Porto is the second most important city in Portugal, after Lisbon. It is a big city, the capital of the north, but, at the same time, it has a small and charming historic center, where you can find important historical monuments, but at the same time, typical houses with clothes drying on the veranda.
Porto is majestic and simple, imposing and unpretentious. And we are very fond of it because it is where we studied and live, so perhaps we are a little biased. But it is a city that leaves a positive impression on everyone who visits.
Porto’s historical center, the D. Luís I bridge, and the Pilar Monastery are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Moreover, in addition to being charming and full of important monuments, Porto is also one of the best places to eat; it is a city of foodies where you can eat well and cheaply.
For all these reasons, visiting Porto is a must, so come and discover the best things to do in Porto.
What to do and visit in Porto? 17 things not to miss
Sao Bento Station
In addition to being Porto’s main station and from where regional and intercity trains depart, S. Bento station is one of the most beautiful monuments in the city. It is especially known for its typical tile panels covering the station’s interior walls.
The station has 20,000 tiles painted in blue and white by Jorge Colaço, which illustrate the evolution of transport and major events in the history of Portugal. In addition to the tiles, the station also has an impressive façade and roof over the train tracks.
Avenida dos Aliados
Avenida dos Aliados is the central square of Porto, and it has impressive historic buildings with an Art Nouveau and Art Deco style surrounding it.
The most important is the Porto City Council building at the end of the square. But we also have the buildings of the Bank of Minho, Caixa Geral de Depósitos, and the O Comércio do Porto newspaper. Another beautiful and well-known building is the Mcdonald’s located in the former Café Imperial. It even was ranked the most beautiful Mcdonald’s in the world a few years ago.
The avenue is called Aliados to honor the historic alliance between England and Portugal at the end of the 14th century. This is also where the people of Porto come together to celebrate events and demonstrate.
At the end of Avenida dos Aliados is Praça da Liberdade, which has a statue of Dom Pedro IV.
Rua Santa Catarina
Santa Catarina Street is the main shopping area in Porto. It is a pedestrian road covered with Portuguese pavement, where you will find famous stores such as Zara, H&M, Adidas, and Oysho, among others. It is also full of cafes and restaurants with terraces.
It’s a pleasant street to walk around, rest on the terrace, drink an espresso, eat a pastel de nata, and enjoy the views.
In addition to the street shops, there are several historical landmarks, such as the Majestic café and the Capela dos Anjos covered with traditional tiles. Café Majestic is the most beautiful in Porto and is often referred to as one of the most beautiful in the world. It has origins in 1924 with an Art Nouveau style, with marble columns, crystal lamps, and mirrors scattered around the walls. It used to be the meeting place for artists and politicians.
The Bolhão market is the market in Porto where fresh products such as fish, meat, vegetables, and flowers used to be sold. It was the traditional market where people from Porto bought and sold their products at a stall. Products were advertised, and prices were haggled over. Nowadays, it is not so traditional, and people tend to buy food in supermarkets; it is a more tourist attraction and a beloved landmark than an everyday market.
The market building is beautiful, with a neoclassical style, and has two floors. It was recently subjected to refurbishment works, which ended in 2022, the exterior facade was maintained, but the interior is a little different.
The products sold also changed. You will find stalls with handicrafts, spices, and specific ingredients such as dried mushrooms. As it’s a little more touristy, prices can be more expensive. However, it is a good place to buy souvenirs and has some restaurants.
Clérigos Tower and Church
The Clérigos church and tower were built in the 18th century and belonged to the Clérigos Brotherhood. The baroque tower is 76 meters high and is one of the highest points in the city. It was a tower and landmark for ships approaching Porto.
It is one of the most iconic monuments in the city. It is possible to climb the 240 steps to the top and enjoy the panoramic views of Porto. A funny curiosity is that there were supposed to be two towers, but the second one was never built.
Livraria Lello is a beautiful bookshop in the center of Porto built in 1906 and has an Art Nouveau style. It is also known for being the Harry Potter bookstore, as the stairs in the bookstore are rumored to have inspired author J.K. Rowling to create the moving stairs at Hogwarts.
