Situated in Northwest Portugal, Porto is a coastal town known for its wine production and picturesque, narrow, cobblestone streets. As the second-largest city in the country and less than 3 hours away from the capital, Lisbon, Porto is a city that deserves your attention. If you have been dreaming about visiting Porto for a while, it is time to start planning your perfect holiday. Besides some useful information about the country, we have also covered the top 20 things to do in Porto, Portugal.
Where is Porto, Portugal and How to Get There?
Some of the first questions you will ask yourself are where is Porto and how do I get there. The city is located in Northern Portugal along the Douro River, and it overlooks the endless blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Porto has its own air hub called Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, and it is served by a large number of different international airlines. This makes it fairly easy to reach the city by air, so make sure to first check the available flights to Porto, Portugal.
If you need to travel from Lisbon, it is best to use public transport, as the toll system in the country is both expensive and complicated. The train will be your fastest and most convenient option, as you can catch the express train, which only takes 2 and a half hours. Reaching Porto is also possible by bus, which will be much cheaper, but the journey can last over 4 hours.
Weather in Porto and Best Time to Visit
With its moderate climate, Porto is a great travel destination year-round. While the best time to visit is considered from May to September, you will find that there are things to do even during the winter. The only thing to keep in mind is that November to March is the wet period and rainfall is often in the forecast. During the summer, temperatures are high; however, the pleasant breeze from the Atlantic makes it more bearable than other Southern European countries. If you also prefer avoiding the crowds, it might be best to plan your trip for May but no later than the beginning of July before tourists from all over the world flock to Porto. Overall, it is a good idea to take the Porto, Portugal weather into consideration and plan your holiday depending on the things you would like to do and the places you would like to see.
Currency and Language
As with any other county, before you head to Porto you need to have a general idea of the currency and language. Portugal uses the euro, and you will be able to find many exchange bureaus and ATMs throughout the streets of Porto. Keep in mind that, generally, Porto is believed to be inexpensive; however, finding a good hotel or place to eat might be quite costly. The official language, as you can guess, is Portuguese, but English is widely spoken, which means you should not have any language barriers when traveling to Porto.
Where to Stay in Porto
In order to easily reach Porto’s main points of interest, it is best to choose an area close to the city center. If you are wondering which are the best neighborhoods in Porto, here they are. With a large number of hotels, the most popular districts among tourists are Torre de Los Clerigos and Placa de Liberdade. Something to have in mind is that while Porto is a walkable city, there are many hilly and tiny streets, which can be a challenge for elderly visitors or people with small children.
20 things to do in Porto Portugal
In the next part of this ultimate travel guide to Porto, Portugal, we have covered the top things to do and top places to see. Prepare your dream travel itinerary based on our suggestions.
1. Porto Cathedral
Situated in the historic part of the city, Porto Cathedral is a 12th-century religious monument holding significant importance to the heritage and culture of the local area. Back in Medieval times, it was used as a defensive structure, whereas nowadays it is home to a fantastic Romanesque nave covered by what seems to be a tunnel in the ceiling.
The interior is truly unique, and it is believed that the cathedral was the first to be built in this particular Romanesque architectural style. While just entering the cathedral is completely free of charge, it is better to get a ticket for €3, which will give you access to the Chapter House and the Towers.
2. Ribeira District
Strolling down the narrow cobblestone alleys of the vibrant and colorful Ribeira District is one of the top things to do in Porto, Portugal. Together with its neighboring areas – Baixa and Bolhão – this is the heart of the city’s historic center. Located along the river, this was once the commercial quarter, where the locals sold different goods and some manufacturing activities took place. Nowadays, Ribeira is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourists can admire the architecture or grab some coffee or lunch in one of the restaurants with fantastic views across the river.
3. Get on the Tram
One of the most wonderfully fun things to do in Porto is getting on the tram and immersing yourself in the city’s vibe and atmosphere. You do not really need to have a particular destination or even a map of Porto; you can just let the tram take you across the narrow streets.
It is quite interesting to know that the first tram system in the country was constructed in 1895 in Porto, which makes the network one of the oldest across Europe. Keep in mind that line#1 is the most popular among tourists as it covers the route between the Garden of Passeio Alerge to the Church of St Francis. If you would like to feel like a local, it is a good idea to choose one of the other lines.
