Portugal’s charismatic and colorful second city boasts a wide array of attractions, with the best things to do in Porto spanning from port tastings and palace visits to river cruises and beach escapes.
As charming as it is creative, the city offers a distinctively different flavor to the country’s capital, Lisbon, all wrapped up in a relatively compact UNESCO-listed core. Cutting-edge coffee roasters, contemporary art galleries, and independent craft breweries sit alongside vintage wine lodges, Victorian gardens, and fanciful aged architecture, crafting a blend of classical and youthful as delicious as its vinhos.
Whether you want to get lost in the city’s labyrinth of steep streets, venture to the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, or heed the call of the Atlantic Ocean beaches, these are the top things to do in Porto.
Walk the Riverbanks and Dom Luis I Bridge
Porto’s most emblematic neighborhood is Ribeira, a maze of narrow streets, colorful buildings, windows framed by fluttering laundry, and plenty of lively restaurants and cafes, making it the perfect first stop on a tour of the city—especially along the riverbank.
From Ribeira Square, one of the city’s most historical, you can trace the curve of the River Douro along the embankment. Restaurant terraces spill out from the lower floors of pastel-hued townhouses, providing the perfect place to dine with a view of the river and the city’s engineering masterpiece, the Dom Luis I Bridge.
This double-layered and arched crossing is ideal for reaching the port wine lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia, the city on the opposite bank. While the lower deck provides the quickest route, you can enjoy some of the best views of Porto by crossing the bridge’s higher level.
If you don’t fancy the steep climb to reach the top, opt for the nearby funicular for a less heavy-on-the-feet experience.
Marvel at Palácio da Bolsa
Perhaps the city’s most splendid architectural feast, the Palácio da Bolsa can be visited on a guided tour.
This neoclassical building wasn’t built as a palace but to house the Associação Comercial do Porto, a local trade association. Constructed over some 60-plus years from the mid-19th century, the rooms inside take inspiration from various styles, though one of the chambers truly stands out, the Salão Árabe.
Taking nearly 20 years to construct, the Islamic-inspired Arabian Hall shines, with highly ornate gilding, and impeccably detailed stucco carvings.
From the stained-glass windows to the beautifully painted pillars, it’s impossible to appreciate all the details on the short guided visits. Still, it’s well worth making the tour, as this splendid ballroom and the other stately rooms are some of Portugal’s most prized treasures.
Taste & Tour the Vintage Port Houses
No visit to Porto would be complete without sampling or learning about the city’s famous fortified wine, and where better to do so than at one of the vintage port houses lining the southern riverbank?
While Vila Nova de Gaia (often simply called Gaia) is actually a different city, its history is entwined with Porto’s. For centuries, barrels of port wine have traveled down the Douro River to these cellars, where they ferment, rest, and age before being bottled.
With no shortage of options for tours and tastings—ranging from self-guided tours at Taylor’s Port, one of the oldest lodges, to premium vintage samplings in Sanderman’s intimate cellars—the experience can last from a 30-minute introduction to a multi-hour, in-depth discovery.
Experience the World of Wines (WOW)
One of the most recently opened attractions in Porto, World of Wines (WOW) has reshaped the Gaia riverbank.
Far from being a traditional experience, like visiting the port houses, the vast, purpose-built building is more of a cultural district, housing seven museums and an array of fine dining restaurants.
Whether you want to enjoy a guided tasting of Douro’s rich wines, slide into a ball pool while sipping a glass of rosé in the whimsical “Pink Palace”, or learn more about Portugal’s extensive cork industry, the themed exhibition spaces are full of surprises.
Discover the Douro on a River Cruise
If you’d prefer to sample your wines among vineyards than in museums, taking a river cruise upstream is one of the most unforgettable things to do in Porto.
A variety of half-day and full-day sailings depart the city along the Douro River. Some offer wine tastings onboard, often paired with lunch, while others may make a short stop at a vineyard for a visit.
Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll be spoiled with delicious wines and views, all courtesy of the enchanting tiered vineyards that rise steeply from the riverbanks, snaking around the contours of the hills.
