Post overview: Best things to do in Porto, Portugal
Porto is quite possibly my favorite city in Portugal. Don’t quote me on that though, because I’d move to Lisbon in a heartbeat, if given the chance.
Divided by the Douro River, this vibrant city, filled to the brim with cheery locals and colorful homes, is irresistible in every sense of the word.
Between the historic buildings, iconic ironclad bridge and endless hills, here’s no shortage of great things to do in Porto, and prioritizing your time well is the name of the game.
My husband and I originally planned to take a 3 day trip during our month long stay in Lisbon, but quickly realized our mistake. We needed more time to explore! So we changed our return tickets and added another night at the hotel.
All told, we spent four blissful days in Porto and are already making plans to return for more.
Needless to say, we loved our time in Porto. And today I’m sharing my personal list of the best things to do in Porto, based on firsthand experience. This is the exact list I share with my own family and friends whenever the ask for advice on visiting Porto.
To that end, let’s cover the best things to do in Porto!
Tips for visiting Porto, Portugal
Visiting Porto during COVID: COVID is taken very seriously in Portugal. You must wear a mask for all indoor activities and your vaccination card will be checked if you want to dine indoors. A lot of folks wear masks outside as well and we felt very comfortable and safe during our trip.
Wear comfortable shoes: Porto is a walking town and you are bound to get your steps in. Between the charming hilly cobblestone streets and beautiful river views, you’ll absolutely need to pack your most trusted walking shoes.
The reason is simple: walking is the best way to enjoy the abundance of great things to do in Porto.
Restaurant hours: The Portuguese typically eat lunch around 1pm and dinner around 7pm or 8pm. As such, most restaurants don’t open until 12pm or 12:30 and then close from 4pm to 7pm, reopening around 7pm for dinner.
This was a challenging adjustment at first because we found ourselves hungry around 5pm. However, once we found the groove, we were better able to prepare by purchasing light snacks before the dinner. Heads up!
Portuguese is the official language spoken in Porto. However, it’s very easy to get by using English. Regardless, a little effort goes a long way. Here’s a few words worth learning and using during your visit to Porto.
- Hello = Ola!
- Goodbye: Adeus
- Please: Por favor
- Thank you: Obrigado (masculine), obrigada (feminine)
- Yes: Sim & No: Nao
Porto is all about a slow way of living. As first we were surprised to learn the average meal lasts 2-4 hours but after we got used to it quickly. When you sit down at a restaurant for dinner service, it’s understood that you will stay until closing time.
Best payment methods in Porto: Credit cards were accepted at 90% of the places we went. However, it’s always handy to have some euros in your pocket. ATMs are easy to come by, especially in tourist areas. ATMs accept American bank cards, so pulling cash shouldn’t be an issue.
Is the Porto Card worthwhile?
Prior to our trip to Porto we were conflicted about the Porto Card and wondered if it was worthwhile. You know me, I hate to spend money unless I have to, so I did more research.
The Porto Card can be purchased for a duration of one, two, three or four days and gives you access to six museums plus up to 50% discounts at many major attractions.
The card comes in two varieties: with public transportation or without. We opted for the card without public transportation since Porto is so walkable and suggest doing the same.
All told, the Porto Card was a phenomenal deal during our trip and we were grateful it was offered!
Best Things to Do Porto, Portugal
Explore Porto’s two historic district, Ribeira & Bolhão
Okay, let’s get to the fun stuff — talking about the best things to do in Porto!
First things first, start by exploring the city’s historic heart. The downtown core can be reduced to two colorful historic districts: Ribeira and Bolhão. Both neighborhoods are ripe for exploration and the cobblestone streets are worth getting lost in.
The majority of lodging accommodations are found in Ribeira, so you’ll probably spend your fair share of time here anyways. Plus, since the area is so densely packed, you can easily wander without a map or phone in hand – part of the magic is getting lost.
Located in the most prime location along the lively riverfront, Ribeira is most famous for narrow streets peppered with colorful buildings.
The area is full of quaint cafes, authentic restaurants, lively bars and artsy small shops. Our hotel was located in Ribeira and we spend most of our time in the neighborhood because a lot of the major Porto attractions are a stone’s throw from the river.
Also worth mention, Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Believe me when I tell you, this lovely neighborhood is as lively (and photogenic) as it gets. Enjoy your time and don’t rush it!
Much like Ribeira, the neighboring district of Bolhão is yet another cheery and densely packed neighborhood. There’s a lot to explore, but the two big highlights you can’t miss are the Rua de Santa Catarina and Chapel Almas de Santa Catarina.
