Things to do in Porto: A Handpicked City Guide

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Portugal Road Trip - Porto

The view from the the Dom Luis I bridge sums up the allure of Porto; port wineries on one side, a colourful hodge-podge of buildings and bell towers cascading down the other, and the peaceful Douro river filing down the centre, lined with buzzing restaurants and people ambling by. The azulejo tiles, baroque and beaux arts architecture, and crumbling deserted buildings create the atmosphere of a city that has experienced glory with decay, and lives on to tell the tale. Despite the pockets of abandonment, the city thrives and is often favoured over Lisbon by travellers who fall for its charms and more manageable, compact size. It’s a gorgeous place for a relaxed cultural city break or to visit as part of larger Portugal road trip.

Things to do in Porto

Wandering the cobbled streets and taking it all in is enough to keep you entertained in the city, but these are some of the things we enjoyed most.

Things to do in Porto: Crystal Palace Gardens Porto

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens)

There are some beautiful parks in Porto, but I think the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal take the crown. The park is right next to the river and affords some magnificent panoramic views from the paths that wind along its edges. It’s also home to the Almeida Garrett Municipal Library, the Romantic Museum of Quinta da Macieirinha and the crystal palace itself, which houses exhibitions. It’s slightly outside of the centre next to the arts district. We also heard that the botanical gardens are beautiful, but didn’t get the chance to visit.

Porto - Steak and Shake mural

Choose your favourite tiled wall

There are endless beautiful tiles around Porto, so you’ll find yourself repeatedly stopping for photos. Our favourites were the azulejo tiles on the side of the Igreja dos Carmelitas, and the mural by Joana Vasconcelos on the side of Steak and Shake (pictured above).

Porto Wine Cellars

Porto is the home of port wine, and one of the most pleasant ways to spend an afternoon there is walking along the riverside visiting some of the cellars. Technically they’re in Gaia, Porto’s sister city, but in practice they’re a short stroll across the river. You can take a tour of most of the cellars, which all end with a port wine tasting. I toured Sandeman the last time I was there, which is a gorgeous place to visit and offers a 45-min tour. We weren’t sure Otis would tolerate a tour this time, so instead went for a tasting at Espaço Porto Cruz where our waiter gave a fantastic overview of the history of port.

Porto - Livaria Lello

Livaria Lello

This is the bookstore that is said to have inspired elements of Harry Potter when J.K Rowling taught English in the city. It’s exquisite, but it’s also a major tourist attraction, so don’t expect a peaceful visit. You have to buy a ticket and check-in your belongings at the neighbouring shop, and then likely queue again to enter (we didn’t have to queue for the second part, but we often saw a line there throughout the day). Despite the queueing and busyness, I still think it’s worth seeing, especially if you’re into bookshops. It costs €5 and you can redeem that on a book, but the English section is very small and I think they might overprice the books to compensate!

Porto road trip: Sao Bento

São Bento train station

São Bento train station is often heralded as one of the world’s most beautiful train stations, largely because of the dramatic azulejo artworks in the entrance hall that depict scenes from historic battles as well as the history of travel. It’s one of the best examples of azulejo tiles in the city.

Foz

Just down the river from Porto centre is Foz, a seaside resort where the Douro meets the Atlantic. It can be reached by the historic Route 1 tram in just 20 minutes and is a fun and easy way to spend some beach time within your city break.

Portugal Road Trip - Porto

Ribeira

Ribeira is one of the most beautiful areas of Porto and is a must for any visit. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and although it tends to be swarming with tourists, its charms are more than worth it. Wander the cobbled streets and take in the decaying grandeur that makes Porto so special. Things to do in the area include taking a boat trip along the river, visiting the Casa do Infante (a historic customs building and museum) or São Nicolau Church (one of Porto’s most notable churches), or simply choose a riverside bar, order a port and tonic and watch the world go by. If you can’t face the hill, you can take the Guindais Funicular Railway or the Elevador da Lada (also known as the Ribeira lift).

