Imagine a city that glistens when the light shines upon it; sun rays dance off a wide river, splitting two towns with a cableway, a tram, and an historic bridge. Blue and white azulejos delight you around every corner, etched into historic churches, their stories awaiting you inside. This city is called Porto, and it is the city that dreams are made of. Porto is an architect, history, culture, and wine-lovers paradise. Located 3 hours North of Lisbon by train, Porto is the second largest city in Portugal (after Lisbon), and is situated along the Douro River. The city’s core was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, and it is one of the most visited cities in Portugal.
If you’ll be visiting Lisbon, be sure to check out my Complete Guide To Visiting Lisbon + 26 Top Things To See and Do In Lisbon.
Though Porto is now a popular destination, its rise to tourism fame has only been in recent years, since around 2015, so tourism is a relatively new industry for them! As a result, real estate prices have risen around 40% over the last five years because of the tourism opportunity. In Portugal, you’ll see the letters “AL”, which stands for Alojamiento, which means accommodation. Each private residence that has been turned into an Airbnb will have this plaque outside the door so you know it’s a rental. Porto has been seeing a boom in development since tourism came to town, so you’ll see a lot of cranes everywhere.
We’ve been living in Portugal for nearly two months, and we cherished our time in Porto. In this post I’ll cover the following topics:
- How To Get To Porto
- How To Get Around Porto
- Top 16 Things To See and Do in Porto
- 3 Best Day Trips From Porto
- Where To Eat in Porto
HOW TO GET TO PORTO
Most people who visit Porto, come from Lisbon. If you’ll be coming from Lisbon, the best way to get to Porto, is by train. The travel time is approximately three hours, and the cost for a one-way ticket is around €90 (around $110 USD). Round trip tickets are cheaper, but because we’re doing slow travel, we always prefer to have an open itinerary without a set schedule just in case we love a place and want to extend our time; that way we have the flexibility.
HOW TO GET AROUND PORTO
Just like Lisbon, Porto is easy to get around by foot (though it is equally as hilly as Lisbon, so prepare yourself for a daily cardio workout!) The city has electric bikes and scooters, which are fun for a short distance, or taxis and Ubers are widely available.
TOP 16 THINGS TO DO IN PORTO
- Take a Free Walking Tour
- Climb the Torres do Clerigos Bell Tower
- Visit the Palacio de Cristal (Parque da Quinta Macierinha)
- Take a Tour of the Palacio da Bolsa
- Admire the Azulejos at Sao Bento Railway Station
- Be Wowed By the Capela das Almas
- Stroll the Praca Ribeira
- Walk Across the Dom Luis Bridge Connecting Porto to Gaia
- Ride the Teleferico Into Gaia
- Enjoy a Rooftop Bar with Views at Porto Cruz Space and drink the city’s famous beverage – Port!
- Stroll the Parque de Serralves
- Visit the Igreja Matriz De Cortegaca (25-minute drive from Porto)
- Watch the Sunset at the Miradouro da Vitoria
- Livraria Lello
- Visit Felgueiras Lighthouse
- Visit the Chapel of the Lord of Stone (Capelo do Senhor da Pedra) (20-minute drive from Porto)
1. TAKE A FREE WALKING TOUR
As always, the first recommendation I have in any city, is to take a free walking tour! We always aim to do this on our first full day in a city so that we become well oriented, and get the local’s perspective and low-down on all the gems! We used a company called Porto Walkers, and our guide, Fiel was phenomenal and so full of energy; it was as if his natural energy level is a normal person after 6 shots of strong Portuguese espresso. 😂
2. CLIMB THE TORRE DO CLERIGOS BELL TOWER
This is where you can find one of the best aerial views of the city, and get a good stair climb in as well!
3. VISIT THE PALACIO DE CRISTAL (PARQUE DA QUINTA MACIERINHA)
For another outstanding viewpoint overlooking the river and the town of Gaia, the Palacio Cristal has exquisite gardens and a tower overlooking the river where you can feel like a princess in a castle!
4. TAKE A TOUR OF THE PALACIO DA BOLSA
This stunning 19th century Neoclassical building, took 68 years to build because everything is made from granite and carved by hand. The building served as the former stock exchange. It’s hard to picture men yelling their trades at the top of their lungs, especially with how well the acoustics carry in this high-domed ceiling. The only way to visit the Palacio da Bolsa, is by taking a guided tour, which are offered in several different languages. Tours last 30 minutes.
