Porto city guide: best things to do + travel tips
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal. The city played an important role in Portugal’s history and was a flourishing trading port from early on. But only in the 18th century did Porto really establish itself as a key trading hub. This was thanks to the export of port wine to England and the rest of the world. While Porto is still famous for this type of wine, there are also tons of other reasons why this is a must-visit travel destination. From its stunning old town to its authentic cuisine and romantic viewpoints, Porto has so much to offer that it has even become our favorite city in Portugal. In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about Porto and the best things to do there.
Check out our video about Porto to get a sense of what it's like there!
Where is Porto and how to get there?
Located in northwest Portugal along the Douro River, Porto is easy to reach. Most travelers fly to Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, which is only 11 kilometers from Porto city center. You can easily take the metro from the airport to the center. It runs every 20-30 minutes and costs €2 + €0.60 if you don't already have the reusable card. Here you can find more information on how to get from the airport to the city center. If you're already in Portugal, you can also go to Porto by train. There are 2 train stations, Sao Bento Train Station and Campanha Train Station. Sao Bento Station is for regional trains from northern Portugal such as from and to the Douro Valley. Campanha Train Station is for international trains and trains from the south. So if you want to go to Porto from Lisbon or the other way around, we highly recommend taking the train because the scenery is beautiful and it only takes 3 hours.
Important things to know before you go to Porto
The best time to visit Porto is between May and September. In these months, you have the most chance of good weather. Keep in mind that in July and August, the city can get very crowded with tourists.
Like everywhere in Portugal, Portuguese is the local language. Don't worry if you don't speak Portuguese when you're in Porto because in the tourist areas most people speak English.
Porto is a safe city, but such most big cities, you have to watch out for pickpockets. Also, at night you have to use common sense. Don't go into dark alleys, and don't go home alone drunk. If you drank too much, take a taxi. It will not cost you that much and it is a lot safer.
If you're in Porto for multiple days and you want to get away from the city for a day, go to the Douro wine valley. It has more open space and greenery, and is less crowded. It is not far so you can go there by boat, bus, or even by train from the Sao Bento Train Station.
Where to eat in Porto?
Porto is the food capital of Portugal. We loved it and want to share our favorite restaurants with you:
Bufete Fase: only makes Franseshina, it's very good but it can get busy!
Cafe Santiago: makes very good Franseshina but also makes other dishes.
Lado B: offers vegan Franseshina
Cana Verde: typical, simple Portuguese food and cheap. We recommend the fresh grilled fish!
Gazela: famous for its unique hot dogs called 'Cachorrinhos'.
O Buraco: great typical Portuguese food, good price-quality balance.
Da Terra: the best vegetarian place in the city!
Pastelaria Tupi: great pastries for breaktfast and lunch, also many vegan options!
Where to stay in Porto?
The best areas to stay in Porto include: Ribeira, Centro-Baixa, and Miragaia. These neighbourhoods are close to most of the tourist attractions. We stayed at Douro View House Ribeira, which was affordable, clean, and located near the waterfront (Ribeira). But of course there are many other great options around!
Best things to do in Porto
There are so many things to do in Porto. We'll break down our top 10 for you now!
If you want to check out other places on your Portugal trip besides Porto, then make sure to check out our full Portugal Travel Guide.
10. Visit the many churches
Whether you’re religious or not, visiting the churches of Porto is a great way to get to know the city’s history and architecture. There are dozens of beautiful churches in Porto, but a few stand out, such as Clérigos church and tower (Igreja dos Clérigos), St. Francis Church (São Francisco Church), the Church of Carmo (Igreja do Carmo) which is free to enter, and the Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto). If you only want to visit one, we recommend the Porto Cathedral as it is one of the city's oldest and most historical monuments.
9. Admire the architecture at the Lello Bookshop (Livraria Lello)
One of the most-visited attractions in all of Porto is undoubtedly the enchanting Lello bookshop. The building dates back to 1906 and is often nicknamed the “most beautiful bookshop in the world” due to its blend of different architectural designs. The unique wooden staircase, ceiling piping, and stained glass skylight are just mesmerizing. However, the shop is small and the queue to get inside can be very long. We recommend buying a skip-the-line ticket voucher, which comes with a free book. In this way, you will potentially avoid hours of waiting!
