The best things to do in Porto include stunning churches, mesmerizing blue and white azulejos, a grand bridge, and a whimsical bookstore. It is a highly popular destination in Northern Portugal for a city getaway. Interestingly, Porto does not rely on a famous collection of highlights, attractions, and tourist spots. Instead, a visit to Porto revolves around its laid-back ambiance and the charm of its historic district. However, this does not mean that Porto lacks interesting things to do or places to see. To discover what activities await you in Porto, delve into this blog to learn about the most interesting sights and the top day trips from the city.
How to get to Porto in Portugal
Porto, one of Portugal’s largest cities, is nestled along the picturesque northwest coast. Als Porto has its own international airport with direct flights to many European destinations.
For an unforgettable travel experience, consider combining your Porto adventure with a visit to the capital, Lisbon. Fly into one city and depart from the other, and conveniently travel between Porto and Lisbon by train. Portugal’s well-developed rail network ensures a smooth journey, with a travel time of just 2.5 to 3 hours between these two captivating destinations. Sit back, relax, and soak in the breathtaking Portuguese landscapes along the way.
While Porto itself is a treasure trove of attractions, venturing beyond its borders is highly recommended. Embark on a road trip to explore the enchanting sights of Northern Portugal. During our own two-month trip around Portugal, we discovered the most captivating spots, while wild camping amidst nature’s finest landscapes. Inspired by our extensive road trip, we’ve curated an unforgettable Portuguese road trip route spanning 2-3 weeks, allowing you to experience the very best this country has to offer [soon online in English].
Why Porto is worth visiting
Porto undoubtedly ranks among the most captivating cities in Portugal. In all honesty, our admiration for Porto surpasses even that of the popular capital, Lisbon. The city boasts a delightful and relaxed ambiance, complemented by its picturesque cityscape. Beyond its impressive landmarks, it is the serene atmosphere and cozy charm that truly make Porto a destination worth visiting.
Interestingly, Porto isn’t just a collection of notable sights and attractions. Its essence lies in the enchanting urban atmosphere and the exquisite beauty of the historic center. While we will certainly highlight some must-visit landmarks in this blog, we firmly believe that the true essence of Porto lies in leisurely strolling through its streets, savoring the local port wine and indulging in the delectable “pastel de nata” pastries at charming cafés. The city’s architectural splendor and inviting streets, coupled with breathtaking views of the cityscape from its riverside and hills, contribute to Porto’s everlasting allure.
15 best things to do in Porto
#1 The best Portuguese azulejos
Porto, known for its captivating charm, is the ultimate destination to witness the beauty of traditional Portuguese tiles. These iconic blue-and-white tiles embellish entire facades, creating a mesmerizing and highly Instagrammable sight that should not be missed during your visit to Porto!
Read more: best azulejos spots in Porto
The word “azulejos”, derived from the Arabic term “al zulaycha” meaning polished stone, is deeply rooted in Arab culture. With the influence of the Moors in Portugal, this artistic tradition found a new home and flourished. Today, the Portuguese are renowned for their passion for adorning their buildings with these exquisite tiles, so much so that the association with Portugal surpasses its origins in the Arab world. Geometric and floral patterns are the most recognizable designs adorning the facades, while narrative azulejos grace churches and grand monuments. Contrary to popular belief, these tiles come in a vast array of colors and patterns, extending beyond the iconic blue and white. You will be delighted to discover hues ranging from vibrant greens to sunny yellows, all creating a stunning visual tapestry.
As you explore the city, you will find that Porto is a treasure trove of buildings adorned with these famous azulejos. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit some of the most renowned spots where these tiles take center stage. São Bento train station, with its magnificent tiled panels, will transport you to a bygone era. The Ribera tunnel showcases Júlio Resende’s modern artwork, a harmonious blend of contemporary design and traditional tiles. Capela de Santa Catarina, Igreja de Santo Idefonso, A Pérola do Bolhão grocery store, Igreja do Carmo, and Igreja dos Carmelitas are also notable locations where you can immerse yourself in the captivating world of azulejos.
However, the true beauty lies in wandering through Porto’s historic center, where you will encounter these stunning tiles at every turn. From charming chapels to ordinary residential houses, the city is adorned with an endless array of colors, shapes, and motifs. While geometric and floral designs embellish regular houses, monuments and churches often showcase narrative tiles that depict captivating stories. Take a moment to appreciate the intricate craftsmanship of these tiles, as you’ll discover a mix of both flat and relief tiles that add depth and texture to their artistic allure.
Immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Portuguese tiles as you explore Porto. Prepare to be captivated by the mesmerizing beauty that awaits around every corner, and don’t forget to capture these unforgettable moments on camera. Porto’s azulejos will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression and become a highlight of your journey through this remarkable city.
#2 The iconic Luis I bridge
When exploring Porto, a visit to the iconic Luis I Bridge is an absolute must. This remarkable architectural marvel, connecting the banks of the Douro River, is an unmissable experience. Designed by a collaborator of Gustave Eiffel, renowned for his iconic creation in Paris, the Luis I Bridge is both a practical crossing and a visually captivating structure. With its impressive double decks and elegant metal arches, it has become an emblematic symbol of Porto.
Walking across the bridge treats you to breathtaking panoramas of the river, the vibrant hillside houses, and the lively waterfront activities. Particularly during sunset, the view is simply awe-inspiring, as the city bathes in a warm glow cast by the setting sun. Don’t forget to return in the evening when the bridge comes alive with enchanting lights, creating a truly magical spectacle that intensifies the city’s romantic allure.
#3 Bookstore Livraria Lello
Known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, bookshop Lello – or Livraria Lello – is an absolute must-visit on your trip to Porto. This enchanting bookstore is a popular attraction due to its unique and fairytale-like architecture. The impressive neo-gothic building, with its distinctive red façade and stunning stained glass windows, is a feast for the eyes.
The renowned Porto bookstore is housed in a magnificent 1906 building, designed in a fairytale-like Art Nouveau style. It’s a gem that will captivate any book lover and architecture enthusiast. Upon entering the store, your gaze will be immediately drawn to the impressive ceiling, which at first glance appears to be made of wood but is actually a masterpiece of painting. The monumental and imposing staircase is a true eye-catcher, inviting you to explore the upper floor as well. Don’t forget to admire the breathtaking stained glass, creating a colorful play of light and shadow.
It may not come as a surprise that this place is known among tourists as the Harry Potter bookstore. Author J.K. Rowling once lived in Porto, and the bookstore is said to have inspired her while writing her famous book series.
A tip: plan your visit early in the morning as this bookstore is incredibly popular, and there is often a long queue outside waiting to get in. There is a small fee to enter the bookstore, but it’s well worth it. The easiest way to purchase your ticket is in advance on the bookstore’s website. Additionally, if you buy a book, the ticket price will be deducted as a discount.
#4 São Bento Station
One of the most beautiful sights in Porto is São Bento Train Station. The magnificent station hall is a sight to behold and best of all, it’s free to enter!
The railway line to the heart of Porto was opened in 1892, but the official inauguration of the associated train station didn’t take place until 1916. The station is named after the monastery that once stood on the site, São Bento de Avé-Maria. The monastery had been in a state of decay for a long time, but it wasn’t until the last nun passed away in 1892 that it could be demolished to make way for the grand plans of a train station. It took several more years for the station to be completed.
The station was built in the graceful Beaux-Arts style that was highly popular at the time. This is evident in the grand granite facade with its symmetrical design and classical details. However, more than the exterior, the main attraction of São Bento Station is its hall. Every corner and wall of the hall is adorned with ornaments and embellishments, but it’s the walls covered in Portuguese azulejos (traditional ceramic tiles) that steal the show. There are approximately 20,000 tiles, which explains why it took several years to complete this masterpiece.
