The best independent guide to Porto
The best independent guide to Porto
Porto is an outstanding tourist destination, which effortlessly combines history and culture, in a progressive and welcoming city.
There is a lot to see and do within Porto, and it takes two full days of sightseeing to discover the entire city. This makes Porto ideal for a city break, or as part of a longer tour of Portugal.
This article will provide a guide to the top 10 attractions and activities in Porto, which can't be missed during your visit.
Related articles: Porto Introduction – Walking tour of Porto – Porto day trips
The interactive map below displays the location of the top 10 sights and top 10 activities; the green tags mark the top sights, and the yellow tags are for the top 10 activities.
Note: This article does not consider the region that surrounds Porto, for a guide to the best day trips from Porto, please read this guide (Porto day trips).
The Ponte Luís I is the majestic iron bridge that spans the Douro River, and connects Porto to the north with Vila Nova de Gaia on the southern side.
This iconic bridge is split-levels, and from the top deck (which carries the metro) is one of the finest viewpoints of Porto.
Insight: The bridge is named after king Luís I, but unlike many other monuments named after Portuguese royalty the “Dom” (King) is not included, this is a snub at the king who did not attend the inauguration organised for him in 1887.
The Luis I bridge is the icon of Porto
Porto is famed for Port wine, which is matured in vast cellars that line the banks of Vila Nova de Gaia.
To be classified as Port, the grapes must be grown in the Douro Valley and then aged in Vila Nova de Gaia. This means that all of the major Port producers (Sandeman, Cálem, Croft, Ferreira, Offley and Ramos Pinto) have cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia and are within a relatively compact area.
Each Port producer provides informative tours of their cellars and is often combined with a Port tasting session. With over ten different Port cellars to visit, you are guaranteed to leave Porto as Port Connoisseur!
Advice: The tours of the cellars are at set times and in specific languages. It is always advisable to pre-book tickets for popular times, or at least know the times of the appropriate language tours.
Related links: Cálem tour and tasting tickets
Port tasting at the end of a tour!
The gothic Igreja de São Francisco contains one of Portugal’s most extravagantly decorated church interiors.
Every possible surface is adorned with elaborate wood carvings and lavished with gold leaf; there is so much gold paint, that it has been estimated to be more than 100kg of gold!
A highlight among the many Baroque wood carvings is the Árvore de Jesse (Tree of Jesse), which depicts the family tree of Jesus.
The 13th-century church was originally part of a monastery complex, but the cloisters were destroyed by fire during the 1832 Siege of Porto.
The Gothic Igreja de São Francisco church with the classic tram
Porto is a city that was established and flourished based on its proximity to the mighty Douro River, and there is no better method to view the city than from the river.
There are two types of cruises; boat tours of the city or full-day excursions to the Douro Valley.
The city cruises pass beneath the six bridges of Porto and visit the mouth of the Douro River. The full-day cruises head to the stunning scenery of the Alto Douro, with its terraced vineyards and scenic riverside towns.
Related articles: The Douro Valley
Elegant river cruisers travel along the Douro River
We have worked with Getyourguide.com for the previous six years, and some of their best Douro River tours include:
Contemporary art is a divisive subject; to some, it is thought-provoking and inspirational, while for others, it is abstract nonsense.
The Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves attempts to bridge this divide, with an outstanding collection of exhibits, along with beautiful grounds and the wonderful art-deco Casa de Serralves villa.
The Fundação Serralves has a peaceful and tranquil setting, and is a highly recommended location to escape the hecticness of central Porto.
Related links: Tickets for the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves
The art-deco Casa de Serralves villa with the grounds of the Fundação Serralves complex
The most famous meal of Porto is a Francesinha, a variation of the French Croque Monsieur, and was introduced to Porto during the 1950s.
The Francesinha combines bread, fried steak, sausage, bacon, a rich tomato sauce and with a side of chips. It's filling, delicious and ideal after a long day of sightseeing.
There are many variations of Francesinha, but they are all filling!
The Livraria Lello is regarded as the most beautiful bookshop in the world and was also an inspiration for the Harry Potter series of books.
It was here that J K Rowling penned the initial chapters of the series and the bookshop's staircase was the inspiration for the grand staircase in Hogwarts.
The Livraria Lello is a beautiful store lined with handcrafted wooden panels, a stained glassed roof and a dramatic stairwell connecting the two levels.
The only issue is that its popularity means that it is always crowded with tourists.
The Livraria Lello Bookshop, just expect it to be much more crowded!
The Ribeira is the oldest district of Porto and is a warren of narrow streets and colourful houses that line the banks of the Douro River. This is a characterful area of Porto with numerous family-run shops, traditional restaurants and trendy bars.
In the evenings, there is no better location to be than the Ribeira; sipping a glass of Port, with views over the Douro River and Luís I bridge, and surrounded by social atmosphere.
