Portugal has been making a splash in recent years, having won several global awards and accolades including a number of World Travel Awards, it’s no wonder everyone is dying to visit this beautiful country.
As much as there is so much to see and do throughout this diverse and gorgeous country, one region in particular is growing in popularity as more and more people discover it. That region being the northern parts of Portugal, including the 2nd largest city, Porto.
Porto is a stunning city with incredible architecture, top sights to explore, fabulous food and wine, and not to forget the hospitable Portuguese that will welcome you in with open arms. A Porto city break is truly one of a kind!
Offering an array top things to see and do in Porto, it really is a destination for all traveller types, whether you’re a solo traveller, a couple, family or travelling as part of a group, you will no doubt find Porto purely mesmerizing!
Getting to Porto is also a breeze with the city’s airport receiving both domestic, European and international flights. Coupled with direct metro links connecting the airport to the city through a comprehensive subway network, getting around the city is also fairly hassle free.
All of these things considered, there’s nothing more perfect than a Porto city break. Here’s a countdown of 5 things to do in Porto, 4 places to eat in Porto, 3 places to stay in Porto, 2 Porto Instagram spots and 1 insider tip you’ll only find here.
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5 Things to do in Porto
Porto city breaks combine gorgeous landscapes, a vibrant city centre to explore and everything from river cruises to UNESCO World Heritage site tours. Here are 5 perfect things to do in Porto, especially if you’re visiting for a long weekend on a short holiday.
Explore Porto’s Ribeira and Gaia riverfront
One of my favourite things to do in Porto is to relax, drink in hand down at Porto’s vibrant riverfront. Both during the day or at night you’ll get to take in the views across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, where most of the Port houses are located.
Alternatively, you could hop to the other side by crossing Porto’s most well-known bridge, the Dom Luis I Bridge, on foot and chill on the Gaia riverfront, enjoying the views back out over Porto itself.
Douro River Cruise
Probably one of the most popular things to do in Porto is to embark on a Douro River cruise. With the river winding its way past the city and all the way inland to the beautiful Douro Valley region, you could opt for either a 1-hour city river cruise or even a full day cruise into the Douro Valley itself.
You’ll get to see Porto from a completely different perspective as well as appreciate the picturesque Douro Valley with it’s green rolling hills and vineyards along the way. Definitely a worthwhile activity to book.
Take a city sightseeing tour
Visiting Porto for only a short amount of time? Then my next suggestion is definitely for you. Consider going on a city sightseeing tour through one of the many hop-on, hop-off buses in operation in Porto.
On our first visit to the city, we did exactly this, and it turned out great. We got to see all the major sights and identify the ones we wanted to revisit later on and spend more time at. Especially if you’re only in Porto for a weekend holiday, it’ll give you a great overview of the city. A local guide highlighting all the top must see attractions is just what you need.
Visit the Torre dos Clerigos Tower
One of Porto’s most emblematic buildings has to be the Torre dos Clerigos, or Clerigos Tower, that towers above downtown Porto. The church and tower are both well worth a visit and if you’re brave enough and don’t mind small cramped spaces, then you should definitely climb to the top and admire the 360-degree views of the city from up high.
The church, with all its intricate interior decoration and detail, is equally impressive and hosts a free organ concert every day at 12:00 midday, which is well worth checking out.
Day Trip from Porto
If you’re planning to visit Porto for a couple of days, then I would highly advise you to embark on a few day trips from Porto.
With so many fantastic cities, towns and villages located just an hour out of the city, you’ll get to explore and discover the very best of northern Portugal.
Consider a visit to the city of Guimarães, known as the birthplace of Portugal, or to Aveiro, nicknamed the Venice of Portugal and the one city that we saw the most incredible tiles at.
Or if you’re especially keen on learning more about Portugal’s religious heritage, then plan a trip to Braga which is known as the city in Portugal with the most churches and cathedrals and very well known for the popular Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary.
Of course, there’s also the world-renowned Douro Valley wine region, right on Porto’s doorstep. It’s a good idea to consider staying a couple of days here, or you can take a day tour from Porto which usually includes stops at a few wineries as well as lunch in the Douro region.
4 Foodie inspired things to do in Porto city break fashion
Portugal is a land known for its delicious flavors, fresh seafood and one-of-a-kind cuisine. While in Porto, make sure to engage with the local food scene and indulge all of your senses with these foodie inspired Porto favourites.
Eat Porto’s traditional dish, the Francesinha
No trip to Porto would be complete without trying out Porto’s traditional dish, the indulgent and over the top Francesinha. This sandwich type meal, layered with several different kinds of meats, a fried egg, melted cheese and then doused in a tomato & beer sauce is also often served with a side of fries.
Despite it being a complete carb overload, the Francesinha is actually quite delicious and should definitely be on your list of foods to try out when visiting Porto. In saying this, be sure to visit some of the restaurants, tipped as having the best Francesinhas in town. These include, to name a few, Café Santiago, O Afonso or even O Golfinho.
Try out local port wine
Similarly, to the Francesinha, when it comes to drinks, Porto has become synonymous with the rich and bold fortified Port wine that is produced here and is a must try when visiting.
Available in a variety of different flavours, this wine has garnered world-wide recognition. As such, a Porto wine cellar tour and wine tasting should be top of your list of things to do in Porto.
