Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Porto is an amazing city to visit. Chances are, you even heard this before. But it’s only by being there that you realize how magical and special it really is. It’s honestly hard not to fall in love with it. In this article, I share some of the fun and exciting things to do in Porto that will help you experience this charming city to the fullest.

Things to Do in Porto

Let’s dive right in. There is so much to see, do, and experience in Porto that you might have a hard time fitting it all in. But remember, it’s not about ticking all the items off the list. Rather, it’s about enjoying what Porto has to offer, its unique vibe and laid-back atmosphere.

Explore the Old Town

There’s no better place to start your tour of Porto than its old town. Walking the narrow winding streets will give you a first taste of what Porto is all about. A word of caution, however — Porto is situated on the slopes of the Douro River valley, so expect good exercise!

But believe me, it is well worth it. Walking into the labyrinth of Porto’s old town is like stepping back in time. Every twist and turn has a secret to tell while historic buildings and passages bring you back to the era when Porto was but a small medieval settlement.

One of the colorful streets of Porto old town
One of the colorful streets of Porto old town

Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site, the old town is the heart and soul of Porto and the origin of its identity. The identity that formed through the ages and can still be felt throughout Porto today.

But besides its historical and cultural value, Porto old town is simply a nice and lively area. There are plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants here, along with souvenir shops and some of the prominent Porto sights.

Admire the Porto Cathedral

One of such sights is of course the Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto). Dating back to the 12th century, this impressive building is one of Porto’s most iconic and fascinating landmarks.

Located at the top of the hill, the Cathedral dominates the skyline and is visible from a variety of vantage points around Porto. So you don’t even have to go looking for it — chances are, sooner or later you’ll see it anyway.

The view of Porto Cathedral from the Miradouro da Vitória viewpoint in the old town
Porto Cathedral as seen from the Miradouro da Vitória viewpoint in the old town

But don’t limit yourself to only admiring the exterior. Impressive as it may be, there’s plenty more to marvel at inside. From the beautifully decorated cloister to the Baroque wall paintings and two richly decorated altars, the interior is every bit as remarkable as the outside.

And if that wasn’t enough, you can even climb one of the towers for a breathtaking panorama of Porto. How awesome is that!

Stroll Along the River in Ribeira

The Douro River has always played an important role in Porto’s history. Even today, its banks remain one of the most buoyant and bustling areas of the city. As such, no visit to Porto would ever be complete without coming here at least once.

Called Ribeira, this charming and vibrant neighborhood beckons travelers with its picturesque streets, colorful houses, and energetic atmosphere. The backdrop of traditional Rabelo boats bobbing gently on the water only adds to this enchanting setting.

A typical evening in Ribeira, Porto
A typical evening in Ribeira

Ribeira’s narrow streets are lined with dozens of restaurants, cafes, and bars where you can savor traditional Portuguese cuisine, order a glass of port, or simply soak in the lively ambiance.

In the evenings, Ribeira comes alive with even more vigor. Various street performers take the stage and live music fills the air. It’s truly magical and makes Ribeira one of my absolute favorite places in Porto.

Take a Boat Tour

While in Ribeira, why not jump on a quick boat tour and admire Porto from a less conventional perspective? It’s a great chance to escape the hustle of the city and treat yourself to remarkable views of Porto’s waterfront and colorful architecture.

There are plenty of options to choose from. The shortest and most popular one is the Douro Bridges Cruise. In a traditional Rabelo boat, you’ll cruise past all of Porto’s six iconic bridges before returning to the port. All in under one hour.

For those looking for a bigger adventure, there are other alternatives too. From a two-hour-long sunset sailing to a full day and even multi-day cruises including wine tastings and winery visits. Pick whichever works best for you and have fun!

Take a Free Walking Tour

Walking around Porto on your own is great fun and a fantastic way to discover the city. But to dive even deeper into its rich history and learn various interesting facts about it, I suggest joining a free walking tour.

The idea behind free walking tours is very simple. These are small-group tours led by knowledgeable and passionate local guides. There’s no upfront cost but participants are encouraged to give a voluntary tip at the end based on their satisfaction.

Free walking tour takes you to the most famous and popular sights in Porto
Free walking tour takes you to the most famous and popular sights in Porto

Free walking tours exist in many popular destinations and almost always offer exceptional value. In Porto, I highly suggest one by Porto Walkers. They even have two to choose from: one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

Interestingly, the tours focus on different areas of Porto and different periods of its history and thus don’t intersect with each other. So if you have time, I recommend taking both. You will learn a ton of exciting, fascinating, funny, and sad things about Porto and its past.

Admire the Street Art

Porto’s street art is a captivating display of creativity and expression that truly breathes life into its walls and alleyways. If you pay attention, you’ll undoubtedly notice lots of it as you walk the streets of Porto.

