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On a recent trip to Porto I was once again reminded why this city, Portugal’s 2nd largest, has such a special place in my heart. This northern Portuguese city is full of delights and surprises with something new to see and explore around every corner! That’s why I decided to post my 19 favourite things to see and do in Porto, to help other visitors experience the best that this wonderful city has to offer.
Whether you are looking for history, art, culture or food & wine experiences, Porto has it all, and in the bucket loads too. Don’t delay, read on and discover my comprehensive list of all the Porto must see activities and attractions.
If you’re arriving by train into Porto, then you will most likely end up at São Bento train station, a place I recommend you visit. The station that was opened in 1916 is considered to be Porto’s central station, located in the heart of the city, and it’s where you would depart from on several day trips out of Porto, including to places such as Aveiro or Guimarães.
Now, you may be wondering, what makes this train station so special that it has to be featured on my list of what to see in Porto. Well, let me tell you, this station certainly attracts a lot of attention, and it’s for all the right reasons.
The stations entrance hall is stunning, with approximately 20,000 blue and white Portuguese tiled murals splashed across the walls, dated between 1905 – 1916 and created by an important painter of azulejos at the time, Jorge Colaço. It really is a fantastic display of Portuguese tilework (azulejos), history and artistry and one of the attractions I would highly recommend you visit when in Porto. Even if just for a quick photo opportunity.
Address – Praça de Almeida Garrett, Porto
The 18th century Clerigos Tower is one of the most emblematic Porto attractions that you have to see whilst here. This Baroque-style treasure was designed by Nicolau Nasoni and was classified in 1910 as a National Monument. It comprises of 3 sections, the church, the House of the Brotherhood and the tower that are all interconnected.
You may decide to climb up to the top of the tower to enjoy the sweeping panoramic views out over Porto. But I must warn you, the staircase leading up is steep and narrow and once you get to the top, it can get quite crowded. They do only allow a certain number of visitors up at a time, but the space is still cramped.
It’s also worth noting that they have daily organ concerts taking place in the church at 12:00 noon every day. We decided to go to one and it was well worth it. Definitely attend this if you have the time to do so.
Address – Rua de Sao Filipe de Nery, Porto
If you’ve recently picked up any guide on visiting Porto, then I can almost guarantee that you have read about Livraria Lello, a tiny bookstore in the centre of Porto that was founded in 1881, that has attracted world wide fame, thanks to none other than J.K. Rowling.
Yes, it’s a known fact that J.K. Rowling lived, and taught English in Porto, and is said to have frequented this same bookstore often. It is believed that the bookstores central staircase (that has become an Instagram sensation in its own right), was the inspiration behind the spiralling staircase of Hogwarts.
But Harry Potter inspired stories, is not the only reason to visit. The neogothic exterior architecture as well as the beautiful rich interiors of the bookstore makes it well worth a visit. From all the wooden details, the intricate spiral staircase and the stained-glass ceiling, you will have lots to look and admire. Oh, and of course you may also want to buy a book, as it is still an operational bookstore!
Understandably, with such a claim to fame and having been listed on Lonely Planet’s list of The World’s Greatest Bookshops, this bookstore has become super popular and I must warn you, some people queue for ages just for the chance to get in.
Even though it is a functional bookstore, due to this popularity, today you have to pay to get in. Unfortunately, there is no priority entrance and you have to pay a 5€ entrance fee, which will be deducted off your purchase if you decide to buy a book.
What’s good to note though is that you can pre-purchase your tickets online from their website. If you absolutely want to see and go inside then I highly recommend it. Only because the queue to buy the entrance tickets is up the road and could have even longer queues than the actual bookstore queue.
Again, I stress – booking your ticket in advance does not give you priority. It simply cuts out the need to buy a ticket on the day.
Address – Rua das Carmelitas 144, Porto
Well, it goes without saying that one of the absolute things to do in Porto, Portugal is to enjoy a Port Wine Tasting. Across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia is where you will find a selection of all the top Port Wine Houses such as Taylor’s, Sandeman, Porto Cruz, Grahams and many more.
