European Best Destination in 2012, 2014, and 2017, Porto has started attracting the attention of travellers tired of the traditional tourist draws in Europe, who now flock from worldwide to wander the Ribeira district, sample the Port over the river in Gaia, relax in the many wonderful parks, taste the incredible food, drink the world’s best red wine (it’s true – it’s just that the world doesn’t know it yet! ), and get to know Europe’s friendliest locals. There’s a real sense of optimism amongst the proud tripeiros (literally tripe eaters) in this hard-working small city, which you can see with the construction going on everywhere turning crumbling old mansions into expensive apartments, with the big food and drink chains coming in to get a piece of the action (Starbucks has three stores now, McDonald's and Burger Kings abound, and Hard Rock Cafe has become a firm favourite – for better or worse we’ll leave it to you to decide! ), with the luxurious shopping malls, the shiny metro system, and iconic symbols of modernity like the architectural marvel that is Casa Da Musica. Yet, it is the real Porto that the tourists come for, the authentic, stuck-in-time Porto. The Porto where the people still greet each other cheerfully in the cobbled streets as trams trundle past. The Porto of beautiful old buildings whose walls are covered in stunning blue, pink, purple, orange, brown and yellow azulejos (Portuguese ceramic tiles). The Porto of wonderful churches – so many you lose count. The Porto of the Tascas, the old cafes, with delicious, fresh food. The Porto of the old fishermen who are dotted, rain or shine, along the banks of the Douro river. And fortunately, Porto has all of this in spades – and much more besides. It’s a romantic city – some say one of the most romantic in Europe, an enchanting city, a friendly and welcoming city. We were proud to call this place home for 2 years. Here, we share with you 25 things to do in Porto. We did them a lot. Try them all!
There are peacocks and ducks everywhere in this pretty little park – especially in March or April when you’re likely to see them being followed by a small army of peachicks and ducklings. Palácio de Cristal is a lovely place to while away a few hours – you’ll see locals sleeping or sunbathing on the grass, or sitting by the emerald-coloured lake having a coffee. There are pretty fountains and sculptures… and the place has a very tranquil vibe. There are often events here too, like the Porto Beer Fest, Porto Noites rock festival, or book fairs, and inside the UFO-looking building in the middle (actually an old roller-hockey stadium) there are sometimes markets or performances. The most impressive thing, however, is the incredible view of the Douro river. If you come here in time for the Red Bull Air Race, you’ll get an amazing view from here. Wander further down and around the manicured grounds, and you will be rewarded with more beautiful views, and the chance to relax in the pretty garden at the wonderful Antiqvvm restaurant, offering stella views.
This historic landmark in the oldest district in Porto is worth a visting not just to appreciate the building, founded in the 12th century, but to wander the large square and take in some of the most stunning views of a city seemingly locked in time. Meander from here down through the old neighbourhood and to the bottom of the famous Rua das Flores.
This is one of our favourite streets in Porto. It’s a fairly narrow street full of character (and characters! ). It’s arty, bohemian, chic... full of great restaurants, cafes, and some impressive churches and museums. Sit down and have a coffee – it’s a great place to people watch. At the top of the street you’ll see what is regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful train stations, São Bento. Most people in this train station don’t seem to be there to catch a train; rather, they seem to be there to take pictures and admire the tiled murals depicting important historical scenes in Portugal – and impressive scenes they are. After snapping away here, head back across the street to Nata Lisboa to enjoy one of Portugal’s most famous treats – the pastel de nata. (Portuguese egg tart).
Yes, it’s a bit touristy (but you can’t escape from tourists in Porto these days anyway), but it’s well worth spending an afternoon or early evening in the Riberia. There’s nowhere quite like it in Porto – it’s living history. You’ll find restaurants serving great traditional food, fado music, street performers, and above all that women hanging out of the windows putting the washing out to dry. You’ll see modern restaurants and tascas, chic wine bars and rustic joints, all together on the same narrow streets. Wandering around here is a joy for the senses. All kinds of boat trips depart from here too, so it’s a good place for a quick trip up and down the Douro (on the 6 bridges cruise, for example), or you can take the longer trips up to wine country in Régua or Pinhão too.
Foz is where the old money of Porto live. It’s a seaside town which seems a bit neglected and dilapidated in places, modern and posh in others. It’s a sophisticated part of Porto. We love Foz for it’s rugged coastline, its many beach bars (our favourite is Praia da Luz off Avenida do Brasil), the pleasant Jardim do Passeio Alegre with its palm trees, mini golf courses and bandstand, the wide path on Avenida do Brasil parallel to the beach full of joggers and rollerbladers, the waves of the moody Atlantic crashing against the lighthouse and the rocks on a stormy day, the huge Parque da Cidade, which also hosts the Nos Primavera Sound music festival in the summer, the Pizza Hut by the sea – probably the Pizza Hut with the best views in the world – and of course the people watching opportunities from every cafe, street side or beachside. Close by to Foz, you can find another beautiful park, Serralves, also a cultural institution with art installations and a museum – well worth a visit.
