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Best Things To Do in Porto Portugal
Porto is… a city torn between the currents of time. On one hand, is firmly rooted in the past with its history and culture in full display. On the other hand, it reaches out excitedly towards the future, complete with all the modern conveniences.
In between, Porto has its unique charm. Whether it’s a rustic view of the river or the countryside, a warm shot of port, or a welcoming smile from one of its locals, there are many things to do in Porto.
Which is amazing, since it’s Portugal’s second prime city. And yet it’s not one that’s trapped in the ravages of modernization, its skyline not ruined by the skyscrapers of today’s metropolis. There’s modern architecture, yes, but there’s also the raw street art not too far away from the classic tourist sights of museums and cathedrals.
Like in many other grand cities of the world, you could easily stay here for a week and still be fascinated. But if you don’t have that time, we have curated the best of Porto into this ultimate guide that will get you going!
If you want something a little more relaxed, you can also take a look at these Yoga Retreats in Portugal – some of them are located near beautiful Porto.
One of the main reasons why Porto draws a lot of tourists is because of its laid-back environment. Europe can be a pretty hectic place for a tourist (maybe not for a local) because of the many things to see, and Porto allows you an opportunity to just sit back or maybe take a slow stroll while appreciating what it has to offer. Even with a laid-back town like Porto, it’s best to be prepared with the Porto Pass to get you where you need to go.
That does not mean there aren’t a lot of Porto sights, though. Between the beautiful landscapes and the museums, your eyes will have a lot to feast on!
Porto Sights: Sé Cathedral
You don’t have to be a Catholic to appreciate the grandness of the Cathedral otherwise known simply as “Sé”. The stone structure hails back to the 13th century, and has a myriad of architectural influences from the Gothic to the Romanesque.
It’s hard to miss its silver altarpiece and its ceramic-tiled cloister, among the many treasures that lie in its otherwise simple (at least in comparison with other European cathedrals) façade.
Of course, its fortress-like vantage point also gives way to an amazing view of the city below, with its orange-brown roofs. The cathedral’s terrace overlooks this perfectly, giving you some really Instagrammable shots at some quality Porto attractions!
To get to the Sé, alight at the São Bento stop of the D (yellow) rail line. There’s a EUR 3 cost to enter the cloister, but the rest of the Cathedral is free. The Sé is open daily from 9AM to 6PM.
Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
The name translates to “Crystal Palace Gardens”, and while no Crystal Palace is in sight (it was demolished in 1956) the gardens are really worth your while. The flowers, greenery, fountains, and general ambience feels like the set of one of those Hollywood period films about royalties! There are even peacocks that roam here, though they can be quite shy.
There’s a pavilion here for events, though it’s quite plain. It’s best to stick to the multitude of flower classes here and the priceless view of the Douro River!
There are two metro stops near the Jardins — the Aliados stop of the yellow line, and the Carolina Michaelis stop that services all the other lines. There are also bus routes, and you can catch either Bus No. 200 or 207 and get off the Palácio stop.
Dom Luís I Bridge
Bridges aren’t always likely candidates for top things to do in a city, but the Dom Luís I Bridge is especially interesting. Aside from being an important artery of traffic in Porto, the bridge was the product of a student of Gustave Eiffel — the architectural similarities between this and Paris’ top attraction is readily visible. It was also once the longest iron arch bridge in the world.
But what really makes it great is the spectacular view it affords of the Douro River. Pedestrians can walk along the sides of the bridge’s two levels. As a plus, there are also great wineries nearby!
The bridge is on the northern side of Vila Nova de Gaia. If you’re walking, you can take the metro to São Bento or Jardim do Morro stations, serviced by the yellow line.
Sogrape Vinhos Wineries
Speaking of wineries, this is one thing you really should do before leaving Porto! Port wine is definitely one of the city’s greatest creations. And Sogrape Vinhos is one of the most distinguished in this regard, owning three cellars (Sandeman, Ferreira, and Offley) in Vila Nova de Gaia.
You can visit all three of them, and each one has a distinguished history starting from the 1700s. Aside from the port, keep your eyes peeled for the photographs and other memento from their rich history!
A wine-tasting experience could cost anywhere from EUR 3 to EUR 35 depending on how intimate you want to get with Porto’s beloved export. There’s a basic wine tour across all three that costs around EUR 10.
All cellars can be reached via the Jardim do Morro stop on the metro’s yellow line.
Estacão de São Bento
We’ve been talking about railway stations for some time now, but did you know that there is a station in Porto that is a tourist attraction on its own? This is the São Bento station, with which you can reach southeast of the Avenida dos Aliados (the main tourist avenue of Porto, with lots of cool shops and cafés). This makes it a no-brainer to get here. The station is on the yellow line, and you can enter and walk around for free.
The station is built on the former site of a monastery, and its claim to fame is the painstakingly painted and installed azulejos, blue and white tiles that together make up a mural-esque pictorial history of Portugal. The installation was so momentous it took a decade to finish it!
There’s also the architecture of the station itself, which makes it a really unique and must-see attraction.
Eating like a local in Porto
Most tourists see the food scene of Porto as a never-ending parade of sardines and chouriço. While salted fish is indeed an indelible part of the cuisine (and history) of Portugal as a whole, there are some really good and interesting eats here you should try.
