Porto is Portugal’s second city, with the greater metropolitan area having a population of around 2.4 million. It sits in the north of the country on the estuary of the Douro River as it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Its rich history dates back to Roman times, while visitors will also see evidence of Portugal’s “Age of Discovery” when its explorers sailed to far-flung places. Porto is the birthplace of Dom Henrique, Duke of Viseu, better known as Henry the Navigator, who was central in developing the Portuguese Empire in the early 15th century.
Porto’s historic centre was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996, and visitors will soon realise why as they begin to explore the city. This Portuguese city is becoming a popular tourist destination as there are plenty of things to do in Porto. But there is also the issue of crowds, and it’s worth avoiding the lines by planning your time and booking in advance. Porto’s latitude and the proximity to the sea mean that its winters are mild, though wet, and summers warm. There is never really a bad time to visit. Here is a list of the best things to do in Porto.
- Porto, Portugal
- Top 3 Tours
- 20 Things To Do In Porto
- 1- Cruise The Douro River
- 2- Admire The Palacio da Bolsa
- 3- Explore Serralves
- 4- See The Clerigos Church
- 5- Learn About FC Porto History
- 6- Walk To Livraria Lello
- 7- Eat Typical Local Cuisine
- 8- Sample Portugal’s Finest
- 9- Photograph The Luis I Bridge
- 10- Walk On The Foz do Douro
- 11- Visit Muralha Fernandina
- 12- Mingle In Cais da Ribeira
- 13- Marvel At Porto Cathedral
- 14- Enjoy The Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
- 15- Visit The Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha
- 16- See The Gothic Reminders Of Sao Francisco
- 17- Wander Around Praca da Liberdade
- 18- Wonder At Santa Clara
- 19- Relax In The Parque de Cidade
- 20- Meet The “Locals” At Soares dos Reis National Museum
Top 3 Tours
- Cruise the Douro River – Enjoy the landscape of the famous Douro Valley on a cruise while you drink Portuguese wine.
- Porto Card (with one to four days of transport) – Save money by gaining access to six museums and discounts on over 150 attractions.
- Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, River Cruise and Port Cellar Tour – Enjoy the delights of the city with a 48-hour hop-on hop-off bus ticket that includes port tasting in Calém cellars and a Douro river cruise.
20 Things To Do In Porto
1- Cruise The Douro River
The Douro River divides the city, so taking a cruise allows you to see the landmarks on either bank and travel under the bridges that link the two sides.
The south bank is where commercial activities take place; the warehouses storing important and exports.
The north bank holds the major landmarks of Porto, which sit high.
While Luis I Bridge may be the most famous of Porto’s bridges, the Maria Pia Bridge was built before it, a construction by Gustave Eiffel.
There are several cruising alternatives on the Douro, with sunset being a popular time for photographers. This is one of the most popular cruises. One way to save money is to buy a combined ticket that allows you access to the hop-on hop-off bus and a river cruise.
2- Admire The Palacio da Bolsa
The Palacio da Bolsa is the city’s old stock exchange near the Church of São Francisco.
It’s a neoclassical design with an amazing interior.
You will see sculptures, carvings, tiles and plasterwork, frescos and chandeliers.
Not surprisingly, it has been designated as a National Monument.
The oldest rooms in the Palacio are around 180 years old, with a guide able to give you plenty of information and answer your questions.
It is used for official receptions in northern Portugal and over the years, representatives of many countries worldwide have been honoured. Skip the line and book a guided tour of Palacio da Bolsa here.
3- Explore Serralves
The lovely grounds of Serralves, the impressive Casa de Serralves, an art deco villa, the Casa do Cinema Manoel de Oliveira and the Contemporary Art Museum make for a great day out.
There are regular exhibitions in the museum featuring past and present artists.
The 18-hectare park has formal gardens, a farm and now has a Treetop Walk with lovely views over the whole of Serralves.
It is designated as a National Monument where concerts and other activities occur. Pick up an entrance ticket here.
4- See The Clerigos Church
There is a high tower, part of the church, visible from many parts of the city.
It is 76.5 m (250 feet) high and, at one time, was the tallest building in Portugal.
Clerigos is Baroque in style with plenty of intricate carvings.
The tower was the last part of the church to be built, completed in 1763.
Work began on the church in 1732 with completion, other than the tower, 18 years later.
There are 240 steps to the top of the tower, but the fabulous panoramic views make the effort well worth it.
The nearby building has exhibitions of 18th and 19th Century paintings, clothing and furniture. Book your entrance ticket here.