The Rua de Santa Catarina (Santa Catarina Boulevard), a very busy boulevard teeming with stores, restaurants and cafes. Crowds are all but guaranteed so make sure to pack your mask!
The Chapel Almas de Santa Catarina (also known as the Chapel of Souls or St. Catherine Chapel), is located right off Rua de Santa Catarina. This 18th century church is arguably one of the most famous in Porto, thanks to the 15,000+ Azulejos (hand-painted tiles) that line the exterior.
If you’re curious, the tiles depict the lives of notable saints.
Stroll the Cais de Ribeira
As mentioned earlier, you’ll probably spend a decent amount of your time in Ribeira. So it’s fair to assume you’ll get well acquainted with the waterfront, called Cais de Ribeira.
Engulfed by stacked colorful buildings on one side and the gentle (albeit bustling) Douro River on the other, strolling the waterfront is one of the top attractions in Porto.
For whatever reason, my husband and I kept gravitating to this area every night we were in town. But can you blame us! The area is so lively (there’s usually half a dozen street performers) and it feels like the only place you want to be during sunset.
Cais de Ribeira is considered Porto’s liveliest spot for great food and drinks, especially during the evening hours.
We spent most mornings at a sunny cafe people watching and then returned in the evening for a different beverage of choice.
Sample Porto’s most popular export, Port wine
You probably already know that Porto is the birthplace of Port wine. So how could anyone possibly visit Porto without sampling the stuff and learning more about the history?
Lucky for you, there’s no shortage of great port cellars to choose from. Seriously, there’s ten of them within walking distance from Ribeira.
However, you might find yourself confused by one little detail, I know I was. Here goes: all the port cellars are located in Vila Nova da Gaia (simply known as Gaia), the town right across the river from Porto, but technically not in Porto.
Oh, the irony!
But there’s a reason for it. During our guided tour, we learned that the grapes are grown in nearby Douro Valley, where the extreme weather conditions at the base of the mountainous region are perfect for growing grapes.
However, the extreme weather wreaks havoc on the actual wine making process. To get around this, the grapes are harvested in the Douro Valley and brought to the port of Porto to be processed into wine.
The challenge? Knowing where to dock the boat. Well, the owners of the wine cellars were quick to notice that the taxes and fees were much lower in Gaia than Porto, so they started building their businesses in Gaia.
All this to say, we call the dibble Port, but it’s really made in Gaia. This is a slight technicality that nobody really pays attention to, until you find yourself in a position of creating a list of the best things to do in Porto and mention port tasting.
But back to the port tasting, am I right or am I right? Since all the cellars are located really close to each other, you can easily hop from one to the next (if you have the energy!).
Fair warning! Based on the long lines we saw during our visit, I’d say port tasting is one of the most popular things to do in Porto, so you’ll want to book your tour in advance.
Also, I’ll probably get hate mail for this but, the port cellars don’t vary too much from each other. We tried ports at four cellars (judge away), and they were all really good.
I honestly can’t say I noticed a marked difference from one port cellar to the next so don’t sweat this one too much. Just make sure you sign up for a tour.
Great Port Cellars in Porto, based on our experience
If you’d like some direction, there’s three great port cellars I recommend for first-timer visitors:
Cálem: The biggest port wine producer in Porto, Calem is a must visit for those that love port. Chances are good you’ve had their wine before, or at lease seen it in stores.
Due to high demand, book your tours in advance, especially if you’re visiting in summer. They offer a handful of tours, but I suggest the fado tour, which comes with a 30 minute tour, two port samples and a fado show.
I will say, the folks at Cálem are absolute pros. They’ve got the tour business down and are very engaging and informative. We loved our tour here!
Sandman: Founded in London in 1790 by Scotsman George Sandman, Sandman is one of the biggest names in town. The Porto cellar has been in operation sine 1811 and the brand is well known far beyond Portugal’s borders.
I love that the tour guides wear capes, it gives the tour a very playful feel. The port is great and the history of both port and the founder is quite interesting. Upon entering the building you’ll notice a small area full of letters and artifacts, give it a look.
Caves Ferreira: Founded in 1751, Caves Ferreira is one of the oldest port cellars in Porto (celebrating 250+ years!). It’s a tad further located from the bridge folks use to cross from Ribeira to Gaia, so it gets less visitors.
Ferreira doesn’t export port wine outside of Portugal with the same frequency as the other big names, therefore it feels like one of the more authentic cellars. What’s more, it’s woman-owned, which is an added bonus.