8. Try the local food
Apart from its traditional port wine, there’s a lot of food to experience in Porto. You can try local and national specialties, such as “tripas”, a hearty stew made with white beans and beef stomach; codfish (bacalhau); and grilled sardines (sardinhas). But our favorite regional dish was Francesinha, which is made up of various kinds of meat inside bread with melted cheese on top. You can also get it with an egg on top.
7. Walk the riverfront (Cais da Ribeira)
At number 7 we have the riverfront promenade along the Douro. It’s one of the liveliest parts of Porto, and a great place to walk, dine, and sightsee. Here, you’ll observe beautiful views of the river and the iconic Dom Luís I bridge. When we were there, it was the busiest day of the year: St. John’s Fest (Festa de São João). The city commemorates its patron saint on the 23rd of June with live music, drinking, grilled sardines, lots of dancing, hitting each other with plastic hammers, and fireworks. If you have the chance to visit Porto on that day, we’d highly recommend it!
6. Go on a cruise of the 6 bridges
Another great thing to do in Porto is to embark on a classic “Six Bridges” cruise on the Douro River. From the water, you can admire the beautiful landscapes and red-roofed buildings of Porto as well as Vila Nova de Gaia. All while learning about the historic bridges that connect both cities. The cruise will even take you near the seafront, where the river pours into the ocean. Boat tours leave from the riverfront at Ribeira Quay and last about 50 minutes. You can book your tour here. The 6 bridges are:
Dom Luís I
Ponte de Infante
Dona Maria Pia Bridge
Ponte de São João
Ponte da Arrábida
5. Take in a view of the city
Similar to Lisbon, Porto is a hilly city with many breathtaking viewpoints. The Vitória viewpoint (Miradouro da Vitória) is among the best-known ones, with views over the old town and the river. Other beautiful viewpoints include the street next to the Porto cathedral or from the cathedral itself, the Virtudes promenade and park (Passeio das Virtudes, Parque das Virtudes), and from the waterfront of Vila Nova de Gaia. Our favorite sunset viewpoint was from the Ribeira viewpoint (Miradouro da Ribeira).
4. Day trip to Peneda-Gerês National Park
Located near the Spanish border, the Peneda-Gerês national park is a 2-hour drive from Porto. It’s the oldest protected area and the only national park in Portugal, covering about 695 square kilometers. From authentic mountain villages to amazing landscapes with numerous viewpoints and waterfalls, this place is truly breathtaking. The park can be easily explored by car as many roads connect the remote villages and beautiful viewpoints. However, the best thing to do is to get out in nature and take it all in.
3. Day trip to the Douro wine valley
One of the best things to do near Porto is to visit Portugal’s most beautiful wine country. The Douro wine valley sits on the banks of the Douro River, upstream from Porto and almost to the border of Spain. This region is where the famous port wine is produced and it’s known as the first demarcated wine region in the world. But besides its wines, this valley is also worth visiting for its incredible landscapes, nature, and history. We spent two days in Peso da Régua and enjoyed wine tasting, hiking, and learning all about the region. You can also do a day trip to this region by embarking on a boat cruise from Porto.
2. Visit the wine cellars at Vila Nova de Gaia
If you don’t have the time to go to the Douro Valley, there is also a closer option. While less idyllic, Vila Nova de Gaia is also known for its port wine. In fact, all the port wine produced in the upper Douro Valley would historically be transported here in barrels on traditional boats (rabelo boats). This is why the riverbanks of Porto today are filled with wine cellars and tasting rooms. Most wine cellars offer wine tastings and guided tours, during which they explain more of the history. Besides the wine cellars, this waterfront is also home to numerous restaurants and offers some of the best views of Porto.
1. Free walking tour of the city
One of the best ways to get to know Porto and the history of Portugal, in general, is by taking a free walking tour. During a 2.5 hours guided tour, you’ll see the main highlights of the city, like São Bento train station, Café Majestic, Aliados Avenue, and much more. But you’ll also get some recommendations to eat, go out, and have fun. This Porto tour leaves a few times per day from the Liberty Square (Praça da Liberdade).
Did you enjoy our article on Porto? Make sure to download our free giveaway, which includes the top 100 bucket list destinations from around the world.
More Helpful Info About Porto
If you still need more information about Porto, make sure to check out these other great articles below:
16 Unmissable Things to do in Porto, Portugal by The Common Wanderer
20 Memorable Things To Do In Porto, Portugal by Embrace Someplace
Need more travel inspiration? Check out our other destinations and articles on Portugal: