The city of Porto is nestled on the slopes above the Douro Estuary. It literally means “Port” in Portuguese, thus hinting towards its history as a mercantile hub on the beautiful Costa Verde coastline.
It’s got amazing buildings, museums, churches, and of course the undeniably pretty Oporto shore, it was one of the most popular city in Europe for a reason. Without further ado, we’ll begin with the list of the 30 best things to do.
Before we begin, we’d like to point out that you can either go in for a trip by yourself or take one of the best guided Withlocals’ tours in Porto. If you have been to one walking tour in your life, you know by now how relevant they are, you get to hear the city’s secrets
Best Things to Do in Porto, Portugal
First up on this list is this incredibly tall church, with a tower which is 75.6 meters high. This is perfect as a first stop since you’ll have a beautiful view of the entire city of Porto from the top – be warned, though, that it takes around 240 steps to get to the top. This church was built in the Baroque style and the exterior is intricately sculpted.
There’s a clock which is high enough for you to have to take a few steps back in order to see it – and to think that this church was completed back in 1763! The design was inspired by the campaniles of Tuscany.
While the name may suggest a palatial history, this building was the stock exchange of Porto which was built when the original cloisters burnt down in the Siege of Porto back in 1832. The building which was completed in 1850 features a Neoclassical style architecture on the outside, while the inside was not finished up until the early 20th century.
You go inside and you’re treated with exquisite sculptures, impressive carvings, plasterwork, tiles, chandeliers and some beautifully detailed frescos incorporated for good measure. The courtyard, known as the Pátio das Nações, is covered with an octagonal glass and metal roof.
This bridge is the hallmark of the industrial importance of Porto. This was built in 1886 by German engineer Théophile Seyrig, who would also go on to be one of the people behind the Eiffel Tower. At the time of its construction, it was the longest of its kind in the world. The bridge goes up to a height of approximately 45 meters!
It is 172 meters long and is a double-decker bridge which carries both the light rail and road/pedestrian traffic on different tiers. This bridge acts as a great way to explore the nearby area of Vila Nova de Gaia. You can find many means of transportation here including light rail and waterways.
To the west of Porto, Serralves makes for a wonderful day out. First up is the Serralves Villa, which is a wonderful property made in the Art Deco style between the years of 1925 and 1944. Designers such as Charles Sicils were employed to decorate the interiors.
There are tree-lined avenues, beautiful terraced grounds and topiaries to see. The Museum was built in 1999 in order to host high-profile albeit temporary exhibitions – if you’re lucky, you can catch some incredibly rare paintings. There are generally four or five exhibitions hosted at any time, and they cover traditional and modern art.
If you want to mingle with the locals as a tourist, this is the best place to do it. Although a little chaotic and too much to handle at times, it’s a picturesque area lined with bars, restaurants and the odd cafe as well. It used to be the hub of all trade in and out of Porto. Not to mention, you’ll get an absolutely perfect shot of the Luis I bridge from here!
There are steep stairs and streets which vary between broken down to smooth in terms of their texture. The area has been improved upon recently, with infographics demonstrating the importance of Porto as a town and of the Cais de Ribeira.
You would have trouble believing that the narrow stairways and streets of the Cais de Ribeira and the grand, wide streets of the Praca da Liberdade all belong to the same city. It was designed and built in the 18th century, with the Neoclassical architectural style in mind. There’s an equestrian statue of Pedro I near the center as well.
This is one of the poshest areas of Porto, with designer boutiques, exquisite buildings in the vicinity as well as some of the best gastronomical delights Porto has to offer.
One of the most important Gothic monuments in Porto (if not the most important), the Church of São Francisco is a wonderful, large church, with the insides having been decorated in traditional baroque manner. It is located right inside the city center which has been declared as a World Heritage Site by the UN.
It used to house the old cloisters which were burned down in the 1832 Siege of Porto.
The next place to visit on the list is a wonderful area with the major attraction being a Lighthouse which was established a long while ago. A lengthy promenade with a number of palm trees and pine trees awaits. A pergola was established there in the 1930s, due to the then-Mayor’s wife developing an instant attraction to one she saw elsewhere.