The enormous tile artworks in the central station hall depict the history of Portugal. The largest surfaces are adorned with tiles depicting significant historical events. You’ll see grand battles and important figures from Portuguese history, such as the Battle of Valdevez, which marked the end of the first Portuguese independence war, and the arrival of King John I and his wife Philippa on horseback in Porto. But if you look closely, you’ll discover more than just those scenes and more than just blue and white tiles. Above the ceiling, there is a frieze with floral motifs, and beneath it, you’ll find colorful tiles depicting the history of transportation in Portugal. You’ll also catch glimpses of everyday life in Portugal during the construction of the station in certain areas.
#5 Viewpoint Miradouro da Vitória
In a city built against the hills along the Douro River, you can certainly expect breathtaking views. Miradouro da Vitória is one of the most accessible spots for that purpose, situated in the historic center of Porto.
From Miradouro da Vitória, you can indulge in a panoramic view of the colorful houses clinging to the hills along the Douro River. Here, you can marvel at some of Porto’s most significant landmarks, such as the Sé Cathedral, the Douro River, and the Episcopal Palace. The iconic Dom Luís I Bridge stretches beautifully before you, making this undoubtedly one of the most stunning vistas over Porto.
What adds to the charm of Miradouro da Vitória is that it’s free to enter. While there are other fantastic viewpoints in Porto, such as the top of the 75-meter-high Torre dos Clérigos or the terrace of Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar across the Dom Luís I Bridge, they come at a cost. Miradouro da Vitória offers you the opportunity to savor the splendid view without spending a penny. It’s located on private property, but a sign clearly indicate that tourists are more than welcome here.
#6 Cais da Ribeira and Cais de Gaia
If you’re planning a trip to Porto, make sure to include the picturesque Cais da Ribeira and the charming Cais de Gaia on your itinerary. These two stunning locations, nestled along the banks of the Douro River, offer unforgettable experiences.
Cais da Ribeira, the historic riverfront district, is a true gem. Wander through the narrow streets of Porto’s old town, and don’t forget to soak in the mesmerizing view of the iconic Dom Luís I Bridge from the scenic river promenade. Take a break at one of the delightful waterfront cafés or restaurants, treating yourself to a slow-paced stroll while enjoying the enchanting surroundings.
Just across the river, you’ll find Vila Nova de Gaia, a neighborhood that captivates visitors with its lovely riverside promenade. This area, known as Cais de Gaia, is renowned worldwide for its historic port wine cellars. Embark on an immersive tour of esteemed cellars like Taylor’s, Graham’s, or Sandeman, where you’ll delve into the fascinating history and intricate production process of this renowned fortified wine. Savor the moment as you indulge in a curated tasting experience, exploring a variety of exquisite port wines.
#7 The Monastery and Sé Cathedral
Situated near the iconic Luis I Bridge, atop a prominent part of the city, the Porto Cathedral square offers breathtaking views of the Douro River and the cityscape. However, the main attraction here lies within the monastery affiliated with the cathedral, renowned for its exquisite azulejos, traditional Portuguese ceramic tiles.
Exploring the cathedral and the monastery goes hand in hand. The entrance can be found at the monastery’s gate, where you’ll need to purchase a €3 ticket granting access to both the monastery and the cathedral. As you step inside, you’ll immediately find yourself in the most captivating section of the monastery: a passageway encircling a courtyard adorned with Gothic arches and grand blue-and-white azulejo panels. Many of these panels depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, meticulously designed by Valentim de Almeida. Venture up to the next floor, and you’ll encounter azulejos from a similar period, but crafted by a different artist, António Vital.
Immerse yourself in the mesmerizing beauty of Porto’s monastery, marvel at the intricate azulejos, and uncover the rich history of this remarkable site. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience the splendor of Porto’s cultural heritage at the monastery and Sé Cathedral.
