There are many great things to do in Porto. When trying to describe Porto, the first word that comes to mind is ‘enchanting.’ The historical centre of Porto was built on a steep riverbank, so rather than sprawling outwards, it has had to be densely packed together.
Winding cobblestone alleyways snake their way upwards from the river like a maze. Colorful historical houses bunch together along the riverfront with their facades looking like a painter’s palette of watercolors. Huge towers, cathedrals and palaces rear their heads amongst it all.
Yet with all of this around you, there is a sense of relaxation, with none of the hectic bustle of other major cities. The locals are laid back and friendly, the pace of life seeming to keep time with the gentle flow of the mighty Douro River as it sweeps past the historical Ribeira district.
Porto is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe as well as being a perfect jumping off point for an amazing Portugal road trip. Make the most of your time here by using this list to make sure you don’t miss a single one of the best things to do in Porto.
The Best Things To Do In Porto
Explore the Ribeira District
The Ribeira Square is the heart of the UNESCO listed historic center of Porto. One side of the square backs up against the river and the other sides are flanked by quaint multi-colored historic houses and a three story high monumental fountain.
The shops, restaurants and a buzz of activity spills from the square and down the wide river promenade at all times of day, but is especially lively and attractive at night. The colorful houses line the river above the shops and restaurants and have been continuously occupied in their current form since the 15th century.
Pull up a chair out the front of one and watch the world go by, with the most amazing views of the spectacular Dom Luis I bridge and the traditional flat-bottomed boats that were used to transport the barrels of delicious Douro Valley wine.
Make sure not to miss the Baixa, Bolhão and Sé areas, where some of the best places to visit in Porto are located, including the Mercado do Bolhão, Majestic Cafe, Palácio do Bolsa (more about these below) and Rua Santa Catarina.
Visit Capela das Almas
Translated to the Chapel of Souls, this striking 18th century building has been intricately decorated with over 16000 blue painted tiles and is one of the unmissable Porto attractions. The pictures tell stories of the lives of Saint Catherine and Saint Francis of Assisi. Entry to the inside of the chapel is free if you ever manage to tear yourself away from admiring the outside for long enough to enter!
The chapel is about a 20 minute walk from the Dom Luis I bridge however refreshment is waiting nearby. The Majestic café is only 300 meters away from the chapel so you can stop here for a break after the walk.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The chapel is open from 7:30 am to 7:00 pm Monday to Friday and 7:30 am to 1:00 pm and 6:00 to 7:00 pm on Saturdays. It’s free to visit.
Pop into Café Majestic
Be transported back in time as you enter the beautiful art nouveau interior of Café Majestic. This is the perfect place to stop and refresh after a walking tour around the historic centre of Porto. The prices may be a little high, but this is reflective of the beauty and ambiance of the surroundings.
The café dates back to the early 1920’s when it was a meeting place of writers and intellectuals. The place is replete with statues, grand hanging lights and even a piano. For a unique experience try going all out and dressing for the occasion; have an evening meal surrounded in opulence as you soak in 100 years of history.
Climb Clérigos Tower
Among the best things to do in Porto there’s climbing the Clérigos Tower, which is easily visible atop the skyline of Porto and is one of the defining sights of the city. The tower belongs to Clérigos Church which dates from the mid-18th century and was built in the baroque style. The façade is also an impressive sight as you climb the Rua dos Clérigos towards the church.
The church contains a museum and a beautifully gilded interior, but the best part of a visit here of course is to climb the soaring Clérigos Tower. This can be done during the day or at night and offers one of the absolute best viewpoints of the historical center of Porto.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Clérigos Tower is open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. It’s closed on 24th, 25th and 31st of December and 1st of January. A day pass to tower and museum costs €6.00, whereas a guided tour of the Clérigos museum, church and tower costs €6.5. A night pass to the tower costs €5.00
Take a Douro River Day Cruise
The Douro River is a focal point of Porto and was the artery bringing the lifeblood of trade that enabled the city to flourish. A visit here is not complete without spending some time floating up this magnificent stretch of water and taking in the views of the steep, vine covered slopes that define the Douro Valley.
There are a number of day cruises on offer, most of which will include a visit to one of the wineries along the way as well as lunch. For the more active there are tours which will allow you to hike through the stunning scenery of rolling hills and endless vines.
You can book your guided day trip to Douro Valley here or here.
Go on a Douro Valley Wine Tour
As well as all the port, the Douro Valley also produces the most amazing red wine you may ever try. Those of you who aren’t die-hard wine lovers may not have heard of the Douro DOC as Portuguese wine is a lot harder to find internationally than other European varieties.
I assure you, your palate will not regret a dive into Portuguese wine and the Douro Valley is an amazing place to start. There are many wine tours departing from the city and even for those who are not wine lovers, the views alone are worth the trip.
Quite aside from the wine, the stunning nature of the terraced vineyards covering the precipitous slopes and riverbanks is truly an unforgettable sight. Don’t miss this on your trip to Porto!
You can book your guided day trip to Douro Valley here or here.
Visit the Historic Port Wine Cellars
There has been wine made in the Douro Valley for a very long time. The Romans certainly made and shipped wine from this area and the tradition perhaps stretches back much further into the past.
Wine was traditionally produced in the Douro Valley and sent to Porto on the traditional flat bottomed boats that are still visible in the river. Here it was stored in cellars or ‘caves’ before it was shipped onwards to the rest of Europe.
A visit to one or more of the cellars is one of the things to do in Porto. Most of these are located on the opposite bank to the historic centre and can be easily reached by crossing the Dom Luis I Bridge. The best ones to visit will offer beautifully presented interiors, informative displays, delicious tastings and tours. See below for some top picks. Prices and hours vary and can be found by clicking the relevant links.
TAYLORS – This is one of the oldest cellars in Porto, with over 300 years of history waiting to be explored. They have a recently renovated museum and self-guided tour experience as well as beautiful grounds to enjoy a glass of your favorite drop.
CALEM – This is justifiably one of the most visited cellars. They have a modern interactive museum, stunning cellars and a wine bar overlooking the river. The specialty of this cellar is their Fado concert which you can enjoy with a glass of their delicious port in hand. You can book it here.
ESPACO PORTO CRUZ – With a much more modern vibe than the previous two options, this is more of an exhibition centre celebrating the history and culture of port wine. The building contains 5 floors each with different activities. There is a multimedia centre, restaurant, tasting room and you can’t miss the roof terrace offering an amazing view across the river onto the Ribeira district.
TIP: To make the most of the wine cellars you may want to join a guided tour. This Cálem Cellar Tour, Fado Show & Wine Tasting comes highly recommended. For more information, click here.
Admire the Livraria Lello
Often cited as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, this is somewhere you can’t miss if you are a lover of books, architecture or just beauty itself. Over 100 years operating on this site gives the place a sense of wonder akin to that felt as the words of a favorite book come to life in your mind.
J.K Rowling lived in Porto for a time and was said to be a frequent customer in the store. Walking around the place you can see how it has inspired some of her writing in the Harry Potter series.
There is now a €5.00 entry fee to visit the store however this is deducted off the cost of any purchases made. Being a popular spot it does get very busy, especially during high season, so make sure to get there early but be prepared to line up.
GOOD TO KNOW: This guided walking tour also goes to Lello Bookstore. You can book it here.
Find all of the Best Viewpoints in Porto
Lining the steep riverbank, with colorful and unique architecture, grand churches and soaring towers; Porto is a photographers dream. There are a number of both official and unofficial viewpoints around the city from where you can get the best angles for your holiday snaps.
Taking a walk to find all of them will inevitably lead you to other beautiful sights and buildings that you wouldn’t have visited otherwise. See below to get you started with some of the best.