The obvious example is the azulejosThese blue ceramic tiles have become synonymous with Porto, and you’ll see them on numerous buildings, including Capela das Almas, the São Bento Railway Station, and even the cathedral cloister.

One of many graffiti paintings in Porto
One of many graffiti paintings in Porto (photo © Flavytt)

But it doesn’t stop there. Throughout Porto, there are murals, graffiti, and sometimes, entire artistic installations. The Half Rabbit of Gaia is arguably the most famous one, but there are countless others. This article showcases a few.

It is such a fascinating sight. There’s a unique story behind each piece just waiting to be uncovered. But perhaps more importantly, together they add an unmistakable and irresistible charm to Porto’s urban landscape.

Try Some Port Wine

Port wine is arguably what Porto is most famous for. For centuries, the wine trade brought wealth and prosperity, led to the development of iconic cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, and ultimately, played a crucial role in shaping Porto’s cultural identity.

So if you drink wine, trying some port while in Porto is an absolute must. After all, there’s no better place to experience its rich flavors than in the heart of its production. And Porto sure offers extensive opportunities to do just that.

Port wine tasting in one of the Gaia cellars, Porto
Port wine tasting in one of the Gaia cellars

From cozy taverns to elegant bars and historic cellars, you’ll find no shortage of options to enjoy a glass or two while soaking in the local atmosphere. And if you’re looking for a great souvenir to bring home to friends or family, a bottle of port is hard to beat.

Take a Port Wine Tour

While a glass of port is immensely enjoyable in its own right, taking a dedicated tour adds a whole new dimension to the experience. It provides valuable insights into the intricate winemaking process and enhances your appreciation for this esteemed beverage.

You’ll learn a ton about Port wine, its various types, and the differences between them — all while hearing funny anecdotes and captivating stories. It’s quite interesting and you can use that knowledge later when ordering a Port in the restaurant. Or to impress your friends.

Calem is one of the wineries in Gaia that offers tours of the cellars
Calem is one of the wineries in Gaia that offers tours of the cellars

So head to Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Ribeira. There, you can join guided visits to some of Porto’s renowned cellars. Most culminate with a delightful tasting session where you can sample a variety of port styles, such as tawny, ruby, vintage, and aged ports.

Or, take this excellent tour from Porto Walkers. I’m not affiliated with them but I did it and it was outstanding — funny, entertaining, and full of valuable insights into the mysterious world of port wine.

Watch the Sunset

To me, a trip to Porto just isn’t complete without watching the sunset over the city. It’s so mesmerizingly beautiful! As the evening draws to a close, Porto is painted in warm hues, creating a magical atmosphere that captivates the heart and soul.

There are many scenic viewpoints to witness the fabulous sunset from, like Miradouro da Vitória or Jardim do Morro. But my favorite one is Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, just south of the Luís I Bridge.

Sunset and early blue hour over Porto, view from Miradouro da Serra do Pilar
Sunset and early blue hour over Porto, view from Miradouro da Serra do Pilar

From here, you get a remarkable panoramic view of the old Porto, the Ribeira district, and the Douro River. Breathtaking at any hour, it is especially magnificent at dusk when the sky transforms into an unbelievable display of colors.

For couples, it may be a very romantic and memorable moment. Solo travelers, meanwhile, will relish the opportunity to pause, appreciate the beauty of nature, and reflect on the day’s adventures.

Treat Yourself to a Francesinha

As you head for dinner, one culinary delight that you absolutely must try in Porto is the famous Francesinha. This hearty meal is truly legendary and locals take extreme pride in it. Tasting it is an essential part of immersing yourself in Porto’s culinary culture.

Featuring layers of meat tucked between two slices of bread topped with melted cheese and smothered in a rich and flavorful tomato-based sauce infused with beer and spices, Francesinha is a mouthwatering masterpiece and a feast for both the eyes and the mouth.

An iconic Porto dish of Francesinha served in a restaurant
Francesinha with some Port wine

But as delicious as Francesinhas are, don’t go crazy on them! If you do, you might quickly find yourself gaining a few extra kilos. Francesinhas are super filling, especially when served with fries. Keep that in mind and plan for some exercise to shake them off.

Ride the Vintage Tram

The Portugal capital of Lisbon might be better known for its vintage trams but Porto has a few of those too. So if you’re up for a fun ride that takes you back through history, seek one out and hop on board!

Remnants of the era long gone, these trams with polished wooden interiors and brass dials are immensely fascinating. Riding on one is not about commuting — they aren’t even a part of the official public transportation network. It’s all about the experience.

One of the vintage trams on the streets of Porto
One of the vintage trams on the streets of Porto (photo © Viktor Bondar)

Only three lines remain in operation in Porto (for a map and details, check this article). The most scenic is line 1 which runs from the center to Foz do Douro on the Atlantic coast. It’s a stunning journey along the Douro River well worth spending a couple of hours on.