5- Learn About FC Porto History
The second of Porto’s European Cup/Champions League wins was a major surprise and launched the career of Jose Mourinho, who has won numerous soccer titles around Europe.
FC Porto is hugely important to the city and has a rich history.
Benfica is the only team in Portugal with more success.
The Club’s Museum in the East Stand of Estádio do Dragão tells its story well, and you can have a guided tour to learn more.
It is thoroughly modern, incorporating interactive technology and multimedia.
Get a ticket if a game is scheduled while you are in Porto.
6- Walk To Livraria Lello
A bookshop rarely becomes a tourist attraction, but this is certainly the case in Livraria Lello on Rue das Carmelitas.
The building is more than a century old and one of the popular walking tours around historic Porto makes the shop its last attraction to finish the tour.
The shop is a mixture of design, Gothic and Art Nouveau.
The skylight and staircase are highlights in a place described as the “most beautiful library in the world.”
On your walk to this building, you are likely to pass several landmarks, including the cathedral, Clerigos Church, Sao Bento railway station and the Bolhao Market. This guided walking tour will allow you to see the sights.
7- Eat Typical Local Cuisine
Sampling local cuisine is an important element in travelling and the best way to do that is to use local expertise that can introduce you to the sweet and savoury favourites enjoyed each day by locals.
Pastel de Nata is an excellent example of something you are certain to try.
It is egg custard dusted with cinnamon and its popularity stretches beyond Portugal.
Francesinha is a typical Porto sandwich using a variety of meats with a cheese topping and you might also like to taste hot dogs (cachorrinho) and local sausages (alheira).
Tripe is popular in a stew using pork, while cod casserole (Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá) is another favourite. On this private food tour, you’ll be treated to 10 tastings and pairings.
8- Sample Portugal’s Finest
When you ask people what they know about Porto, many will say it is where they produce port.
So, it’s not surprising that there are numerous opportunities to tour the cellars with the finest vintages.
Sandeman, Taylor’s and Cockburn’s are just three of the names associated with this fortified wine.
Grape spirit is added to wine to stop the fermentation process with the port, then put into oak barrels for storage, sometimes for a few decades.
The major producers have thousands of barrels as well as vats.
You can sample the port and have the opportunity to buy directly from producers, most of whom will tell you about their company’s history. You will love this tour of Cockburn Cellar with tastings and pairings.
Another way to enjoy wine is on this magic train wine tastings river cruise.
9- Photograph The Luis I Bridge
Théophile Seyrig, the co-founder of the Eiffel Company, was the man who conceived this bridge that links the two banks of the Douro.
It dates back to 1886 with twin levels, rail above and traffic and pedestrians below.
At the time, it was the largest span bridge in the world and took the name of the Portuguese monarch.
You can get great views across the city at the bridge’s highest point, 60 m (197 feet), and you can cross by foot on both levels.
There’s also a cable car ride available for another set of great views.
Even better, if you don’t mind climbing rocks, you can view the bridge from on high.
10- Walk On The Foz do Douro
The Foz do Douro is one of the trendier districts in Porto, where the Douro meets the Atlantic.
You’ll enjoy the sea air if you walk along the tree-lined (palm and pine) promenade.
There is a pergola that copies that on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, and it dates back almost a century.
Another landmark is the lighthouse, the Farol Molhe do Douro, which helped guide ships into and out of the Douro for over a century until 2009.
It is a lovely place to stroll at sunset, so have a camera ready, and there are plenty of choices of restaurants once you are ready for dinner.
11- Visit Muralha Fernandina
Running parallel to the funicular, Muralha Fernandina receives minimal tourist attention despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site.
These walls close to Luis I Bridge date back to the 14th century when fortifications were extremely important.
There have been several revisions and alterations over the years, with much of what remains integrated into the Old Town itself.
The best place to reach is Guidas, between its cliffs and the Santa Clara Monastery. The bonus is the view down to the river.
12- Mingle In Cais da Ribeira
The riverside is a great spot, with a piazza, bars and restaurants.
Wear comfortable shoes because narrow, steep streets and stairways are heading away from the river bank.
Old houses line the streets, some in obvious need of repair but all in lovely pastel colours.
The area, in general, has been improved lately with plenty of boards to provide visitors with information about its past history of people and the businesses that operated in days gone by.
On the bank itself, you will always have Luis I Bridge in view. A great way to save your feet is to explore the historic centre on a tuk-tuk tour.
