There are so many things to do in Porto. That’s probably why we keep going back for ever-extending periods of time! Despite being lovers of tropical weather and white-sand beaches, Porto is way up there as one of our favourite cities in the world.
For our love letter to Porto and a ton more information on how to get around, where to stay and what to budget (plus plenty more), be sure to read our dedicated city guide. But for now, if you want some quick inspiration to help fill your itinerary, here’s our pick of the 15 best things to do in Porto.
Taste Some Port
Port wine is probably as famous as the city it’s named after. Head across the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia where the decades-old port houses line the river. There are several options for port tasting while in Porto, from booking a tour of the cellars to just strolling past and enjoying a flight of port on the river bank.
If you’re into wine or port then you’ll love everything this side of the river has to offer, and if not, the general ambience and the view of the city from a new perspective make it a trip well worth taking.
We chose to avoid the port cellars (mainly due to COVID-19) and enjoyed a simple port tasting experience at Quinta do Nova. We sat outside just across from the river. Here, we tried five different ports accompanied by some interesting information and the whole experience cost under €25.
On our next trip, we plan to do a tour of the Churchill’s lodge. The reason this lodge appeals is that it’s a little further away from the main drag, and you can enjoy the beautiful riverside garden after your tour. We think it’s one of the best places to drink wine in Porto.
No matter where you do a tour or tasting, learning about port is a great thing to do while you’re in the city. It certainly helped us to appreciate the incredible product even more.
Enjoy Portuguese Cuisine
What better thing to do in Porto than eat Portuguese food? Portuguese cuisine is based on Roman, Moorish, Atlantic and Mediterranean influences, flavoured by spices from medieval trade routes from India to the Americas. It is unlike any other European cuisine we’ve tasted and it will keep you coming back for more.
Porto provides a perfect tasting platter for Portugal’s culinary delights. Practically every eatery offers Portuguese classics, like bacalhau (cod), sardines, bifanas (traditional pork sandwiches) and caldo verde (a hearty green soup), and notably, the city is also home to the mighty francesinha, a Porto staple that’s possibly the best sandwich known to man. You can even find vegetarian and vegan versions of the famous sandwich, so everyone can enjoy it.
Another absolute must-have while in Porto is the famous Portuguese custard tart, the pastel de nata. These are always best enjoyed with a coffee – more on that later.
Ride The Tram
While not quite as famous (or as yellow) as the trams you see in Lisbon, Porto’s trams are a relic of the past and an awesome way to see the city and beyond. The vehicles are gorgeous inside, with polished wooden benches and brass controls. If you manage to avoid the tourist crowds, Porto’s tram network makes for a very classy mode of transport.
There are three surviving tram lines still in operation throughout Porto. Linha 18 is probably the least interesting as it doesn’t pass many touristy sights. Linha 22 is a great option for newcomers to Porto as it takes passengers on a loop of the city, passing some interesting spots such as the Clérigos Tower and Igreja do Carmo.
But our personal favourite is Linha 1. This route takes you away from the city, trundling along the riverfront to Foz do Douro – the town where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, you will experience breathtaking views of the Douro and get to spend some time in Foz, an lovely seaside town just 5km or so down the river.
A tram ticket for Linha 1 costs €3.50 for a single and €6 for a return. You can opt for a two-day unlimited tram pass for €10, but be aware that the ticket doesn’t cover you for any other mode of public transport in Porto.
*October 2022: Note that much of Porto’s tram system is currently out of action as a new metro line is being installed. However, you can still take the tram to Foz do Douro.
Visit Some Wine Bars
One of our favourite things to do in Porto is sitting in a gorgeous bar drinking good wine, having a natter and watching the world go by. There’s really no better place to do this than in Porto.
The magnificent Douro Valley provides Porto with a delicious and bafflingly affordable wine selection. This is one of the oldest and most famous wine growing regions in Europe, with vines first planted by the Romans.
Whether you want to find a late afternoon sun trap or cosy up amongst the oak barrels during Porto’s chilly winter months, you’ll find the perfect place to drink port, wine, sangria or a unique port cocktail!
For a full list of the best places to drink wine in Porto (and anything else), make sure you check out our dedicated guide.
Climb The Clerigos Tower
The Torre dos Clérigos, or Clerigos Tower, is an iconic landmark in Porto. An 18th century church bell-tower that offers jaw-dropping views over the rooftops of Porto, the Clerigos Tower is one of the more typically touristy suggestions on our list, but one you won’t regret.
When viewed from street level, the 76 metre-high tower doesn’t look overly tall, but it sits atop a hill overlooking the city, so not only is the view spectacular, but you can spot the tower from across the city at all angles.
You have the option to visit the church as well as the tower, and if you’re into baroque architecture and beautiful churches, you’ll be pleased to know that this is free to enter. The tower, however, is the real treat, and tickets cost €6 for adults.
Make sure you check the official website for more information on guided tours and packages involving the Clerigos museum.
Marvel at the Livraria Lello Bookshop
Full disclosure: despite living in Porto for a month on two separate occasions, AND visiting at other times, we still haven’t actually managed to visit the iconic Livraria Lello Bookshop.
The reason we haven’t yet managed to get in? There is always an incredibly long queue snaking its way out of the bookshop, and a quick peek inside at the impressive woodwork and floor-to-ceiling bookcases explains why. So a word of advice – try and get there early and be prepared to wait. It costs €5 to enter, although the fee is deducted if you buy a book.
The story goes that JK Rowling was inspired by Livraria Lello when she studied and lived in Porto, inspiring her to bring the magical world of Harry Potter to life. As such, this shop is a book-lover’s dream and without a doubt one of the best things to do in Porto.
Visit Sé Do Porto, Porto’s Cathedral
Perched high up in Porto’s ancient Ribeira neighbourhood, this grand Romanesque cathedral is a sight to behold. One of the city’s oldest monuments, the colours and weight of history as you wander around the cloisters are just incredible.
It costs €3 to enter the cathedral and €6 if you want to visit the bishop’s palace too. Inside you’ll find an incredible array of gothic, Roman and baroque architecture, as well as a fantastic selection of azulejos, Portugal’s famous painted tiles.
Outside the cathedral is a courtyard with beautiful views over the Porto and the Douro River, which makes the steep hike up the hill more than worthwhile.
Stop By The Old Stock Exchange
The Palácio da Bolsa, or Bolsa Palace, is where the old Porto Stock Exchange was once housed. A neoclassical national monument, the palace was built between 1842 and 1910 and now stands as a reminder of a time gone by.
Short guided tours in various languages leave regularly. Simply queue up, pay €10 each to reserve your spot, and either wait around or come back later for your tour.
The palace has several grand rooms, including the stunning Salão Árabe (Arabian Hall), a fantastically beautiful ballroom inspired by Moorish designs, and the Pátio das Nações (Hall of Nations) where the stock exchange once stood.
The tour was a little underwhelming to be honest, as it was over in a flash. Ours lasted what felt like a speedy 20 minutes, and for €10 a ticket, we thought that was a bit cheeky. However, the tour is the only way to see the beautiful interior of the building, so it’s worth it just for that and some snippets of historical insight.
Go Azulejo Hunting
Porto is simply bursting at the seams with colour. Contributing to the city’s vibrant and colourful flair are the blue ceramic tiles known as azulejos that adorn buildings across the city. While azulejos are found all over Portugal, Porto is home to some of the most beautiful and impressive mosaic-like creations.
Azulejos were first brought to Portugal by the Moors in the 15th Century, and as such, they have a prominent place in Portuguese history and culture. Hunting down these delicate displays is one of the best things to do in Porto. Don’t worry though, it’s hardly a ‘hunt’ – you won’t have to search for very long! Even if you’re not a culture-buff, you won’t regret taking the time to see the azulejos due to their sheer beauty.
You will find incredible displays of azulejos across Porto, but here are our favourite spots:
- São Bento Train Station
- Igreja do Carmo
- Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral)
- Capela das Almas
Wander Through the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal
Just west of the city centre lies the beautiful Jardins do Palacio de Cristal, a 19th Century landscaped garden perched on a hill overlooking the Douro River. This little oasis of calm offers stunning views over the river and is a great place to take a stroll or spend some time with a good book.
We’re suckers for green spaces in cities, and while Porto has some excellent options, Jardins do Palacio de Cristal is the best of the lot – and it’s completely free to enter!
The original crystal palace has been replaced by a modern dome used for various sport and entertainment events but, unless you need to use the facilities or grab a drink, you won’t need to spend much time there.
