Porto Guide: 10+ Things to See, Do, & Eat

Posted in / No Comments Yet

The small print: Portugalist may generate a commission from mentioned products or services. This is at no additional cost to you and it does not affect our editorial standards in any way. All content, including comments, should be treated as informational and not advice of any kind, including legal or financial advice. The author makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or damages arising from its display or use. Links to external websites do not constitute an endorsement. [Disclaimer Policy]

Written by: | Last updated on September 22, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 32 minutes

Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, is a captivating destination that beautifully marries history, culture, and urban charm. Located along the Douro River estuary in Northern Portugal, Porto is renowned for its stunning landscapes, steeped in centuries-old traditions and captivating architectural heritage. Its historic centre, Ribeira, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, teeming with medieval streets, colourful houses, and age-old monuments that narrate tales of the city’s rich past.

The city is a paradise for food and wine enthusiasts, being the birthplace of Port wine. Its myriad wine cellars, that age the famous Port wine, beckon tourists to indulge in tastings and learn about the wine’s history. Food in Porto is a delectable mix of traditional and contemporary, with local dishes like ‘Francesinha‘ sharing the spotlight with innovative cuisine.

Porto is also known for its lively cultural scene. From the iconic Livraria Lello, considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, to the contemporary art showcased at the Serralves Museum, the city pulsates with artistic and cultural energy. The São João Festival, held every June, is a city-wide celebration full of music, dance, and fireworks that perfectly encapsulates Porto’s infectious spirit.

In addition to its historical and cultural wealth, Porto is also a city of stunning visual contrasts. From the intricate blue and white azulejo tiles adorning churches and railway stations, to the Dom Luís I Bridge that dominates the city’s skyline, Porto’s architectural diversity is astonishing. The modern, avant-garde design of Casa da Música, the city’s prime concert hall, stands in sharp contrast to the medieval remnants of the Porto Cathedral. The city also offers a beautiful blend of natural scenery. The Douro River weaves its way through the heart of Porto, bordered by the bustling Ribeira District on one side and the world-renowned port wine cellars on the other, while the city’s parks and gardens offer tranquil spots of green amid the urban landscape.

Useful Resources for Your Trip to Porto

Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Monte Gordo. 
  • Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Porto. 
  • Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental. You don’t need a car in Porto City Centre, but it may be useful if you decide to explore the surrounding countryside. 
  • Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups
  • Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Porto and the surrounding Northern Portugal region. 
  • Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. More options can be found in our article about luggage storage in Porto
  • Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal. 
  • Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. Porto has its own airport, Porto Airport, which has flights across Europe and to a few destinations that are a little further abroad as well. 

Where to Stay

There is no shortage of Airbnbs and hotels in Porto, but a few that stand out include:

  • Infante Sagres: This historic hotel, located in the heart of the city, offers luxury accommodation and has hosted numerous celebrities and royals over the years.
  • InterContinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas: Set in an 18th-century palace, this hotel features luxurious rooms with views over Porto’s historic centre and is conveniently located near many of the city’s key sights.
  • Pestana Vintage Porto: Right in the heart of the historic Ribeira district, this hotel is perfect for those wanting a waterfront view and a sense of Porto’s history.
  • The Yeatman Hotel: This luxury wine hotel and spa in the Vila Nova de Gaia district offers panoramic views of Porto and the Douro River.
  • Torel Avantgarde: This creative, design-led hotel offers a quirky and artistic take on accommodation, with rooms dedicated to various influential avant-garde figures.
  • Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel: Located in a restored historic building that was once a stationery shop, this hotel combines modern comforts with touches of its past.
  • Hotel Tipografia do Conto by Casa do Conto: These sister hotels offer a unique concept that combines history, architecture, and contemporary design in a renovated 19th-century bourgeois home.