This might be unfamiliar to first-time tourists, which is a shame. This is a sandwich that’s piling on a steak, three different types of sausages, and served with a fried egg and french fries. Oh, did I mention the entire thing is covered in melted cheese? There’s a super secret sauce, too, which they say is made from meat, seafood, and various types of alcohol. Make sure you check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels before you try this! Or maybe don’t bother and just enjoy.
This is one of Porto’s staple dishes, and you would really enjoy it if you choose the right francesinha place. Check out Francesinha Café over at Rua da Alegria. If you want a setting that’s a bit more intimate, there’s Yuko Tavern at Rua de Costa Cabral.
Alheira: Northern Portugal
If you can’t get enough of meat, these white smoked sausages endemic to the North Portuguese regions will give you your fill! The sausages are made from a variety of meats, from poultry to game (the latter including rabbit and venison). While these sausages are found all over Portugal, there’s no better place to have them in than in Porto.
If you want the traditional homemade quality alheira, head over to the Mercado do Bolhão and buy some raw alheira! The place is at Rua da Alegria. Make sure to stop and have a chat with the sellers to know more about the sausage’s interesting history, too!
Tripas à Moda do Porto
While this sounds like the name of a resto, it’s Porto’s other local tradition (maybe even more so than the francesinha). It’s a stew made of tripe (hence the name), cooked with some meat and a lot of white beans. The flavor is given by a generous heaping of cumin. Tripas is such a local staple that Thursday is a de facto tripe day, in pretty much the same way as Friday marks the appearance of ginisang monggo in the carinderias back home!
Tripas is best tasted at Restaurante Pombeiro, on Rua Capitão Pombeiro.
Broa de Avintes
Let’s side-track a bit and move on from meat to bread. This famous Porto bread originally came from Avintes, a town near Porto. Dense yet soft, dark, and flavorful, this is what banana bread would have looked like if it did not have sugar! Broa de Avintes is served with various dishes, along with starters (ham and cheese!), and is a nod to tradition since the cooking process takes a full 6 hours.
High quality Broa de Avintes is sold at the Mercearia das Flores, located at Rua das Flores. Try using it for a sandwich, and you’ll see why it’s so famous!
Açorda: Specialty of Portugal
Seafood is a specialty everywhere in Portugal, and every region has its take. In Porto, it’s the Açorda, a stew brought to life by coriander and garlic, and filled with fish and other seafood.
In fact, a nice bowl of Açorda may be your best bet in eating real fresh seafood during your stay. Most tourists really go for the sardines, but the thing is it’s not in season for the most part of the year (and hence is very expensive). But it you head to the north of Porto, to the village called Matosinhos, and find your way to Rua Heróis da Pátria, then you can take your pick of any of the seafood restos here and enjoy to your heart’s content!
Porto Activities: Drink Your Heart Out and More!
Tour Douro Valley: Attractive Porto
One of Porto’s most attractive sections, you can easily spend a whole day here. The valley has a slew of wine-tasting opportunities, from port wine to table wine. The area also produces olive oil. For those into sceneries, you can take a slow cruise along the Douro river on a traditional boat.
Douro Valley is best experienced in a tour setting, where you have a guide to show you the best viewpoints. Among these is the Peso da Régua, which gives an amazing view of the whole city!
Do a Hop-on, Hop-off Tour
Those who’ve been to the US and some Asian countries will be familiar with the Hop-on, Hop-off bus. Porto has its own, and there are two routes that will grant you access to some of Porto’s greatest attractions! Turn the buses into your very own tour bus with a day ticket (or two-day ticket) that takes you from the salt-kissed neighborhoods beside the beach to magnificent sights like the Sé Cathedral.
The buses are open-top, so you can get a panoramic view. It’s also great for people watching as you pass through the Central Baixa area, which is the city’s civic center. As a plus, there are also audio guides that will give you the lowdown on the place you are visiting! It really is like a tour of its own.
Do a Guimarães and Braga Day Tour
These two cities are some of the more interesting places in Portugal, and they are close enough to Porto for a day tour! Guimarães is notable for being the land that birthed Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king. Of course, there’s a castle and a cathedral to commemorate this important historic fact.
Braga is, similarly, an interesting city with great views, a landmark monastery, and its own twist on Portuguese cuisine!
You can easily reach Guimarães from Porto by leaving through the São Bento station. The trip takes approximately an hour and 15 minutes. From there, you can get to Braga through the Rodonorte (numbers 12, 31, and 2). This trip takes about half an hour.
The best part? All of these activities can be done via tours, through Get Your Guide. They offer top-shelf service and an in-depth look into Porto’s culture! This is also great since you don’t have to worry about catching all the connecting buses and trains.
Other Sightseeing Porto Tours
- Porto: City Train Tour, River Cruise, and Wine Cellar
- Douro Valley Wine Tasting, River Cruise, and Lunch
- Porto Card with Transportation
- Torre Dos Clerigos Entrance Tickets
- Porto: 3 Hour Guided Tour
- Fado Show with Port Wine
- 4.5 Hour Porto Pub Crawl
- Porto: Half-Day Food Tour
As always, don’t be afraid to get lost in this city. Each twist and turn will bring you new adventures, new sights, and new things to ponder. Keep an open mind. Let Porto’s laid-back spirit be your travel guide!
Things To Do in Porto Portugal was written by Karla Ramos for EuropeUpClose.