Instead, while away an hour or two wandering through the grounds, taking in the view and just enjoying the peace and quiet.
Watch The Sunset From Jardin De Morro
Porto is blessed with a few incredible sunset views, but none more spectacular or atmospheric than the one overlooking the Douro River from Jardim do Morro.
Head across the Dom Luís I Bridge on the upper level and bear right. You’ll find a small park with undulating grassy banks that allow plenty of people to sit without getting in one another’s way. The sun sets directly across from the park and goes down behind the river, providing a memorable view as Porto turns from day to night.
From this vantage point, the view is magical at any time of year, but this is certainly one of the best things to do in Porto throughout the summer months.
Make sure you bring drinks and snacks to enjoy a special moment as the sun goes down, or buy a beer or cocktail from the kiosks.
Take A Trip To São Bento Train Station
(Even If You’re Not Going Anywhere)
As self-confessed travel junkies, it’s fair to say we’ll marvel at anything remotely travel related. But we’re not exaggerating when we say that a trip to this grand old train station is one of the best things to do in Porto.
You may find yourself at São Bento through the conventional means, perhaps arriving into the city or heading outwards on a day trip. Regardless, you could do what most people do and just go there, with or without the intention of catching a train!
What makes São Bento so special? It’s honestly one of the most beautiful train station you’ll ever visit. The main foyer is covered top to bottom with over 20,000 gorgeous azulejos depicting important events from Portugal’s history. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, and if you don’t have a train booked, you’ll wish you did.
The station is located in Porto’s historic city centre, so you can admire the exterior of the building while sipping on a coffee before you head off to explore the rest of what the town has to offer.
Take In The View From The Bridge
This may sound like a bit of a lazy suggestion from us, but you’ll get a truly magnificent view. The Dom Luís I Bridge offers visitors a view over the heart of the city, Vila Nova de Gaia’s port houses and the stunning Douro River itself.
The bridge is interesting enough as it is; at the time of its construction, it was the longest of its type in the world and Gustave Eiffel (yes, of Eiffel Tower fame) had his proposal rejected in favour of one of his young disciples. The bridge consists of two decks: the lower for cars with a narrow pavement and the upper for metro trains and pedestrians.
If you want to access the top level of the bridge, Head toward Sé do Porto (Porto’s cathedral) which is up the hill from São Bento train station. Or you can opt for the cable car or funicular if you don’t fancy traversing Porto’s steep hills. Just don’t forget to bring your camera!
Explore The Ancient Ribeira Neighbourhood
Medieval alleyways twist, turn and zigzag their way across Porto’s old town, giving visitors the chance to get lost in a maze of history. The Ribeira neighbourhood is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the commercial centre of Porto during the middle ages. You can spend hours touring the streets and imagining how fishermen and traders once spent their days among the centuries-old buildings.
The Ribeira, meaning ‘riverside’ in Portuguese, stretches down to the banks of the Douro River, and as you emerge from the shadowy labyrinth you are greeted with a postcard-perfect view of the Cais de Ribeira – Porto’s gorgeous riverfront promenade.
Many of the old buildings in this area have been fixed up and re-modelled. Some belong to families who have lived in the neighbourhood for decades, while others have become quirky Airbnbs. We stayed in one such Airbnb and can thoroughly recommend it: Casa do Souto. However, gentrification is plain to see in this area and it makes sad that these days more tourists are benefiting from the neighbourhood than the locals to which it belongs.
Discover the Ribeira’s cobbled streets yourself – just let your feet guide you through this wonderful piece of history.
Enjoy a Coffee and a Pastel de Nata
Sometimes, the best thing to do in any city is just to stop and soak in the atmosphere. Nowhere is this more true than Porto, where there are numerous cafes and pastelarias providing the perfect opportunity to sit and take everything in.
Whether you are working from a café, admiring the beautiful azulejos that adorn the city’s monuments, or you’re simply people-watching across a praça, Porto has so many great places to enjoy a delicious Portuguese coffee and the famous pastel de nata.
Trust us, sinking your teeth into one of these gooey, sugary, custardy delights is one of the best things to do in Porto and an experience you won’t want to miss.
You can get a pastel de nata pretty much anywhere, but we recommend Tupi (just up the road from São Bento) if you’re after a vegan alternative.
For more information about your trip to Porto, make sure you read our comprehensive city guide. It covers everything you could possibly need to plan your trip.