Looking for things to do in Porto? We’re here to help.
If you haven’t been to Portugal yet, you’re really missing out. This small seaside country is home to friendly people, delicious food, and unique culture. When it comes to Portugal, Lisbon is often the first destination that comes to mind, and it’s not hard to see why.
But we recommend exploring other places besides just the somewhat chaotic capital. If you’d like a city vacation but want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Lisbon, head to Porto. It has everything Lisbon has, albeit on a smaller, quieter, and cheaper scale.
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15 Things to Do in Porto
Never considered Porto? To convince you, we’ve got a list of the best things to do in Porto.
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Church of Sao Francisco
One of the most important churches in Porto, construction on the Church of Sao Francisco began in the 13th century but wasn’t completed until the 1400s. Throughout the centuries, additions and renovations were made until a fire destroyed part of it in the 1800s.
As a result, this is one of the most unique churches in all of Portugal. It’s said that over 300 kilograms of gold dust were used to decorate the inside – something you’ll notice as soon as you walk in.
The interior of the church is quite a spectacle, but it’s also through this church that you can access the catacombs underneath. If you want to fit this into a busy itinerary, it’s included in many city highlight tours.
This 19th-century neoclassical building is the headquarters of the stock exchange in Porto. This extravagant building houses many points of interest, including a library, courtroom, and jury room. You’ll also want to visit the Hall of Nations and the Noble Staircase.
Feeling fancy? Visit the onsite restaurant and enjoy a delicious meal with a view of the Church of Sao Francisco. To learn more, consider a guided tour of one of Porto’s most important historical monuments.
One of Porto’s oldest monuments, this cathedral was built mainly in the Roman-Gothic style. Construction began in the 12th century but it wasn’t completed until the 16th century. The church is located near what used to be the city walls, but don’t be fooled; despite the battlements, this cathedral was never a fortress.
Upon entering, you’ll be in awe at the scale and grandiosity of the interior. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch part of a church service and experience the church’s sobering atmosphere in action.
The decorated interior isn’t the only attraction, though. In the square surrounding it, you’ll see the column where criminals used to be hanged. And for all you view-chasers, look over the walls for an impressive photo op of the river and the cityscape.
Crystal Palace Gardens
If you’re looking for more great views of Porto, this is the place to go. These gardens sit atop a bluff looking over the city. There are various viewpoints and structures where you can take advantage of a photo op of the Douro River and the colorful buildings on the riverbanks.
Designed in the 19th century, you’ll walk the paths through the well-landscaped gardens encountering peacocks, playgrounds, chickens, and unique foliage. During holidays, you can also find market stalls and picnic tables here.
You’ll also notice, as we did, that there’s actually no palace in the Crystal Palace Gardens. That’s because the palace itself was replaced by the Super Bock Arena, an odd dome-shaped structure, in the 1950s. It now holds events such as concerts and sports games all year round.
Visit the seaside
While you’re in Porto, you simply cannot miss the chance to have a coffee by the Atlantic. Looking at a map, it may seem like the city center is pretty far from the coastline, but it’s easily accessible. All you have to do is take bus 500 from the center to any of the stops in the Foz area.
There are pebbly and sandy beaches, impressive rock formations, and plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes. You’d think these establishments would be pretty pricey, but they’re surprisingly affordable for the location.
The later in the evening you stay, the more mesmerizing the waves are. They can reach over 12 feet tall as they wash up against the rocks and the pier. Just beware of high tide – the sea can sneak up on you. We ended up with wet shoes by the end of the day, but it was worth it.
It’s worth noting that in some places it’s not safe to swim, but in others it is possible. You can even take a surfing lesson.
This beautiful building was once a well kept secret… until part of the Harry Potter series was filmed there. That’s right, this bookshop stars in the films as some of the famous Hogwarts scenery fans know and love. So, as you can imagine, it gets pretty crowded.