If Foz is where the old money are, Matosinhos is where the new money is. It’s an up and coming town, young and trendy, with an international vibe, and famous for a wide, blonde beach full of activities like beach football and volleyball, good surfing, and some great restaurants – it boldly declares that is has the ‘W’BF (World’s Best Fish) on it’s websites. On any given evening, the streets of Matosinhos are filled with smoke from street-side grills. Try some pesticos (Portuguese tapas) and a glass of wine for only 3 euros in May during the fish rally.
Leça is an upmarket beach town just north of Matosinhos. It has some very nice modern, trendy restaurants, one of the most famous beach bars in Porto, where the beautiful people come for sunset parties (L’Kodak), a beautiful small cliff-side church (and other lovely churches dotted around) and possibly the best place to take a dip in all of Porto – the natural swimming pools. We enjoyed a dip here in the summer and then a few Super Bocks to finish – but the poolside bars also serve food and cocktails. You could spend all day here. We did.
On the Vila Nova De Gaia side of the Douro river you’ll find the famous Port Wine houses. Grahams, Taylors, Crofts…. they’re all here. You might not get to sample all of them if you are only visiting, so perhaps go for Grahams if you want a nice guided tour with a generous tasting session at the end (but it’s a bit of a hike up the hill from the river), or Taylor’s for a self-guided audio tour with a less generous tasting session, but in more beautiful English country garden stye surrounds. However, each port wine house tour has it’s own quirks, and offers something slightly different. We’ve also really enjoyed Ramos Pinto, and Cálem, as well as the slightly funkier Sandeman. And if you don’t like Port, just try it in a different way. Have a Porto Tonic – the new G&T, atop the Porto Cruz building, while listening to a DJ and taking in the breathtaking views of the river and the Riberia. You’ll soon realise that yes, Port is old, but it’s the new fashion.
Completed in 1763, Clerigos is a true landmark of Porto. We like to spend time in a bar called Base, under the tower across the street, where you can appreciate the tower from the comfort of a garden sofa. They also have wine tasting events here from time to time, and it all seems quite romantic and beautiful enjoying the wonderful and undiscovered wines of the Douro or the Alentejo under this tower, which has seen it all. If you’re feeling like a workout, you can enter the tower and climb the 230 or so steps, up a very narrow spiral staircase, to the top for sweeping views over the whole city.
In a cafe, you’ll frequently see locals come in and order a ‘pingo’ or a ‘cheia’, drinks which come in very small cups. They’ll hit the sugar stick against their open palm to loosen up the sugar inside, put it in the cup, drink it in one or two strong sips, then they’re off again. In bars and clubs, young Portuguese order a round of the same. It’s what keeps the country going. Everywhere you’ll here the clatter of coffee cups, the sound of steam from a coffee machine, the chatter of those in the cafes. Portuguese coffee is like rocket fuel though, so if you’re not accustomed order something like a meia de leite, which is a bit more like a cafe latte. Or go to a Starbucks instead, or, our favourite, a coffee house called Moustache.
You’ll start at the Douro Marina, where you can hire a bicycle from Oportomotorent…... then you’ll cycle up to Lavadores, an amazing start to your journey as you cycle by the river, past an estuary, and then around the corner where you meet the Atlantic ocean! From here the route is flat, and the scenic route will take you past some stunning beaches and sights, including Miramar beach where you can find Senhor Da Pedra, a little 17th century chapel on a rock right in front of the sea. You might get tired on the way, which is why you’ll want to take a break in one of the many beach bars sprinkled on the coast. Our favourite is Daikiri. You’ll end up in the pleasant town of Espinho, famous for its casino, its restaurants, and its lively bar scene, where you can hop on the train back. Or if you really don’t want to cycle, just come for the sunsets, they’re stunning.
They can be two very different experiences, at two institutions of Porto. Casa Da Musica holds a Fado à Mesa night once a month on a Friday – the last one we went to was really good, with a three course meal and free flow wine. Coliseu has more famous fado singers from time to time, and we have seen Mariza there, who gave a truly amazing performance. Of course, you can also catch Fado at any number of bars and restaurants in Porto and Gaia, and Fado nights are very popular. If you come to Porto, you can’t leave without listening to Fado, the real heart and soul of the country.
A beautiful stately place, the Palacio De Bolsa also holds a huge wine festival once a year in February. If you’re visiting outside this time, go anyway and check out the Arab Room – beautiful and very very gold. We love this place, and the setting in the former economic and commercial heart of Porto, Praça do Infante D. Henrique, means you can easily visit the Hard Club for a bite to eat or a dance afterwards, or wander up Rua Das Flores, or down to the river and the Ribeira.