Walk the Dom Luís I Bridge
Speaking of the bridge, built in 1886, walking the Dom Luís I Bridge, is an iconic Porto experience! The double-deck iron-cast bridge connect the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
Designed by an apprentice of Gustav Eiffel, the beautiful bridge spans the River Douro and is considered an architectural feat. When it was constructed, it was the longest bridge of its type in the world.
One thing we kept reading in all of our guidebooks before embarking to Porto was that walking across the bridge (especially at sunset) was one of the best things to do in Porto. How right they were. We did this three nights in a row, before settling down at the Cais de Riberia.
The Dom Luís I Bridge swells with tourists and visitors alike during the evening hours, everyone eager to get a glimpse of the breathtaking views of Porto. Join the club, it’s a great time.
Relax at Jardim do Morro during sunset
When you’ve made your way across the Dom Luís I Bridge, head directly to the Jardim do Morro for more breathtaking views of Porto at sunset.
Chances are good that you’ll be serenaded by a talented musician and the chatter of love birds all around you. Soak in the views and the energetic atmosphere until you simply can’t stop pinching yourself.
Then, I implore you to trek up to the Monastery of Serra do Pilar for yet another beautiful vantage point of Porto. It requires an uphill climb, which will ensure you keep your feet on the ground after all those happy feelings wash over you.
Take in the tiles at the São Bento Train Station
Going tile-hunting is one of the most fun things to do in Porto, and you need not look further than the stunning São Bento Train Station.
Built in the 20th Century and covered in 20,000 hand painted tiles, the entryway of the railway station is painstakingly beautiful, a real show stopper.
The tiles were hand-painted by Jorge Calaco and depict various scenes from Portugal’s history — notable coronations and impressive royal events. Even if you don’t have a train to catch, make sure you allocate some time to visit this popular Porto attraction.
Explore the Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral)
Speaking of incredible tiles, don’t overlook Sé do Porto! The venerable Porto Cathedral is one of the oldest structures in Porto and stands as a symbol for the city.
A striking stone facade covered in tiles invites visitors to explore the cathedral in its entirety. You’ll need to pay a small admission to enter the church, but it’s worthwhile.
You’ll get to see the Cloisters pictured above, a beautifully decorated church equipped with a stunning stained glass window, and have an opportunity to climb to the top of the north bell tower for panoramic views of Porto.
The whole visit won’t take longer than an hour, but I can guarantee you — this is one of the most memorable things to do in Porto. Don’t miss it!
Tour the Bolsa Palace (Palácio da Bolsa)
The Palácio da Bolsa was built between 1842 and 1910 and stands as a testament to Portugal’s obscene wealth during the 19th-century.
Built atop the ruins of the St. Francis Church and originally operated as the Portuguese stock exchange and the glamorous interior was meant to encourage wealthy investors to consider Portugal’s robust trade ventures.
Speaking from firsthand experience, touring the Bolsa Palace is one of the best things to do in Porto. In fact, it was one of the most memorable things we did during our trip.
As impressive as the exterior is, you have to go inside to appreciate the breadth of splendor and detail that adorns these gold-leafed walls.
During our tour we learned that is took more than 60 years to complete the palace because of the grand detail, especially in the staircase past the Hall of Nations. How wild is that?
The star of the show, by far, is the jaw-dropping Salão Árabe (Arab room), which is guaranteed to take your breath away. I also enjoyed the Pátio das Nações (Hall of Nations, the original trading floor), the beautiful Court Room and Gustav Eiffel’s office.
Note: You cannot visit the Bolsa Palace without a guided tour, which is included with admission. Tours are conducted in four languages and the first person to sign up for a tour gets to choose the language.
Here’s how it worked for us: We showed up at 11am for a tour and were informed we missed the English tour by ten minutes. We were told that the 2pm tour was not booked yet and had an opportunity to book the 2pm tour in English, which we did.
We had a few hours to kills, so we had some lunch and returned to the palace five minutes before 2pm to start the tour, it was a breeze!
Visit Livraria Lello
Often considered one of the most beautiful stores in the world, Livararia Lello is a breathtaking bookstore believed to have inspired JK Rowling (the author of Harry Potter).
However, Rowling recently debunked this belief by telling readers she never visited the bookstore during her time in Porto, a decision she regrets.
Regardless, this Neo-Gothic bookstore is truly a sight to behold. Gorgeous wooden floor-to-ceiling bookshelves adorn the interior while a spiraling staircase invites visitors further up towards the vibrant stained glass window.