What to See & Do

Ribeira Neighbourhood

View of Ribeira from Luis I Bridge
Look at Porto, and especially the Ribeira area down by the riverfront

Ribeira is undeniably one of Porto’s most picturesque neighbourhoods and a must-visit for any traveler, even if it is quite touristy. This UNESCO World Heritage site is brimming with history and character, encapsulating the soul of Porto. The area features an array of multicoloured houses, packed closely together, creating a vibrant backdrop against the beautiful Douro River. From here you also get great views of the Dom Luís Bridge as well as the Port Houses on the other side of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. The narrow, winding streets and alleys are filled with traditional bars, cafes, and small shops, allowing visitors to truly experience the local lifestyle.

Taking a leisurely stroll along the Ribeira Square, you can find locals and tourists alike enjoying the stunning river views, often with the iconic Rabelo boats – traditional Portuguese wooden cargo boats – in the backdrop. It’s also worth visiting at dusk when the district lights up and the sun setting over the Douro River makes for a breathtaking sight. 

Restaurants, cafés, and bars are naturally more expensive here, but there’s definitely a good buzz especially during the summer months. You may want to save your cash for establishments that are better value for money, but do still take the time to walk through the neighbourhood. 

Vila Nova de Gaia Riverfront

Located just across the Douro River from Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia, often simply referred to as Gaia, boasts a lively riverfront that is packed with attractions, making it a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. This area is best known for its Port wine cellars, with many of the most famous Port producers based here. From Sandeman to Taylor’s, these cellars offer informative tours and tastings, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the rich history and unique flavours of Port wine. The riverfront is a hive of activity, dotted with numerous restaurants and cafes where visitors can enjoy sumptuous Portuguese cuisine while soaking in the stunning views of the Douro River and the iconic Dom Luís I Bridge.

A walk along the riverfront promenade is a sensory delight. The aroma of the rich Portuguese food, the sight of traditional Rabelo boats bobbing on the river, and the buzzing atmosphere make for an unforgettable experience. On sunny days, the riverside terraces are filled with people enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful landscape that unfolds in front of them, including the striking view of Porto’s Ribeira district. Even though there are often throngs of tour groups, it’s a small price to pay for the beautiful views you get across the river of Porto and of the Dom Luís I Bridge.

Adding to the charm of Gaia’s riverfront is the cable car service, Teleférico de Gaia, which provides breathtaking views over the Douro and the two cities. The ride starts from Jardim do Morro, a perfect spot for picnicking with panoramic views, and ends at the riverfront close to the cellars. If you get hungry, the Mercado Beira-Rio is a good place to stop for a snack, a coffee, or a glass of wine.

Dom Luís I Bridge

Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)

It doesn’t always have the flowers – they were preparing for a wedding when I visited.

The Palácio da Bolsa, or Stock Exchange Palace, is one of Porto’s most significant landmarks and an absolute must-see when exploring the city. The words stock exchange might make you think of grey carpets and neon tickers displaying the price of coffee or orange juice, but that’s definitely not what you’ll find at the Palácio da Bolsa. This impressive 19th-century neoclassical building stands in the heart of Porto’s historic district, revealing the city’s illustrious past as a major commercial and economic hub. Commissioned by the city’s Commercial Association, the palace was built on the site of a burnt-down Franciscan monastery, symbolizing the emergence of business and commerce in a changing society.

Stepping inside the Palácio da Bolsa, visitors are transported back in time as they walk through grand halls, each uniquely decorated and telling its own story. However, the crowning glory of the palace is undoubtedly the Arabian Hall, an awe-inspiring room inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The Arabian Hall is a masterpiece of Moorish Revival architecture, showcasing intricate Islamic geometric patterns, dazzling gold leaf decorations, and ornate stained-glass skylights. This room, which took 18 years to complete, is used today for receptions and concerts, maintaining its original splendour.

The palace also houses the historic Stock Exchange (the name “Bolsa” translates to “purse” or “exchange”), reflecting Porto’s commercial importance during the 19th and 20th centuries. Guided tours of the Palácio da Bolsa offer insights into the city’s economic history, alongside the breathtaking artistry of its interior design.

