What to See & Do in Porto

By | Last updated: May 21, 2020
"I live in Portugal, I've travelled to almost every part of Portugal, and one day I hope to write a book about Portugal."

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There’s so much to see and do in Porto. From historical attractions to Port tasting, you’ll probably finish your trip to Porto wishing you’d had more time here. Every time I come to Porto, I always find new interesting shops, attractions, and hidden gems all around the city.

What to SEE

Ribeira Neighbourhood

Verdict: See it!

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

Although very touristy, the riverside neighbourhood of Ribeira is one of the most beautiful parts of Porto. From here you 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.

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

Verdict: See it (and visit a Port House or two as well)

Like Ribeira over in Porto, the riverfront area of Vila Nova de Gaia is also quite touristy. But, even though there are a few 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.

While you’re here, be sure to visit at least one of the Port houses. 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

Verdict: See it! Try and walk across both the top and bottom level at some point on your trip.

It’s hard to miss this magnificent bridge: head to Ribeira (Porto’s riverside area) or over to the riverfront in Vila Nova de Gaia and it’ll be right in front of you. You can also walk across the top of it, and you do get some really great views from the top.

Construction of the bridge was completed in 1886, and not a moment too soon either. Prior to that, there was a makeshift bridge made from rabelo boats that were tied together.

The architects of the bridge were François Gustave Théophile Seyrig and Léopold Valentin, but what everyone seems to remember is that Seyrig was a former student and business partner of French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower.

There are plenty of places to get a good view of the Dom Luís Bridge. I particularly like Ribeira, by the Port Houses in Vila Nova da Gaia, and up slightly higher by the Património a Norte museum. 

Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)

Verdict: See it!

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

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. Even though that was a part of this building’s history, the building itself really is a palace and a beautiful one at that.

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)

Verdict: See it!

The Sé do Porto is one of the most popular attractions in Porto and for good reason. It’s an incredible building with beautiful cloisters and a small but interesting collection of artefacts such as frocks, books, and religious ornaments.

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)

Verdict: See it if you have time – especially as you can get the 2-for-1 ticket.

Despite being included in the 2-for-1 ticket, the Episcopal Palace doesn’t seem to get as busy as the cathedral.

The rooms inside the building are housed with beautiful furniture, paintings, and artefacts. It’s all so luxurious that you’ll probably find yourself Googling “how to become a bishop.”

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

Verdict: See it!

igreja de sao fransisco exterior

The Igreja de São Francisco is an incredibly beautiful and ornate church. 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.

You’re not allowed to take photos inside and that was one of the things that I love about it. Rather than clambering to take photos (which being honest are probably never going to turn out very well for most people) everyone was just sitting and enjoying the unique beauty of this church.

The ticket to the church also includes a visit to the catacombs. Although not as full-on as the bone chapels in other parts of the country, these are still quite creepy. 

Details

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

Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina

Verdict: It’s beautiful. See it if you’re passing that way, but it’s not the only beautiful blue-tiled building in Porto.

Often known as the “blue tile church,” this beautiful church is situated in the heart of the city centre on Rua de Santa Catarina. It features blue and white tiles that depict biblical scenes, something that’s common in Portuguese churches but usually it only covers a small portion of the church walls.

It’s an incredibly beautiful building, and worth visiting. Although you’re welcome to go inside as well, the exterior is definitely more interesting than the interior – the interior is quite plain in comparison. 

Details

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

Igreja do Carmo (and Igreja dos Carmelitas)

Verdict: As with the Capela Das Almas De Santa Catarina, see it if you’re passing that way.

Another church known for its beautiful blue tile exterior, the Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas are located a little further away from the city centre (about 15 minutes’ walk from the riverfront) but it’s worth it.

It would be easy to assume that this is just one church, but it’s actually two: one for the Carmo monks (on the right) and one for the Carmelite nuns (on the left left). Diving the two churches is a 1-metre wide house, which has to be one of the narrowest houses in the world.

The churches are also beautiful and ornate on the inside as well, and so it’s worth going inside.

Details

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

São Bento railway station

Verdict: See it! It’s in the city centre, so you’ll pass it at least once on your trip.

Portugal has some beautiful train stations, but the São Bento Railway Station has to be one of the most beautiful.

From floor to ceiling, the walls are lined with colourful blue and with azulejos that depict rural scenes, battles, and transportation scenes. In total, there are more than 20,000 tiles in the train station.

Details

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

Casa da musica 

Verdict: Not an essential part of the Porto experience, but an interesting tour.

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.

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

Verdict: Unless you’re visiting in the low season, or you’re a big Harry Potter nerd, you can probably give this a miss.

