One of the things to do in Portugal is definitely visiting Porto. The city of Porto has a remarkable importance in Portugal’s history – it was the city that gave the name to this beautiful country. By visiting Porto you will discover a city like no other in Europe, friendly people, a rich gastronomy and much more – there are in fact so many things to do in Porto!
Here are the places to visit and things to do in Porto:
Before reading my top, I suggest you watch my short video in the historic centre of Porto. You’ll have the opportunity to see most of the places I mention in this article:
1. Aliados Avenue (Avenida dos Aliados)
The avenue Avenida dos Aliados is the centre and heart of Porto city. At the top of this avenue you can find the beautiful building housing Porto’s city hall. Going downwards to Ribeira, make a little detour to São Bento train station and enjoy the beautiful glazed tiles.
2. Rua de Santa Catarina
This is definitely the most commercial street in Porto and one of the most crowded places in the city – most part of the street is solely for pedestrians.
Apart from the typical clothing and footwear shops you’ll find here, know that this is the place where several street artists perform, from mimes to singers and statue men – there are several small shows that you won’t want to miss!
One of the places to visit in Porto, that you can find in this street, is the wonderful Café Majestic, considered as one of the most beautiful and exquisite cafés in the world. Here you can have the meal you want but know that prices are above average.
Other points of interest in this street that you won’t want to miss are the amazing chapel Capela das Almas, where you can admire the exterior glazed-tile panels (over 15 000 glazed tiles), and the beautiful Via Catarina shopping centre with emphasis on the dining area, on the top floor, that depicts the typical quarters of Porto.
3. Bolhão Market (Mercado do Bolhão)
One of the things to do in Porto that should be on your list is a visit to Bolhão Market – here you’ll discover the real nature of Porto’s inhabitants, welcoming and friendly.
Built in 1914 to gather the city’s merchants until then scattered across Porto, Bolhão Market still is an important place to visit even though the building has had happier days. You will find florists and fresh products like fish, meat and vegetables.
- Information: starting on May 2018, and for a couple of years, it won’t be possible to visit this market since it is closed for renovations.
Do you want to take a guided gastronomic tour while visiting the wonders of the historic centre of Porto? See below my suggestions!
Beginning at 10:00 or 15:00, this wonderful tour (affiliate link) will take you to some of the city’s corners and authentic sites and places where you can enjoy the best snacks and more. In this 3-hour adventure, you will have one of the best gastronomic experiences with the right balance between saltiness and sweetness. Try the pastel de nata, bifana, Portuguese beer, Port wines and more!
Alternatively and leaving from the square Praça de São Domingos, next to beautiful street Rua das Flores, this 4-hour activity (affiliate link) starts at 17:00 so that you get hungry for what is coming. It will be a gastronomic tour to Ribeira, with stops along the way to enjoy the best Portuguese snacks and pastry. In addition to all this, you will also have the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful dinner and taste wine from Douro Wine Region.
4. Galerias Paris
“Galerias Paris” is part of Porto city nightlife since 2007 and is definitely a must-go place for people who want to have fun, drink, listen to music or just meet other people.
This place is constituted mainly by the streets Rua da Galeria de Paris, Rua de Cândido dos Reis and Rua do Conde de Vizela. Here, you’ll find beautiful buildings, like the ones in the original Paris galleries (hence the name “Galerias Paris”).
Among other bars and discos, there are some worth mentioning like Plano B, La Bohéme and Moreclub.
While visiting Porto, take the opportunity to get to know this city’s nightlife and savour a nice gin, a caipirinha or try one of the many shots while admiring the majestic Torre dos Clérigos or the beautiful Lello Bookshop.
5. Lello Bookshop (Livraria Lello)
Considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, Lello Bookshop inspired J.K. Rowling to write Harry Potter. Inside, apart from the books, you can admire a unique atmosphere with its majestic stairway leading to the upper floor.
There’s a small bar in the first floor where you can have a cup of coffee while admiring the beauty of Lello Bookshop.
- Site: www.livrarialello.pt
6. Clérigos Tower (Torre dos Clérigos)
The 76-metre high Clérigos Tower was the tallest building in Portugal when it was constructed (between 1754 and 1763), and still is the tallest tower in the country.
For many years, it worked as a lighthouse to ships coming into Porto; now, it offers the tallest views over the city, Porto’s Cathedral, Douro and the Port wine cellars.
- Site: www.torredosclerigos.pt
7. Centro Português de Fotografia
This is one of the buildings with more stories to tell in Porto city and is located right in front of the beautiful Cordoaria garden and beside the imposing Clérigos Tower.
Even though it is today the Portuguese Photography Centre, it was for some time the court and prison Tribunal e Cadeia da Relação.
This building was built in the end of the 18th century and was used as a prison for almost 200 years and criminals were kept here, among whom the famous Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco, accused and convicted for adultery with Ana Plácido, who was incarcerated in this prison too.
In the end of the 20th century the building underwent restoration works that would allow this place to harbour the Centro Português de Fotografia (Portuguese Photography Centre). Its goal is to promote the photographic heritage but this is also a place to visit for its rich collections and exhibitions and, of course, for the building’s architecture that will make you travel in time.
- Site: http://www.cpf.pt
8. Palácio da Bolsa
Palácio da Bolsa (literally Stock Exchange Palace) is, in my opinion, the most beautiful monument in Porto.
Built in 1862 in a neoclassic style and inspired by the Moorish style, it was meant to be the headquarters of the Commercial Association of Porto. During your visit, you can’t miss the Pátio das Nações and the marvellous Arab Room.
9. St. Francis Church (Igreja de São Francisco)
Built in the 14th century, St. Francis Church is beyond any doubt the most beautiful church in Porto, mainly because of its gilded wood interior. About 500 kg of gold were needed to literally cover the church’s interior. The luxurious church will surely astonish you and visiting it should definitely be on your list of things to do in Porto.
10. Porto’s Cathedral (Sé do Porto)
The construction of the Cathedral began early in the 12th century but ended only during the 13th century. The Cathedral was fortified to secure the city against the invaders. The windows are narrow and little light passes through; the main chapel was completely reconstructed in the 18th century.
- Site: www.rotadascatedrais.com
Of the things to do in Porto you can’t miss a visit to Ribeira. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, Ribeira, Douro’s riverfront, is the most emblematic quarter and part of the historic centre of Porto.
Have a stroll through the narrow streets to discover the real appeal of this place. In Ribeira’s riverfront you may gaze at Luis I bridge, designed by the engineer Théophile Seyrug, Gustave Eiffel’s disciple.
12. Port Wine Cellars (Caves do vinho do Porto)
On the other side of Douro river, in Vila Nova de Gaia, there are more than 50 Port Wine cellars.
Even though the wine was named after the city, the vineyards are 100 km away, in Douro valley; the wine is then transported to Porto to be aged and sold. Numerous cellars may be visited and give you the opportunity to taste many types of Port wine.
13. Serra do Pilar Monastery (Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar)
Despite being located on the other side of the river, I decided to include this monastery in this top of the places to visit and things to do in Porto since it is a viewpoint with unique and wonderful views over Porto city.
Serra do Pilar Monastery keeps the interesting church and cloister, built in 1538; of round format, it is a replica of Santa Maria Redonda in Rome and a unique example in Portugal. In 1832, during the Siege of Porto, the monastery was converted into a temporary fortress.
It is a military barracks since the beginning of the 20th century and is currently under the responsibility of Serra do Pilar Artillery Regiment.
Enjoy the beautiful landscape from the viewpoint, in front of the church, overlooking Porto and Douro river.
14. Carmo Church (Igreja do Carmo)
Portuguese national monument since 2013, this is one of the most beautiful churches in Porto, especially because of its front and side façades and the interior’s gilded wood.
In the front façade, a couple of important figures of the Lay Carmelites stand out, the prophets Elijah and Elisha, and sculptures of the four evangelists. I should mention the importance of the architect Nicolau Nasoni in the design of this façade – he is well-known mostly for its amazing work in Clérigos Tower.
In the side façade, you’ll be amazed with the magnificent panel of glazed tiles. This panel is younger than the church itself, more specifically from the beginning of the 20th century.
A brief reference to the other church you’ll find at this location, the church Igreja dos Carmelitas, that contributes to a unique set at a national level – two churches separated by the narrower house in Porto.
- Site: www.culturanorte.pt
Information: do you want to discover the authenticity of Porto and get to know the places frequented by Porto people without having to worry about preparing an itinerary? If that’s the case, book this tour (affiliate link) and set out to discover the history, culture, traditions and authenticity of Porto residents. Start with a walking tour in the historic centre of Porto, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Afterwards, cross the bridge Ponte Luís I that will take you to discover the Port wine cellars where this world famous wine is stored. Discover one of the cellars and discover, on a guided tour, the history behind the origin and production of Port wine. This visit will end with the tasting of some varieties of this wine such as tawny, ruby and rosé.
But this 8-hour experience (affiliate link) will only be complete with a dinner in a typical restaurant where you will have the opportunity to listen to fado live. Without a doubt, a unique experience!
15. Palácio de Cristal Gardens
Considered one of the favourite green locations in the city and surrounding area, Palácio de Cristal gardens are, definitely, a place to visit in Porto!
Surrounding the sports hall Pavilhão Rosa Mota, these gardens will amaze you for the diversity of flowers and plants you’ll find there and much more.
Take the opportunity to stroll along the avenues flanked by huge trees and admire true wonders that hide in this place like the beautiful chapel of King Charles Albert, built in the mid-19th century. In addition, you can admire different types of birds like the beautiful peacocks.
Don’t leave this amazing place without enjoying some of the most wonderful panoramic views over the cities of Porto and Gaia and Douro river.
If you have the chance, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the magnificent gardens of Quinta de Tait and Quinta da Macieirinha, adjacent to Palácio de Cristal.
16. Casa da Música
Casa da Música is one of the most original, intriguing, mysterious, beautiful buildings in the city (among other adjectives that characterise this work of art since 2005).
Designed by the prestigious architect Rem Koolhaas, this building has the goal of giving a new life to Praça Mouzinho de Albuquerque and surrounding area with its various shows, where classical music and jazz concerts stand out among other music genres.
But this isn’t just a place for music lovers – if you like architecture, this is definitely a place to visit in Porto. Go on a guided tour and explore the winding halls and get to know some of the concert halls too.
In addition, I must point out the magnificent and elegant restaurant on the top floor of the building that offers amazing views over Boavista roundabout and surrounding area and the signature cuisine with affordable dishes – it’s definitely worth your while!
- Site: www.casadamusica.com
17. Porto Botanic Garden (Jardim Botânico do Porto)
Another of the things to do in Porto is a visit to the botanic garden, a beautiful green space located in this wonderful city.
This botanic garden is part of a once 12-hectare property, a number that dropped to half after the construction of the access points to Arrábida bridge, in 1963.
Nowadays, this botanic garden is a 4-hectare treasure that few people know in the city but that’s worth visiting! Discover two beautiful gardens, the greenhouses and the rosarium that are fundamental for the biodiversity of this place.
Aside from the rare and exotic species that you’ll find throughout this location, another element that stands out is the beautiful house Casa Andresen that was once a beacon in the life and work of one of the greatest Portuguese poetesses – Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.
18. Serralves Museum, House and Park
This is one of the most important cultural spaces in the city and in the country!
Here, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the amazing contemporary art museum, designed by the architect Siza Vieira, and admire several works of art in exhibition.
The house Casa de Serralves is a Portuguese national monument and another museum by itself and an extraordinary example of art deco in Portugal. Built during the first half of the 20th century, this is another place to admire several works of contemporary art.
The park surrounding the house and museum is another point of interest and a visit to this place should be on your list of things to do in Porto. Here, you’ll have the possibility to admire the beautiful biodiversity, composed of native and exotic species.
Apart from the gardens, the woods, the fields and the forest you’ll also find several sculptures that embellish this place.
- Site: www.serralves.pt
19. City Park (Parque da Cidade)
This park is also known as the “green lung” of the city and it is the biggest city park in Porto and in Portugal, with around 83 hectares.
People coming here have the possibility to spend some pleasant times in the company of family and friends whether relaxing on the grass that cover the majority of the park or strolling through the several paths, some of which leading to the seafront.