Established in 1906, Livraria Lello is now considered to be one of the most beautiful bookstores on the planet. Built in the neo-gothic style and housing busts of famous Portuguese writers, the feeling of coziness, warmth, and grandeur when you walk inside is unrivaled. Spend a few hours browsing, whether you’re into books or not, but get there early to beat the crowds. More of a museum than a bookstore, you can either pay 5 euro for entry or simply buy a book.
You can also choose to take a guided walking tour that includes Livrario Lello.
Francesinhas can be found all across Portugal, but they originated in Porto! It would be a shame to leave the city without trying the best local dish.
A francesinha is basically a glorified sandwich that tastes oh so good. Wet-cured ham, fresh chipolata sausage, and succulent beefsteak are all piled between 2 slices of bread.
It’s what’s on top, however, that makes this sandwich so unique. Covered in melted cheese, a rich tomato beer sauce, and an egg, it’s impossible to eat this sandwich without a fork and knife. Paired with fries and a local brew, this is the perfect Portuguese meal.
The best francesinha in town is at Lado B. Try the classic version or go for one of the variations, including an option for vegetarians. Our advice? Get to Lado B early. We arrived around 6 and it was almost empty, but by 7 it was packed with a line out the door.
Have drinks at Maus Habitos
When in Porto, do as the locals do, and the locals hang out at Maus Habitos. Situated right next to Lado B, this is the perfect place for a post-dinner cocktail or glass of port.
Maus Habitos is really a multipurpose cultural space: the building houses a restaurant, a bar, and exhibition and performance space. You can find temporary art exhibits, live music, comedy shows, and even a nightclub here. As a bonus, you’ll have a great rooftop view of the city.
It’s worth noting, though, that if you’re only in Porto for a short time and you definitely want to check this place out, reservations are recommended.
Cais da Ribeira
A visit to Porto isn’t complete without a stroll along the Cais da Ribeira. This riverfront promenade is among the liveliest streets in Porto. The colorful buildings and the calls of the seagulls act as a nice backdrop to the experience of enjoying a coffee outside on the terrace.
In addition to cafes, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars here and a few wine cellars close by. Beware that the establishments here will be a little more pricey, but the authentic cuisine and the views of Porto are worth it.
Cruise along the Douro
If you’re looking to experience Porto from the water, a Douro River cruise is your best bet. There are a few different offerings, but the most popular is the six bridges cruise. Departing from Cais da Ribeira, this hour-long cruise will take you under each of Porto’s major bridges on a traditional Rabelo boat. These boats were once used to transport wine from the valley to the cellars. Sit back and enjoy the view as you learn about how the city developed around this stunning river.
Try pastel de natas
Another local food you absolutely have to try is the pastel de nata. Ok, ok, you can find these across Portugal as well, but they’re so good you just can’t miss them. These egg custard tarts are found in almost every cafe in Porto and they’re fairly cheap, so there’s no excuse!
To take it a step further, attend a cooking class and learn to make these sweet treats from a local. That way, you can enjoy them at home long after you leave Porto.
Drink (Lots of) Port wine
What would a trip to Porto be without tasting the wine that’s named after this city?
There are a few different ways to do this. By far the most popular is to go on fancy cellar tours to learn how the wine is made, see the facilities, and taste some samples. However, this is often more expensive than it’s worth and typically very touristy.
We recommend heading down towards the river and ordering several glasses at a regular establishment. The wines will be cheaper and more authentic than in the cellars, and you can always ask the friendly waitstaff for recommendations.
That being said, if you’re looking to make a day out of it, you can still find plenty of porto cellar tours and vineyard tours.
If you’re looking for more ideas, check out the following, as well:
- Trindade Church
- Have drinks in the Baixas area
- Explore the nightlife on Rua dos Armazéns de Paris
Best Things to Do in Porto Wrap-up
These may be the best things to do in Porto, but the list certainly doesn’t stop there! For a fairly small city, there’s so much more to explore. If you’re only there for a short time, don’t worry: the friendly and vibrant atmosphere will have you itching to come back again and again.
As always, happy travels all! We hope to see you on the road!