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

Livraria Lello is beautiful and yes, it’s really cool if you’re a Harry Potter nerd.

But (and there’s a big but here) it’s also always packed. Everytime I walk past there are queues of 100-200 people just waiting to get in and, although the shop did a reasonably good job of controlling the amount of people inside, it was still uncomfortably busy. 

If you’re hoping to get a good photo of the shop, don’t. There are just too many people in there and, besides, there are plenty of great photos of Livraria Lello without any people inside on the internet anyway.

All of that aside, if you do still want to visit Porto’s most famous bookstore then go for it. 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

Verdict: Visit the gardens if you’re in that part of town.

The Crystal Palace Gardens are beautiful, peaceful, have a very interesting history, and also offer stunning views over the Douro River. It’s a great place to take a break from sightseeing, or to take some photos, and so I always try to stop in if I’m in that part of town.

I say that part of town because the gardens are a little out of the way and, with the exception of the Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha (the Romantic Museum), there aren’t many other attractions nearby. Depending on your time constraints, it may be a little out of the way for you. 

Details

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

Street Art

Verdict: Porto’s street art scene is incredible but you don’t normally have to go looking for it: you’ll stumble upon it.

Portugal, and Porto especially, has some fantastic street art. Street art is quite a unique part of Portuguese culture as it’s encouraged rather than deterred.

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.

What to DO

Climb Clérigos Tower

Verdict: Do it if it’s a good day and it’s not peak tourist season (June – September).

Clérigos Church and its tower is one of the most popular attractions in Porto. The church itself is worth visiting but the main attraction is usually Clérigos Tower. It’s an important part of the Porto skyline, and it offers some fantastic views over Porto as well.

There are quite a lot of steps – 240 in fact – and you’ll be climbing to a height of 75.6 metres. If you’re feeling brave or you’re just needing to work off that Francesinha, it’s definitely a rewarding workout. 

Details

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

Shop at Bolhão Market

Verdict: See it (but support the sellers by buying something).

I’ve put Bolhão Market under things to do rather than to see. While it is very interesting to see a traditional Portuguese market, and Mercado do Bolhão is definitely one of the most interesting, this isn’t really meant to be a tourist attraction.

I’m not saying don’t go, but rather support it. If you are staying in an Airbnb or an apartment, do your shopping here. Buy some fresh fish, meat, or vegetables, and cook a meal at home. You’ll get much more of a real experience of the market, and you’ll be supporting local small businesses as well.

If you’re staying in a hotel or just don’t want to cook, there are plenty of other things that you can get there including cakes, flowers, you name it. 

Note: Bolhão Market is undergoing refurbishments until May 2020 (that’s just an estimate, it could be longer). In the meantime, there is a temporary market on 506/508 Rua de Fernandes Tomás.

Details

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

Stop for a snack at Mercado Beira-Rio

Similar to Lisbon’s Time Out Market, but on a much smaller scale, this food market is a great pitstop for foodies in search of a snack, lunch, or just a drink. 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. 

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.

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.

You’ll need an entire day if you want to visit the Douro, and at least a day and a half if you want to do an overnight. There are several ways to get there, including by train, boat, or tour, and there are several different recommended towns that you could choose to spend the day at.

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

Have a coffee at Majestic Café

This isn’t one of those things that you have to do. 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.

Now when I say expensive, I don’t mean it’s twice the price of anywhere nearby. It’s a lot more expensive than that. 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

Verdict: Unless you want a beach day, give it a miss.

If you’re in need of a day at the beach, then Matosinhos is just a short metro, bus, or taxi ride away.

It’s just a beach, though. While it serves its purpose as a place to swim and work on that all-important tan, 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)

About this article
This article was first published in January 2020. It was last updated on May 21, 2020.
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2 thoughts on “What to See & Do in Porto”

  1. Thank you for all your informative articles. We are a group of 5 adults that will be visiting Portugal between August 25 and Sept. 15. We plan on using public transportation. We will visit Lisbon (3 nights), Lagos ( 2), Tavira (2 ), Évora (2), Nazaré (3), Coimbra (2), Pinhão (2), Porto (3), Lisbon(1) in that order. We would appreciate any suggestions or comments regarding our route and itinerary.

    Thanks,
    Alex
    Canada

    Reply
    • Hi Alex,

      Some great destinations on there. You’ll probably have to use buses quite a bit. For example, Tavira to Évora. I think the Nazaré train station is also quite far from the city centre.

      Apart from that, and assuming you’ve checked that your route works, I think it looks great.

      Reply

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