You can only visit as part of a guided tour and, because tours fill up quickly, you’ll need to buy your tickets early in the morning or the day before. Tickets cost €10, which is expensive, but it’s definitely one of the most beautiful buildings in Porto.

The Arabic Room – definitely not what you think of when you think of stock exchange.

Tours are available in Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English.

Tips:

  • You need to visit as part of a tour: you can’t visit alone. 
  • Tours sell out really fast during the busy months. 
  • Get there early to book your tour for later that day or, even better, book it a day or two in advance. 
  • The tours in English sell out the fastest. If you just want to look and take pictures, and aren’t concerned with the content of the tour, you are allowed to book onto a tour in another language like Spanish or Portuguese (which don’t sell out as fast). 
  • While you can buy tickets online, you still need to go in to confirm 

Details

  • Address: Rua de Ferreira Borges, 4050-253 Porto, Portugal (map)

Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral)

Sé do Porto, or Porto Cathedral, is one of the oldest and most significant landmarks in the city. Perched atop the Pena Ventosa hill, with sweeping views over Porto’s historic center and the River Douro, the cathedral is a remarkable emblem of the city’s religious heritage. Construction began in the 12th century, resulting in a fascinating blend of architectural styles, from Romanesque and Gothic to Baroque, which mirrors the city’s evolution over the centuries.

The cathedral’s imposing façade, flanked by two square towers and a beautiful rose window, exudes an austere grandeur that reflects its initial Romanesque design. Inside, however, the cathedral unveils a richness of detail, with the Gothic cloisters being a particular highlight. Adorned with exquisite blue and white azulejos – traditional Portuguese tiles – the cloisters tell biblical stories in a distinctly Portuguese manner, offering a tranquil retreat from the bustling city outside.

Beyond its architectural splendour, Sé do Porto holds a special place in Portugal’s history. It was here that Prince Henry the Navigator was baptised and King John I married English Princess Philippa of Lancaster, an event that cemented the centuries-long alliance between Portugal and England.

There isn’t a lot of information once you’re inside the cathedral so, if you’re interested in its history, it’s worth reading up on it in advance.

Tips

  • There are usually queues to go in. If you want to avoid them, try to get there early. 
  • You can get a 2-in-1 ticket that allows you to see the cathedral & the Episcopal Palace (Bishop’s Palace).
  • If you climb to the top of the tower, you get a fantastic view over Porto.

Details

Address: Terreiro da Sé, 4050-573 Porto, Portugal (map)

Episcopal Palace (Bishop’s Palace)

The Episcopal Palace, or Paço Episcopal, is one of Porto’s architectural gems, gracing the city skyline with its imposing presence. This grand building, located near the Sé Cathedral, served as the residence of the city’s bishops from the 12th to the 19th century. It stands as a testament to the architectural evolution over the centuries, showcasing styles ranging from Medieval and Baroque to Neoclassical, mirroring Porto’s architectural tapestry.

Constructed on the remnants of an earlier Romanesque building, the Episcopal Palace’s present form dates mainly from the 18th century. It is renowned for its majestic façade with four identical facades centred around a quadrangular cloister. The palace boasts beautifully decorated interiors with ornate wood carvings, stunning frescoes, and elaborate tile work. Its grand staircase, a masterpiece of Baroque design, and the opulent halls filled with period furniture and artworks, are particularly impressive.

Nowadays, the Episcopal Palace is not just a monument to the city’s religious and architectural history but also serves as a cultural institution. It houses the city archives, with a collection of documents of great historical importance. The palace’s upper floors provide panoramic views of the River Douro and the vibrant Ribeira district, making it a must-visit location for every Porto itinerary. Despite being included in the 2-for-1 ticket, the Episcopal Palace doesn’t seem to get as busy as the cathedral.

