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A Super Detailed Long Weekend Travel Guide For Porto, Portugal
Boasting vibrantly-colored tiles, steep cobbled streets, Gothic spires, soaring steel bridges, and enough delicious port wine to float a battleship. Porto is the epitome of a charming European welcome. Portugal has become one of my favorite countries to visit, and I was excited to spend a few days in the north, exploring all the things to do in Porto!
While LIsbon is amazing (one of my all-time faves!), Porto is about half its population, more compact, and close to the famous Douro Valley port wine region. It’s got a very relaxing vibe and feels more intimate than its sister to the south. You’d be amazed how much you can see in just a couple days.
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So I wanted to share everything I loved about Porto (and a few things that I’d skip next time), all the things I saw, provide some itinerary ideas, and give you some starting places for where to stay and where to eat.
As you’ll see, I have a billion photos in this post, which will give you a good feel for the city, but also shows how much I loved it and how beautiful and photogenic Porto is—I just couldn’t narrow it down more!
How this Porto travel guide post is structured:
- Where to stay in Porto
- A few overall tips (getting around, clothing, etc)
- How to structure your Porto itinerary
- What to do in Porto
- The best Porto souvenirs to take home
- Where to eat and drink
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Where to stay in Porto
Porto has an abundance of delightful accommodation options, from apartment rentals to charming boutique hotels. And even the luxury options are quite affordable. I stayed at Le Monumental Palace (a Maison-Albar Hotel), and HIGHLY recommend it.
It was quiet, beautiful, efficient luxury, just really great on every level and a great location. You can check out detailed reviews on both Booking.com and TripAdvisor, and I’ve written a more detailed review of the hotel here.
A few other options to consider:
- Torel Avantgarde: A little less central (though still close) but with amazing views & luxury touches
- Thomasz Palace: If an apartment is more your style, this one is in a great location & beautiful
- PortoBay Flores: Lovely high-touch luxury hotel in a super central location (look for a superior or suite room
- Torel Palace Porto: Gorgeous and interesting, central…what’s not to love??
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Planning a trip to Porto? Here are deep-dive posts to help!
General tips for your trip
Porto is a city best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, and on foot. It’s made for wandering through the incredibly narrow streets and discovering little slices of Portuguese life and delightful pockets of beauty. It’s basically one big hill, so your legs will definitely get a workout—wear comfy shoes!
- In addition to walking, you can get around by tram in some areas, Uber/Lyft pretty much everywhere, and then use the funicular and cable car to get up and down the hill if you’re in a hurry or your feet are done for the day.
- Getting from the airport to the city takes about 20 minutes in an Uber (which should cost around €20), or the metro. Taxis take a similar amount of time as Uber, but may be a few euros more expensive.
Okay, let’s talk clothing. It ended up being quite warm when I was there (late October). I’d packed some lightweight cute-but-versatile pants (my fave Athleta ones!) and light tops, but wished I’d worn a sundress instead. And I wore my trusty TOMS sneakers (which have sadly been discontinued) and my favorite comfy-yet-cute Rockport sandals.
Make sure to wear sunscreen (here are my go-to non-greasy ones) and drink plenty of water as well (if you’re there during warm weather).
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Understanding Porto’s neighborhoods
As I said above, the great thing about Porto is how compact it is…even if you want to visit several neighborhoods in one day, that’s totally doable. But it’s good to get a general idea of the key areas in relation to each other, to avoid climbing the hill more than needed, and make sure you use your time wisely.
Additionally, getting across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia and back can take some time, so I recommend allotting at least a few hours or a half day for activities over there, to be efficient with your time.
The exact definitions of neighborhoods seem to be a little squishy, but I’ll try to break it down. Ribeira, Baixa, and Bolhão make up Porto’s most historic and touristy areas, and where tourists will spend most of their time too (plus Vila Nova de Gaia across the river).
- Ribeira begins right on the river, at the well-known (and in my opinion, over-touristed) Praca da Ribeira. But walk just a few steps up from the river (because it is UP) and start winding through the streets behind the riverfront, and you’ll find some of the hippest restaurants, cafes, rooftop bars, and most colorful buildings.
- Baixa is a buzzing center for both tourism and business, and is a great central spot to base yourself. It includes Sé (the oldest part of Porto), filled with medieval houses, narrow streets, and traditional restaurants. It’s also where you’ll find Clérigos Tower, the gorgeous Livraria Lello, and the stunning São Bento station.
- The Bolhão neighborhood seems to either be part of Baixa or right next to it, and is full of shopping, including the Mercado do Bolhão and Rua Santa Catarina. It boasts a blend of architectural styles and has many of the beautiful azulejo tiles.
- Vila Nova de Gaia is not technically part of Porto, but sits across the river. It’s where all the historic port houses are located, and also offers amazing views of Porto.
- Foz do Douro is out on the coast, about 10 minutes from Porto proper. It’s got a lovely, low-key vibe, dramatic crashing waves, and trendy restaurants and boutiques.
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What to do in Porto
So now we’ll do a deeeeeep dive into all the amazing things to do in Porto. Buckle up, there’s a lot here!
(Also, I realize it’s weird not to talk about Dom Luis I Bridge right away as it’s possibly the most famous thing to see in Porto, but it logically connects to the port area so I cover it much more towards the end).
We absolutely have to start any Porto itinerary discussion with all the gorgeous views. As a city built into a huge hill, there are sure a lot to choose from.
- The top deck of Dom Luis I bridge gives you stunning views on both sides of the river
- Teleférico de Gaia and Esplanada do Teleférico give you spectacular views over toward Porto’s waterfront, and is a great spot for a picnic or drink; there’s a nice park here as well
- Miradouro da Vitória can look a little sketchy, but don’t let the broken window panes of the building next door fool you. This is arguably one of the most popular places to take in the sunset in Porto, with picture-perfect views of the river and terracotta rooftops
- Parque/Passeio das Virtudes, especially for sunset (this is just a few minutes’ walk from Vitória)
- There are tons of great rooftop bars to choose from…Rooftop Flores in Porto and Espaço Porto Cruz across the river are two great ones
- The riverfront in Vila Nova de Gaia (where the port houses are) have insane views of Porto across the river
- The beaches of Foz do Douro provide an amazing sunset option
- The first photo here is taken basically from the courtyard of Sé do Porto, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what the viewpoint is called. It seems close to Miradouro da Rua das Aldas but I don’t think it’s that one.
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São Bento Train Station
Rightfully considered one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, a peek into São Bento’s grand entrance tells the story of Porto’s history.
As you move slowly around the rooms, you’ll see 20,000 of the traditional painted azulejo tiles (more on them later) depicting the battles and triumphs, royal families, and of transportation the city wanted to commemorate.
Buffered by other colorful tile storytelling and ornate moldings, the station is stunning any time of day but particularly when the afternoon sun floods the entrance with diffuse, golden light. It’s an easy walk from most places around, but you can also take the #22 tram here, as it stops right outside.
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Fall in love with the blue & white azulejo tiles
One of the things that Porto is most famous for is its abundance of azulejos, the beautiful blue and white tiles that cover many buildings throughout the city. They were first brought here by the invading Moors in the 15gh century, and their name stems from an Arabic word meaning “the polished stone”.
While initially very simple geometric shapes, as they began to be adopted more widely throughout Portugal in the subsequent centuries, the tile patterns became more ornate in order to depict the stories of Portugal’s history, religion, culture, and more.
Here are a list of some of the best azulejos that you can check out, and I’ll go into further detail on a few of them below.
- You have São Bento, of course, which we’ve already talked about above
- Chapel of Souls (Capela das Almas)
- Igreja do Carmo
- Igreja de San Ilfonso
- Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral), which I’ll show in much more detail in a few minutes
- Igreja de São Francisco is one of the most famous (I didn’t make it there); the #1 tram takes you here
I particularly loved the Chapel of Souls (Capela das Almas), the first couple photos below. It is one of the most beautiful churches in Porto, sitting on the busy Rua de Santa Catarina in the Santo Ildefonso district. The entire facade is covered in the vibrant azulejos, showing religious scenes featuring a variety of saints. The inside is supposed to be beautiful as well, and is free to enter.
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Another favorite for both architecture and azulejos was Igreja do Carmo. Buily in the 17th century, it not only has a beautiful azuleo-tiled facade, but a gorgeous interior as well. It includes one of the oldest buildings in the historic center (the church is actually comprised of two buildings from two different centuries).
Right on the corner by Sao Bento Station is Igreja de Santo Antonio dos Congregados, more of a chapel vs. a large church. I particularly love the yellow trim against the azulejo tile. The inside is quite beautiful and ornate as well, if that’s of interest.