Port wine is a fortified Portuguese wine that is exclusively produced in the Douro Valley region of northern Portugal. There are various varieties of Port wine, but my favourite is the Tawny – be sure to try it out and tell me if you agree!
Interesting fact about Port wine: there is a long-standing English history coupled with Port wine. Shipments of Port were sent to England as early as the 1700’s as English merchants fell in love with the flavours. So much so that today, many of the Port Houses still bear very British sounding names (Graham, Taylor, Croft, Osborne and many others).
Why not consider trying out one of these Port Wine Tasting tours:
Ah, the ultimate foodie dish when visiting Porto is undoubtedly the Francesinha. Literally translated as ‘little Frenchie’, it was created by Portuguese immigrants to France who decided to create their own pimped up version of the “croque monsieur” French sandwich.
Ultimately creating a delicious heart attack on a plate. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration on my part, but wow, does it pack a punch. This carb heavy and indulgent sandwich is not for the faint hearted but is a must try when visiting Porto.
It is a sandwich made with bread and layered with several different types of cured hams and meats, then topped with an egg, then covered with melting cheese before being smothered in a beer & tomato sauce. Oh, and of course you generally have it with a healthy serving of French fries on the side! You will definitely want to climb the steep hills of Porto and walk this one off afterwards!
With the Francesinha being so popular, it has taken on a life of its own and some foodies will argue and differ on where exactly to eat the very best. But some popular and noteworthy ones to try will be at restaurants such as Café Santiago, O Afonso, Bufete Fase, Brasão Cervejaria, or O Golfinho.
So why not go ahead and give it a go!
This neoclassic delight, situated on the Infante Dom Henrique Square in the centre of Porto is one the top things to see in Porto. This palace (translated as the Stock Exchange Palace) belongs to the Porto Commercial Association and has a long and varied history going back 180 years.
This was one of those places that we stumbled upon whilst reading up on what to do in Porto. So off we went, booking a guided tour and boy were we in for a real treat and surprise.
The palace itself is absolutely stunning inside and it’s this, the architecture and interiors, that apart from the history which in itself is very interesting, totally makes this place worthwhile to visit. Especially the grand finale being the ostentatious and grand Arabian Room dating back to 1880. This opulent hall will no doubt take your breath away and is such a surprise to find in the middle of Porto. Today, it still plays host to some of the most important official events that place in Porto.
Feeling flashy? You can also rent this room for weddings or conference events, but it does come at a price.
In order to visit you have to book a 45 minute guided tour which you can also pre-purchase directly on the Palacio da Bolsa site.
Address – Rua de Ferreira Borges, Porto
Fancy a bit of retail therapy whilst in Porto? Then head on over to the very popular Rua Santa Catarina street, which is a long pedestrianised shopping avenue lined with all the top major brands. Apart from shopping, there is a lot to see and admire here.
You will find some of the other gems listed on my best things to do in Porto list, including a visit to Majestic Café and the beautiful Chapel of Souls church. Read about these a bit further on.
A word of warning, this street does get packed, especially during the peak times. I would really suggest that you get there early in the morning to enjoy the street at it’s fullest, when it’s a bit quieter. Especially important if you are wanting to take some photos.
As is always advised in crowded locations like these, please keep an eye on your personal belongings as this is a prime pick pocket location. You will see police patrolling the area and although it’s not unsafe per sé, as is custom when travelling anywhere, be cautions with personal items!
Address – start at the Majestic Café situated at Rua Santa Catarina 112 and walk up along the street.
Grand, elegant, Belle Epoque inspired, these are just a few ways to describe Café Majestic, and no wonder it got that name! It has an intriguing history dating back to when it first opened its doors in 1921 under the name of Café Elite, essentially an elite spot for the who’s who of Portuguese society.
In 1923 the name was changed to Café Majestic and truly took off. It was the 20’s / 30’s post war era and it was as majestic as ever, playing host to society’s crème de la crème.
Sadly, after the 2nd World War the café endured a period of decline but thankfully it was classified by the city in 1983 as a cultural heritage site and subsequently renovated and reopened in 1994.