Although the facade is beautiful, the interior of the bookstore impresses. It has a beautiful spiral wooden staircase to the second floor, stained glass windows and ceiling, intricate bookcases, and ornate plasterwork. It’s all so enchanting and magical.
It is possible to visit the bookstore and buy books (although they are quite expensive). Be aware this place has a lot of queues, so book your ticket in advance. Note that the entrance ticket cost is deducted if you buy a book.
This church is known for the beautiful blue and white tiles that cover its exterior walls. It is one of the most Instagrammable places in Porto.
The church was built in the 18th century by Ordem Terceira do Carmo in a rococo/baroque style. Next to it is the Carmelitas church, but since the construction of a church next to the other was not allowed, a narrow house was built, the hidden House of Porto. It is known as the narrowest house in Porto.
Entrance to the church, hidden house, and catacombs costs €3.50. But the façade tiles turn out to be the most fascinating feature of the church.
Stock Exchange Palace
You may think visiting the Stock Exchange Palace is bland and uninteresting, but you are wrong; the palace’s interiors are stunning and surprising. The Stock Exchange Palace was built in 1880 in a Neoclassical style and was a space where merchants would meet and discuss business.
The interior of the palace is impressive, especially the Arab Room, decorated in a detailed way inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Spain. It is a monument with many visits, so buying the ticket in advance is preferable. The visits are guided, which is great and allows you to understand the history and details of the Palace.
Nowadays, the Stock Exchange Palace, in addition to being a museum, is a center for culture and congresses, and it is possible to rent rooms for events such as concerts, parades, and congresses.
San Francisco church
The São Francisco Church is very close to the Stock Exchange Palace. It is a Church that belonged to the order of San Francisco and was built in the 14th century in a Gothic style.
The exterior of this church may look unremarkable, but don’t let that fool you the interior is amazing. The interior walls, columns, chapels, and roofs are covered with golden tiles. It’s all golden.
Furthermore, this church has a curious and somber characteristic, it has catacombs under the ground, where the brothers of the order and some nobles of Porto are buried. It also has an ossuary with thousands of human bones.
You must pay an entrance ticket to visit the church and the catacombs.
Ribeira do Porto
Ribeira is the most famous and beautiful area of Porto. If you have little time to visit the city, it is essential to go to Ribeira first. The riverside area is made up of the banks of the Douro River. On the northern side of the river is the Porto bank with its typical colorful houses, and on the other side, we find Vila Nova De Gaia with the Port wine cellars. Joining the two banks, there’s the D. Luís I bridge and five other bridges.
The riverside is full of cafes and restaurants with terraces. It is a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy the view of the Douro River, which is full of Rabelo boats, boats that used to carry port wine, and cruise ships. You can take a boat from this area and visit the six bridges of the Douro River or even go to the Douro wine region, where the vineyards are located.
The riverside is part of the historical area of Porto, which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Port Wine Cellars
The Port wine cellars are located on the south bank of the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. The cellars were where Port wine was stored and left to age. Port wine was produced in the Douro demarcated region, about 100 km from Porto. After its production, the wine was transported along the Douro River in Rabelo boats to the numerous Vila Nova de Gaia cellars, where they were stored and left to age in barrels.
Different Cellars belong to different companies that produce Port Wine. Caves Calém, Caves Taylor’s, Ferreira, Ramos Pinto, Real Companhia Velha, Sandeman, Offley, Churchill’s, and Cockburn’s are the most famous.
One of the most fun things to do in Porto is to visit one of the cellars and have a Port wine tasting. Visits are usually made with a guide, which explains the process of making and aging Port wine and clears up any doubts that may arise. At the end of the visit, there is always a wine tasting and a shop where you can buy the wine of your choice.
D. Luís I Bridge
The D. Luís I bridge is an iron bridge that connects Porto to Gaia, it has two decks measuring 395 meters in length and 8 meters in width. And it is a true engineering marvel, opened in 1886 and designed by Teófilo Seyrig, a disciple of Eiffel.
The upper deck serves as a line for the Porto metro and pedestrian crossings. The view from the top deck is breathtaking, it has a panoramic view of Porto, Gaia, and the Douro River. It also gives access to the Pilar Monastery and Porto Cathedral.
