Porto, Portugal, located in Northern Portugal, is rapidly becoming a popular vacation destination, either combined with a trip to the capital of Lisbon or on its own. It’s a trendy, historic city – a rare combination, and offers lots to see and do. As the second-largest city in Portugal, it’s a popular place, with many historic buildings, shops, restaurants, and fun activities.
During our trip to Porto, we spent four nights and could have spent even more. I’d probably recommend combining your Porto itinerary with a trip to Lisbon. They are fairly close to each other – about a three to four-hour drive. Here are some of the best things to do in Porto Portugal.
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Depending on your plans, it may be worth purchasing the Porto Card. By paying one fee, you’ll be able to get free access to public transportation and some top attractions, as well as a 10%-50% discount at some additional major attractions. It’s worth looking at the list to see if purchasing the card will benefit you.
Things To Do in Porto, Portugal
Getting to Porto
Porto has its own international airport, located just a short distance from the city center. We weren’t able to fly direct from Boston, but connected in Paris.
Trains are also available from Lisbon and other popular areas of Portugal. Porto is a city, with narrow and hilly roads. Driving around there may be a little challenging, because of this renting a car may not be the best option. Uber and cabs are readily available in the city.
Eating in Porto
While you are in Porto, be sure to enjoy their signature sandwich, the Francesinha. This hearty entree includes bread, cheese, ham, sausage, steak, and egg. It’s served in a dish surrounded by gravy, and with french fries on the side that can be dipped or dumped into the gravy. As you’d expect, it’s pretty dense, so you may want to share it.
You’ll also want to try what is arguably the most popular food in Portugal, the Pastel de Nata. These little custard cups are typically offered in breakfast buffets but are also a dessert. Porto has several adorable little pastry shops dedicated to selling them, so be sure to stop in one.
There are also food tours you can book if you are interested in learning more about local food.
We enjoyed some coffee and Pastéis de Nata at Nata Sweet Nata, a pasty shop located on Cais da Ribeira. It was a short walk from our hotel, the Intercontinental Porto.
São Bento Train Station
The Sao Bento Train Station is a railway station located right in the historic center of Porto. It’s an active train station, serving the Minho, Douro, Braga, Guimarães, Caíde/Marco de Canaveses, and Aveiro Lines. In addition, it’s known as one of the most beautiful train stations I’ve ever seen.
Even if you aren’t traveling by train, you’ll definitely want to go inside the lobby area of the São Bento station. It’s filled with colorful blue and white tiles (called azulejo tiles), as well as multi-colored tiles placed in different murals that tell various stories in an Art Deco style.
The São Bento Railway Station was built in the early 1900s and is named after the monastery that used to be located on this spot. It’s one of the best places to see these popular tiles.
Rua Santa Catarina (Saint Catherine Street)
Our checked luggage was left behind in Paris when we landed in Porto. Our driver, as well as the hotel concierge, recommended a quick walk up to Rua Santa Catarina, the main shopping street in Porto. This street has a section that is blocked off for pedestrian access only.
Saint Catherine Street offers many local and international chains, including shops like Sephora. There’s also the ViaCatarina shopping mall, which has H&M, Levi, and popular Portuguese brands.
We were able to easily replace the items that were delayed in our suitcase. However, even if you don’t need anything specific, this is a great street for buying local souvenirs, including cork products. There are also lots of restaurants in the area, and it’s quite lively.
One of the most popular things to see in Porto is the Livraria Lello (the Lello Bookstore). This famous bookshop was thought to be an inspiration for J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series), although the author has subsequently refuted this. Regardless, you’ll still want to see it whether or not you are a Harry Potter fan.
It’s known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. The lines to the Livraria Lello can get extremely long.
There is a fee of 8 EUR for a basic voucher, which can be applied to a purchase and is used for admission. However, there are also priority ticket vouchers, which can be the best way to see the bookstore. These are currently 15.90 EUR and you’ll get to choose one book from their collection (priced at 15.90 EUR or below).
You’ll also get priority entrance. Buying one of these tickets is a good idea and can be a great way to save time waiting in a long line.
Tickets are required, regardless of the reason for your visit. The lines during our visit were extremely long, so keep that in mind. It does get crowded in there, but it’s absolutely beautiful and worth seeing during your trip to Porto.
