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Reasons to Visit Porto

Welcome to Porto, the grandmother of all cities! Porto will feed you the best food, in quantities that are humanly impossible to understand, and will not accept a “I am full” for an answer. Porto’s embrace will feel like home, and you will consider moving in every single time you visit. If you find yourself lost at some point, Porto will guide you to the best things to do. Porto is full of history, quirky stories, and a sweet charm that only a grandmother has.

A simple weekend in Porto, Portugal, has recharged our batteries many times before. To help you make the most out of your 2 days in Porto (or 3 days, or even 20 days – hey, you might move in, as there's plenty to see), we've put together a list of the main reasons to visit Porto, alongside with a full guide of where to stay, what to eat, and even day trips you don’t want to miss out on.

So, ditch your guidebooks and come explore with us this city that is worldwide famous for its port wine, colorful houses stacked on the hillside, and fantastic hospitality.

Reasons to Visit Porto

Porto’s Endless Azulejos

Storytelling in the form of Azulejos (tiles) has been part of Porto’s identity for a long time, with striking depictions of religious and historical stories, legends and folktales. You can find beautiful buildings filled with these iconic white and blue tiles all over the city, from churches, to train stations and even hotels. There are enough to fill your 2 days in Porto itinerary and more!

woman at instagrammable blue tiles church in Porto, one of the best things to do in Porto

Porto is famous for its tiles, but the origins of this passion for white and blue azulejos was born from the Moorish who introduced the concept of glazed ceramic tiles to Portugal, and Portuguese explorers’ encounters with Chinese porcelain, mainly the Ming dynasty blue and white designs.

São Bento train station welcomes hundreds of people daily, some to catch a train and others just to admire its 20,000 hand painted tiles. If a single man (Jorge Colaço) painting all of these by himself, for about 10 years straight, doesn’t count as one of the reasons to visit Porto, we don’t know what does.

man with famous blue and white tiles of sao bento station in Porto, Portugal
man at best thing to do in Porto, visiting sao bento train station

Your azulejo saga will continue by visiting some stunning religious buildings, such as Igreja do Carmo, Capela das Almas and Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. Igreja do Carmo might be the most impressive of them all, and is not only beautiful, but a great “buy 1, get 1 free” deal. This fantastic building is actually two churches, Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas, with a super easy to miss skinny house between them, the Casa Escondida (hidden house). This tiny house was used for secret meetings during the Siege of Porto. You can visit both churches inside, one of them for free, the other charges admission.

man at must visit church with azulejos facade in Porto, Portugal
woman at ildefonso church famous azulejo facade in Porto
Carmo Church facade in Porto with Hidden House

Legend has it that the Casa Escondida had the purpose of having nuns and monks not even sharing a wall, keeping them properly apart, like the ultimate sin-proof church protection.

While visiting these churches from the outside is one of the best free things to do in Porto, you are also welcome to enter. Capela das Almas is free and Igreja de Santo Ildefonso just costs €1.

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woman in front of instagrammable tiles wall at capela das almas in Porto
golden altar inside Porto church

The Charming Ribeira

The postcard perfect image of Porto is the area of Cais da Ribeira. It's a hill adorned with colorful houses that seem stacked like ruffles on a dress, with the Torre dos Clérigos peeking in the distance, the iconic double-deck Dom Luis I bridge connecting both sides of the river, someone playing cheerful music while the sun comes down, and bustling terraces filled with people celebrating life with a glass of wine.

best restaurants at Ribeira in Porto
two woman relaxing by Ribeira in Porto, one of the best things to do in Porto

The stunning riverside of Cais da Ribeira is the city’s historic heart, and its vibrant atmosphere is one of the reasons to visit Porto. With plenty of accommodation options, zig zag narrow cobblestone streets, fantastic restaurants with some of the most delicious traditional food in Porto (and a handful of tourist traps, so choose wisely), and the perfect ambiance at sunset, you will find yourself drawn to this place more often than what you had planned.

famous tiles facade of Porto, Portugal

Porto Wine Tasting

When people think of what Porto is famous for, “Porto wine” often is what comes to mind first. That being said, a Porto wine tasting in Porto should be part of any traveler's itinerary. You can sip on a glass of this celebrated wine at any local bar, but if you sip a couple of glasses at a random bar “you might have a bit of a problem”, while if you sip a couple at a tour tasting, “ is cultural immersion”🙈.

Many cellars have tours in which you can learn about the history of Porto wine and its production, as well as enjoy a free sample of the brand's wine at the end. Interestingly enough, you will find most of the best Port houses to visit in Porto, in Vila Nova de Gaia, the city across the river.

best Port wine cellars to visit in Porto

The grapes for Porto wine are grown in the Douro Valley, but the weather conditions in the area are not ideal for the actual wine making process. Therefore, the grapes are brought to Porto to be processed into wine. Historically, cellar owners would dock their boats in Gaia as taxes were much lower there, so it only made sense to build their businesses there. While it might sound a bit misleading to call it Porto wine with most cellars being in Vila Nova de Gaia, both cities are part of Porto’s district, so it’s fine. Also, truth be told, after a glass or two, “Porto” is easier to pronounce.

Although some tours and wines may be better than others, any cellar you visit will provide a great experience. Don't feel overwhelmed by the number of options as you try to find the best Porto tasting in Porto. Just make sure to book your tour in advance in order to avoid queues, as this is one of the top experiences travelers choose. For first-time visitors, some great options of Porto wine tasting and cellar tours Cálem, Cockburn’s or Graham's*.

best port wine tour to do in Porto
port wine glass in best port wine cellar in Porto

If you have a full day available in your itinerary, join a Douro day trip. This is one of the best day trips from Porto, and usually includes a beautiful scenic cruise, visits to a couple of cellars, wine tasting, and even lunch.

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The Charismatic Bolhão

If Ribeira is the heart, then Bolhão is the soul of Porto! It is remarkably endearing how one of the busiest areas of such a big city still manages to maintain such warm hospitality, that goes hand in hand with the characteristic northern sense of humor and easy laughter. Whether you have 2 days in Porto or just 2 hours, you must visit Bolhão.

man visiting famous Perola do Bolhao a must thing to do in Porto

There is a lot to discover in Bolhão, like the bustling boulevard of Rua de Santa Catarina, which features a mix of internationally known brands, restaurants, and local bakeries; the beautiful Capela das Almas with its white and blue azulejo walls; and the largest and most famous market of Porto, Mercado do Bolhão. Open since 1914, but recently renovated, in Mercado do Bolhão you will find many of the best things to eat in Porto, with a variety of fresh fruit, pastries, meat, fish, the perfect foodie souvenirs and a handful of options of local delights to eat on the spot.

Seafood at mercado do bolhao in Porto
codfish at mercado do bolhao a must eat dish in Portugal

On Rua de Santa Catarina you will find the famous Majestic Café, which has been open since 1921 and is one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Portugal. This elegant café with ornate chandeliers and plush velvet seating has been a popular meeting place for artists and intellectuals since the day it opened. If it doesn’t sound cheap, that's because it is not😅. If you choose to visit expect to pay €5 for an espresso.

must visit majestic cafe in Porto, Portugal

In the Bolhão area, you will find several shops specializing in spices, tea, coffee, and wine, some of which have over 100 years of history. A weekend in Porto is not complete without a visit to stores like A Pérola do Bolhão, Mercearia do Bolhão and Comer e Chorar por Mais, where you can purchase the best type of souvenirs – the food type, obviously – and try traditional snacks.