Tips:

  • The building closes for lunch, so you’ll need to either visit in the morning or afternoon. 
  • You can get a 2-in-1 ticket that gives you access to both the Episcopal Palace and Sé do Porto (they’re right next to each other).

Details

Address: Terreiro da Sé SE, Porto, Portugal (Maps)

Igreja de São Francisco

igreja de sao fransisco exterior

One of Porto’s most significant religious structures, the Igreja de São Francisco, is a sight to behold. This 14th-century Gothic church, situated in the heart of Porto, near the Palácio da Bolsa, is renowned for its breathtaking Baroque interior, which is considered one of the most beautiful in Portugal. While its exterior may give the impression of austere Gothic architecture, inside, visitors will find an opulent spectacle of gilded carvings, contributing to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As you step into the nave of Igreja de São Francisco, you’re enveloped by a golden glow emanating from the walls, columns, and altars, all lavishly decorated with intricate gilded woodwork in the style of “Talha Dourada”. It’s common for Portuguese churches to have gold-painted carved wood around the altars, but at the Igreja de São Francisco it’s everywhere: up the walls, up the columns, and even along the ceilings. Among the church’s significant features are the magnificent 18th-century altarpiece dedicated to the Tree of Jesse and the outstanding wooden carvings depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Another highlight is the Chapel of Bones, lined with the remains of monks, a poignant reminder of life’s transience.

You’re not allowed to take photos inside and that is one of the best things about it. Rather than clambering to take photos everyone just sits and enjoys the unique beauty of this church.

Details

Address: Rua do Infante D. Henrique, 4050-297 Porto, Portugal (Map)

Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina

The Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina, or “blue tile church,” standing on the vibrant Rua de Santa Catarina in Porto, is a standout example of Portuguese artistic and cultural heritage. It’s primarily a place of worship, but what truly distinguishes this chapel is its extraordinary exterior, beautifully decorated with the traditional blue and white azulejo tiles that are a distinct mark of Portuguese architecture.

The exterior of the Capela das Almas, awash in intricate, colourful azulejo tiles, is an exquisite sight. Crafted in the early 20th century by artist Eduardo Leite and created in the well-renowned Viúva Lamego ceramics factory, these tiles depict vivid scenes from the lives of various saints, including the death of St. Francis and the martyrdom of Santa Catarina, the chapel’s namesake. When the sunlight strikes the chapel’s facade, the dazzling blue hues of the tiles come alive, presenting a mesmerising visual spectacle.

The azulejos, serving as a grand canvas, make the chapel’s exterior a living narrative, telling sacred stories through exquisite patterns and illustrations. Each tile’s blue and white palette offers a depth of detail that reflects Portuguese craftsmanship’s meticulous precision.

Although you’re welcome to go inside as well, the exterior is definitely more interesting than the interior – the interior can feel quite plain in comparison. 

Details

Address: Rua de Santa Catarina 428, 4000-124 Porto, Portugal (Map)

Igreja do Carmo (and Igreja dos Carmelitas)

The Igreja do Carmo and the Igreja dos Carmelitas, two distinct churches in Porto, stand shoulder to shoulder in a unique architectural pairing that represents a rare sight in European urban development. The two structures, both distinguished by the Rococo and Baroque styles, are physically adjoined, separated only by a narrow, inconspicuous house once inhabited by clergy, reflecting the then-prevailing church law that prohibited male and female orders from sharing common walls.

Igreja dos Carmelitas, the older of the two, was built in the 17th century in a blend of classical and baroque styles. Its elegant design features a single nave with side altars, a triumphal arch, and a finely decorated main chapel. The church’s facade, though understated, exudes an ageless charm that invites exploration of its interior’s equally compelling aesthetics.