The faithful lighthouse was retired in 2009, after 120 years of guiding ships coming to and going away from Douro.
It is typical for European cities to have an “old town” and a newer part of the city. For Porto, the Porto cathedral rules the roost as far as places to visit go. Though it has changed over the years, a remarkable amount of parts of the 12th century architecture can still be seen.
The cathedral was integral to the city’s defenses, as can be seen in the number of fortifications done to the cathedral.
This wonderful, but lesser-known path has a 14th century wall to see, and it’s just up the Luis I Bridge. It’s part of a larger UNESCO world heritage site, though very little tourists actually wind up here. You can see battlements at Largo 1. De Dezembro, and at the entrance you are greeted by a beautiful albeit small garden which has orange trees.
The clincher for this place though is the view of the Douro from up top.
The Douro and the Ribeira may cause you to skip Porto’s beaches – but you’re definitely missing out on a lot by doing so. The water is usually cold, so on a hot summer day, you can dip yourtoes into the Atlantic ocean while enjoying the breeze – or even go for a swim!
There are around 10 beaches in the neighbouring areas – you should probably schedule some time in order to see as many as you can. You can also visit the nearby town of Miramar, which has a 17th-century castle midst rocky seashores. It’s a wonderful sight to behold.
This is the site where Porto’s original Crystal Palace was – from 1865 to 1961 this was actually in use – though it has now been replaced by an exhibition center, which is currently undergoing some renovations. Fountains and sculptures dedicated to various seasons can be seen here.
The palace area is lined with exquisite gardens, which makes it a must-visit.
This modern-day monument was built in 2005, and it hosts a number of concerts daily. This concert hall is also home to the local orchestra, which has been rated highly by reviewers all over the world. It is also used as a college for training students in the field of music – being the first building in the country of Portugal to take up such an undertaking.
In order to see a show, you must book well in advance since tables are hard to get – however, the hall is open to for visitors otherwise.
This brings us to the first day trip on the list – the magical Douro Valley, famous for its wineries which form a large part of the valley. Trips to the Duoro Valley are available via bus, train as well as a rental car.
The rental car is always a good option, but you can discover charming Douro Valley on a tour, which has that extra touch that you just won’t get travelling by yourself. The Valley is a splendid day tour but you should consider staying longer if it’s at all possible!
- Pinhão Railway Station
This is part of the entire Duoro Valley experience – it might be a small railway station, but it packs quite a punch as far as places to visit are concerned. The first train to the Pinhâo railway station departed on the 1st of June, way back in 1880, which means you’re walking through history as you spend time on the railway station!
There is a lot of artwork on the walls of the station which you will definitely enjoy.
- Douro Valley River Cruise
This one is also best enjoyed as part of the guided tour to the Douro Valley. This also needs a fair bit of time, but it’s manageable on a day trip to the valley. A recommendation is to go on the local rabelos boats, which are available as part of guided tours and provide you the true Douro Valley experience.
- Porto Bridge Climb
This particular entry is a bit odd, because it’s not a tourist attraction in the conventional sense. Nevertheless, it is an interesting activity to go in for if you’re in the area. It’s not completely unhinged – you will have all the required safety equipment and people to help around you. However, you will still be going in for an adrenaline-filled adventure!
The bridge in question is called the Ponte da Arrábida, and carries more than 130,000 cars a day. Once you finish up, the Douro and a small part of the old Porto city will be visible to you.
This joy of a bookstore has to be called in before you make an entrance. The Livraria Lello is a bookshop on the Rua das Carmelitas, which is one of the main streets of Porto.
The fact remains however – this is one of the most revered bookshops in the entire world. It certainly beats anything nearby in terms of quality though the quantity is pretty much the same everywhere. The skyline is made of glass which has been painted on, and it’s finished in a unique Art Nouveau and Gothic nature with design elements from both.
- Festa de São João
During midsummer on the night of 23rd June every year, to pay a tribute to Saint John the Baptist, a number of locals celebrate during this time of midsummer. The fest mixes a number of pure and profane traditions, thereby making for an eclectic mix of activities to witness around that time. If you want to party, you should make your way here at the least.