Fair warning: This is one of the most popular attractions in Porto and it gets crowded quickly. Visitors must purchase a 5€ Ticket Voucher and schedule the a timed entry in advance.
The time and effort is worthwhile, this is a unique Porto experience. When else will you have an opportunity of this caliber?
Tour São Francisco Church (Church of Saint Francis)
The Church of Saint Francis, built between 1393 and 1425, is unassuming from the outside but the interior is where it really shines. This church is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the country and the most prominent Gothic monument in Porto.
Visitors are privy to a grandiose display of extravagant golden gilt woodwork guaranteed to take your breath away. No inch untouched, the amount of gold used inside is said to weigh more than 880 pounds!
So yes, there’s a reason touring this breathtaking church is one of the most best things to do in Porto. However, it’s worth noting that visitors are not allowed to take photos or videos of the interior of the church.
Admission to the Church of Saint Francis includes a tour of the adjacent museum, which exceeded our expectations. We especially enjoyed the catacombs, which were striking.
Visit Igreja do Carmo & Igreja dos Carmelitas
Most folks don’t realize that Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas are two separate churches because it looks like one massive church.
However, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the two striking buildings are indeed separated by an unassuming narrow 6-foot house that is very easy to miss.
But the house serves a purpose! It ensured that the two churches didn’t share a common wall, so the monks and nuns could be properly kept apart.
You can tour the interior of the church (one of the churhces is free to visit, the other charges admission). However, I suggest admiring the tile from the outside, it’s incredible and worth a few moments of your time.
Climb to the top of Torre dos Clérigos
Torre dos Clérigos first opened its doors in 1763 and officially became the tallest landmark in Porto. As you can imagine, the views from the top are some of the best in the city.
You can climb the 225 steps to the top of the bell tower to be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of Porto for a small admission (5€). The admission includes a tour of the small musuem, but let’s get real, the tower is the star of the show.
Admittedly, the staircase can feel claustrophobia so you’ll want to embark on this popular Porto attraction at your own discretion.
Get your fill of Portugal’s most beloved treat, pastel de nata
Much like Lisbon, you simply can’t come to Porto without trying the most beloved treat in the country, the pastel de nata.
These delectable egg custard treats have put Portugal on the map and it’s impossible to stay away from them. Most bakeries will have these bad boys on display, but the bakery worth going out of the way for is Confeitaria do Bolhã.
Serving happy customers for more than 120 years, Confeitaria do Bolhão is one of the oldest bakeries in Porto. You absolutely must pick up a pastel de nata, but don’t stop there. Make sure to grab any and all the tempting pastries that stick out to you.
There’s a reason both locals and tourists alike flock to this bakery all hours of the day. It lives up to the hype! Besides, you’re going to need all the fuel you can get to power through all the best things to do in Porto!
More time? Even more top attractions in Porto
Visit the Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Serralves (Serralves Museums of Contemporary Art)
Designed by Portugal’s best-known architect, Alvaro Siza Vierira, visiting the Serralves Museums of Contemporary Art is a must for those that love art.
Located on the grounds of the Serralves Estate, this famous Porto museum features an impressive collection of world-class modern art in a beautiful art-deco building. Adorned by beautiful gardens, the museum building is a work of art and worth the visit alone.
Swing by the Casa de Cha for a coffee and pastry break before embarking on the peaceful Treetop Walk.
Catch a performance at Casa da Música
One of the true highlights of our trip to Porto (and the main reason I extended our stay), was catching a performance at Casa da Música.
Casa da Música is an incredible and unique concert hall that opened in Porto in 2005. The building is a true masterpiece and just being inside of it feels like a privilege.
You can catch performances there most days of the week and the prices are very affordable (we paid 6€ each and would have gladly paid more if asked).
Stroll the Jardim Do Palacio De Cristal
If you’re visiting Porto during the summer, don’t miss an opportunity to visit the gardens at Palacio de Cristal. Full of fountains, flowerbeds and youths (do people still say that? Either way, I’m sticking to it), this 19th century landscaped garden is a great way to reset in nature.
Helpful tip: We walked from the city center to the gardens but would choose to Uber next time.
Try Porto’s most famous dish
Yet another thing I feel compelled to share regarding the best things to do in Porto is trying the city’s signature dish, Francesinha.
So the story goes that a French emigrant attempted to adapt France’s beloved croque-monsier to the Portuguese palate after moving to Porto. In essence, this is Portugal’s version of the croque monsieur.
Hefty portions of sausage, ham and steak, sandwiched between bread and topped with a runny egg, melted cheese and healthy dousing of a spiced beer-infused tomato sauce.
