Portugal’s second city, Porto has really only been on the travel radar since 2010, but what a splash this latecomer has made!
Now a firm fixture on the European circuit, if you’re feeling like every woman and her dog is travelling to Lisbon, then Porto could be the perfect alternative.
Situated in the north of the country, Porto is set on the banks of a picturesque river and, with the coast just a short distance away and the stunning Douro valley found only a few hours inland, Porto really is a city that boasts a lot of diversity within easy reach!
So if I’ve wet your appetite to visit Portugal’s second great city, then you’re in the perfect place!
Read on to discover my list of the top 17 things to do in Porto as well as my practical tips for visiting this awesome place…
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#1 Check out the Tiles!
Coming in at number one on this list of the best things to do in Porto, it’s a bit of an abstract one, but nevertheless checking out the tiles is certainly one of the top things to do in Porto!
The city’s azulejo tiles, as they are known, are a key icon of Porto thanks to their beautiful blue and white designs, and are very culturally significant in Portugal as a whole.
The suburban railway station in Porto – São Bento – is an amazing place to see some of the best tile designs that depict stories of the country’s history… and all you need to do is just step into the ticket hall and prepare to be amazed!
Otherwise, many of the city’s religious buildings also boast fine examples, including Igreja do Carmo and Igreja de Santo Ildefonso.
#2 Marvel at the Churches
So while we’re on the subject of religious buildings, there’s no way you can come to Porto and not check out a few of the churches here!
As a Catholic country there’s absolutely loads of churches in this city, but if you think the number of them is pretty big now, then it’s worth pointing out there used to be even more! Yes during and after the Portuguese revolution, many churches were converted into other types of buildings, so imagine just how many there would have been!
Moving forward to the present day, 2 of the must-visit churches in Porto now are Clergies Tower – where you can climb up for 6€ – and Porto Cathedral, which is one of the city’s oldest buildings.
You can also walk up the tower of the Cathedral, as well as stroll the gardens here and enjoy the buskers outside – they are especially awesome at sunset.
#3 Hit up a Rooftop Bar
You’ll soon learn that Porto is a city of rooftops and if heading up to Clergies Tower is too crowded for you, then I have an even better option!
The 17th floor of Hotel Dom Henrique offers you a great rooftop view over the red tiles, ancient spires and swinging washing lines of Porto and best of all, it’s free and with far fewer people too!
Otherwise, Porto has loads of rooftop bars that are a key part of experiencing the city at its best. As such, enjoying a sunset drink in at least one of them is certainly one of the top things to do in Porto!
#4 Step inside the Famous Bookshop
And from the top of buildings to the inside of them, one place you can’t miss stepping inside is Porto’s famous bookshop Livraria Lello.
Iconic thanks to its gorgeous staircase and decadent furnishings, it’s worth pointing out however that this is neither free (it costs 5€) or quick to access.
Long queues snake back from the front door at most times of the day as numbers inside are restricted – but time it right and you can certainly join the insta crowd!
#5 Visit the Fanciest McDonalds in the World!
And from bookshops to fast food restaurants!
Yes it must be said, I am not a fan of McDonalds and literally can’t remember the last time I went in one, let alone ordered some food there, but in Porto I had to make the exception – entering, not food purchasing FYI!
The amazing stained glass windows are well worth checking out here and show how this global dining chain replaced what was once a major historic café in the city centre.
Thankfully they kept its best feature!
#6 Take a Walking Tour
And where did I learn about the fancy McDonalds in Porto?
During one of the city’s free walking tours of course!
Yes, a must-do for me anytime I visit a new city, I always find free walking tours such a great way to get acquainted with a place and to learn about the top icons and secret spots that I want to visit later in my stay.
The walking tour I took in Porto was no different and I was really glad I opted for the one run by Porto Walkers as it was easily bookable online.
However, if you’re looking for a smaller group or private option, then check out this top-rated walking option, this brilliant 2 hour segway tour or this great 3 hour option that covers all the city’s highlights on electric bikes.
#7 Taste the Traditional Snacks!
And once you’ve either walked, segwayed or cycled around the city for a few hours, it’s almost a given you’ll need to refuel!
And what better way to do just that than with a traditional Porto snack?!
Personally, as a vegetarian, this option wasn’t for me, but my meat-hungry travel companion certainly enjoyed getting his teeth stuck into it!
Glamourous and chick it is not, but if you want to sample the taste of a real Porto snack, then there’s only one place to head for and that’s Gazela.
Providing their own iconic twist on the hot dog, this Porto institution serves up a small baguette filled with cheese and sausages, which is then grilled with plenty of oil, cut up and served in all its high cholesterol glory!
Sit inside, up at the bar, for the full authentic experience and wash the “snack” down with a Super Bock Stout!
#8 Grab a Coffee with a View
But if you’re less down with the beer drinking in the day, then don’t fear, this city also has plenty of places to take in an amazing coffee with a view and doing so is totally one of the top things to do in Porto.
The famous Majestic Café is the one most tourists flock to, but for something slightly more lowkey and authentic, try the nearby Café Guarany instead – it’s also situated on Porto’s main square.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for a river view, I suggest the small independent My Coffee Porto on Escadas do Codeçal.
It’s got a few cute tables outside that give great elevated views over the river and Gaia beyond, without any of the usual tourist crowds!
#9 Eat Petiscos
So we’ve covered the drinking, but what about the eating?
Well, Porto has a ton of great restaurants to try, but honestly, I’d duck the fancy options if I were you (better for the budget too right?) and head to some of the smaller, almost hole-in-the-wall type joints you can find tucked in the thin cobbled alleys of the historic centre.
Many of these only come alive in the evening – you’ll literally work past in the day and not even noticed there was anything there – but in the evening, they spread tables out on the street and serve delicious petiscos (the Portuguese version of tapas) accompanied by a backdrop of musical buskers and European charm.
If you like cheese and cured meats, washed down with a good Portuguese wine, you’re in luck!
Try Cantina 32, Orpheu Porto, Voltaria or Have a Bite and don’t miss engaging in conversation with each of their eccentric owners!
#10 Don’t Miss the Market
But if you’re looking to pick up some snacky bits for lunch, or groceries to cook up a meal in your apartment, then there’s no better place to head than Porto’s market or one of its incredible, historic delis, which look like they haven’t changed much (aside from the produce) since the beginning of the last century!
Lots of these great delis can be found along Rua da Formasa, while the original market sits just off St Catherine’s – the main shopping street in the city.
Sadly being renovated when I was in the city, visiting this historic market is certainly one of the top things to do in Porto and when the regen work is complete, I’m sure it will be even more amazing!
Open 8am-8pm, 6 days a week, fish can only be found here Tuesday through Saturday because, in keeping with old traditions, the local fisherman don’t go out to catch on Sundays.
Don’t miss this top-rated Porto food tour, with locals, which includes 10 tastings, if you really love to eat your way around this city!
#11 Sample Some Port
Crumbs, we’ve got to number 11 on this list of the top things to do in Porto and haven’t reached the subject of port yet, but thankfully it’s here now!
Because yes, in keeping with all the flavour delights of Porto, there’s no question trying some of the city’s most famous alcoholic export is an absolute must when you visit.
From red ports to white ports and even rose ports, you’ll certainly get the chance to learn your tawnies from your rubies when you head to any tasting sessions here.
Many are available in the vineyards outside the city – we’ll come to this later on in this article so be patient! – but if you’re staying put in Porto itself you needn’t miss out…
Across the River Douro, on the other bank, is the satellite city of Gaia and it’s here that many of the great and independent port cellars host tasting sessions.
It’s always worth calling ahead to see if they can accommodate you on the day, but many will have room, especially if you‘re visiting here in the shoulder season as I advise.
I enjoyed quite a lot of port tastings when I was in this city – quel surprise! – but my pick has to be the lovely Vasques De Carvalho – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed either!
#12 Snap a Porto Sunset
It’s pretty easy to lose track of time when you’re port tasting, let’s be honest, but one appointment you can’t miss in Porto is a good sunset – catching the city’s best light display at least once while you are here is certainly a top thing to do in Porto.
Most people head for the Miradouro da Ribeira and nearby Jardim do Morro to grab a sunset and enjoy a drink, but for the best snaps and views that take in both the cities of Porto, Gaia and the full width of the river, I personally don’t think you can beat Luís I Bridge – just watch out for trams!
#13 Snap Barrio Ribuera
In fact, this bridge is one of the city’s most iconic monuments as it connects the historic Barrio Ribuera in Porto, with the satellite city of Gaia (where all the port is!).
Snapping a sunset from this bridge is a winner, but so too is snapping the huge metallic bridge itself – in the right light it makes for an amazing photo!
In fact, wandering and snapping the whole of medieval Barrio Ribuera is a must while you are here – you’ll stumble down tiny thin, colourful alleys as locals hang out of their balconies to catch a breeze.
The whole area is a delight, except for the number of steps – did I mention Porto is one heck of a hilly city?! – but my highlight had to be Escadas do Barredo and the street at the bottom of it – Rua São Francisco de Borja.
#14 Stroll the Riverfront of Gaia
And now to the other side of the river again where one of the best things you can do in Porto is definitely to stroll the streets of Gaia.
Alive with cafés, street sellers and independent shops, this is a busy hub with locals and tourists alike often out enjoying the atmosphere and sunshine, especially directly along the river.
And while you’re here, don’t miss the chance to step inside the Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau.