The Moorish Revival Arab Room was my favorite, with its ornate gold and intricate geometric design, which lined the entire room with wall-to-ceiling opulence. Even the wooden floor was exquisite.
5. ADMIRE THE AZULEJOS AT SAO BENTO RAILWAY STATION
Sao Bento is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the entire world. Lined with panels of azulejo (blue and white tile) design, the murals represent moments in Portugal’s history. The multicolored panels along the top edge of the station, depict rural scenes of people in various regions of the country.
6. BE WOWED BY THE CAPELA DAS ALMAS
We began our Portugal trip in Lisbon, and I was so enamored with all the beautiful tiled designs, until we arrived in Porto, and I realized that this is the place for azulejo sightings. Porto delights with azulejo churches around nearly every corner.
Be sure to come back at night when it’s equally as jaw-dropping.
7. STROLL THE PRACA RIBEIRA
You’ll see all kinds of interesting things on the Praca Ribeira – people tanning, bird whisperers, fishermen, and mating pigeons. It’s quite the place to people watch! From here you can cross the bridge (either atop or down below, as there are two pedestrian crossing spots), to get to the other side of the river to a town called Gaia.
8. WALK ACROSS THE DOM LUIS BRIDGE CONNECTING PORTO TO GAIA
The upper part of this pedestrian-only bridge is really neat! It’s only meant for bikers, pedestrians and the tram. There’s a saying that goes, “There are only two reasons to visit Gaia: to drink Port wine, and to look at Porto”. I must say, this is pretty accurate. 😂 The views looking at Porto from Gaia are so much better than the views looking at Gaia from Porto. This concept of two towns split by a river, reminded me of Budapest.
9. RIDE THE TELEFERICO INTO GAIA
Once you’ve crossed the Dom Luis Bridge by foot, you can either simply walk down to the riverwalk, or take the cablecar down. It’s a few euro to take the teleferico, and you can just as well walk on your own, but it’s a must-do Porto experience at least once!
Once on solid ground again, walking along the riverfront is a lovely, peaceful stroll. Here you can see the signs and logos of all the Port producers, along with the ships that bring the Port from Douro Valley.
10. ENJOY A ROOFTOP BAR WITH VIEWS AT PORTO CRUZ SPACE AND DRINK THE CITY’S FAMOUS BEVERAGE – PORT!
This is the best rooftop terrace you’ll find, overlooking the city of Porto, and the teleferico literally goes right over your head! They have tasty food, a live DJ, and delicious, innovative cocktails using none other than…Port wine, of course!
11. STROLL THE PARQUE DE SERRALVES
Serralves is a cultural institution, containing a contemporary art museum and an expansive park, perfect for a stroll through nature when you want a small break from the main city center.
12. VISIT THE IGREJA MATRIZ DE CORTEGACA
Located 25 minutes from the city center by taxi or Uber, is one of the most unique churches I have ever seen in my life. Lined from the ground to the tops of the bell towers, are light blue and white azulejos, and the church is surrounded by extremely tall, skinny palm trees. This church is in the middle of a residential area, so there isn’t much else to do besides visit this beauty.
13. WATCH THE SUNSET AT THE MIRADOURO DA VITORIA
There are many miradouros (lookouts) in Porto that are great for catching the sunset; Miradouro da Vitoria looks out over the river where you can watch the sky turn to soft hues, lulling the city towards night.
14. PHOTOGRAPH LIVRARIA LELLO
I’m going to set expectations as best as possible here: this is a tourist attraction, so don’t expect to waltz into a Beauty And The Beast style library, having it all to yourself to photograph as you wish. It opens at 10AM, and there is a long queue to get inside; often taking upwards of half an hour just to get in, snap your photo and leave. Sasha and I didn’t feel this was worth it, so we just peeked our heads in to snap this photo and moved right along. (They do allow you to take a photo from the street, but if you linger too long, they’ll get testy, so just take your photo and go.)
15. VISIT FELGUEIRAS LIGHTHOUSE
One of our favorite days in Porto, was walking the entire path along the river wall, leading to the sea, where you will find Felgueiras Lighthouse. The entire walk took around one hour and a half, and we began from Praca Ribeira where Dom Luis Bridge is located. Be cautious here, as when the sea is rough, the water can come over the wall and sweep you away, so there are signs indicating when the threat is high.