#8 Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas
When you stand right in front of these two churches, you can hardly tell that they are actually two separate churches. However, this monumental spectacle is not just one church; it consists of two monumental church facades with a small door in between. That door is known as the “hidden house,” although it’s not a real house squeezed between the two churches. Local guides will give you various explanations for this narrow house, which is only 1.5 meters wide, sandwiched between the monumental churches. Some say it was due to local laws prohibiting churches from being built directly next to each other, while others claim it was intended to separate the nuns and monks.
Be sure to walk around the Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas to your right because a magnificent tile spectacle awaits you there. The tiles are relatively new, dating back to 1912. The scene was designed by Silvestre Silvestri, painted by Carlos Branco, and produced in the workshops of Senhor do Além and Torrinha. The azulejos tiles depict biblical scenes associated with the history of the Carmelite Order.
Tip: Not far from the Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas, you can visit the Banco de Materiais (Materials Bank) for free. This storage depot for azulejos is filled with tiles salvaged from renovated or demolished buildings. They await a new owner who is searching for that one specific tile to complete their façade. Since the materials depot is open to visitors, functioning as a sort of museum, you can also pay a visit as a tourist.
#9 Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
Situated atop the hills overlooking the city, Jardins do Palácio de Cristal offers a breathtaking panorama of the Douro River and Porto’s skyline. These lush green gardens provide the perfect sanctuary from the bustling city, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in tranquility and natural beauty.
Designed with a combination of well-manicured lawns, vibrant flower beds, and stunning fountains, this picturesque oasis invites you to wander along its winding paths and uncover hidden corners adorned with exotic plants and flowers. Alternatively, you can simply indulge in a leisurely picnic on one of the many grassy expanses, all while reveling in the splendid vista surrounding you. Whether you seek a romantic stroll, a place to commune with nature, or a serene retreat in the vibrant heart of Porto, Jardins do Palácio de Cristal is an absolute must-visit.
#10 Café Majestic
Café Majestic, located on the central and renowned Santa Catarina street in Porto, is a remarkable attraction to visit. This historic café, established in 1921 as Café Elite, has evolved into the oldest and most beautiful café in the city. It is often featured on lists of the world’s most stunning cafés. Stepping over the threshold of Café Majestic transports you to a different era. Its luxurious interior exudes the grandeur of the past, where Porto’s elite used to gather.
Officially opening its doors on December 2, 1922, Café Majestic was already praised as a magnificent and dazzling establishment. Architect José Pinto de Oliveira designed the breathtaking Art Nouveau decor that continues to captivate throngs of visitors, making it a must-see attraction. Santa Catarina street itself is a pedestrian area that was once a popular spot for Porto’s elite. Café Majestic perfectly embodies that period with its lavish interior featuring leather upholstery, lacquered wood, ornate ceiling decorations, and beautiful Flemish mirrors.
After a period of closure, Café Majestic underwent extensive renovations and reopened its doors in 1994. Since then, the café has regained its former glory and become one of the most visited places in Porto’s historic city center. While it has become a tourist attraction, it still functions as a café where you can indulge in local delicacies and drinks. Keep in mind that prices here are slightly higher than elsewhere in Porto.
#11 The Port Wine Cellars of Porto
Porto is truly a haven for wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs, as it is the birthplace of one of the world’s most beloved wines: Port. Thus, this city is the perfect destination to explore the world of Port wine production.
The story of Porto’s strong connection with Port wine dates back centuries when British traders discovered the exceptional quality of wines from this region. To ensure the wine remained in good condition during long sea voyages and prolong its shelf life, a neutral grape spirit was added to the wine. This addition halted the fermentation process, leaving residual sugars that gave the renowned sweetness to Port wine. The wine lasted longer and acquired its unique flavor, giving birth to Portuguese Port.
Today, immersing yourself in the world of Port wine is a must-do in Porto. A visit to Porto is incomplete without exploring the historic cellars where Port wine is made. These age-old cellars line the banks of the Douro River on the Cais de Gaia. Here, you can witness firsthand the craftsmanship involved in producing this fantastic beverage.
