in Porto, and in the corner is an old man strumming a guitar and singing in such a melancholic way, you are not sure if you or he will be the first to burst into tears. That is Fado.
While it’s not traditionally from the Porto area, it is part of the Portuguese culture and can still be found here. If this is your only Portuguese stop you should try to experience it if you can and add it to you r list of Porto things to do.
From Wednesday to Saturday try Casa da Mariquinhas. This is not really a great option for the budget though, as meals can be expensive here. This place was recommended by our guide though as one of the best. Slightly cheaper is Casa o Fado, which is open from Monday to Saturday.
If you would like to go to a show without a meal, click here to purchase tickets to a concert-like performance.
There are other places around the city that include Fado one night a week. I suggest asking at your accommodation for the best recommendation if neither of the above suit you.
And that’s it, the best things to do in Porto! Here are just a few more things you might find useful for your visit.
So is Porto worth visiting? – I absolutely believe it is. I had a fantastic four days in the city and would have happily stayed longer, even though the weather was a little cold and wet. There was so much to see and do mixed with a relaxed atmosphere, decent food and of course, the port wine.
The Porto Card – This card comes in 1,2,3 or 4-day versions, with or without public transport. It will give you entry to some of the big attractions and a tasting at a wine cellar. It also includes over 170 discounts all over the city. Click here to get your card now.
Porto Airport transfers – The easiest way to get to the centre of Porto is by Metro. You can buy tickets at the airport, and the price is determined by where you are going. (If you are planning to catch the Metro, perhaps consider purchasing a Porto Card above and picking it up at the airport on arrival so that the fare is covered by the card.) If you prefer a worry-free private transfer, click here to book in advance.
Accommodation – I stayed in, and recommend, Nice Way Hostel Porto. The location could not be any better, and I stayed in a huge private room with an ensuite. Breakfast was also included. Click here to see the latest prices and availability.
Other posts you may also like
Travel Diaries – Porto
Travel Diaries – Lisbon
Think You Are Too Old for Hostels? A Gen Xer’s Guide to Budget Travel
TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs
Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.
Hire a rental car – RentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.
Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.
Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.
Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.
Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.
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