Situated along the Douro River estuary in northern Portugal, Porto will wow you with its lively harbor, Baroque churches, cobblestone streets, iconic bridges and, of course, Port wine, named after the city. Locals are friendly and welcoming to tourists.
Porto feels altogether sumptuous, casual and warmly amicable. It’s one of the oldest European cities and carries a rich history as a mercantile hub. The city center is a treasured UNESCO World Heritage Site, but you will also feel the vibrancy of our modern world. A visit to the centuries-old Port wine cellars is a must. Book a day trip to delight your senses in the spectacular vineyards of the Douro River Valley just a couple of hours away.
My “Things to do in Porto – Portugal” only include the sights and activities I experienced during my five days traveling solo in this captivating city.
Top 12 things to do and see in Porto, Portugal
1. Cais da Ribeira
Charm galore! This is where you will experience Porto’s iconic and colorful riverside. This bustling plaza is packed with outdoor cafés and restaurants brimming with locals and tourists. Great views of the famous Luís I Bridge. To me, Cais da Ribeira felt like a Middle Ages time capsule, even if the area has seen transformations over the centuries. It’s by far my favorite part of the city. I hold dear memories of an afternoon at an outdoor café sipping Port wine, eating olives and feeling the breeze on my face.
2. Douro River Cruise from Cais da Ribeira
Buy your ticket at Cais da Ribeira and embark on an hour-long cruise. You’ll see the famous six bridges, the 14th century city walls (Muralha Fernandina), medieval churches and monasteries. A pre-recorded guide in several languages highlights the historical landmarks. I fell in love with the iconic rabelos, the traditional Portuguese cargo boats that used to transport Port wine from the Douro Valley vineyards to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.
3. Luís I Bridge
Completed in 1886, this spectacular bridge was designed by German architect Téophile Seyrig, a business partner of French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the same extraordinaire who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris. There is a pedestrian path that connects Cais da Ribeira to Vila Nova de Gaia.
4. Port wine tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia cellars
Located across the river from Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia is a different municipality. From Cais da Ribeira, you can reach it by foot or water taxi. Visiting this area is a must do activity even if you don’t drink wine because so much of Porto’s history stems from there. Also a great place to dine or enjoy a light snack at the many riverside restaurants and cafés.
There are over 50 Port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, including well known brands such as Taylor’s, Graham’s, Sandman and Fonseca. These centuries-old warehouses are packed with modern day amenities and excellent museum-like experiences, tours, tastings and food. Buy tickets in advance.
My visit to Taylor’s Port wine cellar
One of the quintessential Port wine houses, Taylor’s was established in 1692. It was the only cellar I visited (I can’t wait to return to Porto to try others!). Everything about my visit was top notch and I highly recommend it. The self-guided tour costs 15 € and takes approximately one hour. You’ll learn about the history of Port wine, how it’s made and visit the 300-year old cave that still stores present-day wines. The tour ends with two wine tastings in a charming café surrounded by beautiful gardens with luxurious peacocks roaming around. Visit Taylor’s website for hours and tickets.
5. Clérigos Church and Bell Tower
Built between 1732 and 1750, this Baroque church has a beautiful interior and a nice museum. It’s worth climbing the 200+ steps to reach the top of the 246 ft (75m) bell tower. The panoramic city views are impressive.
6. Sé Cathedral
You can still see many parts of the original 12th century architecture in this strikingly beautiful church. Don’t miss the gothic cloisters with iconic Portuguese tile panels. The outdoor plaza (Terreiro da Sé) offers nice city views.
During my visit, the Sahara Desert dumped layers of sand over the Iberian peninsula. Porto was covered in an orange dust cloud that felt altogether eery and strangely poetic.
7. Tile murals in the São Bento Railway Station
It’s easy to understand why São Bento is considered one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. The walls and ceilings are covered in gorgeous murals and tiles depicting scene’s of Portugal’s past. The first train arrived there in the late 1800s.
8. Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)
The Stock Exchange Palace was built in the 19th century in neoclassical style. The exterior was finished in the 1850s. You must enter it to grasp the richness of the interior design. The Moorish Revival Salão Árabe looks like a Middle-Eastern fairy tale ballroom. Because this is still a working building, you must purchase a 30-minute guided tour. Visit Palácio da Bolsa website for tickets and hours.