In contrast, the Igreja do Carmo, constructed in the 18th century, showcases the ornate extravagance of the Rococo style. The church’s southern exterior wall is adorned with a magnificent panel of blue and white azulejos that depict scenes from the founding of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel. Inside, the grand altar and the intricate wood carvings add to the spectacle, creating a memorable experience for all who visit.

Details

Address: R. do Carmo, 4050-164 Porto, Portugal (Map)

São Bento railway station

São Bento Railway Station, located in the heart of Porto, is much more than a transportation hub — it’s a testament to Portugal’s rich cultural and artistic history. Opened in 1916 on the site of a former Benedictine monastery, it is renowned for its captivating interior, which showcases one of the world’s most impressive displays of azulejos, the traditional blue-and-white ceramic tiles for which Portugal is famed. This grandeur of this station transforms what could be a simple commuter experience into a journey through Portugal’s history and art.

Upon entering the station, visitors are immediately struck by the grand hall’s spectacle, where the walls are adorned with approximately 20,000 azulejos. The breathtaking tilework, which took famed artist Jorge Colaço over a decade to complete, illustrates significant events in Portugal’s history. The panels depict scenes such as the Battle of Valdevez and the Conquest of Ceuta, while others present a visual narrative of the evolution of transportation or traditional scenes of everyday life in the countryside.

São Bento is not just a station where journeys begin and end, but a destination in its own right. It is an art gallery, a history lesson, a story in tiles that holds you captive with its intricate narratives and mesmerising designs.

Details

Address: Praça de Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto, Portugal (Map)

Casa da musica 

Casa da musica is one of the main concert halls in Porto. It’s set in an extremely unique and modern building, both on the inside and on the outside. If you’re a fan of modern architecture, you definitely need to see this building.

There are daily tours of the building. A €10 a ticket, I was a little hesitant to take a tour but it was actually really interesting. The guides show you how to the building is constructed, in particular the materials and designs used to control sound.

Casa da Música, one of Porto’s architectural gems, is a venue that defies conventional descriptions. Inaugurated in 2005 as a part of Porto’s celebration as the European Capital of Culture, it stands out in the cityscape with its avant-garde, asymmetric design by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Inside, the innovative spaces of this multidisciplinary stage showcase a rich array of music genres, from classical concerts to progressive world music, attracting music enthusiasts from all corners of the globe.

As much as Casa da Música is a platform for the auditory arts, it is also a stunning architectural wonder to explore. Daily guided tours provide an in-depth look at the unique design philosophy of the building and its incredible acoustics. Visitors get to traverse the labyrinthine corridors, discover the multifunctional spaces, and marvel at the panoramic city views from the rooftop. Every detail, from the wall’s soundproofing to the auditoriums’ seating arrangement, is carefully considered, exemplifying Koolhaas’s innovative approach to music and architecture.

In addition to learning about the building’s architectural brilliance, visitors on the guided tour also gain insights into the significant role Casa da Música plays in Porto’s cultural scene. It’s home to three orchestras: Orquestra Nacional do Porto, Orquestra Barroca, and Remix Ensemble. A tour allows a peek into the backstage, rehearsal rooms, and if you’re lucky, a chance to witness a rehearsal in progress.

Tours are available in English and Portuguese, normally at 11 am and 4 pm. Between June 1st and September 30th there are additional tours at 11 am and 5 pm.

Details

Address: Av. da Boavista 604-610, 4149-071 Porto, Portugal (map)

Livraria Lello

Livraria Lello
Livraria Lello with no people (Stock Photo). Unfortunately, it never looks like this.

One of the world’s oldest and most enchanting bookshops, Livraria Lello, located in the heart of Porto, is an epitome of literary allure. Established in 1906, the bookstore is an Art Nouveau masterpiece with neo-Gothic elements, featuring a stunning stained glass ceiling, carved wood paneling, and an iconic, ornate red staircase that seems to float in the middle of the shop, making it a magnet for book lovers and architecture aficionados alike.