Apart from the beautiful green colour of the grass you’ll also be amazed by the diversity of trees as well as some lakes that delight children that throw bread crumbs to attract ducks that swim there.
This park is also used by those who play sports and that come here to jog, hike, play football, volleyball, among others, but know that you can also take the opportunity to visit Pavilhão da Água, a beautiful theme building.
The area where Douro river flows into the Atlantic Ocean, also known as Foz do Porto or Douro, has several points of interest making of this place one worth visiting outside the historic centre.
Of the things to do in Porto, make sure you stroll in the beautiful Passeio Alegre. Constituted by a wonderful public garden, this place invites people to go on a romantic stroll in a 41 000 m2 area where you can also take the opportunity to play minigolf with your friends or family.
Next, go to the beautiful Fort of São João Baptista da Foz. Built in the 16th century, this fort protected Douro river mouth and was improved throughout the centuries to prevent possible Spanish and Napoleonic attacks.
You can end your visit to Foz do Porto with a stroll to Douro quay lighthouses or take the opportunity to enjoy the small but beautiful beaches in this area.
Travel guide to visit the most beautiful places in Porto
If you arrived to Porto by plane (affiliate link) or other means of transportation and you’re staying in an accommodation located in the historic centre, I suggest you go to all the places until number 14 of this article on foot. It will be a pleasant walk and will give you the opportunity to feel the true authenticity of this city.
If you are staying outside the historic city centre, then the best way to get there will be by metro, leaving at Trindade station. For a map of the metro network, click here.
After visiting the first 14 points of interest of my top 20, you can go to the gardens of Palácio de Cristal on foot or you can take, for example, the buses 201 or 208 on the avenue Avenida dos Aliados.
After exploring the gardens of Palácio de Cristal, you can take one of the bus lines mentioned above and head to Casa da Música to admire the beautiful building as well as the beautiful square Praça Mouzinho de Albuquerque, also known as Rotunda da Boavista.
Alternatively, if you want to go directly from the historic centre to Casa da Música, you can take the metro at Trindade station (or in São Bento or Aliados stations and then take another at Trindade) and get off at Casa da Música station. From the station to Casa da Música itself, it’s about a 5-minute walk.
To visit Porto Botanical Garden, after visiting Casa da Música, take the bus 504. If you want to go directly from the historic centre of Porto to this point of interest, take the bus 200 at the square Praça D. João I, near Avenida dos Aliados.
After visiting the Botanical Garden, you can continue your city tour to the next points of interest: Parque de Serralves and Parque da Cidade. For that, you just need to take the bus 504 again.
To visit the beautiful Foz, there is nothing like experiencing one of the most authentic means of transportation in the city: the tram. Take tram number 1 near the church Igreja de São Francisco and enjoy the trip to the garden Jardim do Passeio Alegre, always side by side with Douro river.
As an alternative and for a more comfortable trip, you can take the bus 500 at the square Praça da Liberdade, either in front of São Bento Station or next to Igreja de São Francisco.
Where to sleep in Porto
Hotel Teatro – Design Hotels **** (affiliate link)
Located in the historic centre of Porto, the 4-star Hotel Teatro – Design Hotels is just 5 minutes away from some of the city’s main attractions such as Lello Bookshop, Clérigos Tower and Porto Coliseum. Free Wi-Fi is available to guests throughout the hotel.
Located in the Ribeira quarter and overlooking Douro river, the 3-star Ribeira do Porto Hotel has a traditional bar and a 24-hour reception. Each room at Ribeira do Porto is elegant and includes air-conditioning, a TV and a laptop safe. All rooms have a private bathroom with a hairdryer. Free Wi-Fi access is available.
Located at a renewed Art Deco cinema, Moov Hotel Porto Centro offers to its guests modern rooms with free Wi-Fi. In addition, the rooms are decorated in soft colours and feature black and white photographs. Porto train and metro stations are within a 3-minute walk from the hotel.
Information: to discover my other suggestions for accommodation in Porto, click here.
Where to eat in Porto
Traditions and Festivities
Considered to be the biggest festivity in Northern Portugal, São João do Porto attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of Porto, but also of Vila Nova de Gaia.