Climb the Clerigos Tower
For an (almost) bird’s-eye view of Porto, climb the 245-foot Italian-designed tower adjacent to the Church of Clérigos.
This landmark of the city skyline, visible from nearly all corners, is the city’s baroque jewel. However, you’ll need to tackle the seemingly never-ending inner staircase to appreciate the far-reaching vistas.
All is rewarded at the top, with Porto looking even prettier from above, thanks to the spire-dotted skyline of ochre roofs and the river beyond.
Back on firmer ground, the 18th-century church is also open to visitors. While it’s not as lavish as some of Porto’s other religious monuments, the domed ceiling and pastel-hued interior are worth a peek.
Admire the Azulejos, Porto’s Iconic Blue Tiles
Portugal’s beautiful azulejos (hand-painted tiles) have been part of the country’s culture since the 13th century, and Porto’s signature blue and white style is a wonder to behold.
While you’ll find these artistic wall decorations across the city, two buildings are particularly worth visiting for their artistic tiles alone.
In the entrance hall of São Bento train station, more than 20,000 tiles by Jorge Colaço depict the nation’s royal history, and even if you don’t plan on riding the rails, it’s well worth scheduling a visit to see the masterpiece.
Afterward, head to Igreja do Carmo, where the side facade is coated in another mesmerizing mosaic.
Visit the Igreja de São Francisco
Porto’s architecture helped earn the historic center UNESCO World Heritage designation, and the 14th-century Church Of St. Francis most certainly contributed to the accolade.
Imposingly Gothic on the outside, the church’s gold-heavy baroque interiors are well hidden. Once you’ve stepped through the grand entrance, you’ll be greeted with a gilded feast.
From top to bottom, the decoration is sumptuous: the eye-catching altarpiece, the sculptures by Italian masters, and the sacred art of the adjacent museum. It’s a captivating combination of elegance.
Relax in the Palácio de Cristal’s Gardens
With an array of serene green spaces across the city, you’re never far from a park in Porto. One of the most beautiful in Portugal can be found at the Victorian-style Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, a collection of interwoven landscaped and botanical gardens.
With free-roaming peacocks, well-manicured lawns, ornate fountains, and a plethora of flowers from seasonal tulips to sweet-scented roses, you’ll feel far from the city, even though you’re in its heart.
From the higher gardens, splendid views across the Douro River to Gaia add to the allure, while a former king’s home, now a museum, provides historical insight.
Sample Porto’s Signature Stacked Sandwich
The people of Porto have been known as tripeiros (tripe eaters) for centuries, since Portugal’s seafaring age of discoveries. Luckily, for those who aren’t tripe fans, the famous dish from Porto is nowadays overshadowed by the city’s signature sandwich, the Francesinha—allowing for a more crowd-pleasing typical plate.
While you’ll find this stacked-high dish in nearly every restaurant, for the original recipe, head to the salmon-hued dining room of A Regaleira. Here, the owner invented the Franceschina following a visit to France in the 1950s.
Eager to bring a Croque Monsieur-inspired dish to the people of Porto, he added steak, sausage, even more cheese, and a slightly spicy gravy-like sauce to the dish, which quickly became a beloved part of the city’s culinary scene.
It’s certainly not a light lunch, but it will provide plenty of energy to climb Porto’s ample steep streets. Recently, a flurry of vegetarian versions have started appearing on the city’s menus, offering a slightly less heavy meat-free alternative.
Pick Up a Book at Livraria Lello
Often touted as the world’s most beautiful little bookstore, a visit to Livraria Lello has become one of the most popular things to do in Porto, with queues often winding around the block.
The bookstore operates on a ticket system to try and control the number of visitors, so you’ll need to pre-plan a stop here, though the ticket serves as a voucher towards any book purchased.
While it’s the decorative, dark paneled walls, magnificent red-carpeted double staircase, and stained glass ceiling that draw in the crowds, the shop’s signature collection of miniature classics in English make for a wonderful bookshelf-friendly souvenir or gift.
Escape to the Beach
Sun-kissed beach days are a staple of Portuguese life. While you’ll need to venture beyond the city for swathes of untouched sands, the urban beach of Praia dos Ingleses is a perfect Porto beach.