Today you can pay a visit, have a drink or bite to eat and re-imagine what the glorious Belle Epoque era must have been like. All whilst admiring all the ornate furniture, wood carved interiors, mirrors and chandeliers. Definitely one of the top landmarks in Porto worth visiting!
Address – Rua Santa Catarina 112, Porto
Just up the road from Majestic Café is one of the prettiest churches you’ll find in Porto. Called the Capela das Almas, which literally translates as the Chapel of Souls, this 18th century chapel is a bit of an unusual find set in the heart of this bustling thoroughfare.
But it’s delightfully pretty and if you get there in the early morning, you’ll be able to happily snap away at the gorgeous blue and white tiled façade that covers the church almost entirely.
Address – Rua de Santa Catarina 428, Porto
Set at the foot of the Douro river, Porto’s riverfront area, known as Cais da Ribeira, is without a doubt a top spot to visit. This lively, buzzing area with views out over the river and an array of colourful buildings, layered precariously up the hill, offers up so much by ways of great restaurants, bars and other forms of entertainment.
Whether visiting by day or night, the area is equally impressive, but I must be honest, we love stopping by at night for a drink and to just stare out over the river, appreciating the twinkling lights and views of Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side.
During the day you also often find flea markets and street performers along this stretch and from here you’ll also be able to take a river cruise down the Douro or cross the Dom Luis I Bridge across to the Porto Gaia waterfront.
Once you’ve enjoyed a drink or two on the Cais da Ribeira side of the river, it’s time to cross another iconic Porto landmark, that being the Dom Luis I Bridge that connects the Ribeira area to Porto Gaia on the opposite side.
Designed by the German engineer and business associate of Gustave Eiffel, Téophile Seyrig, the bridge was completed in 1886 and provides for a completely different perspective of the city.
An interesting fact is that Seyrig actually beat Eiffel himself in the competition to build the bridge.
From Cais da Ribeira you can walk straight across on the bottom part of the bridge. You can also cross on foot on the upper part of the bridge and if you’re not afraid of heights, then I can also highly recommend you do this. The views from up top is simply spectacular.
Visiting the Porto Gaia riverfront, set across the river from Porto, in Vila Nova de Gaia is not to be missed. As much as it’s known as the home of the various Port wine houses, that’s not all there is to see and do on this side of the river.
First and foremost is taking in the incredible views back over the Douro admiring Porto and the city’s skyline from a new angle.
Calling all foodies, why not head over to the trendy Mercado Beira Rio, situated on this side of the river. With an abundance of food stalls, fresh produce on sale, drinks to enjoy and from time to time events and concerts too, this market is well worth a visit.
Since you’re on this side you might as well pop into a Port house, or two for a Port wine tour and tasting experience. Learn more about this wonderful fortified wine and why not try out a Port Tonic if you get the chance to (it’s my new favourite drink, a white Porto wine and tonic).
Consider taking the cable car ride that travels from the riverfront all the way along it and up to the top end of the Dom Luis I bridge, where you’ll get to enjoy some stunning panoramic views overlooking Porto. The best spot to take an all-important Porto selfie to remember your holiday by!
Whilst on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river, it’s worth noting that one of Porto’s most luxurious hotels, known as The Yeatman is found here. Overlooking Porto and offering fabulous classic luxury accommodation and breathtaking views back over the city, this hotel is a popular choice for travellers in search a more refined Porto experience.
This is not to mention the fact that The Yeatman’s restaurant, under the leadership of Chef Ricardo Costa, is currently the only restaurant in Porto to have been awarded 2 Michelin stars.
The restaurant offers a fantastic gastronomic experience with it’s tasting menu of 8 – 10 courses. Over and above the food, you also have the option to add on an additional wine supplement to complement your overall experience.
To book accommodation at the hotel do so here – The Yeatman.
If you’re wanting to book a fine dining experience at the restaurant, then visit their website, where you’ll be able to submit your booking request.