Livraria Lello’s fame grew exponentially with the rise of the Harry Potter series, as J.K. Rowling, who once lived in Porto, is said to have drawn inspiration from this charming bookstore for her magical world of wizardry. The elaborate staircase, in particular, is often associated with the moving staircases of Hogwarts, and the store’s overall ambiance is said to have influenced the depiction of the Flourish and Blotts bookshop in the series. Visitors often feel like they’ve stepped into a scene from Harry Potter, the bookshop offering an immersive, almost magical experience.

Despite the Harry Potter connection, Livraria Lello is more than just a point of pilgrimage for Potterheads. It’s an operational bookstore where you can explore a wide selection of Portuguese literature, international bestsellers, and diverse genres. Every book-lined shelf and hidden corner tells a story, making a visit to Livraria Lello a must when in Porto. Be prepared for a queue, especially during peak tourist season when the queue can be as long as 200 people or more. 

Tickets cost €5 but, if you buy something, you get €5 off.

Tips

  • You can skip the line by visiting the bookshop on this walking tour of Porto
  • Buy your tickets in advance as they do sell out. 
  • The best times to go are early morning or very late afternoon (Opening hours are normally 9:30AM–7PM) 

Details

Address: R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal (map)

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

A tranquil haven in the bustling city of Porto, the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, or the Crystal Palace Gardens, are a delightful retreat and a feast for the eyes. Named after the original Crystal Palace that once graced its grounds, the gardens span over eight hectares of lush greenery, charming walkways, and enchanting hideaways. Although the Crystal Palace was replaced by Rosa Mota Pavilion in the 1950s, the name of the gardens continues to evoke the grandeur of the past.

The gardens have been beautifully landscaped to encompass a variety of botanical sub-gardens, each boasting its own unique selection of plants, trees, and flowers. These include a Rose Garden, a Garden of Feelings, and a Garden of Aromatic Plants, among others. As you wander through the verdant spaces, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views over the Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia on the river’s other side, best enjoyed from strategically placed viewpoints.

Adding to the charm of Jardins do Palácio de Cristal is its diverse wildlife, particularly the peacocks and other birds that freely roam the gardens, adding a sense of whimsy. The gardens also host a library, a cafeteria, and a romantic chapel.

If you’re visiting this part of town, it’s worth visiting. However, with the exception of the Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha (the Romantic Museum), there aren’t many other attractions nearby, so if you’re short on time, this may be one to add for another time. 

Details

Address: R. de Dom Manuel II, 4050-346 Porto, Portugal (Map)

Admire the Street Art

Street art is thriving in Porto, adding another layer of vibrant culture to the city’s already rich history and architectural charm. Artists have transformed the city’s streets, alleys, and buildings into a dynamic, open-air museum, using Porto’s urban canvas to tell stories and express creativity. Murals and graffiti, ranging from small, intricate works to larger-than-life pieces, can be found throughout the city, adding splashes of color and provoking thought in both locals and tourists.

Particularly notable is the art district around Rua Miguel Bombarda, which is a hub of galleries, alternative shops, and of course, plenty of street art. Here, the murals are as diverse as they are plentiful, showcasing a wide range of styles, themes, and techniques. Artists such as Hazul, Mr. Dheo, and Costah have all left their mark in the city, with pieces that range from political commentary to whimsical depictions of everyday life. 

In Porto, the street art is dotted around the city and there’s a good chance you’ll stumble upon some of it by accident. If you don’t want to leave things to chance, however, you could take a street art tour. Not only will the guides take you to the different pieces around the city, but they’ll also be able to tell you a little about the artists and how these pieces came to be.

Climb Clérigos Tower

One of the defining symbols of Porto, the Clérigos Tower, or Torre dos Clérigos, offers both a historical landmark and a fantastic vantage point over the city. A part of the larger Clérigos Church complex, the tower was designed by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni and constructed between 1754 and 1763. Standing at 75 meters high, this granite structure is an excellent example of the Baroque style that characterizes much of Porto’s historic architecture. Nasoni’s design has earned the tower a spot in the pantheon of the city’s most important cultural icons, a testament to its historical and architectural significance.