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two ladies in front of Mercearia do Bolhao on a must visit area in Porto
best souvenirs from portugal funny cans of sardines

Cross Dom Luís I Bridge

Of all the things Porto is famous for, its OG landmark is, without a doubt, Dom Luís I Bridge. A beautiful double-deck steel structure, built in 1886, and designed by an apprentice of Gustav Eiffel. At the time, it was the longest bridge of its type in the world! One of the nicest free things to do in Porto is to cross both levels at least once. Pedestrians are welcome on both decks, while sharing the upper level with the metro, and the lower with cars.

panoramic view of Luis I bridge in Porto

Pro tip: going uphill is harder than going downhill. You are welcome😂! Funicular dos Guindais is a lifesaver in this regard. For €4 it takes you on a 3 minute ride up the hill from the base of Dom Luís I Bridge (it also takes you down, but nobody really cares about that feature). Although it may not be the most budget-friendly 3 minutes, your legs will thank you.

The bridge connects the Ribeira area of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, over the Douro River, and crossing it at sunset is beautiful. For a different perspective you can join one of the tours that depart regularly from Ribeira do Porto, in which you get to see 6 bridges in about 50 minutes. While some people love this sort of tours, truth be told, they are not our jam😅.

man visiting Luis I bridge in Porto, one of the best things to do in Porto

Francesinha

Every time someone asks us “is Porto worth visiting?”, our enthusiastic “YES!” is followed by a long list of the traditional food in Porto that is mandatory to have. However, no matter who you talk to, the Francesinha will be mentioned as a top priority.

Before you start your search for the best Francesinha in Porto, get your body and mind ready to eat it, as it is a caloric dropkick like no other. Don’t have breakfast that day and be ready to fight the urge to take a nap while digesting it. Stay strong, and walk it off.

the best francesinha in Porto
where to eat the best francesinha in Porto, Portugal

All jokes aside, one of the top reasons to visit Porto is to try a Francesinha! This sandwich, often served with french fries, features layers of bread and assorted hot meats like ham, linguiça, and steak. It is covered in melted cheese, topped with a fried egg (optional) and drenched in its delicious and very mildly spicy signature sauce.

Francesinha translates to “Little french woman”, and it’s origin is attributed to a portuguese immigrant that returned to Porto after years living in France. Inspired by the croque-monsieur, he adapted its concept to suit the Portuguese taste, creating a spicy and hearty sandwich.

This dish is often considered a comfort food that goes perfectly with beer, and you can enjoy it pretty much everywhere in the city, already with a handful of twists (like vegan options) and “upgrades”. Nevertheless, “the best francesinha in Porto”, is a title many restaurants battle every year to conquer, with restaurants like Café Santiago, Lado B and Brasão (our favorite🤫), always being top competitors.

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To Travel Back in Time

Porto is a city with a young soul, dressed in an old timer’s clothes (like Roman times kind of old). Every inch of the city center takes you back in time, from the facades, to the streets’ detailed cobblestone tapestries, and iconic landmarks such as Porto’s Cathedral, Torre dos Clérigos, São Francisco Church and even Palácio da Bolsa. You should add at least a couple of these (the first two in our opinion) to your 2 days Porto itinerary.

man visiting Porto's cathedral, one of the best things to do in Porto

Porto’s Cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in the city, set in a huge open square where you can often enjoy some live music while sitting in the sun. Its stone face is impressive, but if you wish to visit inside, for a €3 entrance fee*, you get to explore its beautiful hallways, cloisters adorned with azulejos and access the north bell tower for mesmerizing panoramic views of Porto.

musician playing in front of Porto's cathedral
must visit Porto's Catedral facade in Portugal

Porto’s city center is not famous for its fantastic skyscrapers, so when in 1763 Torre dos Clérigos* opened its doors it immediately won the title of tallest building in Porto. It lost this title in the 19th century, but it was attributed the very specific “the biggest bell tower in Portugal” badge, so it would not feel too bad about it.