- Igreja do Carmo
This baroque-rococo style church is one of the highlights of Porto, which was built by carmelite laymen. It gets its name from the lady of Carmo, who was the patroness of the Order. Visit for the exquisite outside and inside views, the glass windows and the depictions all over the church.
- Port Wine
If you’ve not heard of Port wine yet, this product of the Douro Valley is going to wow your mind with a unique taste found nowhere else! Port wine is a must-try, whether you’re in Porto or not. However, going away without having a few sips of this truly wonderful wine would be absolutely sacrilegious!
FC Porto is the local football club, and the locals have dedicated this museum for he sheer love that they have for their football club. There is a main hall full of audiovisual experiences and a number of smaller rooms which documentaries and trophies that the club has won over the years. Football fans should make sure to have time to visit this place.
- Douro River Trip, not to be confused with the Douro Valley river trip
Unlike the trip above, which is slightly different – this one is just 50 minutes long and takes you from the city of Porto properly towards the Vila Nova de Gaia. This tour goes along the Douro River and shows you all the important things you need to see, including the Luis I Bridge.
They aren’t that expensive compared to other boat tours all over the world – so be sure to give this a shot if you want to explore Porto without the overhead of having to go to each and every place.
If you’re not Portuguese, you probably don’t know who Guerra Junueiro is, let alone find out what this museum is all about. Therefore, before visiting this museum, you should probably look up who he was and what he did before heading here – it makes a lot more sense.
Guerra Junqueiro was a high-order politician, writer and journalist in Portugal. Multiple hands have exchanged the property amongst them, before the government took over and converted it into a museum. This house-cum-museum is a testament to his life and his contributions to Portugal as a civil servant.
- Soares dos Reis National Museum
This is definitely a place for the art and history lovers, and those who want do dive into the rich, multicultural history of Portugal. It is housed inside the Carranca Palace, which is the seat of the
- Church of Santa Clara
The Igreja de Santa Clara, or the Church of Santa Clara, is a quaint and usually empty church which has stunning Baroque architecture. If you’ve already seen a lot of popular spots with tons of people, this is the perfect place to soothe your nerves.
- Parque de Cidade
This is the popular city park of Porto, which also houses the aquarium. Come here to get some of that fresh air which sets apart Porto from a lot of other hurried European cities. It has quite sophisticated architecture and a variety of flora and fauna as well to keep you company!
If you’re looking for something off the beaten path and have some knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese, this should be a fun little place for you to explore. The Romantic Museum of Porto was where Charles Charles Albert of Sardinia spent the last few years of his life. It is a museum build around his life’s history and has some beautiful architecture to boot.
- Peneda-Gerês National Park and Tahiti Waterfall Full-Day Trek
Coming to Porto with an appetite to see the beautiful outdoors? This day trip from Porto might just be what you’re looking for. The Peneda-Gerês National Park is one of the most surreal and stunning natural parks in Portugal, and offers a wide variety of flora and fauna. The Tahiti Waterfall also makes for a stunning highlight to the journey through the park.
It’s a little far away from the city of Porto, so only venture out here if you’re done with seeing the major highlights mentioned earlier or simply don’t want to see the more historical and urban parts of Porto.
- World of discoveries international museum
The Portuguese have been explorers for the longest time – as an example, Vasco Da Gama is credited with the European discovery of Goa and hence, India back in the 16th century. This museum is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in discovering new nations back then and houses a number of interesting artifacts which catalogue their journeys and their discoveries.
There is also a skip-the-line ticket available online and offline on-site, so make sure you get the ones which suit your timeline better – the lines can be an hour long or maybe even longer.
Bringing it all together
With this we come to the end of the 30 best things to do in Porto!
We’ve skipped a few things, however, but cutting the list short to 30 was hard enough – and this should give you an idea of how much Porto has to offer as a cultural and mercantile centre of yore, and an important metropolis of Portugal today.
It’s one of the truly underrated cities you can visit in Europe!