Address – Rua do Choupelo, 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia
About two blocks down the road from Livraria Lello is a pretty funky street called Rua de Cândido dos Reis. This tree lined street with its colourful banner flags draped from one side to the other, is a trendy spot to grab a drink or even enjoy some typical Portuguese tapas (known in Portugal as Petiscos).
Why not try out the very popular and well rated restaurant Tapas Na Boca found at Rua de Candido dos Reis 117. Book in advance to ensure you get a table here.
Another street we absolutely love, for no particular reason, other than it just being so darn pretty, is Rua das Flores. Lined with several boutique shops and plenty of trendy eateries, it’s a great street to stroll through and enjoy the beautiful architecture and ambiance of Porto.
When we recently celebrated our anniversary, myself and my partner were extremely lucky to have chosen the perfect place to grab a drink and enjoy a street performer put on a fantastic show in this street. Super talented Porto artist Estrela Gomes wowed everyone with her soulful voice and great guitar playing.
It was truly one of those special moments where you simply get to enjoy being in the present moment and feel thankful that at that very moment you found yourself on Rua das Flores in Porto!
What would a trip to any European city be without the obligatory visit to a church, cathedral or chapel?! Well, Porto does not disappoint on this front either. Offering up a host of beautiful & historic old churches, most cladded almost entirely in the signature Portuguese blue and white tiles. Stunning!
So, apart from the Chapel of Souls and the Clerigos Church that I already mentioned earlier, why not pay a visit to the following Porto churches that are equally impressive. Admire the grandeur and artistry and take some time out of your busy sightseeing schedule for peaceful contemplation.
To name but a few – here are some noteworthy churches in Porto, Potugal:
One of our favourite Avenues to walk along in Porto is that of Aliados Avenue. A long tree lined avenue flanked on either side by impressive architectural splendours, you would almost be forgiven for thinking you’ve found yourself in Madrid or London or some other European city. But no, you are definitely still in Porto!
At the end of the Avenue you’ll find the imposing Town Hall building. This is another of Porto’s iconic and most photographed scenes and all along this avenue you’ll find a number of hotels and restaurants making it a popular choice and area for travellers to stay in.
Personally, I just love walking along this street and square, stopping from time to time in order to really appreciate the truly ornate and striking buildings found along the avenue.
Address – Avenida dos Aliados
Whilst at Aliados Avenue, why not head over to what the Business Insider named the most beautiful McDonald’s restaurant in the world. Whilst this may sound a tad odd, you’ll get to appreciate it more when you visit in real life.
It’s housed in an iconic 1930’s building which once was home to the Imperial Café. As you enter, you are greeted by a very regal looking eagle perched atop a golden McDonald’s sign. A little preview of what’s to come as you step inside the restaurant. Once you’re in, you are bound to be impressed by the superb art-deco stained glass detail and the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, which will leave you wondering if you had really just stepped foot inside a global fast food chain!
Address – Praça da Liberdade 126, 4000-322 Porto
If after reading up about all these fantastic Porto, Portugal things to do, you feel a bit overwhelmed or scared you may miss out on all Porto has to offer, then why not consider booking a Porto sightseeing tour.
The Hop on Hop off Porto sightseeing tour bus, tram or riverboat is the perfect way to cover all the city’s top attractions in a short period of time. This way, you get to see all the main highlights and can always return to explore the sights and places you’d like to spend more time at.
To view the rates and book this activity, visit one of the links below:
Whether you are spending one day or several in gorgeous Porto, I am sure you will absolutely fall head over heels in love with this city. There is honestly so much to see and do that you’ll be kept busy throughout your stay.
I hope this post has inspired you to explore and experience the very best that Porto has to offer.
I’d love to hear from you, let me know if you found this article informative and please feel free to share or comment on this post with your own tips and suggestions that I may not have covered on here.
Welcome! I'm Marco Santos a.k.a Travel-Boo. A South African & Portuguese travel blogger connecting with my Portuguese roots. Since I've moved to Portugal from South Africa permanently a few years ago, I've decide to share my story of discovery of all things Portugal travel related. So follow along and see what makes this beautiful country so very special!
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