Clérigos tower and yellow tram must visit location in Porto
Clérigos tower panoramic view

You can climb the kind of claustrophobic 225 steps to the top of the bell tower for beautiful panoramic views of Porto for €8*, but if you already paid to visit the bell tower of Porto’s Cathedral, skip this one, as you will get pretty much the same views. Use the money you save and buy a box of pasteis de nata on us!😃

A visit to the plain looking São Francisco Church is in place to all the fans of Gothic architecture. From the outside nobody would ever expect a decadent interior of extravagant golden gilt woodwork, with what is estimated to be more than 300 kg of gold (the church's ornamentation was for a time considered too extravagant for the poverty that surrounded it, so it was closed for a few years). The ticket is on the pricier side for a worship space, with €10 entrance fee which includes a visit to a museum and catacombs, but the information leaflet costs €1 more😅

man at São Francisco Church in Porto

Right next door and keeping in the wealth theme, you can visit Palácio da Bolsa, the stock exchange palace with a detailed and glamorous interior that was meant to encourage wealthy investors to consider Portugal’s trade ventures. The beautiful Arab Room and Hall of Nations, as well as the rest of the palace, can only be visited as part of a 30 minute guided tour, included in the €12 admission. The tours are available in 4 different languages and why would you care? Because the language of the tour of each time frame is determined by the first person that arrives.

One more historical must visit spot in Porto is Cafe Imperial, open since 1936 in Praça da Liberdade, with its enormous stone eagle at the door, Art Deco stained windows, impressive mural and decadent chandeliers. You can visit for free, or have a Big Mac while you are at it. Oh yes! Forgot to mention McDonald’s took over the venue in the 90’s but left most of the interior intact. Is a weird suggestion and might not count as one of the reasons to visit Porto, but hey, it was voted one of the most beautiful Mcdonald’s in the world, so peek inside when walking by.

Colorful Alleyways

Porto is home to endless charming streets and alleyways, with rainbow-colored houses and cobblestone artwork, which are perfect for you to get lost in during your weekend in Porto. Wander around Rua das Flores, where traditionally flowers (flores) and jewelry were sold, and explore its cute shops and quirky restaurants. Let us know if you manage to find the giant cat😸.

woman walking in instagrammable Largo da Pena Ventosa in Porto

Pass by the beautiful Largo da Pena Ventosa square, or go down to the Ribeira area by walking down the stone stairs of Escada dos Guindais, where you can admire how old-fashioned houses perfectly blend with beautiful street art dedicated to the ones who lived on these streets their entire lives. But first, stop at the top to glance at the beautiful Dom Luis I bridge.

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couple kissing in Escada dos Guindais with Luis I bridge view in Porto
beautiful old lady street art in Porto

The Most Beautiful Bookstore

A stunning bookstore in a captivating blend of Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture, with an enchanting wooden staircase, covered in deep ruby red paint, floor-to-ceiling wooden bookshelves, an exquisite facade and a renowned reputation as the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. It’s no wonder visiting Livraria Lello has become one of the most popular reasons to visit Porto.

man visiting the most beautiful library in the world, livraria lello

Livraria Lello is one of the oldest bookstores in Porto, dating back to 1881. While undeniably beautiful, the long queues at the door were not a daily occurrence prior to the Harry Potter phenomenon. JK Rowling used to live in Porto, and it was rumored that this bookstore served as inspiration for her novels. She debunked this myth in 2020, but frankly, who cares? The place is still breathtaking.

livraria lello instagrammable stairs

Tickets are limited, so it's advisable to purchase one in advance on their official website before your visit. The price is €8, but if you buy a book, that cost is subtracted from your total.