Vila Nova de Gaia
Gaia is a beautiful town located across the Douro River from Porto. It’s known as the home of many different wine cellars offering Portugal’s famed port wine.
We visited Gaia several times during our four nights in Porto. In addition to wine cellar tours and wine tasting, there are some delicious restaurants and cafes. These port cellars can be so interesting to tour, and many are very unique.
If you aren’t driving, you’ll probably need to take a cab or Uber over to Gaia. We found Ubers to be pretty plentiful and a convenient way to travel. This area across from Porto has some of the best views of Porto.
Church of São Francisco
This beautiful gothic church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s filled with absolutely stunning wood giltwork dusted in gold, which makes the interior a must-see. Photos are not permitted of the interior, and tickets are required for entry.
We didn’t spend too much time in the church but did walk around the interior. It is truly beautiful and is absolutely worth seeing.
Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)
Adjacent to the Church of Sao Francisco, on the former grounds of the convent, is the Palacio da Bolsa, which is home to the Porto Commercial Association. A 30-minute, guided tour is required for any guests. Dated tickets can be purchased online in advance with free admission for kids under the age of 12 visiting with adults.
There’s so much to see in Porto. While many of these points of interest are within walking distance, it would be impossible to see everything on foot. A great option is a guided tour, run by a local guide. That way, you’ll be able to get the history and background of everything you see while also being transported.
Like Lisbon, Porto also offers tuk-tuk tours. These little electric vehicles can easily zip around the narrow streets, and drivers also serve as local guides.
Your hotel concierge can assist in booking a tuk-tuk tour – there are various companies offering pick-ups in different areas of Porto. You can also book one online here. Other tour options include a hop-on, hop-off bus, and food tours.
Porto Bridge Climb
The Porto Bridge Climb is a unique experience that takes place on the Porto side of the Arrábida Bridge. Guests aged 12 and up are able to do this mild climb up to the top of the arch of the bridge (essentially half of the bridge).
You’ll start by getting into your safety harness, and then get a briefing on how to safely do the climb. There are stairs, so you just really have to be able to climb the stairs to be able to do the climb.
In addition to the feeling of accomplishment of climbing to the top, you’ll also be rewarded with beautiful views of the Douro River and of Porto and Gaia. The entire process doesn’t take too long, just be sure to wear appropriate footwear and clothing that will be comfortable under the harness.
Igreja do Carmo & Igreja dos Carmelitas
We didn’t go inside these two churches but did admire the gorgeous white and blue tile on the exterior side. The Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas are two unique-looking churches with an incredibly narrow house located in the middle of them.
They are located on R. do Carmo, a quick walk from the Livraria Lello. When visiting the bookstore, it’s definitely worth taking a short walk to see the narrow house and exterior tile work.
Portugal’s wine country, the Douro Valley, is located about an hour and a half away from the Porto city center. Guided trips and wine tours are available if you don’t have a car. I’d recommend visiting the Douro Valley as a day trip, or even as a partial day trip.
The Douro Valley offers wineries, kayaking, a river cruise, and restaurants. It’s absolutely beautiful, with rolling hills and beautiful greenery. If you’d like to stay overnight, there are also lodging options in the area, including converted wine barrels at the Quinta da Pacheca winery (which also offers traditional hotel rooms).
Teleferico de Gaia (Gaia Cable Car)
The Gaia Cable Car is an attraction that leaves from the Gaia side of the Douro River. It runs year-round, is about a 5-minute ride, and offers aerial views of the area, including Gaia and Porto.
One-way or round-trip tickets on the Gaia cable car are available. Tickets can be purchased online, in advance.
On our four nights in Porto, we stayed at the InterContinental Porto – Palacio Das Cardosas. This luxury hotel, the former Palacio Das Cardosas, is centrally located right in the historic center of the city.
It’s near the São Bento Train Station, Rua Santa Catarina, the McDonalds Imperial (often called the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world), and the Porto city hall.
It’s a beautiful hotel that offers comfortable and luxurious rooms with great views of Porto. We really enjoyed our stay there and would recommend the hotel. The concierge is especially helpful and can assist with any plans that you’d like to make while you are visiting Porto.