Most of these Port Houses are located across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia and the most well-known Port House names include Taylors, Graham, Calem, Porto Cruz and Osborne.
If the strong, rich flavours is not to your liking, then go ahead and try out a Porto Tonic cocktail instead, one that I simply adore. It’s a blend of Tonic and white Port and not as overpowering as drinking Port on its own.
Eat at the iconic Majestic Café
Heading over to the Rua Santa Catarina shopping street is where you will find the famous Majestic Café. A coffee shop and restaurant that will transport you to the era of the Belle Epoque with its stunning and detailed grandiose interiors.
The café has lots of charm and character, coupled with a colourful history that dates back to 1921 when it originally opened as Café Elite. Today, this eatery is so popular that it isn’t uncommon to find queues of patrons waiting patiently for their turn to grab a bite to eat here.
Whether you choose to simply admire the cafe from the outside or don’t mind waiting your turn in the queue, either way you’ll love a visit to the Majestic Café.
Dine at a Port Michellin starred restaurant
Portugal, including Porto has become somewhat of a foodie haven in recent years, with a long list of Michelin starred restaurants scattered across the country.
And Porto is no exception to the rule. Currently boasting two 1-starred restaurants in the city (being the restaurants Pedro Lemos as well as Antiqvvm), and a 2-starred restaurant on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river (at the 5* Yeatman hotel), you will be able to enjoy the very best Portuguese fine-dining experience.
Absolutely a must-do for any hardcore foodies wanting a top-notch culinary experience when visiting charming Porto.
3 Ideas for where to stay in Porto
Whenever we’ve travelled to Porto, we’ve always preferred to stay in the historic centre located in and around the famous São Bento train station, or around Avenida Aliados (Aliados Avenue), the area known as Baixa/Sé.
This will ultimately ensure that you are smack bang in the heart of all the action, close to all the best sights and restaurants and will enable you to get around pretty much everywhere on foot.
Here is a selection of hotels & apartments, located in these areas that I can highly recommend you book for your next visit.
Apartment Style – BNApartments Loftpuzzle
Located around 200 meters from São Bento train station and in the heart of Porto’s historic centre you’ll find the self-contained studio apartments – BNApartments Loftpuzzle. Each unit has a small kitchenette, private bathroom and open plan studio bedroom with modern, fresh interiors. It’s a great self-catering budget option to book for your stay in Porto.
Mid-Range Hotel: 4-Star The House Ribeira Porto Hotel
For a mid-range hotel option, look no further than the 4-star, House Ribeira Porto Hotel. It is located only 100 meters from the beautiful Palácio da Bolsa (the old stock exchange palace), as well as only 200 metres from the Ribeira waterfront.
The hotel has a clean and modern feel to it and also offers a selection of different room types, a 24-hour reception, Free wi-fi, guest-phone and an onsite bar to name but a few of the amenities.
Luxury Hotel: 5-Star PortoBay Flores
Located in the charming pedestrian street, Rua das Flores (translated to Flower Street), you will find the newly renovated 5-star PortoBay Flores. The hotel, which is partly set in a renovated 16th-century palace, blends both modern and old to provide a unique and luxurious aesthetic. It also features all the amenities you’d come to expect from a five-star hotel and is ideally located, allowing you to easily explore all that Porto has to offer.
2 Must-Capture Porto Instagram Spots
We’re all guilty of travelling to fill the Instastory – so here’s all the #travelgram content spots you need for your Porto city break.
Porto’s Ribeira riverfront
Whenever you search images of Porto, you will no doubt stumble upon picture after picture of Porto’s Ribeira riverfront, with all its colourful buildings lined along the waterfront, it’s a truly emblematic shot that captures the real essence and beauty of Porto.
On our last visit, we stumbled upon the perfect viewpoint to capture this stunning Porto view from. Taking the cable car from the opposite river bank in Vila Nova de Gaia, we arrived at the top viewing platform with breath-taking views out over the city.
Just behind this viewpoint you’ll also find the Jardim do Morro (Morro Garden), where you can relax and admire these gorgeous views! After you’ve ogled at the views, walk back to the city by crossing the top of the Dom Luis I Bridge, from where you can take in more of these vistas of the city. Pure magic!
São Bento train station
Second on my must-capture Instagram spot in Porto may not seem like an obvious choice, but the central São Bento train station certainly manages to attract tourists by the hundreds on an almost daily basis.
This is for no other reason apart from the absolutely gorgeous blue and white traditional Portuguese tile murals that adorn almost every inch of the entrance hall to the train station. It’s really a spectacular display of craftsmanship and it’s no wonder this is one of Porto’s most captured photo scenes!
1 Insider Tip for your Porto City Break
If you’re ready to get stuck in and don’t mind getting lost in different hidden alleyways and streets, then I would suggest you try out a Secret City Trails game, discovering Porto’s hidden gems.
This self-guided tour leads you on a scavenger hunt type game, where you have to solve various clues and puzzles in order to locate different landmarks and points of interest across the city.
The game will steer you away from the more mainstream attractions, as you explore some of Porto’s lesser-known sights. So why not go on the hunt for Bordalo II’s massive bunny street art sculpture in Gaia or visit the gardens of the Crystal Palace!
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Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos from Travel-Boo, together with his partner moved to sunny Lisbon over 2 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way. Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for travelling through and exploring both Portugal, Spain and throughout Europe, through his blog Travel-Boo.
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