The lower deck allows you to visit the waterfront of the Douro River on the Gaia side, where the Port wine cellars are located. In the past, cars were allowed to cross, but since 2023, pedestrians, public transport, and bicycles are only allowed to pass.
Porto Cathedral is one of the oldest monuments in the city of Porto. It began to be built in 1110 in a Romanesque style, but as it has been refurbished over the centuries, it became a mixture of styles.
This is an impressive cathedral made of granite, with many fascinating details, including the beautiful rose window at the entrance. The Cathedral also has a cloister that is decorated with blue and white tiles that deserves to be seen.
Entrance to the Cathedral is free, but you must pay to enter the cloister and the chapter house. The Cathedral is located close to the upper deck of the D. Luís do Porto bridge, around 400 meters away.
The Pilar Monastery is located in Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia near the upper deck of the D. Luís I Bridge. It was built in 1537 by the order of Saint Augustine.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Monastery is that both the Church and the Cloister have a circular plan, which is unusual. The Monastery, together with the D. Luís I bridge and the historic center of Porto, are classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.
Mosteiro do Pilar has one of the best viewpoints overlooking the Douro River and the historical areas of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. It is also a great place to enjoy the sunset.
Casa da Música, or the House of Music, is one of the icons of Porto, an intriguing contemporary monument. It is a concert hall constructed when Porto was named the European Capital of Culture in 2001. However, it was only completed in 2005.
Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas designed it. It is a modern building with a different format, full of unexpected angles and planes. It is possible to take guided tours of the concert halls, or if you can, why not attend one of the concerts? If you can’t do that, simply appreciating the architecture is worth it.
Porto City Park
The City of Porto Park is the largest urban park in the country, it has 83 hectares of green space that extends to the Atlantic Ocean. It is a pleasant space with lots of shade, lakes, and several green spaces to do sports or simply relax on the grass. Trails for hiking, biking, or jogging.
The park has plenty of parking, with two entrances, one on Boavista Avenue and the other on the ring road, Circunvalação. The park also has several bathrooms and drinking fountains, and access to the seafront at Matosinhos beach and Foz do Porto.
Inside the park, you will also find the water pavilion, an Expo 98 exhibition, which is an interactive space with information about water and science and technology related to it.
Foz do Douro
Foz do Douro is where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean; it is very beautiful and one of the most expensive areas in Porto.
Foz stretches from the river to Matosinhos beach – you will find the only beaches in Porto in this area, as well as several nice cafes and restaurants and very romantic old houses. One of the best things to do is walk along the promenade and enjoy the sea and the surroundings.
One of the best ways to get to Foz is to take a tram, number 1, which runs from the historic center near the Palácio da Bolsa to Foz.
Where to stay in Porto?
This hostel is ideal for those who want a cheaper place but with a lot of quality. The hostel has a choice of shared or private accommodation and a kitchen that allows you to prepare meals. It is very well located, close to the main attractions. It’s a very nice hostel. Book your stay here.
If you are looking for an apartment just for you, with a kitchen and bathroom, BF Apartments is the right one with a good quality/cost ratio. It is well located in the historic center of Porto. Book your stay here.
The vintage Pestana Hotel has the best views in Porto. It is located on the riverside of Porto, overlooking the Douro River and the bridges. It is a very luxurious 5-star hotel. It is very well located in the center of Porto. It has a delicious breakfast buffet. It has all the amenities you need. See prices and availability here.
We also suggest you look at our Where to Stay in Porto post, where we explain the best neighborhoods in Porto and the best accommodation options in each one.
What to eat in Porto?
- Francesinha: Going to Porto and not eating a francesinha is like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope. By the way, Porto is the place to eat francesinhas. Francesinha is simply the best sandwich in the world. Made with toasted bread, ham, fresh sausage, sausage, and steak, topped with melted cheese, tomato, beer, and Piri-Piri sauce. It’s delicious.
- Tripas à moda do Porto: Eating trips is a cultural and historical experience. It is an important dish in Porto. It is made with cow tripe, which is cooked with white beans, carrots, smoked like chorizo, veal hand, ribs, and tomato sauce, and served with white rice. Not everyone likes it, it’s an acquired taste. But I advise you to try.