The Ribeira district stands under the shadow of the Ponte Luís I bridge
The 18th century Igreja dos Clérigos is one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in Porto and inside is a unique oval-shaped nave.
Attached to the church is a 75m high bell tower (the Torre dos Clérigos), which from its construction in 1763 to the late 19th-century was the tallest building in Portugal. There are 240 steps to reach the top of the tower, but the view over central Porto is worth the climb.
Related guide: The Torre dos Clérigos
The Torre dos Clérigos is still the tallest building in the historic centre of Porto
The Linha 1 is the scenic tram route that connects the Ribeira district to the Foz district, and follows the Douro River downstream.
Trundling slowly along the route, are delightful trams that date from the 1930s. Inside are many original features, such as polished wood seats, brass dials and even a bell to ask the driver to halt.
If you have two or more days in Porto, you should certainly include the Foz district. It sits at the mouth of the Douro River, and offers pretty riverside walks, sandy beaches and a relaxing atmosphere.
Related article: Porto tram guide
The classic tram of the Linha 1 route
The Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas are two beautiful baroque churches, but most visitors come to view the stunning tiled exterior wall on the Igreja do Carmo.
This wonderful artwork depicts the foundation of the Carmelite Order on Mount Carmel and was painted using Azulejos tiles.
Curiosity: Between the two churches is Portugal's narrowest house (less than 1 m wide), which separated the male monastery at the Igreja do Carmo and the women's convent in the Igreja dos Carmelitas.
The Mercado do Bolhão is the traditional market of Porto and is the location to experience typical Portuguese daily life.
This bustling market is a joy to wander, with its stalls of freshly grown produce (fruit, veg and meats), local handicrafts and souvenirs stalls.
The market is housed in a classical wrought-iron building
The Majestic Café is one of Porto's original Art Nouveau styled cafes. The café, with its original features and hectic atmosphere, is bursting with character, and a great location for a mid-afternoon coffee and delicious Portuguese pastry.
The Rua de Santa Catarina, on which the Majestic Café is situated, is at the heart of Porto's shopping district and is a pleasant area to browse shops.
The Art Nouveau styled Majestic Café, was inspired by Parisian cafés
Porto’s passion is football, and Porto FC is one of Europe’s top 25 clubs, who routinely win the Portuguese football league.
Their stadium is the modern Estádio do Dragão, and a tour of the stadium and museum is a fantastic
The main train station of central Porto is a tourist attraction in itself, due to the beautiful Azulejos tiles images that adorn the waiting hall.
The traditional blue and white tiles depict important events in Portugal's history while the multicoloured tiles display scenes of rural life. The two styles of tiles represent the transition of Portugal from a monarchy to republic in 1910, with the blue tiles painted before and the coloured after.
The azulejos tile paintings in São Bento Train Station
Surrounding Porto is the stunning Costa Verde coastline, with its golden sand beaches, rugged scenery and freezing sea waters.
The closest large sandy beach is at Matosinhos, which is just a short metro ride from the centre of Porto. This beach is popular with the residents of Porto who flock here during the summer, but it overlooks the ferry terminal so is not the most idyllic settings.
If you are planning a beach day, you may wish to travel a bit further by train to Vila do Conde, Espinho, Miramar or Povoa de Varzim, for much more beautiful beaches.
Related articles: Matosinhos guide - Porto beach guide
Matosinhos beach is always popular, but unfortunately, it overlooks a busy harbour
The Neoclassical Palácio da Bolsa was the stock exchange of Porto and represented the financial importance of the city during the 19th century.
Inside the stately building, is the exquisitely decorated Arab Room, the grand Hall of Nations and an impressive central courtyard. Tours must be booked to visit the interior of the Palácio da Bolsa, and are highly recommended.
The Mercado Bom Sucesso is a 1940s covered market which recently reinvented itself as a trendy food market and dining venue.
Within the dining area are numerous unique food stalls, and a communal seating area, which is a wonderful place to meet up and socialise.
Along with the permanent food stalls, there are cocktail bars and mini-pop-up shops, including jewellery and clothing. The whole building has an artsy retro vibe and is a cool place to hang out.
The Half-Rabbit is a distinctive piece of urban art hidden down a side street in Vila Nova de Gaia.
This colourful artwork was constructed from discarded waste and was created by the celebrated urban artist Bordallo II.
The art installation is known as the Half-Rabbit as one side is painted with vivid colours while the other is the unaltered colour of the waste materials.
Both sides of the Half Rabbit are only seen if you look at the corner of the building
The Galerias de Paris is the main nightlife street of Porto, close to the university and filled with many trendy bars. At night there is always a lively atmosphere here, especially at the weekends when the socialising spills on the streets.
Unique bars to definitely include in your night are, the Casa do Livro Bar, a former bookshop, and the Galeria de Paris Bar, converted from a fabric shop and retains many of the original features.
Insight: Porto nightlife starts very late and doesn't get going at the weekends until at least 11pm