Situated in the well-heeled Foz do Douro district, it’s here that the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Alongside the river’s mouth, a promenade-backed stretch of sand provides a dreamy spot to top up your tan, while the refreshing waters offer a cooling dip on the hottest days.
Post-bathing, the plethora of premium seafood restaurants nearby are ideal for a fresh fish lunch, accompanied by a crisp glass of Douro white or a Vinho Verde, a lightly sparkling wine from slightly further north.
Enjoy Art & Woodlands at Parque de Serralves
Halfway between Ribeira and the coast, Parque de Serralves, a lush 44-acre space of gardens, museums, and woodlands, promises a wonderful escape without leaving the city.
With two museums, a contemporary art museum, and the more classical art deco Casa de Serralves, art connoisseurs will appreciate the permanent and temporary exhibitions housed in the well-curated spaces.
In the gardens, scented blooms and lily ponds await, dotted with modern sculptures, while the grounds provide plenty of chances to connect with nature.
Whether you opt to follow the shaded trails below the canopy or head above on the treetop walkway—a tranquil raised wooden platform—Serralves is a place perfect for peaceful reflection.
Stroll Through the Mercado do Bolhão
Serving as the centerpiece of the vibrant Bolhão neighborhood since 1914, the Mercado do Bolhão has long been the place to stock up on the city’s freshest produce.
Even before the grandiose neoclassical building’s inauguration, traders and local farmers have long flocked to this spot—as early as 1839—to sell local specialties such as salted cod and seasonal fruits.
While the market recently underwent a vast restoration project, only reopening in 2022, the space retains much of its original buzz and charisma, offering a peek into daily life in the city.
Stroll through the rows of traders and sample the deliciously sweet local citrus fruits, stock up on Portugal’s famed tinned sardines as a souvenir, or settle into one of the restaurants to taste typical dishes while watching the animated transactions beyond.
The redesign saw much of the market permanently covered, making a visit one of the best things to do in Porto on a rainy day.
See Sé, Porto’s Cathedral
Sitting at the highest point of the Ribeira district, the views from Porto Cathedral (Sé) are as splendid as the imposing building’s facade.
Originally constructed in the 12th century, the cathedral has undergone many transformations, leading to a mix of romanesque, gothic, and baroque styles. However, you’ll need to enter to see much of the pre-18th-century design.
The cloister—adorned with blue and white hand-painted azulejos depicting Bible scenes—is particularly impressive.
If you want even more grandeur after visiting the cathedral and treasury museum, and climbing the towers for sweeping panoramas, take a tour of the Episcopal Palace next door.
Beyond the former bishop’s residence’s white facade, stately rooms of fine paintings, detailed hand-woven carpets, and regal furniture all allude to the city’s status in the 18th century.
Taste the Local Brew Scene
For many years, Porto’s drinks menus have been dominated by the ports and Douro wines that Portugal is famous for. However, in recent times, an alternative scene has been brewing: craft beer.
The burgeoning collection of independent brewhouses means that slipping into one of the beer halls to meet the people powering this change is one of the most refreshing ways to sample Porto’s always-evolving beer scene.
From the trendy, such as Letraria’s sun-kissed beer garden, founded by university friends eager to share their passion for brewing, to the magnificently decorated Fabrica Nortada, an upscale brewery-and-bar in the Bolhão neighborhood, Porto’s independent brew houses are popping up across the city, perfect for a pause between sightseeing.
Pause for a Pastel de Nata
Portugal’s signature sweet treat, the custard-filled Pastel de Nata, originally hails from a monastery in Lisbon. Yet they taste no less delicious in Porto, especially in one of the city’s grandest establishments, the Majestic Café.
Set on the city’s main shopping thoroughfare, Rua Santa Catarina, this Belle Époque-style restaurant is an opulent medley of swinging dark wood doors, expansive mirrors, and marble floors. Head here after visiting the sights to sink into one of the leather-backed chairs.
Enjoy a coffee in ornate chinaware, devour a warm custard tart, and soak up the atmosphere of Porto’s most elegant dining rooms. It’s a truly regal treat.
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