9. Lello Bookstore (Livraria Lello)
Built in 1906, Livraria Lello is known as the World’s Most Beautiful Bookshop. Back in the day, it was Porto’s cultural highlight. The site gained stratospheric fame after the Harry Potter series came out. The author, JK Rowland, lived in Porto. It is said that Lello inspired a bookstore portrayed in the series.
I must admit I’ve never read Harry Potter or cared much for the movies, but fans care. A LOT. There are so many of them that you have to buy tickets to enter (5 €) and the line can be overwhelming. A huge line in the rain stopped me on my tracks, but I had a chance to briefly peek at the monumental wooden staircase inside. Visit Livraria Lello website.
10. Eat a “Francesinha” sandwich
One of Porto’s famous dishes, this sandwich is a heart attack in the making: layers of ham, sausages, cheese, gravy and an optional egg on top! I was feeling adventurous and gave it a try. It was tasty, no doubt. Also glad I love to walk and this is how I avoided food comma!
Many places claim to have the best Francesinha in town. I went to Café Santiago, founded in 1959, recommended by a local.
11. Shop at Rua Santa Catarina (Santa Catarina Street)
Santa Catarina is a pedestrian street bustling with shops, cafés and restaurants, just a walking distance from Mercado do Bolhão (historical market), one of Porto’s top destinations. Unfortunately, the market was closed during my stay in the city. Around the area you can find 100-year old shops glittering with charm and delicious goodies, such as A Pérola do Bolhão, where I brought a nice alheira sausage to cook in my apartment that night.
12. Day trip to Douro River Valley vineyards and wine tasting
Wine lovers, this is a must do activity if you’re in Porto. The Douro River Valley is one of the most ancient wine regions in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also considered one of the most beautiful. The combination of peaceful nature, steep riverbanks covered in vineyards and superb Portuguese wine will conquer your senses. I’ve visited vineyards in many parts of Europe, North and South America and can undoubtedly say that the Douro River Valley was the most magical.
The Wine Venture & Boat Trip in Douro Valley tour that I booked on AirBnB deserves 5-stars. It’s worth every dollar and they have more than 3,000 reviews to prove it. It includes generous wine tastings at centenary family-run vineyards that still stomp the grapes. I learned that tourists can participate in this ancient activity, now a bucket list item for me! The boat tour with breathtaking views where you eat tapas and sip Port is captivating. Excellent homemade meal in a 200+ year old farmhouse.
Frequently Asked Questions – Porto, Portugal
1. How many days in Porto are ideal?
Five days in Porto allow you to see the main highlights without feeling rushed. Of these, one full day should be dedicated to a River Douro Valley trip.
2. How to plan a trip to Porto on a mid-range budget?
- Accommodation: I visited Porto in the winter. You can stay in a nice 1-bedroom apartment in the city center for 55-70 € / night.
- Meals, attractions and transportation: 80-110 € per day. You can have 3 course meals + glass of wine for less than 20 €. The city is also very walkable and I never used public transportation, though it’s available.
3. Where to stay (first time visitors)?
City center or Ribeira. I booked a lovely 1-bedroom/1-bath apartment in the city center, just a few steps from Santa Catarina Street, that cost me 55 €/night. I would stay in this place again. Book InSitu 178 on Booking.com.
4. Is Porto safe for solo female travelers?
Yes. People in Porto are kind and friendly. I walked alone at night on many occasions and always felt safe. Crime rate is very low. Of course, you should always exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings anywhere you travel.
5. What should I wear on a trip to Porto?
Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes. Ditch the high heels. Layer up during the off-season. Cover up your knees and shoulders when entering churches. Jeans and nice sneakers are fine in most places, including mid-range budget restaurants.
6. Are Uber and taxi available?
Yes, Uber and taxi are available and are also quite affordable compared to other major European cities.
7. Is public transportation available?
Yes. Though I never used it because Porto is a very walkable city. I stayed in the city center and most places I visited were within a 5 to 30-minute walk from one another.
8. Do I need to leave a tip in restaurants?
There is no obligation, but in Portugal a 5-10% tip over the cost of the final bill is appreciated. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but always carry some euros, just in case.
9. Do people speak English?
Portuguese is the official language, but most locals also speak English.