VILA NOVO DE GAIA – Cross the Dom Luis I bridge by the upper platform to reach the suburb of Vila Novo de Gaia, the views back across the river take in the whole of the old city lining the steep river bank.
MIRADOURO DA VITORIA – This viewpoint can take some finding, located down winding backstreets of Praça da Ribeira neighborhood, however the view from the top of the old city and back towards the Dom Luis I bridge is well worth the effort.
CLERIGOS TOWER – Mentioned in its own section previously, however you can’t leave the tower off the list of the best viewpoints in the city. This one gives you a proper birds-eye view of Porto.
ESPLANADA DO TELEFERICO – A short walk from Porto Cruz Space, this is a a terrace bar above the Porto cable car from where you can enjoy epic views of the city, taking in the Ribeira district, Dom Luis I bridge, and the Douro River. It’s a great sunset spot.
MOSTEIRO DA SERRA DO PILAR – Another incredible sunset spot on the right side of Dom Luis I bridge.
Watch a Fado Concert
Fado is a unique musical style with hundreds of years of cultural heritage in Portugal. The songs sound mournful yet dramatic, it is as much of a performance as it is a song. There is usually one person playing a guitar and one singer however there can be more musicians.
The shows are typically in dark surrounds and the singers voices are impressive and draw you in to the story. The history of the musical form is thought to come from the working class with strong themes of fate and loss. The shows are a really unique experience and can be combined with Port tastings or dinners as your explorations of Portuguese culture continue into the evening.
You can get tickets to a Fado concert here.
Take a Tram Ride
The old-fashioned trams of Portugal are so quaint to look at, rattling their way around the cities and making for some great photo ops. Once you have admired them from the outside you should jump on board, be it for a short ride or long – it’s one of the most fun things to do in Porto.
Tram line 1 departs from the historic centre of Porto, near to the Bolsa Palace, and will take you all the way to the beachside suburb of Foz do Douro. This is where the Douro River meets the sea, with a beautiful riverside promenade to take a stroll down and a beach to have a dip.
The tram costs only €3.00 each way and the ride itself is the main attraction. There are a number of stops along the route if you wish to get off earlier.
Look at all the Azulejos
Porto is synonym with azulejos – indeed they are literally everywhere, and one of the best things to see in Porto. Originally brought to Portugal from Seville by King Manuel I in the 15th century, these beautiful painted blue tiles originate from the Moors, and in fact the name azulejos derives from the Arabic “al zulaycha” (polished stone). The tradition took over in Portugal, where they are often painted to represent the country’s history.
You will be able to spot azulejos all over town, but pay particular attention to those at Igreja de Carmo (pictured above), Iglesia de San Ildefonso, the already mentioned Chapel of the Souls, Porto Cathedral, and São Bento Railways station, which I will discuss in more detail below.
Visit the Episcopal Palace
The historical wealth of Porto ensures that you will find some spectacular palaces to explore and gawk at. The top pick for these is probably the Episcopal Palace. Built in the 12th or 13th century to house the bishops of Porto, it was then heavily renovated in the 18th century to its current form.
The outside is understated compared to some palaces however the inside is filled with beautiful art and architecture, showing the great wealth and influence of the Catholic Church at the time.
The palace is on one side of a square that also houses the Porto cathedral, which has a striking interior well worth seeing whilst you are in the area.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Episcopal Palace is open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 2:00 to 6:00 pm. Admission is €5.00.
Wander around the Mercado do Bolhao
Visiting the Mercado do Bolhao is one of the unmissable things to do in Porto. Recently renovated to preserve its best antique features, this market is a great place to catch some local actions – and obviously to shop for fresh produce. Fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, cheese, bread and more are all on sale here.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The market is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm and on Saturdays from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Visit the World of Discoveries Museum
This is not your standard museum where you look quietly at a bunch of old things in glass cabinets, this is a mini theme park masquerading as a museum! If you have kids and for those of us who are still kids at heart, this is a great place to learn about the colonial history of Portugal.