The tower’s 225-step spiral staircase may seem daunting, but those who venture to the top are rewarded with panoramic views of Porto’s landscape, including the winding Douro River, the vibrant Ribeira district, and the sea of terracotta roofs stretching out to the Atlantic. This breathtaking perspective on the cityscape has made the climb an essential part of any visit to Porto.

Apart from the view, the tower itself is a spectacle, particularly when illuminated against the night sky. The Torre dos Clérigos is not only a must-visit attraction for its historical and architectural value, but it’s also a symbol of Porto’s resilience and enduring charm. This attraction can get quite busy during peak tourist season, so it may be something you want to leave for an off-season visit. 

Details

Address: R. de São Filipe de Nery 4050-546 Porto, Portugal (Map)

Shop at Bolhão Market

Bolhão Market, or Mercado do Bolhão, is a vibrant hub of culture and commerce in the heart of Porto, and a visit to this bustling spot is an essential part of any trip to the city. Dating back to the 19th century, the market is one of Porto’s most traditional places for locals to buy and sell a wide array of goods. While the structure has undergone renovations over the years, it has managed to retain its authenticity and charm, making it an excellent place to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Stepping into Bolhão Market is like stepping into a gastronomic wonderland. Its vibrant stalls are brimming with fresh produce, fish, meat, bread, and traditional Portuguese treats. Local vendors offer an assortment of regional specialties, from fresh olives and ripe tomatoes to local cheeses and the famed Portuguese custard tarts known as ‘pastéis de nata’. The sight of stacked fruit, fresh fish on ice, and arrays of locally produced goods, combined with the hum of Portuguese conversation, creates a sensory feast that is not to be missed.

Apart from its culinary offerings, the market also houses several other types of shops, including those selling flowers, crafts, and souvenirs. Bolhão Market is not merely a place for commerce, but also a social hub where you can engage with the local people of Porto. It is not meant to be a touristic attraction, so be aware that this is still the place where many locals do their shopping. If you visit, please try to join them and buy something rather than merely take photos as this helps support the local businesses there. 

Details

Address: R. Formosa, 4000-214 Porto, Portugal (maps)

Stop for a snack at Mercado Beira-Rio

Situated in the Vila Nova de Gaia district of Porto, right on the southern bank of the Douro River, Mercado Beira-Rio presents another vibrant market experience. Although there is a section selling fresh fruit, veg, and meat, the majority of the market is made up of modern stalls selling Francesinhas, bifanas, leitão sandwiches, Portuguese cheeses, cocktails, and bacalhau. 

If you want to do some shopping, you can find stalls showcasing everything from freshly caught fish and seafood, sourced directly from the nearby Atlantic, to ripe fruits and vegetables, artisanal bread, and locally produced cheeses.

Details

Address: Av. de Ramos Pinto 148, 4400-261 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal (Maps)

Take a trip up the Douro

boat on the Douro river
Boat on the Douro River near Pinhão

If you have enough time, it’s worth taking a day trip from Porto into the Douro. The Douro is a wine-growing region just outside of Porto that’s beyond stunning, and one of the most beautiful places in Portugal. It’s also the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Journeying up the Douro can be done in a variety of ways. River cruises offer a leisurely way to take in the spectacular scenery, and many include lunch or dinner on board. For those preferring a land-based exploration, a train ride on the historical Linha do Douro offers equally stunning views. Alternatively, for the adventurous, renting a car and driving along the winding roads gives the flexibility to stop at the many charming small towns dotted along the river.  Once in the Douro, you can visit some vineyards, take a boat ride up the river, or take part in other activities like hiking, kayaking, or cycling.

If you’re thinking about visiting The Douro, this article about Pinhão, one of the most popular towns in the Douro, is a great place to start. 