4. Church of Sao Francisco
As the last preserved Gothic building in Porto, St Francis Church is one of the most stunning churches in the city. Dating back to the 14th century, the church has been named one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Make sure to walk in, as you will be awestruck and impressed by its luxurious interior, for which 500 kg of gold were required. The walls and pillars are also covered with birds and foliage carvings, making the inside even more incredible. St Francis Church is definitely among the best things to see in Porto, so make sure to add it to your travel itinerary.
5. Clérigos Church
Porto has several truly beautiful churches that are worth stopping by. The Baroque Clérigos Church is one of them! It is not only an amazing architectural design, but the almost 76-meter high tower will certainly impress you.
Back then, as the tallest tower in the city, it was also used as a lighthouse for the numerous ships coming to port in Porto. Nowadays, tourists can climb up the 240 steps and reach the top to admire the Porto must-see breathtaking panorama.
6. Church of Santa Clara
There is one more religious building certainly worth the visit while in Porto. With history dating back to 1410s – 1420s, the Church of Santa Clara is a Catholic temple nestled between the narrow streets of the old town. The exterior is heavily influenced by the Gothic style, whereas the interior is extremely rich with stunning wood carvings and gold coverage. As this is not among the most popular things to do while in Porto, it might be a challenge to get in unless you are part of a guided tour.
7. Livraria Lello Bookstore
Widely known as the most beautiful bookstore in the world, Livraria Lello is among the main Porto points of interest. Dating back to 1906, it has an interesting Art Nouveau design with wood paneling and a massive curving staircase with a red carpet.
Additionally, what seems to be endless rows of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves covered with various books and the stained-glass ceiling will leave you speechless. As this was among JK Rowling’s favorite spots in Porto, you may feel like you are about to stumble upon Ron and Harry and enjoy a day filled with magic with them!
8. Gardens of Palácio de Cristal
One of the best free things to do in Porto is to immerse yourself in the quiet, peaceful Gardens of Palácio de Cristal. You will find winding walkways, green fields, brightly colored flowers, and interesting water fountains. All of these combined will make you feel like you have fallen into a fairy-tale. These fabulous Victorian gardens are also a fantastic spot to enjoy the panoramic views of the river. If you are lucky, you might even encounter some peacocks or unique, colorful bird species.
9. Casa da Música
Opened in 2005, Casa da Musica is among the most contemporary constructions in Porto. Despite being a concert hall aiming to hold various music events throughout the year, it is also one of the Porto things to do.
You will immediately notice the unique design of the building, but it was specifically constructed with high-tech scenography and acoustics elements. If you decide to take the tour, you will be able to take a close look at the 1,300 seats, the scene, as well as the uniquely beautiful glass walls. If you enjoy arts, music, or modernism in general, Casa da Musica is a must-visit!
10. Take a cruise down Duoro River
By far one of the best things to do in Porto is to take a cruise down Duoro River. The prices normally vary between €15 to €70 depending on the duration, but it is totally worth it! This is not only a fantastic way to fully admire the beauty of Porto, but you will also get to learn more about the city’s rich history. The traditional rabello boats will also take you on a tour that was once used to transport wine, fabric, and other goods. A cruise down Duoro River is also one of the best ways to see the true glamour of the iconic Luis I Bridge, once considered the longest in the world with its 172 meters.
11. Liberdade Square
Situated in the lower part of the city, Liberdade Square connects the old town with the new. The area is impressive with the grand buildings surrounding the small square. You can easily spend a good amount of time admiring the architecture and taking some beautiful pictures.
If you want to spend some more time doing things besides walking, you can also head to the western side of the square, where you will be able to find pleasant restaurants offering traditional Portuguese food.
12. Go on a shopping spree down Rua de Santa Catarina
If you would like to take a break from Porto’s main tourist attractions to spend a relaxing afternoon, you should go on a shopping spree down Rua de Santa Catarina. As the city’s main pedestrian street, you will find many international shops and local boutiques. This is also the best spot to grab some traditional, mouth-watering Portugal pastries.