The exhibits are focused on the Portuguese seafarers and explorers of the colonial era, who discovered new routes and lands and opened the world to trade. The museum is centered on a boat ride which takes you down an artificial river with models of different lands and events along the way. There is an audio guide which tells the stories as you pass.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays and from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm on weekends. Admission is €15.00 for adults and €9.00 for children.
Go to Sao Bento Train Station
Whilst not as historical as other buildings in Porto, being built in the early 1900s, the Sao Bento train station is a landmark in its own right owing to the beauty of the painted tiles within, and one of the nicest places to visit in Porto.
Around twenty thousand blue painted white tiles decorate the inside of the station, showing scenes of history and life in Portugal. The interior is also decorated with beautiful friezes and sculptures surrounding the tiled panels.
You can combine a visit here with a train journey too, as this station is the start point for scenic trains passing through the Douro Valley. There is something so magical about train journeys especially when taken on historical lines and this one does not disappoint.
Visit the Palácio da Bolsa
The gorgeous Stock Exchange Palace was built between 1842 to 1910 on the ruins of the cloisters of the St. Francis Church, which is right next door. It really is a work of art! Make sure to pop inside to admire the beautiful Pátio das Nações (Hall of Nations), which features a glass dome; the library; the court room; Escadaria Nobre (noble staircase) and the Salão Árabe (Arab room).
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Palacio da Bolsa is open daily from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm and from 2:00 to 5:30 pm (November to March) or 2:00 to 6:30 pm (April to October). Admission is free, but if you want you can join a guided tour which costs €10.00 and last about 45 minutes.
Try the local specialties
You really can’t write about Porto without mentioning the delicious food. There are many dishes you should try there – I describe them better in my post The Best Restaurants In Porto For The Best Porto Food.
One of the best things to do in Porto is stopping by the Confeitaria do Bolhão, a historic patisserie (it opened more than 120 years ago) that serves the best Pastel de Nata – flakey tarts filled with delicious egg custard.
If you have more of a savory tooth, you will want to tuck into a Francesinha – an open sandwich made of layers of roast pork or steak, linguiça (garlic smoked sausage), melted cheese, and ham, then smeared with a rich tomato and beer-based sauce and topped with a fried egg. There are several places to try it – among them O Golfinho, O Afonso or Café Santiago. If you are looking for a vegetarian version, go to Lado B.
TIP: To take in all the local flavors, you may want to join a guided tour. For more information, click here.
Guided Tours Of Porto
To make the most of Porto, consider getting hold of a Porto Card, which will include tickets to many city attractions (you can get it here), or joining a guided tour. I have selected the best ones that can be booked online:
- Porto: Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, River Cruise, & Port Cellar Tour – an easy way to see all the main attractions in town. The pass is valid for up to two days.
- River Douro 6-bridges tour – a unique way of experiencing the city, this really is one of the best things to do in Porto. You will be cruising along the river on top of a traditional rabello boat, admiring – among others – Dom Luis I Bridge which has been designed by Gustav Eiffel!
- Porto: Cálem Cellar Tour, Fado Show & Wine Tasting – one of the best ways of experiencing the city.
- Porto wine tour – a fun way of getting a taste of the city.
- Porto walking food and wine tour – the best way of getting introduced to local food.
Are you planning a trip to Portugal? Make sure to read my other posts:
- The Best Places To Visit In Portugal
- 10 Fantastic Day Trips From Porto
- 21 Incredible Things To Do In Lisbon That Are Totally Hassle Free
- 17 Great Day Trips From Lisbon
This post was contributed by Rick van Brakel, a travel writer and photographer of The Road is Life where he blogs with his partner Ann about travel and living a minimalist lifestyle. He is currently based in Perth, Western Australia where you’ll often find him on a road trip, exploring the most beautiful beaches and landscapes that Australia has to offer. You can find The Road Is Life on Instagram.