The second-largest city in Portugal, over 1 million tourists visit Porto every year. One of the oldest cities in Europe, Porto is both a historically rich and cosmopolitan city that lies along the Douro River. Home to Port wine, one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and the stunning Ribeira district, Porto is not lacking in activities to experience. But like any major European city, if you’re looking for a once in a lifetime trip, you need to know how to avoid the “tourist trap” attractions. Luckily, we have selected the 12 best things to do in Porto so that you know exactly where to go on your next trip to Northern Portugal.
1. Explore the world’s most iconic bookstore in the world
One of the oldest bookstores in the world, founded in 1906, Lello bookstore is part of the historical heritage of Porto. Many would argue this is the most iconic bookstore in the world, with huge literary figures finding refuge in its walls. The Guardian has ranked Lello as the third best bookstore in the world. The bookstore’s exterior has Neo-Gothic and Art Noveau elements and the two-story interior reflects Art Deco elements.
The ample staircase takes center stage, as well as the stained glass window on the ceiling. Around 300,000 books are sold from this book shop each year. Visitors would be able to enter the Lello bookstore for free, but of around 4,000 visits a day, less than 5% would purchase a book. Since then, you must buy a ticket to enter that costs €5.
2. Visit Palácio da Bolsa – the Stock Exchange Palace
Built in the nineteenth century by Porto’s Commercial Association, the Palácio da Bolsa used to function as a stock exchange. Located in the historical center of Porto, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, today it’s open to the public and hosts important visitors such as Queen Elizabeth II in 1957. The inside of the palace features furniture by the architect José Marques da Silva and sculptures by the famous sculptor Teixeira Lopes. The most famous room is the “Arab Room” built between 1862 and 1880 and decorated in the Moorish Revival style. Today, this room is used as a hall for prestigious visitors to Porto like heads of state. Buy an entry ticket to visit the place for €10.
3. Take a day trip to the World Heritage Site of the Douro Valley
Home to the Douro River, the third largest river in the Iberian Peninsula, the Douro Valley was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the early 2000s. Departing from Porto and ending in Spain, the Douro river flows in the middle of the Douro Valley, a cultural landscape of vineyards where Douro wines are grown and produced. A once in a lifetime experience, the Douro Valley is the location of romantic getaways, weddings, and unforgettable family vacations.
Visiting the Douro Valley is quite expensive by Portuguese standards, but it’s worth it if you do it right. The best way to visit the Douro Valley is by hiring a private car transfer or renting a car as transportation is scarce in the area, especially if you want to visit multiple vineyards for wine tastings. Alternatively, we recommend booking a Douro vineyard “hopping” tour so that you can experience a variety of locations.
For a unique experience, book this river cruise from Porto where you will get to stop at various wineries for tastings, with lunch included. Our favorite vineyards to visit are Quinta da Roêda (Pinhão), Quinta do Crasto (Sabrosa), and Quinta do Seixo (Valença do Douro).
Quinta da Roêda does not just offer Port wine tastings, but also, visits to the vineyards, picnics, workshops, and more. You can explore the gorgeous vineyard with a guided tour and have a tasting of three wines for only €12 per person. Their packages go up to €44 per person for a larger number and variety of wines.
Quinta do Crasto is included in the Top 20 of the World’s Best Vineyards, winning 16th place in 2021. The wine tasting here lasts around 90 minutes where you get to taste 5 of their wines, visit the wine cellars, and more for €29 per person.
Quinta do Seixo has over 100 hectares and is one of the most traditional wine-producing estates in the region. Their cheapest visit is €15 for a 40-minute tour of the winery and tasting of 2 port wines. Their most luxurious option is a 3-hour picnic in the vineyard where you can taste their wines and enjoy Douro cuisine for €40 per person (only available from March to October).
4. Swim in the Matosinhos beach
Only 8 kilometers from the city center, Matosinhos is a fishing town, perfect for a sunny day at the beach. Only a 20-minute drive from Porto, Praia de Matosinhos is the largest beach close to Porto. From surfing to relaxing at a beach bar, as well as lifeguards on-site, the facilities at this beach are great for a family day at the beach. The best time to go is between June and August during the week. Avoid the weekends as it will be overly crowded during this time.
After a dip in the sea, you must explore the seafood culture in this fishing town. Some of the best seafood restaurants in Matosinhos are TITO 2 (around €40 for two people), A Marisqueira de Matosinhos (around €50 for two people), and Marisqueria A Antiga (around €70 for two people).
5. Picnic in the Crystal Palace Gardens
Inspired by the Crystal Palace in London, the Crystal Palace in Porto was inaugurated in 1865 but later demolished in 1951 to build a sports pavilion. Set on a hilltop, the Crystal Palace gardens remain on-site, with about 8 hectares of green space with views of the River Douro.
Only a 15-minute walk from the center, you will find the gorgeous landscaped gardens with walking paths, fountains, sculptures, and trees. Landscaped by German Émille David in the nineteenth century, the Crystal Palace Gardens are the best spot in the city for a picnic, as well as a short stroll. Buy some wine and cheese from a closeby grocery store and enjoy the view of the river from the gardens.