Visit Mercado do Bolhao

Opened in 1914, Mercado do Bolhao is one of the largest and liveliest traditional markets in Porto. To this day, locals come here to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, seafood, and other goods.

But even if you’re not looking for anything to buy, Mercado do Bolhao still deserves a quick stop, if for the atmosphere alone. Much like the vintage tram, it’s a journey into the past that allows you to understand what life in Porto felt like back then.

Mercado do Bolhao is one of the most authentic markets in Porto
Mercado do Bolhao is one of the most authentic markets in Porto (photo © Blog59)

Over the years, Mercado do Bolhão has become not just a market but a symbol of Porto’s cultural heritage, cherished by both locals and visitors for its authenticity and genuine atmosphere. It is also a fantastic place to find unique souvenirs and gifts to take home.

The market is open Monday through Saturday, so pick a slot that works best for you and go check out what it has to offer.

Peek into the Livraria Lello Book Store

Livraria Lello in central Porto is often praised as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. With its incredible neo-gothic façade and a lovely interior featuring a marvelous stairway and wooden walls, it is indeed stunning.

Livraria Lello looks like something from the Harry Potter world. It is even said to have inspired the Hogwarts library in the series. Although J. K. Rowling herself has debunked these rumors, the nickname of the “Harry Potter Bookstore” has stuck with the store.

Livraria Lello known as the Harry Potter Book Store is considered one of the most beautiful in the world
Livraria Lello known as the Harry Potter Book Store (photo © Mikeltrako)

Keep in mind that Livraria Lello has become such an Instagram hotspot that the owners had to start charging an entrance fee of €5 to keep the crowds down. But it’s well worth it and if you decide to purchase a book, will be deducted from the total price.

Venture to Douro Valley

Although ports only became popular in the 17th century, wine has been produced on the banks of the Douro River for thousands of years. The Douro Valley region is one of the most popular day trips from Porto and for good reason.

Winding through rolling hills dotted with terraced vineyards and charming villages, the Douro River is unbelievably serene and picturesque. As you travel the region’s scenic roads, you’ll be treated to some truly awe-inspiring views along the way.

Douro Valley is one of the most popular day trips from Porto
Douro Valley is one of the most popular day trips from Porto

You will also encounter countless wineries and quintas (wine estates), some of which make the world’s finest ports and table wines. Many quintas offer accommodation and guided tours through the vineyards and cellars that culminate with a carefully prepared tasting.

If you have time, a day trip to the Douro Valley is a great opportunity to learn more about the history of Portuguese winemaking and immerse yourself in the tranquility of the countryside.

Take a Day Trip to Paiva Walkways

Paiva Walkways is another excellent trip from Porto that I highly recommend. Located southeast of Porto, this moderately challenging 8 km scenic walk offers spectacular views of the river gorge, dramatic cliffs, and lush vegetation.

Much like the Douro Valley, Paiva Walkways are a rejuvenating escape from the urban chaos. The peaceful sound of water, the fresh aroma of the forests, and the invigorating energy of the landscape create an immersive and extremely gratifying experience.

Paiva Walkways is a beautiful hike not far from Porto
Paiva Walkways is a beautiful hike not far from Porto

While getting to Paiva Walkways can be difficult without a rental car, there are organized tours that will take care of the logistics. If you’re looking for a less conventional yet still immensely satisfying activity in Porto, Paiva Walkways are hard to beat.

Have Fun at Pink Palace

Since I am not a huge fan of museums, I haven’t included any in this guide so far. Yet if there is one museum that I think is worth visiting while in Porto, it’s the Pink Palace – Museu do Rosé.

Dedicated to rose wine, Pink Palace combines tastings with inventive and funny installations, cool Instagram photo spots, and play areas such as the ball pit. It’s the kind of place that will be great fun for kids and adults alike. Just check their Instagram page!

Pink Palace’s motto reads “Life is a summer that never ends” and it tries to stay true to it. It’s both informative and entertaining, slightly eccentric and enjoyable whether or not you drink wine. So with a couple of hours to spare, head there and have some fun.

Grab a Drink at Rooftop Flores

As a large city, Porto has no shortage of bars and restaurants. And while this topic surely deserves an article of its own, there is one place that I want to mention in this guide. That’s Rooftop Flores bar.

Rooftop Flores is a small open-air bar not far from the famous viewpoint of Miradouro da Vitória. I stumbled upon it completely by accident while walking around the old town and instantly fell in love. It’s insanely scenic.

A view of Porto Cathedral from Rooftop Flores
A view of Porto Cathedral from Rooftop Flores

As you sip a beer or a wine on the bar’s terrace, you are treated to a glorious view across the historical center of Porto towards the cathedral. It’s a fabulous spot to go for a drink with a friend or even to spend a couple of hours chilling and reading a book.