13. Bolhão Market
If you would like to feel like a local, you should stop by Bolhão Market. This open-air market first opened in the mid-1800s, and it has been operational ever since.
Various vendors offer home-grown, fresh fruit and vegetables at extremely affordable prices. This is also one of the best places in Porto to grab wafts of cod for lunch. Make sure to buy a loaf of delicious warm bread and some local delicacies to munch on later!
14. Galerias Paris
Those looking to experience the Porto, Portugal, nightlife should certainly pay a visit to Galerias Paris. Consisting of three main streets, this is a vibrant and chic area perfect for grabbing a drink or listening to music. While there are many pubs and bars to choose from, it is good to know that the locals prefer to stay outside and to move from one bar to another. You should also have in mind that the Portuguese like to party hard and start their night late. To become part of this unique experience, you should arrive between 23:00 and midnight.
15. The Guindais Funicular
Among the musts you should experience in Porto is the funicular railway – The Guindais Funicular. Resembling a cable car, it connects the city’s riverbank with Batalha District situated on top of the city.
Not only will you be able to experience history dating back to 1891, but you will also get to admire some absolutely stunning views of Dom Luís I Bridge and the medieval fortification walls. The Guindais Funicular is also a great option if you would like to save yourself climbing up the steep streets.
16. Serralves Museum & Villa
Slightly outside of the city, you can find the beautiful Serralves Museum & Villa. The villa took over 20 years to build and is an interesting Art Deco style. Visitors can also find the Contemporary Art Museum and a large park. Due to its modern design, the entire complex is extremely interesting and is ranked among the World’s top 100 most popular museums. Start by touring the villa and museum, where you will be introduced to unique modern art exhibits, followed by a stroll in the park to enjoy the unique, tropical plants and lush green gardens. Make sure to add Serralves Museum & Villa to your travel itinerary as it is among the best day trips from Porto.
17. Peneda-Gerês National Park
If you are a nature lover, you should plan a day trip to Peneda-Gerês National Park. As the country’s only national park spreading on a territory of more than 270 square miles, it is well worth the visit.
Embark on a true adventure between the deep pine forests and the steep granite cliffs. Follow the bubbling rivers to reach a small hidden lagoon. The park has numerous hiking paths to choose from based on your abilities. Keep in mind that, as the park is located over 100 km away from Porto, it is best to drive there.
18. Pay a visit to the beaches
Those visiting during the summer months should plan to visit at least one or two of Porto’s beaches. Praia do Carneiro is the closest beach to the city, which makes it a good option if you have a limited amount of time. The lighthouse and the remaining fortifications from the 16th century make it one of the most picturesque locations near Porto. Adventure lovers, on the other hand, should head to Praia de Matosinhos, known for its strong waves and excellent surfing conditions. Praia do Molhe is another popular spot, as it is not only a great sandy beach perfect for sunbathing, but it also has numerous bars and restaurants for drinking and eating.
19. Visit Douro Valley Vineyards
It would be a shame if you visited the city without trying some of the delicious Porto wines. In order to fully immerse yourself into this unique experience, though, you need to take a tour outside of the city. A huge number of organized wine tasting trips to Douro Valley are offered as choices.
You will get to see some Portugal vineyards, try delicious wine produced in the region accompanied by mouth-watering traditional foods, and relax on a river cruise while admiring the stunning scenery. A day trip from Porto to Douro Valley is a must-do!
20. Day Trips from Porto
For those who are planning a longer holiday to Portugal, there are numerous other day trips from Porto worth taking. Located over 300 km away, you can easily plan a Porto to Lisbon day trip by train. If you would like a romantic getaway, you can travel to Aveiro, also known as the “Portuguese Venice”. Braga and Coimbra, on the other hand, are the perfect choices for the history buffs. Whatever you choose, make sure to plan at least a few day trips from Porto to fully experience the beauty of Portugal.
You should no longer wonder what to see or what to do in Porto, Portugal. The city is so vibrant, colorful, and filled with historic monuments worth visiting. From taking a step back in time and enjoying the architecture from the 14th century to taking a relaxing day trip to try some delicious wines from the region, there are so many wonderful places across the city. Which of the above mentioned top 20 things to do in Porto Portugal have you already added to your travel itinerary?