Here you can see them actually producing the famous Portuguese dessert – Pastel de Nata – as well as get the rather bizarre but brilliant soundtrack of a man playing a giant organ on a level above the shop floor.
The internal decor is pretty amazing too – a great, unique find!
#15 Cruise on the River
And in between Gaia and Porto, you can’t miss the picturesque Douro Valley which sweeps inland here and certainly adds a huge amount of charm to this place.
If you want to take in the best of it, then hopping aboard a river sailing tour is certainly one of the top things to do in Porto.
This brilliantly-reviewed 2 hour option is ideal, as you get to enjoy the sights of the city from a different angle and as well as a glass of port along the way… cheers!
#16 See a Theatre Performance
And if sitting and watching is the vibe you’re feeling in Porto, then hitting up the theatre here is another great option for a relaxing activity.
An absolutely beautiful building inside and out, most shows here have subtitles in English and tickets are pretty affordable.
Otherwise, if you just want to visit the theatre, then you can also access tours of this building, which cost as little as 5€.
#17 Enjoy an Amazing Day Trip!
I could easily have split this list of top day trips into about 7 more entries on this list of the best things to do in Porto but, instead, I wrote a full post about them that includes loads of the key details you need, so head over to this post to learn more!
At this stage, I just wanted to introduce my list of the top day trips from Porto and also recommend some of the best tours for seeing them easily and without any hassle…
- Walk the world’s longest suspension footbridge with this great tour to Aveiro, the Paiva Walkways and the Arouca 516 Footbridge
- Head out to the Duoro Valley for some vineyard visits and port tastings with this superb tour that takes in 3 different wineries
- Enjoy a short surfing experience with experts
- Hit up the Peneda-Gerês National Park for kayaking & waterfall trekking
- Get off the beaten track with a fantastic 4×4 mountain tour
When to Visit Porto?
No question in my mind that the best time to visit Porto is during the months of April through June, plus September and October.
This is when the warm weather will allow you to take full advantage of the city’s charm, but you won’t be wilting in the summer heat.
I’ve visited Porto across all these recommended months and found the climate ideal for sightseeing, as well as hitting the nearby beach!
That being said, you will find Porto has some of a micro-climate, where sea fog can often roll in the morning!
Don’t despair however, in the warmer months the sun usually burns it off by late morning.
How to Get to Porto?
If you’re coming from an international destination, particularly one further away, it’s likely you’ll be flying into Porto care of the city’s international airport.
As always, I suggest Skyscanner for bagging the best flight deals.
Otherwise, you can also use buses or trains to travel to Porto from elsewhere in Portugal, such as Lisbon, or neighbouring European countries, such as Spain.
Coach or rail travel may prove more cost-effective for getting to Porto if you’re already nearby and will certainly be better for your carbon footprint.
I highly recommend Trainline for booking train and bus journeys to Porto, as they make it easy, quick and simple to compare hundreds of rail and coach journeys to the city from across the Iberian region.
If you want to learn more about how to travel from Lisbon to Porto specifically, check out this post I wrote, which covers all the options (plus the pros and cons) of each!
How to Get Around Porto?
A small city, the centre of Porto is easy to walk around – aside from the huge amount of hills that is; they’ll certainly give your calves and cardio system a good workout!
4 tram lines in Porto can also be used if you’re feeling a bit lazy.
Best Affordable Places to Stay in Porto
- InPatio Guesthouse – Beautiful, large and comfortable rooms with a great breakfast and a super central location
- ExtendALL – Centrally-located self-contained studios and loft apartments with modern furniture and kitchenettes
- The Passenger Hostel – Top-rated hostel with incredibly well-priced dorm and private rooms in a superb central location
5 Packing Essentials for Porto
- UV sunglasses[/easyazon_link
- [easyazon_link identifier="B07PKZMFFF" locale="US" tag="bigworsmapoc-20"]Supportive walking shoes
- Natural 30 SPF sunscreen
- Good insect repellent
- Sony A6400 camera
Best Travel Insurance for Porto
I wouldn’t dream of travelling anywhere these days without proper coverage and always recommend travel insurance from World Nomads which I’ve used during my time across Portugal and Europe.
If you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker looking for travel insurance with Covid-19 cover, then look no further than Safetywing’s great Nomad Insurance policies. These guys will cover you at some seriously great prices!
Where To Travel After Porto?
If you still have time for more travelling after Porto (and lucky you if so!) then you may want to head to other parts of Portugal or Spain.
Check out these articles for some inspiration…
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So there you have it folks, my list of the top 17 things to do in Porto.
I hope I’ve inspired you to visit this city.
And tell me, do you have a fave thing to do in Porto that didn’t make the list?
If so, I’d love to hear about it, so please drop your recs into the comments below…