And of course, there’s nothing better than tasting a variety of delicious Port wines during your visit to Porto! You’ll find cozy wine bars and traditional Port wine lodges along the riverside, where you can savor different types of Port.
#12 The Porto street art
Discover the vibrant street art scene of Porto and be amazed by the colorful masterpieces that adorn the city. Recently, the municipality of Porto commissioned graffiti artists to transform the city, particularly its disadvantaged neighborhoods, with vibrant murals. And it has been a resounding success! You can now admire the most beautiful street art both in Porto’s historic center and in lesser-known districts. While streets like Miguel Bombarda, das Flores, Escadas do Codeçal, as well as the alternative neighborhoods of Vila Nova de Gaia and Cedofeita are renowned for their striking street art, graffiti and murals can surprise you on almost every corner of the city, especially along the banks of the Douro River.
One notable artwork that you must not miss is ‘The Rabbit’ (O Coelho) by Bordalo II, located on Guilherme Gomes Fernandes Street in Vila Nova de Gaia. This piece is part of the impressive ‘Big Trash Animals’ series by the Portuguese artist Bordalo II, in which he creates animals from found waste. The imposing artwork thus alludes to the impact of waste on nature and animals.
Another iconic mural that you shouldn’t miss is AN.FI.TRI.ÃO on the side of a derelict building next to the Dom Luis I Bridge. This beautiful work was created by Frederico Draw, a well-known name in Porto’s street art scene. It depicts an old man welcoming you to the city.
#13 The Teleférico de Gaia cable car
One must-visit attraction in Vila Nova de Gaia is a ride on the famous cable car of Porto. The Teleférico de Gaia takes you from Cais de Gaia to the upper level of the Ponte Dom Luis I. The upper floor of the bridge is situated at a considerable height, requiring a steep climb to reach it. However, the breathtaking view from up there makes it all worthwhile. To make your visit to the upper level even more convenient, hop on this cable car and enjoy the scenic vistas of the river and Porto along the way.
#14 Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
The baroque Church of Saint Ildefonso is a sight to behold, especially in its picturesque elevated location where the narrow, towering church stands on its own. This is quite remarkable in a city where many churches and chapels are nestled among other buildings and tucked away in narrow streets.
The impressive blue and white tiles adorning the entire façade are truly photogenic. Although the church dates back to the 18th century, the tiles were only installed a hundred years ago. It is estimated that there are 11,000 tiles, crafted by the same artist responsible for the ones at São Bento Station. A nominal entrance fee of one euro is required to access the church.
#15 Capela Das Almas
The Capela de Santa Catarina, also referred to as Capela Das Almas, might not boast grandiosity, yet it holds a captivating allure. Adorning the chapel’s outer wall are approximately 16,000 blue and white tiles, meticulously hand-painted. Despite their relative youth – only a century old – they exhibit an ancient aesthetic. True to its purpose, the chapel’s tiles portray biblical narratives, vividly depicting the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine.
Things to do from Porto: 5 best day trips
#16 The Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is arguably the most famous place in all of Portugal, and it’s easy to see why. With its picturesque Douro River and endless vineyards cascading along steep shores, it’s the birthplace of the renowned port wine. While many visitors opt for a day trip from Porto, we highly recommend dedicating more time to explore this stunning region. The road follows the river closely, offering breathtaking views of rolling vineyards against the backdrop of surrounding hills. To make the most of your experience, arrange a rental car and embark on a delightful road trip!
During our visit in the autumn, the vineyards transformed into a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, and red hues. The golden hour around sunset showcased an extraordinary spectacle. Along the vineyards and route, you’ll come across several lookout points – search for “miradouro” on Google Maps – for capturing the most stunning photo stops. While it’s possible to visit the Douro Valley with a guided tour as a day trip from Porto, we strongly advise arranging a rental car and driving to the valley yourself for an authentic and immersive experience.