Portugal road trip - Serralves

Serralves

Serralves has a lot going for it with a striking pink art deco house, a modern art museum and gorgeous gardens surrounding it all. We went on a grey day, but even then you could appreciate its beauty. In the sun, it would be perfect. Serralves is about 15 minutes outside the centre of Porto.

Climb Clerigos Tower

The view from Clerigos Tower is one of the best in Porto. We didn’t do it with Otis, but I climbed it last time I was there. The 75-metre bell tower has 225 steps and is definitely worth the climb.

Portugal Road Trip - Porto

Walk across the Dom Luis I bridge

One of the best walks we did in Porto was from the arts district where we were staying (near the Crystal Palace Park), across the Dom Luis I Bridge to Gaia and then back through Ribeira. We stopped along the way in the Morro Garden and had a picnic overlooking the city before getting the teleferico down to Gaia. We did this on our first day and it was an ideal introduction to the city.

Things to do in Porto - Arts District

Go shopping in the arts district

There are some beautiful boutiques and galleries in Porto’s arts district. Two of my favourites were O! Galeria and Coração Alecrim, which has a finely curated selection of accessories, clothing and homeware. Its also home to the Living Food Lab, which hosts themed dinners every week.

Marés Swimming Pool

A final thing that we didn’t get to visit this time, but love the look of are the Marés swimming pools (also known as Leca da Palmeira), which are a series of pools built into the rocks beside the sea. It looks stunning and like a perfect place to spend a sunny day. They are about 30 minutes outside the centre of Porto.

Do a tour in Porto

Get your Guide has a huge range of tours in Porto. Here are a few that look good, and you can find loads more on their site.

Portugal Road Trip - Family in Porto

Family travel in Porto

Most of the activities above would be suitable for children, especially visiting the parks and beach and Marés swimming pool. There are also two zoos (Lourosa and Santo Inácio), the Sea Life aquarium, a museum of transport and communication, and the World of Discoveries, an interactive museum that celebrates Portugal’s history of international explorations.

Below are some recommended family-friendly tours and activities by Get Your Guide.

Where to eat in Porto

Where to eat in Porto

Porto is an amazing foodie destination for meat and fish eaters, but less so for a vegetarian. That said, we did find some good options.

In the evenings, because Otis goes to bed early, we couldn’t eat out, but instead used Uber Eats to order meals from some of the restaurants we wanted to try.  These were our favourite places.

Epoca Porto

Epoca

This quintessentially hipster cafe, Epoca, serves a seasonal, homemade breakfast and lunch menu. The selection is small but lovely, and the cakes were also excellent.

Arvire do Mundo Porto

Árvore do Mundo

Árvore do Mundo is a classic vegetarian restaurant, serving a healthy set menu in a colourful setting with design touches from India. 

Maus Habitos

Maus Habitos is an arts centre that also has a restaurant with plenty of vegetarian options, including wood-fired pizzas. You can order delivery with Uber Eats.

Apuro Vegan Bar

Apuro is Porto’s first vegan bar, serving organic food and craft beer alongside a programme of live events. It’s open from 12:30, so suitable even for kids, plus it’s available for delivery on Uber Eats. The food is comfort-focused, including vegan burgers and hot dogs.

Manteigaria

Santa Francesinha

A francesinha – a meaty sandwich covered in cheese and tomato sauce – is Porto’s most famous dish. We tried a vegetarian version from Santa Francesinha and were somewhat underwhelmed – but I’m not sure if that was because of the concept or the restaurant!

Manteigaria

Manteigaria is an import from Lisbon and is well known in the capital for serving some of the best custard tarts. Delicately flavoured with cinnammon, they were our favourite tart in Portugal.

Leitaria da Quinta do Paço

If eclairs are your jam, then Leitaria da Quinta do Paço is a must! I loved the rice crispy one.

Natas d’Ouro

If you tire of traditional custard tarts, Natas d’Ouro is a good place to try some inventive variations, including a port wine or strawberry flavoured nata.