- Grilled sardines: Grilled sardines in Porto are delicious, especially in Matosinhos, where they are traditional, and during S. João Festivities in June. They are sided with baked potatoes and olive oil, and cornbread.
If you want to know more about what to eat in Porto, see this article: What to eat in Porto? Typical Porto dishes not to be missed
Where to eat in Porto?
- Café Santiago: Almost all restaurants have francesinhas, but some are specialists and recommendable. And Café Santiago is one of them. It has one of the best Francesinhas in Porto.
Discover where to eat the best Francesinhas in Porto
- Loureiro: is a restaurant with traditional Portuguese food. It’s one of the best places to eat tripe à la Porto but has other very good traditional dishes like rojões. It is a restaurant that we recommend if you want to eat traditional Portuguese food.
- Palato Restaurante: almost all the restaurants on the beachfront in Matosinhos serve good fish. But Palato excels in excellence. It’s a bit pricey but very good.
Day trips from Porto
If you have time, visiting the Douro Valley is a must. The Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. Marked by the Douro river winding its way through hills full of vineyards, aligned symmetrically. It’s especially beautiful in autumn when the grapes are ready to pick, and the leaves are golden and red. Or in spring when the leaves are green.
The Douro Valley is where Port wine is produced. It is an area with ideal conditions for the growth of grapes, which is why we have many famous wine production farms there. For this reason, the entire Alto Douro Wine Region was also classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
There are several ideal ways to visit the Douro Valley, but we suggest two. Take a cruise on the Douro River to Régua, and enjoy the vineyards from a privileged position. Or go by train and take a magnificent journey along the Douro line, almost always parallel to the river in vintage carriages and panoramic windows, perfect for enjoying the landscape.
Whatever the form, the Douro Valley deserves to be appreciated and tasted.
Guimaraes and Braga
Guimarães is an important historical city in Portugal, it was the first Portuguese capital where Portugal was born. But in addition to its historical importance, it is a very beautiful city, with a very well-preserved historic center. The most important landmark of the city is its castle.
Guimarães is just 55 km from Porto, about 45 minutes by car. It is also possible to go by train.
Close to Guimarães is Braga, a very traditional Minho city. Known for having many churches and the famous Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. The white church atop the hill and the 500-step staircase make for an impressive backdrop.
Due to the proximity of the two cities and both are close to Porto, it is possible to visit both on the same day, but it will be a long day. If you have to choose, it will depend on what you are looking for.
Aveiro is a coastal city in the south of Porto. It is famous for the Ria de Aveiro and the canals, the salt pans, the sweet eggs, and the art deco. Very close by, there are also the famous striped houses painted in the bright colors of Costa Nova. It is a city with a lot to explore and is very beautiful. In fact, it is known for being the Venice of Portugal, though the differences are huge!
Aveiro is 72 km from Porto, and the best way to get to Aveiro is by train. In addition to being very easy, the train journey is also scenic, with a good part of the journey following parallel to the Atlantic Ocean.
To learn more about Aveiro, see our article: What to do in Aveiro? Complete guide to visiting Aveiro
Porto is an excellent base for exploring the north and center of Portugal. Have a look at our suggestions for the best day trips from Porto.
How to go to Porto?
The best way to go to Porto is by train. Porto has a train station in the city center, very close to the city’s main attractions. And it has connections to all the big cities in Portugal, Lisbon, Coimbra, Braga, and Guimarães. The train from Lisbon to Porto takes about 3h30.
You can also take a bus via the express or Flixbus network, which takes around 3h15. Despite having cheaper options by bus, we think the journey by train is more beautiful.
Traveling by car turns out to be a good way to go to Porto. Not because it’s easier or there’s no chance of public transport, but because it allows you to visit various cities and attractions along the way. Portugal is a small country which makes it possible to visit almost all of it in a week. So the idea is to take a trip by car and get to know the main cities and attractions.
On the other hand, Porto is a small city, you can visit the whole city on foot. Therefore, within the center, it is best to park your car in a park and explore the city on foot.
To go from Lisbon to Porto by car is 314 km and takes 3 hours on the A1 motorway. The highway is paid, and you can pay the toll with cash or card.