It’s a small establishment and there’s no food other than some bites but the atmosphere makes up for it. And miraculously, there aren’t many people here despite it being in a busy area. A great little gem right in the heart of Porto!

Go to the Beach

Despite its proximity to the Atlantic, Porto is rarely considered a beach destination. And yet, there are quite a few outstanding sandy beaches not far from the center easily accessible by public transport.

Granted, the weather is only really suitable for seaside activities from May to late September. But if you find yourself in Porto during that timeframe, spending a few hours at the beach is not a bad idea at all.

So if you fancy a relaxed afternoon at the ocean, grab a towel and head to the coast. My favorite beach is Praia do Senhor da Pedra south of Porto but those in Foz do Fouro are also quite good. For a full list and detailed information, check out this article.

Do Some Landscape or Street Photography

If you’re interested in photography, Porto is a marvelous city to explore. With its captivating blend of stunning architecture, scenic landscapes, and vibrant street scenes, it provides a near-endless supply of excellent compositions.

Sunsets are especially mesmerizing, with viewpoints such as Miradouro da Serra do Pilar well-known among the photographers. But I also urge you to wake up early and do a tour of Porto while it’s still asleep. You are guaranteed to get some fabulous shots.

And of course, Porto’s unique blend of old-world charm and modern vibrancy provides an ideal backdrop for street photography. From lively markets like Mercado do Bolhão to bustling cafes and the busy Ribeira district, there’s always something to capture.

For the best photography locations in Porto as well as some advice on how to get the best shots, check out my photography guide to Porto.

Enjoy Pastel de Nata Every Morning

Although Pastel de Nata is not originally from Porto, you’ll find this iconic Portuguese pastry sold all over the city. Freshly baked, these tiny tarts with flaky crust and creamy custard filling sprinkled with cinnamon are incredibly delicious.

And so to me, one of the best ways to start your morning in Porto is to go to a local bakery and grab a Pastel de Nata with a coffee. Then sit back, relax, and watch the world go by for a bit while savoring this culinary delight.

Pastel de Nata with coffee is my favorite Portuguese breakfast
My favorite Portuguese breakfast (photo © Fèlix Tallada Castañé)

After all, as our tour guide said, “The worst Pastel de Nata I ever had was still pretty damn good”. This is 100% true. The Portuguese have truly perfected the art with this one. Go ahead and see for yourself!

When to Go to Porto

There’s simply no bad month to come to Porto. It’s an outstanding travel destination throughout the year. So my advice is to just come whenever your travel plans allow it.

If I had to be picky, the top seasons, in my opinion, are late spring and early autumn. The days are long, the weather warm and pleasant, and the streets don’t feel overly crowded.

Summers in Porto are the peak of the tourist season with lots of visitors and elevated prices. Besides, it sometimes gets properly hot outside. But if that doesn’t bother you too much, summer is an all-around excellent time to be in Porto.

Winters are cooler and rainier but have their own charm. Beach activities are out of the question but in general, the weather isn’t too terrible. You will still be able to experience most of the city’s highlights.

How Long to Spend in Porto

If you just want to get a quick taste of Porto and don’t mind covering only the most prominent highlights, two full days should be sufficient. But to properly do justice to this marvelous city, I suggest allocating at least 3 to 4 days. 

This would allow you to explore Porto at a more leisurely pace and avoid rushing from one place to another. You’ll be able to immerse yourself in Porto’s relaxed atmosphere and get to know it a little better.

Porto is a nice city to simply chill and enjoy life and vacation without a rush
Porto is a nice city to simply chill and enjoy life and vacation without a rush

But if you can swing it, even a week won’t be too long. Porto has this special vibe that makes you feel right at home and want to stay longer. And if you ever get bored, there are plenty of day trips to consider.

Getting Around Porto

The simplest way to get around Porto is by using a combination of walking, public transport, and Uber rides. Porto is very compact, and if you stay close to the center, you can easily reach most locations on foot.

Just remember that Porto is situated on the hills, so you might encounter some rather steep uphills. Luckily, you can always take a subway or an Uber instead of walking. The latter is very affordable in Porto (3-5 euros for a short ride) and I’ve used it a lot while there.

If you’re thinking of renting a car — perhaps for side trips or as part of a larger Portugal itinerary — you can. But even then I’d suggest leaving it parked and using other means to navigate around. It will be much easier than constantly searching for available parking spots.

Final Thoughts

I heard a lot of good things about Porto from my friends before finally going there myself. Sometimes, this creates unrealistic expectations which can in turn lead to disappointment when the reality doesn’t live up to them.

Luckily, with Porto, that’s not the case. It is every bit as fun and charming as everybody makes you believe, if not more. I instantly fell in love with it and hope to return there someday. If you’re planning a trip to Portugal, I highly recommend you include Porto in your itinerary.


By Lala