Em Carne Viva

Em Carne Viva was closed while we were there, but we would have loved to try it as its said to offer some excellent vegetarian and vegan versions of traditional Portuguese dishes.

Things to do in Porto - Da Terra

Da Terra

Da Terra is a buffet-style vegan restaurant that is perfect for picking up a picnic, which is exactly what we did before walking to Morro Park. You pick a box size and then pay a fixed fee to fill the entire thing with whatever you like.

Tavi. Foz, Porto

Tavi

In Foz, we ate at Tavi, a classic little cafe with a simple lunch menu (we had savoury crepes) and a great location next to the water with excellent ocean views.

Accommodation in Porto

We stayed in a gorgeous AirBnB apartment in the arts district, close to the Crystal Palace Park. It was part of the AirBnB Plus portfolio, which showcases some of the most well-designed and well equipped AirBnB apartments. Our apartment was owned by an architect, which was apparent from the design’s creative flair. The location was also perfect, within walking distance of all the main attractions and close to some great cafes and restaurants.

Where to stay in Porto - AirBnB Plus
Where to stay in Porto - AirBnB Plus

They also provided a cot for Otis and it was handy having a separate bedroom, so Steve and I could hang out in the living room at night once Otis was asleep.

Our Airbnb apartment cost €125 per night. Book with this link to get £25 off your first stay.

Getting to and around Porto

Walking around Porto

To get to Porto from the airport, the cheapest option is to take the metro, which costs around 2.50 euros and takes 30-40 minutes, depending on where you’re going to. Alternatively a taxi takes about 20 minutes and costs around 20 euros. Or you can pre-book a shared taxi for around 10 euros.

Once there, Porto is an easily walkable city, so long as you don’t mind all the hills. If the hills are an issue, there’s also a good public transport system that includes old wooden trams, a metro and buses. You can also use the Guindais funicular, Ribeira lift and Gaia teleferico to help you out with some of the hills. You can buy an Andante card that covers the metro, buses and trains.

Once there, Porto is an easily walkable city, so long as you don’t mind all the hills. If the hills are an issue, there’s also a good public transport system that includes old wooden trams, a metro and buses. You can also use the Guindais funicular, Ribeira lift and Gaia teleferico to help you out with some of the hills. You can buy an Andante card that covers the metro, buses and trains.

Once there, Porto is an easily walkable city, so long as you don’t mind all the hills. If the hills are an issue, there’s also a good public transport system that includes old wooden trams, a metro and buses. You can also use the Guindais funicular, Ribeira lift and Gaia teleferico to help you out with some of the hills. You can buy an Andante card that covers the metro, buses and trains.

Useful travel resources for visiting Porto

For car rentals, we recommend booking with Rentalcars.com. We’ve always found them to have the cheapest deals for mainstream retailers.

If you decide to book any AirBnB apartments, use this link, as it’ll give you £25 off your first trip.

We often find great deals on Booking.com, getting a discount of up to 60%. Use this discount code to get £20 off your booking.

Don’t forget your travel insurance! We recommend World Nomads or True Traveller who both offer reliable, comprehensive cover, including medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. You can buy both True Traveller and World Nomads insurance even when you’ve left home, which is unusual for travel insurance companies.

If you’re planning a trip to Portugal or anywhere in the world, be sure to check out our travel planning pages  for all our best travel tips, including how to save money with the best cards, what to bring, and all our favourite tools and tricks.

We also have Handpicked City Guides for many other destinations, including Lisbon, London, York, Liverpool, Bristol, Ljubljana, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Santa Cruz.

For more on Portugal, see my Portugal road trip post.

Disclosure: Please also our accommodation in Porto was gifted by AirBnB, so that we could review it. All opinions are our own. 

And some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning we get a small commission if you buy something, which helps us keep the blog running. You can read our full partnership/advertising/affiliate policy here.

For more on Portugal, see my Portugal road trip post.

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