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Endless Sunset Viewpoint

One of the best things to do in Porto is to enjoy the perfect sunset over the city, so we took it upon ourselves to find the best viewpoint for this purpose. We didn’t manage to choose one, but instead a handful of them (they are all great, what would our eliminations be based on? A slightly crooked tree?😂). So no matter where you are in the city, you'll be able to find one of them.

man enjoying sunset looking at Porto, one of the best things to do in Porto

Jardim do Morro, on the Gaia side of Dom Luis I bridge is a favorite for its chill atmosphere. Watch the sun go down to the sound of the live performances that give daily a special charm to this park. Right next to Jardim do Morro you have Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar. An ex monastery from where you can get even more spectacular city views.

man at sunset in Ribeira in Porto

Near the Clérigos Tower find Miradouro da Vitória, a hard to beat spot from which you can practically see every Porto landmark. This viewpoint was originally intended to be used as a military lookout, but nowadays is a small hidden gem, for the ones that are willing to make their way up the winding 10 minute paths to get there.

Sunset at Palácio de Cristal in Porto, Portugal
man during sunset in Jardins de Palácio de Cristal in Porto, overlooking douro river

 more peaceful place, but a bit far from the center, where mainly locals go to watch the sunset is the Crystal Palace Gardens (spoiler alert: there is no crystal palace there, but there used to be, a long long time ago). Enjoy beautiful views of the Douro River alongside lovely fountains, dozens of peacocks and very loud gooses. Are you already starting to consider increasing those 2 days in Porto to a 3 day Porto itinerary or more? You should…

Vila Nova de Gaia

South of the Douro River, you can find Vila Nova de Gaia. While in Porto, chances are you will cross Dom Luis I Bridge back and forth without even thinking you are visiting another city. Whether it is to explore some of the best port houses to visit in Porto, or enjoy the sunset at Jardim do Morro, visiting Vila Nova de Gaia is one of the things you must do while in Porto.

man enjoying the best things to do in Porto

Travel from Jardim do Morro to the beautiful promenade of Vila Nova de Gaia by strolling down the winding streets near the bridge, or by taking a cable car ride (€7 one way) with Teleférico de Gaia. It will drop you near the Beira-Rio market, so peek inside, while the prices are a bit inflated due to its location, the concept of having small stalls that represent different restaurants is always cool.

vila nova de gaia Ribeira area

Enjoy the breeze and breathtaking views of Ribeira do Porto, and keep an eye out for the famous rabbit mural crafter from trash collected around the city, by artist Bordalo II. For the coffee enthusiasts, explore one of the many coffee roasters in the area. This area is trending and has great brunch and coffee spots.

man and half rabbit urban art piece in Vila Nova de Gaia, near Porto

Day Trips from Porto

If you have about a week in Porto, so a day or two to spare, and you want to make sure you are soaking up the experience to the maximum by visiting other areas in the north of Portugal, these are some of the best day trips from Porto:

Douro Day Trip from Porto

Join a one-day tour to the crown jewel that is Douro Valley, just a 1h30min drive from Porto. Be mesmerized by the green rolling hills and vineyards, visit a couple of wine cellars, enjoy a fantastic lunch at a local restaurant and wrap it all up with a cruise down the Douro River.

Aveiro Day Trip from Porto

Aveiro with its colorful moliceiros boats, and charming striped houses by the beach in Costa Nova, is just one hour away from Porto by train or bus. It is a great place to delight with fresh seafood and have ovos moles for dessert (typical egg yolk dessert).

If you join a tour, you get to make extra stops and even cross one of the World's Longest Suspension bridges.

Guimarães and Braga Day Trip from Porto

Explore the architecture, history, religious significance and fantastic food of the north in a one day trip to Braga and Guimarães, also known as Portugal’s “Holy City” and the nation's birthplace. You can reach these two cities easily by car, public transportation, or join a tour where you will learn about the history of places such as the captivating Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary.

Peneda-Gerês Day Trip from Porto

More the adventure or nature type? Immerse yourself in the stunning natural beauty of Peneda-Gerês, Portugal's largest national park. Remote villages, hidden lagoons, rugged mountains and pristine forests. The best way to explore the park is by car or with a tour.