It’s a bit of a walk up a steep hill to get to the top where this rather bland 17th century church is located, but once you get there the views are far from bland and well worth it! Your view is over the amazing Ponte De Dom Luis I bridge and onto Porto and the old Ribeira district. You’ll see all sorts of activity below: people and trains crossing the bridge, the funicular, the cable cars, all kinds of boat and jet skis on the river, seagulls everywhere. It’s a great place to take in the wonderful views of this wonderful city.
At the bottom the Monasterio you’ll find this delightful little garden, with grassy slopes perfect for relaxing on and watching the sunset over the river. and just being in awe of a view that you wouldn’t believe could still exist. At night there are bands playing, and food and drink trucks set up to refresh the revellers. A great place to hang out in the warm months.
Close to Clerigos, this strange little park is like a multi-level maze, steep, full of nooks and crannies, loved-up couples, people picnicking, and, of course, lovely views. Have a wander, then go back up to the viewpoint outside the gardens, a place where many of the sizeable student population of Porto gather. Enjoy the cheap beer, the sunset, the music, and the good vibes.
Like trying Port wine, one cannot leave Porto without sampling a francesinha (Portuguese sandwich), or without trying bacalhau (cod fish) in one of the 100 ways it is served. Francesinha is a sandwich with a filling of different meats, covered in melted cheese, topped with an egg, and served sitting in special sauce, with chips. Best served with a caneca (pint) of Super Bock beer (don’t order Sagres in Porto – that’s a Lisbon beer! ) Every restaurant claims to serve the best francesinha in town, but the true favourite for us is Tappas Caffe, either the one at the beach in Madalena, or the one behind Porto Cruz off the Cais de Gaia. Spectacular. We haven’t found a favourite bacalhao place yet – we’re still confused by all the different varieties in all the different places!
This 19th century market reminds us of some markets in Asia. It’s slightly chaotic, an assault on the senses, looks old and dirty, and even the toilets are squat toilets as you would get in many parts of SE Asia. Still, it’s a proper traditional market, with the freshest of produce, and there are small restaurants too where you can eat in the middle of the hustle and the bustle. It’s a place to interact with the locals, to make new friends, to feel once again that you have gone back in time. (Note: This market is soon to reopen as a new and improved -but maybe slightly less authentic experience. Check the website for more details).
Livraria Lello is one of the biggest draws in Porto. There are always snaking queues to get in every day, at all times of year. Why? Well, because this library inspired Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts. JK Rowling lived in Porto for a time, teaching English at Cambridge School in the 1990s. Looking around the city, you see plenty of the inspiration behind Harry Potter – just check out the students with their black cloaks who carry around big wooden sticks which look like they could be used in a game of quidditch.
It must be said that Porto’s night life can’t rival the offer of that in more global cities. But the nightlife here is gloriously unrefined (although you can definitely go posh too – but is it as fun? ), and it all centres around two main parallel streets – Rua Galeria de Paris and Rua Cândido dos Reis. It’s like one big street party here, beggars mixing with the suits, mixing with the students, the tourists – it’s for everyone. Inside the bars you’ll soon suffer from the fact that smoking is for some reason perfectly acceptable in Porto, and, with the penchant for 80s music in a lot of places, it all seems to fit the city perfectly – gloriously time-trapped, unique, not giving a damn what other people think. We love it down here, but only after we warm up with some excellent live music at Hot Five, which once a month hosts possibly the best blues band we’ve ever heard, Budda Power Blues. We then sometimes go to Casa Do Livro, a very cool place with good music, or Cafe De Paris, especially on Wed and Thurs nights, when it plays Latin music. Alternatively, we start with a few good craft beers and good company in Catraio in the one of the best shopping and eating streets in town, Rua de Cedofeita, and then perhaps cocktails on the hip Rua da Conceição, before lining our stomachs at one of the best restaurants in town, Flow. Or perhaps you should do that the other way around!
The imposing avenue of Aliados is the heart of the city – grand buildings flanking statues and monuments, most notably the statue of D. Pedro IV on a horse in Praça da Liberdade, a square which has witnessed all kinds of protests, marches, celebrations, and festivals… as well of freedom from the monarchy and the establishment of the Republic being declared here. It’s worth a stroll up and down for sure!
We lived here. Like much of Porto, it is quickly transforming as new restaurants spring up, and the place becomes popular with tourists. It’s becoming… gentrified. There’s much to love about Afurada, from the salt-of-the-earth locals, to the road-side grilled food, to the communal clothes washing houses in this colourful fishing village.
One of our favourite places in town is this foodie heaven – a food and drink market with loads of yummy options, and very reasonably priced. They sometimes have live performances and DJs. And they have magazine kiosks and book stores too so you can while away an afternoon or evening with your favourite read as you sample the gastronomic delights washed down with good wine or beer.
Colourful houses, cobbled streets, old azulejo-covered churches, and old warehouses converted into cool bars, art galleries, and museums abound on this scenic walk. You’ll see pedestrians, cyclists, and trams, beautiful views of the Douro river, incredible murals on the side of buildings, and realise once again how beautiful and full of real life and positive energy this little city is.