Not far south of Porto lies what is also known as the ‘Venice of Portugal’. The coastal town of Aveiro boasts a charming center with waterways and bridges, where colorful gondola-like boats sail through during the summer. Due to its proximity to the sea, the canals in Aveiro are filled with saltwater instead of freshwater. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the salt pans on the outskirts of the city, where you can witness the collection of saltwater in basins followed by evaporation, leaving behind pure sea salt. Those white piles on the basin edges? That’s the harvested sea salt.
Along the main canal, you’ll find Aveiro’s most beautiful buildings, most of them showcasing exuberant Art Nouveau architecture. Combined with the picturesque bridges, it’s easy to see why Aveiro is such a photogenic destination. One of the most captivating spots in Aveiro is located slightly outside the city to the south: the Costa Nova beach, adorned with cheerfully colored houses lining a promenade. Another must-visit for stunning photo opportunities, particularly with the iconic Portuguese azulejos, is the magnificent old train station of Aveiro.
Approximately 1.5 hours’ drive from Porto, nestled near the Douro Valley, you’ll find the picturesque town of Lamego. While the town itself is charming, the main draw here is the impressive Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Church of Our Lady of Remedies). Perched high on a hill, reaching the church requires ascending a long staircase, making it a counterpart to the more famous Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga.
In our opinion, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios in Lamego surpasses the renowned Bom Jesus do Monte. Its zigzagging stairs adorned with the famous blue and white Portuguese tiles, coupled with the church’s extravagant Rococo style, make it the epitome of architectural grandeur in Portugal. If you’re not up for climbing over 600 steps, you can conveniently drive to the parking lot adjacent to the church.
#19 The Paiva Walkways and Arouca 516 Suspension Bridge
If nature and hiking are what you’re looking for, the Paiva Walkways – or Passadiços do Paiva in Portuguese – should definitely be on your wishlist. Stretching eight kilometers, wooden walkways wind along the cliffs carved by the Paiva River in the landscape. The views are stunning, and along the way, you’ll also encounter two suspension bridges, with the 516 Arouca Bridge being a popular feature on many bucket lists.
The 516 Arouca Bridge is, in fact, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, opened since 2020. The bridge spans 516 meters in length and hangs 175 meters above the Paiva River. It’s worth noting that you can visit the bridge without walking the full eight kilometers of the Paiva Walkways. Likewise, if you have a fear of heights but still want to experience the Passadiços, you don’t have to cross the bridge. Both the walking paths and the bridge have limited access, so be sure to purchase your tickets online in advance, especially during the peak season. For the paths, you can buy a ticket for a nominal fee of €1 to control visitor numbers. To visit the bridge, you’ll need to join a scheduled tour, which costs €12. From Porto, it takes approximately an hour’s drive to reach the starting point of the hike.
Just a short, scenic 45-minute drive north of Porto lies the lively city of Braga. As one of Portugal’s major urban centers, Braga is a treasure trove of churches, chapels, pilgrimage sites, and monasteries, thanks to its historical significance as an archdiocese. What sets Braga’s historical center apart is its charming pedestrian zone, which allows visitors to meander through its picturesque ancient streets in a relaxed manner.
A must-visit destination within Braga is Rossio da Sé square, home to the city’s cathedral and an ideal spot for soaking in the local atmosphere and observing people. Serving as the oldest cathedral in Portugal, Braga Cathedral is undoubtedly one of the city’s most remarkable highlights. Built in the twelfth century and subsequently renovated in various architectural styles, the cathedral’s baroque interior elements are particularly captivating and should not be missed. Beyond the cathedral, the old town is replete with numerous churches and monasteries, making it worth exploring beyond this magnificent centerpiece.
While in Braga, be sure to include a visit to the museum housed in the magnificent Pálacio do Raio. Renowned as one of the city’s most exquisite structures, this palace boasts an opulent rococo-style facade adorned with vibrant azulejos. In addition to its architectural allure, the museum offers free entry and provides valuable insights into the region’s rich history, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of Braga’s cultural heritage.