Where to Stay in Porto

Contrary to what you may think due to all the hills, Porto is a pleasure to explore by foot, so as long as you stay in the city center, you will have a wonderful time. When looking for an accommodation where to stay in Porto we would suggest you look near Ribeira, Clérigos Tower or even Rua de Santa Catarina. These are some great accommodations where to stay in Porto:

Orm Portas Santa Catarina best budget hotel in Porto
Se Catedral Hotel best hotel in Porto
Ga Palace Hotel & Spa best luxury hotel in Porto
seagull overlooking the best places where to stay in Porto

How to Get Around Porto

Porto is a very well connected city both internationally and within Portugal. It has its own international airport (Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport), with flights arriving daily from many destinations. You can also fly to the capital city of Lisbon and then reach Porto by train or bus. Transportation from Lisbon to Porto goes as low as €5 by bus, which takes around 3h15min.

You can easily get from Porto airport to Porto city center by bus, taxi, or our favorite: metro. The purple line will take you to the city center in approximately 35 minutes. It is affordable, convenient, and has plenty of stops.

While Porto is a fantastic city to explore on foot, you might want to use some public transportation when the legs start to complain, or if you arrive in the city by bus, to get from the bus terminal to your accommodation. With that in mind is important you know there are two Porto transportation cards:

public transportation in Porto and transportation cards

Andante Card

Andante Card is a rechargeable travel card which you can use in the metro, bus and urban trains, eliminating the hassle of purchasing individual tickets. You can recharge it with single journeys, 10-trip packs, 24 or 72 hour passes (Andante 24 & Andante 72) which provides unlimited travel for that time period. The last option is good if you plan on using Porto public transportation quite a lot. You can buy these at the ticket machine of any metro station.

Porto.Card

Porto.Card is another tourist pass that is valid from 1 to 4 days, depending on what you need. The difference is that includes unlimited use of public transportation, as well as free or discounted admission to several of Porto’s attractions, museums and tours. Check here exactly what is included and if it is a good fit for you*. If you decide to purchase it, do it prior to your trip, so you can use it straight away on the trip from the airport/bus terminal to your hotel.

Best Time to Visit Porto

Porto is a year round destination, with the worst weather possible being long rainy days during winter. Nevertheless, the best time to visit Porto is during the shoulder seasons of late spring (May to June) and early autumn (September to October), when you will experience pleasant temperatures, fewer crowds and better deals on hotels.

man in colorful street during best time when to visit Porto
man in foggy day, best time to visit Porto

If you are looking for the cheapest time to visit Porto, then pack warm clothes and plan your visit during the winter. Nevertheless, be flexible as rainy days and extreme fog can get in the way of some of your plans.

Must-Try Traditional Food in Porto

Best things to eat in Porto? Everything! 🤤

Porto is a culinary paradise, from where we leave every time disappointed with our stomach capacity, and how we didn’t manage to eat more. We have put together a list of over 40 places where to have the most amazing food and drinks in Porto, so you can simply go with the flow and have the best Porto food tour at your own pace. Get it here:

traditional must eat dish in Porto, Portugal
must try food in Porto

Savor the best Francesinha in Porto, try codfish (a true portuguese favorite) in Porto’s signature dish of Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, test your gastronomic adventurer side with Tripas à Moda do Porto (not going to sugar coat it, this is a tripe stew), and wrap up your meal with a warm Pastel de Nata. Let’s not forget a glass of Porto wine.

People of Porto are nicknamed “Tripeiros” (tripe eaters), there are a couple of theories behind the origin of this nickname, but both are about the locals being resourceful with tripes, in the absence of any other meat to consume, in order to support Portuguese expeditions and the troops.

Douro River and Porto view

Planning Time

If you are ready to start planning your next trip, here you have all the usefull links you need to make it happen! By using them you are supporting our work as we might get a small fee from it. But hey! You pay the same (or might even get a discount), so is a win-win situation!

This applies to all the links in this website marked with a *

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