6. Enjoy the architecture of the Casa da Musica
Designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas, Casa da Musica is an iconic concert hall in the historical center of Porto built in 2005. The building was constructed to mark the festive year of 2001 when Porto was designated the European Capital of Culture. Casa da Musica hosts exciting events with concerts by the Symphony Orchestra and more, from every music genre. Although a tour of the inside costs €10, the best part of this place is the exterior. You can also enjoy a meal at the restaurant on the top floor, providing a view of the center. We also recommend booking a ticket for a concert, as this is a unique experience in such a remarkable building.
7. Taste traditional Porto cuisine
You can’t go to Porto without experiencing the traditional cuisine of Porto. With more affordable prices than Lisbon, Porto is the perfect place for a foodie looking to experience authentic Portuense restaurants. There are a few dishes that are definite must-tries. The top dish is a francesinha, a ham, sausage, and steak sandwich with melted cheese and spiced tomato and beer-based sauce, as well as fries on the side. Our favorite spots for a francesinha are Casa Guedes and the Tasquinha Ze Povinho.
We recommend also trying the following dishes:
- Tripas à moda do Porto: A century-old heavy meat-based dish with beans, carrots, steak, veal, and pork stomach
- Sandes de pernil: a roast pork butt sandwich with mountain cheese
- Bacalhau à brás: shredded codfish with scrambled eggs, potatoes, and onions
- Caldo verde: green vegetable soup with sausage
- Alheira: sausage made from chicken, turkey, or duck
- Broa de Avintes: brown bread from Porto
- Tarde de amendoa: almond tart from Douro
- Sardinhas assadas: sardines paired with potatoes, peppers, and salad
- Cachorrinho: Porto style hot dog with spicy sauce
- Cozido à Portuguesa: heavy meat stew with carrots, cabbage, onions, and potatoes
8. Climb the Clérigos Tower
Built in 1763 by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, the Clérigos Tower offers a panoramic view of the historical center of Porto. At 75 meters high, visitors can climb 225 steps to the top of the tower which is worth the workout. We recommend going at night when there are fewer tourists and you get a glittering light view of the buildings, as the tower is open until 11 PM. The tower is built on a Roman Catholic church with baroque motifs from the seventeenth century which you can visit for free. To visit the Clérigos Tower, book this entrance ticket to skip the line through a separate entrance.
9. Try some Port wine
Port wine is a Porto classic. Also known as vinho do Porto, Port wine is a sweet red wine produced in the Douro Valley that is usually served with dessert, at the end of a meal. You’ll find many spots for a Port wine tasting in Porto, as well as Vila Nova de Gaia, a 10-minute drive from Porto.
It’s important to know where to go as with Port wine, you must focus on quality over quantity. We recommend booking this experience where along with a Port wine tasting, you will get to enjoy an intimate acoustic performance of traditional Fado in the center of Porto.
10. Walk the Dom Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia
The iconic Dom Luis I bridge connects the Ribeira distinct of Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro river. This metal arch bridge was built in 1886 by designer Théophile Seyrig who cofounded the Eiffel company and one was the longest of its type at the time. You can walk across the bridge which is 60 meters high, on the upper level of the bridge on the pedestrian walkway. Walking through the 1-kilometer bridge, you will have one of the best views of the Douro river, as well as easy access to Vila Nova de Gaia.
Vila Nova de Gaia is known for its port wine cellars, as well as a cable car that opened in 2011 and rides up and down the south bank of the Douro. You should also visit the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, a sixteenth-century monastery with sculptures of the saints Augustine, Apollonia, and Eulalia. For a Port wine tasting, visit Caves Ferreira or Ramos Pinto, some of the most popular in the area.
11. Explore the Ribeira district
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ribeira is a picturesque neighborhood in Porto, situated on the riverbank of the Douro. The riverfront district of Ribeira is the perfect place for a relaxing stroll during the day. At night, Ribeira comes alive with lively bars and restaurants overlooking the river, as well as Dom Luis I bridge and Vila Nova de Gaia.
We recommend having some Portuguese tapas by the river at Jimão Tapas e Vinhos. For one of the best views in Ribeira, ride the Elevator of Ribeira that connects the port to a part of the neighborhood called Barredo.
12. Take some shots of Insta-worthy azulejo tiles
Azulejo tiles are an iconic part of Porto‘s cultural heritage and let’s be honest, are a great backdrop for a selfie. There are plenty of places across the city where you can find azulejo tiles. Our favorite place is at Porto’s cathedral from the eighteenth century where inside the cloisters you will find stunning white and blue ajulezo tiles. You will also find over 20,000 ajulezo tiles at São Bento Railway Station, made by Jorge Colaço. His tiles cover an area of over 500 square meters in the interior of the station, depicting moments of Portuguese history such as the Discoveries.
You will also find Colaço’s tiles at the Church of Saint Ildefonso built in 1739, with over 11,000 white and blue tiles decorating the exterior. Other great places to find Portuguese ajulezo tiles in Porto are Casa da Musica and Ribeira Negra panel.
⬇️Please share your favorite activities and things to do in Porto in the comments below ⬇️