For decades Lisbon has stolen the limelight in regards to an appealing Portuguese city destination, but in recent years, Porto has begun to attract some tourist attention, and deservedly so. Similar to Lisbon, there are so many things to do in Porto. A UNESCO heritage town, beautiful pastel coloured terraces, an excellent restaurant and cafe scene, water-side promenades and nearby beaches.
There’s enough to do in Porto to warrant a week-long stay, let alone a weekend getaway, and with new direct fight routes from cities such as London, Porto’s accessibility is getting easier. With that in mind, let’s check out our top recommendations on the best things to do in Porto, Portugal.
- Explore the Ribeira District
- Relax on the Douro River Promenade
- Admire the Dom Luís I Bridge
- Port Wine Tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia
- Duoro River Cruise
- Go on a Trip to the Duoro Valley
- Climb the Arrábida Bridge
- Try a Francesinha (Portuguese Sandwich)
- Beaching & Surfing
- Visit São Bento Railway Station
- Things to Do in Porto for Harry Potter Fans
- Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Porto
Explore the Ribeira District
The Ribeira District is the old heart of Porto. Situated in the centre of the city on the North bank of the Douro River, this UNESCO awarded area is a wonderful place to explore. As if frozen in time, the Ribeira District consists of colourful terraced houses, narrow cobblestoned streets, sun-drenched squares and medieval churches.
While this beautiful district may have an ancient exterior, inside you’ll find modern restaurants, trendy cafes and boutique shops, all of which are putting Porto well and truly on the map as a desirable location to live and visit.
Relax on the Douro River Promenade
The Riberia District joins the North bank of the bright blue Douro River and features an always-buzzing promenade. Here you’ll find the biggest selection of bars serving local beer and cocktails and restaurants grilling the freshest fish from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
Grab a table in the sun and appreciate the views across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia or enjoy some live music entertainment provided by the many performers using the promenade as their stage. This was definitely a favorite past-time of ours during our two week Portugal itinerary. The North bank promenade also offers a spectacular viewpoint of the next item on our list, the Dom Luís I Bridge.
Admire the Dom Luís I Bridge
The impressive Dom Luís I Bridge is a Porto landmark, connecting Porto’s city centre in the North to Vila Nova de Gaia in the South. With construction starting in 1879, this double-deck metal bridge is of historical significance. Ways of crossing Dom Luís I Bridge include by car, foot and tram. We recommend taking a stroll upon its upper deck where there are some awesome 360-degree views to be had.
Port Wine Tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia
If you’ve walked across Dom Luís I Bridge from Porto’s Northside, you’ll now be standing in Vila Nova de Gaia – the best area in Porto for tasting Portugal’s huge selection of locally produced Port wine. Produced in the nearby hills of the Duoro Valley, the bottles of port wine are then shipped to the winery cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia to be sold around the world.
All the big hitters are here alongside smaller boutique wineries so you can easily spend an afternoon or evening on a Port winery crawl. The cellars offer tasting rooms and there are also plenty of riverside bars with a huge selection of wine to taste. Remember to drink responsibly! Or not 🙂
Duoro River Cruise
Another way to explore Porto and the surrounding area is to go on a boat cruise along the Duoro River. Cruise aboard one of the traditional flat-bottomed Rabelo boats, a mode of transport that used to carry wine from the Douro Valley. The most popular route is “6 bridges’ which takes in much of the riverside city as well as greener parts as the river winds East.
You can do these as part of a longer Porto sight-seeing day tour or as a standalone boat trip. You might even like to consider cruising all the way to the Duoro Valley and back, which would need a whole day of your time.
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Go on a Trip to the Duoro Valley
It doesn’t matter whether you like the taste of wine or not, a trip to the Duoro Valley is a must while visiting the city of Porto. Port Wine has been produced in the hills of the Douro Valey for 2000 years, making it one of the oldest wine regions in the world! The region is mountainous and the vineyards are planted on terraces which creates a very striking landscape.
The Duoro valley is close enough to Porto to visit in a day and you can get there by road, train or boat. However, we recommend staying for a few days to really appreciate the tranquillity of this area. Check out our quick Duoro Valley guide for more information.
Climb the Arrábida Bridge
So we’ve already mentioned the central Dom Luís I Bridge but Porto has plenty of other fantastic bridges to explore. The Arrábida Bridge was constructed in 1963 and at that time was the world’s largest concrete arch bridge. The Arrábida Bridge offers adventurous travellers the chance to climb up its steep 65m arch and from the top, you can gaze across the beautiful old city on one side and over to the Atlantic ocean on the other.
Climbs are available through various tour operators at various times of the day but the best climb has to be at sunset.