The sandwich was met with great enthusiasm and quickly became a signature dish in Porto. The proper way to eat the Francesinha is alongside a draught beer and thankfully, Porto has great beer.
Catch sunset at Miradouro da Vitoria
One of the best things to do in Porto is to catch sunset from an epic miradouro (viewpoint). The scenery is breathtaking, especially when the sunset glow engulfs the city in deep shades of oranges and reds.
Of all the great viewpoints we explored during our trip, Miradouro da Vitoria was one of the more memorable because the expansive views of the city were unbeatable – you can see practically every Porto landmark from here!
But fair warning, the viewpoint is rather abandoned and has a tendency to feel tired. But you’re not there for the platform, you’re there for the view!
Take a river cruise
Porto is a city built around a river, and what’s the best way to appreciate a city built around a river? On the river.
As such, can you really visit Porto without taking a river cruise? There’s so many outlets to choose from, you can’t really go wrong. The river tours take 20-minutes and run €15 per person on average.
Take a scenic river tour is a great way to rest your legs after all those hills! Try to book as close as you can to the sunset hours when the colors of the city pop.
Helpful tip: If you’re interested in taking a river cruise in Porto then you’ll want to buy tickets in advance. This is one of the most popular things to do in Porto and tickets sell out fast during summer months.
Visit the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
Here’s the thing, no visit to Porto is complete without a proper visit to Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. The tiled exterior of the church is home to one of the most impressive tile displays in the entire city!
The church was built in 1739 but was destroyed by a storm in 1819, yet again in 1823 due to cannon fire during the Siege of Porto. It was rehabilitated extensively and the tiles were added in 1932.
You can tour the church or admire it from the outside. You’ll find tons of folks sitting on the steps outside and soaking in the blissfull feelings of the city.
Fancy a day trip? Go wine tasting in the Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is the crown jewel of Porto and making the (small) effort to visit the valley is definitely worth your time. You’ll be privy to Portugal’s most beloved wine region which is set in the most picturesque setting.
The Douro River divides the valley in two and one of the best ways to explore the region is by taking a river cruise. You’ll see rolling hills of vineyards and get a chance to go wine tasting.
If you’d like to skip the boat, you can easily get to the Douro Valley from Porto via public transportation. The scenic drive takes less than two hours and it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend a relaxing afternoon.
You’ll mostly find Porto produced in this charming hills, but it’s not too hard to come across robust reds and delicate whites. There’s something for everyone!
Best restaurants in Porto
We had a handful of memorable meals in Port. Below is a list of restaurants that truly stood out to us, these are places we would return in a heartbeat.
Cantihna 32: The first time we tried to visit Cantinha 32 we were turned away without a reservation. We weren’t deterred through and made a promise to return for lunch the next day. We were taken aback by the delicious whole octopus dish which is memorable to this day.
Mercados restaurants: This tiny (and I mean tiny) restaurant only seats 12 people, so you’ll want to make reservations if you’re visiting during high tourist season. My husband and I ordered the seafood stew for two and enjoyed every ounce of the meal. Another clear standout was the flaming shrimp, it’s a must-order.
Casa Guedes: A very popular restaurant for some of the best sandwiches we’ve ever had in our lives, this is a can’t miss spot for sure.
Tasco: Quite simply, Tasco makes you feel like royalty. I don’t think I’ve had better service at any other restaurant, ever.
Cantinho do Avillez: It’s impossible to find a “best things to do in Porto” list that doesn’t mention Cantinho do Avillez and there’s a reason for it – this place is one of the best restaurants in Porto! We had the octopus dish and cocktails, the entire experience was such a treat!
Best Things to Do in Porto, Portugal (Post Summary)
In sum, these are the best things to do in Porto:
- Explore Porto’s historic district
- Stroll the Cais de Ribeira
- Sample Port
- Stroll the Jardim do Palacio de Cristal
- Walk the Dom Luis I Bridge
- Relax at Jardim do Morro
- Monestary of Serra do Pilar
- Visit Sao Bento Train Station
- Visit the Se do Porto (Porto Cathedral)
- Explore the Church of St. Francis
- Visit Igreja do Carmo
- Try the famous Porto treat, pastel de nata
- Visit Livraria Lello
- Try Porto’s most famous dish
- Tour the Bolsa Palace
- Catch sunset at Miradouro da Vitoria
- Climb Torre dos Clerigos
- Walk the Escada Guindais
- Take a river sight seeing cruise
- Visit the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
- Visit the Serralves Museum
- Go wine tasting in the Douro Valley