13- Marvel At Porto Cathedral
Porto Cathedral is not the most beautiful building in Porto, but it is something that you should ensure you add to your itinerary.
In Romanesque style, the cathedral is one of the city’s oldest buildings, dating back to the mid-12th century yet not completed until the mid-point of the 16th century.
Even then, there were revisions, some in the last century.
Gothic and Baroque styles are evident in the external appearance and much of the interior is Baroque in style.
Several talented artists have been involved in producing what visitors see today.
Every day, mass is celebrated at 11 am, with everyone welcome to attend. Save money and gain access to Porto’s top attractions with the Porto card (includes transport for one to four days).
14- Enjoy The Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
Porto’s copy of London’s Crystal Palace was built in 1865 and survived for almost a century.
What does remain are the gardens within which the palace sat.
The gardens are beautiful, designed by the German Emile David, and include sculptures and fountains.
The flora includes beech, ginkgo, pines, camellias and rhododendrons, with a peacock or two to add to the colour.
A modern arena has replaced the old palace (Pavilhão Rosa Mota), where cultural and sporting events occur throughout the year.
These gardens are a good suggestion if you want somewhere to relax away from the busy tourist attractions.
15- Visit The Museu Romântico da Quinta da Macieirinha
This former home of nobility is in Massarelos, close to the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal Gardens.
The mansion was built in the 18th century and was formerly the home of Charles Albert of Sardinia, who lived in exile in the middle of the 19th century.
It opened as a museum in 1972 and tells the story of the lives of the local nobility during the 19th century.
Charles Albert’s great, great grandson played a role in deciding what decoration and furniture were needed to give the place maximum authenticity.
16- See The Gothic Reminders Of Sao Francisco
St. Francis Church was completed in 1425 when John I was king of Portugal, the final Gothic monument in the city, although the interior style is mainly Baroque.
The windows are lovely, especially the rose window in the ornate portal of the main façade.
Plenty of internal decoration took place between its origin and the 19th century.
The gilded woodwork and the carved panels depicting cherubs, birds and foliage are highlights of any visit.
St. Francis is associated with the environment, birds and animals.
The statue outside the church is obviously of St. Francis, and it is estimated that 650 pounds of gold have been used here.
17- Wander Around Praca da Liberdade
If you want a complete contrast to the narrow streets of Cais da Ribeira, then head to Praca da Liberdade in Santo Ildefonso, a square and boulevard planned in the 18th century.
Neoclassical Palácio das Cardosas is to the south, originally an 18th-century convent but now a hotel.
Pedro IV’s statue in the square remembers this famous reformer.
This is one of the wealthiest parts of Porto, where you will find fine architecture and designer shopping.
The Belle Époque Majestic Café on the Rua Santa Catarina is famous beyond Porto and you should pay a visit while here.
It is among the most beautiful cafes you will find anywhere in the world, with chandeliers, mirrors and carvings providing a great setting.
18- Wonder At Santa Clara
Santa Clara Church is next to Porto’s old defensive walls, replacing the medieval convent.
It was completed in 1457, yet as with many of Porto’s religious buildings, it was updated in extravagant fashion in the 18th century.
Gilded wooden carvings and mouldings contrast with the red marble and is a stunning setting.
It was at a time when Portugal’s prosperity was at its height with a thriving empire under King John V.
In Portuguese, the style is “Barroco Joanino”, after the king.
After becoming a National Monument, it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status.
19- Relax In The Parque de Cidade
This is the biggest park in Porto, covering 83 ha (205 acres), stretching west to the Atlantic and the 17th-century Forte de São Francisco Xavier.
The park can get busy, but there is plenty of space to stroll or cycle past the lawns and through the pine trees.
There is enough room for playing sports, including courts for volleyball and refreshments.
It opened in the mid-1990s, with visitors enjoying the shelter provided from the coastal winds that blow you around while walking on the coastline.
There is a range of flora as well as ducks and swans to seek out.
20- Meet The “Locals” At Soares dos Reis National Museum
Many of the treasures taken from Portuguese convents that no longer exist are on display in this museum which opened in 1833 under the auspices of Peter IV.
That makes it the oldest public museum in the country.
Earlier work confiscated from the followers of Miquel I, who was deposed, is also on view.
The museum’s name remembers the 19th Century local sculptor António Soares dos Reis.
Some of his work is on display, as well as other famous Portuguese artists, including Silva Porto, Vieira Portuense, Miguel Angelo Lupi, and Domingos Sequeira.
It is now housed in the former Carrancas Palace in Ildefonso, which originates back to the beginning of the 19th century.