16. VISIT THE CHAPEL OF THE LORD OF STONE (CAPELA DO SENHOR DA PEDRA)
This chapel is located in the small seaside village of Miramar, just a 20-minute drive outside the city of Porto. The church dates back to 1686, but the rock it sits atop, is said to have been a place of worship long before that. The chapel has withstood centuries of battering with its precarious location right on the Atlantic Ocean, still standing strong today.
THREE BEST DAY TRIPS FROM PORTO
Once you’ve explored all that Porto has to offer, I recommend venturing out on a few day trips. All of the below day trips are accessible by train, private or group tours, or by renting a car.
- Costa Nova & Aveiro
- Douro Valley
COSTA NOVA & AVEIRO
If you’ll be renting a car, you can easily do the following itinerary in one single day:
Porto –> Costa Nova: 50 minutes
Costa Nova –> Aveiro: 10 minutes
Aveiro –> Igreja Matriz De Cortegaca (the beautiful azulejo church surrounded by skinny palm trees): 25 minutes
Igreja –> Braga: 50 minutes
Braga –> Porto: 45 minutes
Costa Nova is characterized by adorably striped colorful houses along the beach. This long stretch of sandy coast is great for a relaxing beach day.
Your next stop is just a 20-minute drive Northeast to the town of Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal. With several canals and electric gondolas, it does feel a bit like a kitschy version of Venice.
If you think Porto is filled with churches around every corner, Braga is even more so! You can feel the charming antiquity of this old town as you walk through its cobblestone streets, admiring churches that date back to the 11th century.
3. DOURO VALLEY
Douro Valley is a wine-lover and photographer’s paradise! Rolling hills lined with undulating green terraces, all made by the human hand, twist and turn as far as the eye can see. Because of the mountains which surround it, this region is protected from Atlantic winds, making it dry and hot in the summer and cold in the winter. This region is famous for growing the grapes that are used in Port wine; wooden ships carry the port in barrels down the Douro River to Porto for aging (and ultimately, consumption.) We visited in mid-June and it was already 33 degrees C (over 90 F), so be prepared for dry heat. But not to worry, there are plenty of places to cool off with a nice glass of wine, or a tasting at any of the estates, or Quintas. For a brief history on the British connection to Port wine, check out Rick Steve’s Brits on the Douro.
Not a wine lover? Not to worry! There are other things to do in Douro Valley that don’t involve wine, such as visiting the most stunning church you may ever see in your entire life (and possibly the tallest!)
SANTUARIO DE NOSSA SENHORA DOS REMEDIOS
This beautiful church contains a Baroque staircase with 686 steps over several stories, and contains a panel of azulejos at nearly every level.
PINHAO TRAIN STATION
A bit more modest than the grandiose design of Sao Bento Railway Station, Pinhao Station has a lovely facade of blue, white and yellow azulejos depicting life in this region.
With all the walking around you’ll be doing in Porto, you’ll surely be hungry! And Porto is filled with great foodie gems. Here are our top favorite places to eat in Porto:
WHERE TO EAT IN PORTO
- Obica Mozzarella Bar – authentic Italian
- Manna Porto – vegan, vegetarian, outstanding healthy food made with love and honest ingredients, owned by a husband and wife who quit the 9 – 5 corporate life to open their passion project – this restaurant
- Swallow Decadent Brunch – breakfast & brunch, owned by a Canadian / Portuguese man and his Moroccan wife
- Do Norte by Hungry Biker – breakfast & brunch – cozy & stylish space, delicious healthy food
- Gazela Cachorrinhos da Batalha – visited by Anthony Bourdain! – local regional dish of Porto (sausage sandwiched in between two slices of bread, toasted in butter and smothered with gooey cheese – basically a heart attack on a plate, but oh-so-delicious!)
- Orpheau Porto – unique colorful tapas owned by a lovely husband and wife
So there you have it! The top 16 things to do in Porto, plus three awesome day trips from Porto!
**PIN THIS POST!!**
Susan DuvalJune 26, 2021 at 7:30 am
Hi Lisa! you have done it again!! An amazing, inspiring, educational blog with fabulous photos!! I am saving all of your Portugal posts for an upcoming trip there. Thank you so much for your dedication in creating such useful info for fellow travelers!! Sending you many blessings and much gratitude!!
culturalfoodiesJune 27, 2021 at 1:39 pm
Aww, thank you so much Susan! Your words are so kind. 🙂