Try a Francesinha (Portuguese Sandwich)
When we arrived in Porto, we couldn’t help but notice many people eating these intriguing looking sandwiches. Originally from Porto, a Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich filled with wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh chipolata sausage, steak or roast meat and covered with tons of melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce.
A Francesinha might not be the healthiest of meals, especially as it’s usually served with french fries, but it’s so popular with the locals that you have to join them.
Beaching & Surfing
Much of the West coast of Portugal is a haven for surfers because of the Atlantic’s high rolling waves and Porto is no exception. Many of the beaches near the mouth of the Duoro River are easily accessible from Porto city centre by using the inexpensive and reliable public transport system.
The closest beaches to Porto city is Praia de Matosinhos and Praia do Ourigo which can be reached in just 20 minutes by metro. There are also some other more spectacular beaches further away from the city in the towns of Miramar, Granja, Francelos and Espinho. These are also accessible by public transport but will take at least 1 hour to get there. Surfboard hire and lessons are available but if you prefer lazing in the heat of the sun, you can do that too!
Related: Best Beaches in Europe
Visit São Bento Railway Station
We wouldn’t usually include a visit to a train station on a list of 10 best things to do in a city, but Porto’s São Bento railway station is definitely worth checking out. As well as being the main train station in the city (and where you’d start your journey to the Duoro Valley) it’s also an attraction in itself because it houses some stunning azulejos (a Portuguese style of tile), within its main building.
These beautiful Portuguese tiles which depict historical life scenes, a plastered on the walls from almost floor to ceiling. There are spectacular Portuguese tiles all over Porto but we found São Bento railway station’s to be the most impressive.
Things to Do in Porto for Harry Potter Fans
Did you know that Porto has an intimate connection with JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books? Porto was home to the author between 1991 and 1993. Rowling spent countless hours in local cafés writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, one of the biggest bestsellers of all time! One of those cafés where she hammered pen to paper was Café Majestic, a fancy Art Nouveau establishment with a grand and classy interior. Today you can order a coffee and be feel transported back to the 1920s.
Rowling also enjoyed nursing a coffee on the upper floors of the Livraria Lello bookstore. Designed in the stunning Gothic Revival style, it’s not difficult to see how she must have been inspired by Lello bookstore for many Harry Potter locations, including the grand staircase in Hogwarts Castle.
With Porto being Portugal’s second largest city, this place is only going to get more popular in years to come. Like Lisbon, the remaining derelict terraces are gradually being restored to their previous grandeur, and in turn, businesses are moving in at a lightning rate. At the moment Porto feels less touristy than Lisbon, so now is the time to visit before this small but perfectly formed city loses its local charm and gets too overcrowded.
Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Porto
Excellent wine bars, golden rooftops, and Old World charm — this pretty much explains the coastal city of Porto, Portugal. Here’s a guide of the best properties when searching for where to stay in Porto.
Rock n’ Porto Hostel- The hostel is located just a quick walk away from the metro, which is great for backpackers. The themed dorms are simple and functional, but the staff are quite exceptional in terms of guest service. The price already includes a big towel, locker rental, and breakfast, which is a great deal if you ask us.
Yes! Porto Hostel- The location of this hostel makes it a perfect choice for people who love to explore on foot – some of the popular attractions and transport options are just nearby. There’s a women-only dorm, which is convenient for solo travelers. At the fourth floor, you can spy Clerigos Tower and the Porto Cathedral.
Ribeira do Porto Hotel – It’s a bit pricey for a mid-range hotel, but the location, the views from your room, and the hotel’s little hospitality touches are something that’s worth paying extra. Some of Porto’s popular attractions, including the famous Port houses, can be reached by foot. The breakfast is also something to look forward.
Hotel da Bolsa – If you’re into in architecture, wine and city walks, then this hotel is the best place to stay in Porto. The hotel is set in a charming old town building and is walking distance to public transport and all activities. Guests absolutely love the breakfast spread, including the freshly squeezed orange juice and bread.
InterContinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas – This 5-star hotel is housed in a renovated 18th-century palace offering stylish rooms featuring high ceilings and views of the city center. The property has its own 24-hour Fitness Center, spa, and a restaurant called Restaurant Astoria, serving contemporary Portuguese dishes over a great selection of Portuguese wines. It’s also pretty walkable to Porto’s top attractions, including the famous Port Wine Cellars and the UNESCO World Heritage Ribeira area.
Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel & World Heritage Site – This riverside property is the epitome of what a Porto vacation would be – a portside hotel to enjoy long seafood dinners, slow strolls along the city’s sleepy streets, and a tonic (or two) to nurse down as the sun sets. It’s a popular hotel for couples who are seeking for a romantic honeymoon in Portugal.