Porto is a wonderful tourist destination that effortless combines history and heritage with progressive attitudes and a buzzing atmosphere. Surprisingly, Porto remains an underrated and undiscovered city but the varied selection of sights and activities found within Porto will captivate visitors of all ages. This guide will provide an introduction to the most popular tourist sights and activities in Porto.
The Dom Luis bridge, the icon for Porto
Porto is famed for Port, and this is still aged in the vast cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia that line the southern banks of the Douro River. Each of the major Port producers provides tours of their cellars, which are referred to as caves, and end with a Port tasting session. These tours are fascinating, informative and enjoyable, while still being comparatively inexpensive, with prices starting from €7. With over ten different Port caves along the banks of Gaia there is the potential for all visitors to leave Porto as Port Connoisseurs (or with banging hangovers!)
Ruby, Tawny and White ports!
The Ribeira is the oldest section of Porto and is a maze of narrow streets and ancient buildings that line the northern banks of the Douro, opposite the port cellars. This extremely pretty area of the city contains numerous family-run shops, traditional restaurants and trendy bars, all of which overlook the river and the Dom Luis Bridge.
The colourful hotchpotch of houses, which is the Ribeira
The Ribera has a great atmosphere in the evenings as the narrow streets come to life with an equal mix of Portuguese and foreign tourists dining, drinking or socialising. While exploring the Ribeira lookout for the height markers, which record the depth of flooding of the Douro.
The 18th century Igreja dos Clérigos is one the finest examples of baroque architecture in Porto but the majority of visitors to the church are much more interested in climbing the 250 steps to the top of the tower. The Torre dos Clérigos was constructed on the highest point of Porto and, when combined with the 76m high tower, the viewing platform provides fantastic panoramic views over the city.
The view from the top of the Torre dos Clérigos with the cathedral in the background
Regarded by many as the most beautiful bookshop in the world, the Lello Bookstore is reputedly the inspiration for the Hogwarts library in the Harry Potter films. It is easy to understand why this exquisite building left a permanent impression on J K Rowling (author of Harry Potter and who lived in Porto during the early 1990s) as the interior is lined with wooden handcrafted panels, has a stained glassed roof and a charismatic stairwell connecting the two levels.
Even the exterior of the Lello Bookshop is distinctive (it's the white building)
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. These boat tours depart from the Ribera district and provide either short (1hour) or whole day tours of the Douro River. The full day boat tours typically travel through the scenic Douro Valley, which contain the distinctive terraced vineyards, up to the town of Pinhão and return via train. An alternative method to explore the Douro Valley, is to travel along the Linha do Douro railway to the village of Pocinho, a full guide can be found here.
Pocinho at the end of the Linha da Douro railway
Porto is close to a beautiful coastline of large sandy beaches and traditional resort towns. Porto is on the border of two distinct beach regions with the Costa Verde to the north of the Douro river and the Costa Prata to the south. Many of these beaches can be easily reached via public transport and a holiday to Porto can easily be combined with a beach holiday. The two best beaches are Mansantos and Espinho. For a guide to the beaches of Porto please see this article.
Fishing boats are still pulled up onto Espinho beach
The plaza of Avenida dos Aliados is the heart of Porto, where the residents of the city come to celebrate or protest, all under the shadow of the distinctive city hall (Camara Municipal). The neoclassical style of the buildings that line the plaza provide a much older appearance than they actual are, with construction of the district only being completed in 1916.
Porto city hall, at the top of the Avenida dos Aliados
The bland gothic exterior of the Igreja de São Francisco hides Portugal’s most extravagant Baroque interiors. Gold leaf is used to striking effect and covers almost every surface of this overly ornate church. The Igreja de São Francisco is by far Porto’s most impressive church.
There is just too much detail in the Igreja de São Francisco for a camera to capture!
Porto is a vibrant city with a large student population and buzzing nightlife. Bars range from small underground through to funky and trendy, while as destination Porto is accepting and liberal. Nights in Porto start very late and clubs stay open until the sun rises.
Porto has a great nightlife!!!
The main train station of central Porto is a tourist attraction in itself, due to the Azulejos tiles that line the entrance hall. These tiles that depict the history of Porto and are unique as they both combine the traditional blue and white tiles paints with fully colour images.
The beautiful azulejos tiles in São Bento Train Station
The Se cathedral is Porto’s most important religious building and is an elegant blend of Romanesque, Baroque and gothic architectural styles. The cloisters of the cathedral are lined with beautiful Azulejos (blue glazed) tiles and there is an impressive rose window.
The Se cathedral
The Rococo styled Ildefonso church has one of the most decorative exteriors found in Porto, the entire church is adorned in Azulejos tiles that depict the life of Santo Ildefonso.
Ildefonso church is covered in azulejos tiles