This festivity is centuries old and initially marked the summer solstice, when abundance and fertility were celebrated. Later, it became a festivity with links to the Church.
Currently, São João presents a vast program of about a month in duration and there are events taking place all over the city. Since late May and until the end of June, there will be plenty of reasons to visit this festivity that is one of the biggest in the country.
Several musical events take place during this period, like the wonderful NOS Primavera Sound, in Parque da Cidade, and the most recent Porto Blues Fest, in the gardens of Palácio de Cristal. In addition to these events that cross borders, there will also be concerts of folkloric groups throughout the city.
But the highlight of this festivity is during the night of 23 to 24 June, when everyone goes out onto the street towards Avenida dos Aliados and Ribeira.
On these days, people use rubber hammers and leek to (gently) hit the heads of other people; it is also a tradition to throw into the sky hot air paper balloons that will light Porto’s night in a beautiful spectacle.
Of course the longest night of the year in Porto wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the wonderful fireworks that takes place in Luiz I Bridge and other strategic points placed in Douro river and throughout the city.
Another festivity that attracts crowds to this beautiful city is New Year’s Eve. One of the most popular places at this time is, undoubtedly, Avenida dos Aliados. Here, thousands of people come together to say goodbye to the year that is ending and to welcome the New Year.
After dining at one of several restaurants in the city, the portuenses and tourists gather in Avenida dos Aliados to enjoy live concerts and the long-awaited moment when the clock strikes midnight. At this point, everyone is dazzled by one of the best fireworks in the region and in the country.
After this wonderful moment, there are several places where people can go to enjoy what’s left of a long night. Many are those who go to the riverbanks, to the Ribeira of Porto or Gaia, and spend joyful moments there in the company of family or friends.
But other places also stand out such as Galerias Paris or nightclubs at various points in the city, taking advantage of the fact that the subway will be working all night.
In addition, there is also the possibility of going on a river Douro cruise, a suggestion made by some local companies of this sector, especially for those who don’t like crowds.
When to visit Porto
As you may have noticed, Porto is a magnificent city, with many points of interest, a pleasant climate, authentic people, the best gastronomy and much more. Because of all this, the city is a destination of choice for thousands of people who want to spend their holidays in Portugal.
Find out below what are the best times of the year to visit Porto, taking into account, of course, your preferences.
Depending on the weather
If you like a mild or warm climate then know that the best months to visit the city are from May to September.
It is true that Porto is not one of the hottest cities in Portugal, with an average annual temperature around 14.4 ºC. However, if you want to enjoy good sunny days, with low probability of raining, then know that the months of choice are July and August. On the other hand, the months with the most rainy days are November, December and January; the coldest months are December, January and February.
Depending on the festivities
As already mentioned, there are two months that stand out for the celebrations that attract hundreds of thousands of people: June and December, due to São João and New Year’s Eve respectively. If you want to know how residents of Porto celebrate these two occasions, don’t hesitate and choose the last weeks of June or the last weeks of December. See how the city is decorated at these times and feel the unique atmosphere that characterise these moments.
Best time to visit Porto
If you are not a fan of big crowds, then avoid the high season, in particular the months of July and August as they are the most touristy months and the ones that bring more people to the city. But don’t worry, you can still get a nice weather in May, June, September and October.
Although these months are the best to visit Porto, know that this is a city that can be visited all year round as it has a unique architectural, gastronomic and cultural richness that can be admired and enjoyed at any time. It is no coincidence that Porto has been considered the best European tourist destination three times and that its historic centre is a World Heritage Site.
Are you going to visit Porto? Then don’t hesitate to book your hotel room, your car or the best activities by clicking the links below. This way you are helping me in the development of my blog and I’ll be able to offer you free tips and travel guides so that you can better prepare your visit to Portugal. Thank you!
What will also interest you:
- 7-Day travel guide to visit Porto and Minho (Guimarães, Braga, Ponte de Lima, Viana do Castelo)
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- Top of the best day trips in Porto and surrounding area
- Where to Stay in Porto – discover the best places to spend the night!
- Visit Porto in 2 days – check here my detailed guide
- Douro river cruise – find out if it is a good or bad idea