Have a coffee at Majestic Café

Located in the heart of Porto on the bustling Rua de Santa Catarina, the Majestic Café is an iconic symbol of the city’s rich history and culture. Stepping inside the café is like traveling back to the early 20th century, when it was a popular meeting place for intellectuals, artists, and writers. The ornate interior, embellished with carved wood, mirrors, and chandeliers, exudes an atmosphere of bygone elegance.

Like Livraria Lello, Majestic Café has become extremely touristy and that means it’s crowded, expensive, and you’ll often have to queue to get in, so this isn’t one of those things you have to do. Expect to pay €5 for an espresso (normally around 0.50-0.80) and €3 for a pastel de nata (normally around €1).

All of that aside, this is a beautiful café and it’s where J. K. Rowling is believed to have written some of the first few chapters of Harry Potter. The café, which opened just after the first world war in 1921, is luxurious on the inside –  a reflection of the decadence of the roaring 20s.

Tips:

  • TripAdvisor reviews suggest the food isn’t particularly good. Have a coffee or a drink instead. 
  • Majestic Café isn’t the only heritage café in Porto. For a similar but less touristy option, try Café Guarany (Map)
  • Get there early or go there in the evening to avoid the queues at peak times. 

Details

Address: Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto, Portugal (Map)

Take a day trip to Matosinhos

Just a short metro, bus, or taxi ride from the centre of Porto, Matosinhos offers a seaside escape that contrasts wonderfully with the urban hustle and bustle. This coastal town is renowned for its expansive sandy beach, which attracts sunbathers, swimmers, and surfers alike with its clean, inviting waters and steady waves. The beach promenade is perfect for leisurely strolls or bike rides, with plenty of cafés and restaurants where you can indulge in fresh seafood while overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s just a beach, though. While it serves its purpose as a place to swim, work on that all-important tan, and take a break from sightseeing, there are much nicer beaches in Portugal – including some that are within driving distance of Porto.

Details

Address: Av. Norton de Matos, 4450-208 Matosinhos, Portugal (Map)

What to Eat

Porto’s cuisine is a vibrant testament to its rich history and culture. The city’s culinary landscape is diverse, and its traditional dishes continue to delight visitors from all corners of the world.

One cannot talk about Porto’s food without highlighting Francesinha, a mouthwatering sandwich filled with various meats like ham, sausage, and steak, covered in melted cheese and drenched in a tangy tomato and beer sauce. Served hot with a side of fries, Francesinha is a hearty and filling dish. Another much-loved snack is Bifanas, a Portuguese sandwich made of thin slices of pork marinated in white wine, garlic, and spices, served on soft bread, often enjoyed with a cold beer.

Tripas à Moda do Porto, or tripe in the style of Porto, is a unique and traditional dish that reflects the city’s history and character. Prepared with tripe, white beans, and various meats, this dish has a rich, complex flavour that is beloved by locals. Cachorrinho, literally translating to ‘little dog’, is another favourite. It’s a hot dog, but not as you might know it. The sausage is grilled, placed inside a bread roll, and topped with cheese and a spicy sauce.

Porto’s gastronomy also offers delightful seafood dishes. Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is a quintessential codfish dish, prepared with potatoes, onions, and garnished with sliced boiled eggs and black olives. Lastly, for the sweet tooth, Porto’s éclair, especially from Leitaria da Quinta do Paço, is a must-try. These cream-filled pastries are deliciously indulgent, topped with a variety of flavoured icing.

Of course, your culinary journey in Porto would not be complete without trying Port wine. This sweet, fortified wine from the Douro Valley is iconic and pairs wonderfully with many of the city’s rich, hearty dishes. Whether enjoyed in a traditional cellar or a modern wine bar, it’s the perfect way to toast your visit to this vibrant city.

Spotted a mistake? Suggest a correction

There are 0 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.