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I REALLY loved Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. First, when you’re approaching it from the front it just really “pops” against the sky (vs. being surrounded by other buildings). The 11,000 azulejos that cover the exterior of the church were done by the same artist who worked on São Bento station, and again the colorful trim really adds a lot.
The church is located in Praça da Batalha, and is free to enter.
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Igreja los Clérigos
You’ll often see Igreja los Clérigos on lists for where to see azulejos, but I am not sure why…I didn’t see any of the tiles (I may have missed them, though). However, the beautiful church and iconic Clérigos Tower should definitely be on your list of what to do in Porto regardless.
It’s one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, built in the Baroque style in the mid-1700s. I loved the view from the front, but didn’t have the time to climb the belltower. You can do so for a €5 fee (entering the church itself is free), and at the top of 230 very narrow, claustrophobic stairs you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over Porto and beyond.
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Bask in the other colorful tiles & details
While we’re on the subject of colorful, pretty tiles, let’s not ignore the MANY other vivid tiles that adorn the buildings of Porto. One of my favorite things about Portugal is its commitment to beautiful details and brightly-colored tiles (see: Lisbon).
Here are just a few of my favorites from wandering the narrow streets and alleys of Porto…
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And a few more…I am a sucker for these glossy green subway tiles!
Northern Portugal was on my list of 10 places to visit in 2022!
Aaaaand a few more…these colors make me so happy!
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Wander up and down Porto’s narrow streets
As I mentioned earlier, one of the joys of Porto is just meandering (okay, sometimes huffing and puffing) up and down all the beautiful, narrow, winding streets and alleys. Enjoy the colorful buildings, find crazy ornate details in the weirdest places, and soak in the city’s sounds.
This is the type of city to just see where your feet take you, but here are a few streets you can seek out if you’ve a mind to.
The picturesque Rua da Flores extends from São Bento station all the way to Largo de São Domingos. At almost 500 years old, it’s got beautiful old buildings, happenin’ restaurants and rooftop bars, and is a great place to do some shopping as well (check out Mercearia das Flores for foodie gifts!).
If legit shopping is your thing, Rua de Santa Catarina is a retail-focused pedestrian street that’s always bustling. I’m not a shopper myself, but it was fun to (briefly) stroll through. The famous Majestic Café is here, built in the 1920s with beautiful ornate decorations. It’s also close to Mercado do Bolhão, more on that later.
I wouldn’t go out of your way to walk Avenida de Aliados, but if you’re in the area (my hotel was on it), the short and wide avenue with cool Neoclassical buildings is worth a quick spin.
Sé do Porto
One of the most iconic places to visit in Porto is its cathedral, called Sé do Porto. It’s a beautiful Romanesque church dating to the 13th century (one of the oldest buildings in the city), and over the centuries other architectural elements and styles were added (Gothic, Baroque, etc).
The church is free to enter, but there’s a €3 fee to access the cloisters.
It boasts some beautiful azulejos of its own, but the biggest draw beyond the architecture is its amazing views. Porto Cathedral sits at the highest point in the city, so your leg muscles will hate you, but in return the square outside offers some of the best views of surrounding Porto and the Douro River (see the “best Porto views” section above).
From the square if you take the Barredo stairs back down to the Riberia (on the river), you’ll wind through narrow streets and alleys, colorful buildings and tiny shops, and along the way you’ll continue catching beautiful views of the river.
Enjoy the fun street art throughout the city
All through Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, you’ll find street art—big and small—popping out at you. This ginormous cat mural might be my favorite since I’m a devoted cat lady, but it was hard to choose.
I’ll talk more later about the Half Rabbit art installation in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is AMAZING and I’m a little obsessed!
Visit one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores
Livraria Lello makes almost every list you’ll find of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, and for a bibliophile like me it was a must-visit. (it also has a long-rumored and debunked Harry Potter connection, which was an extra draw.)
The bookstore was designed in a Neo-Gothic style but also incorporates Art Nouveau and Art Déco styles. From the intricately-carved woodwork to the dizzying multi-level staircases, Livraria Lello will charm your pants off. I was particularly enamored of the stained-glass ceiling.
Important to know: you need to buy a ticket ahead of time! Due to its popularity, there’s now a €5 (as of 2021) entry voucher that you should book ahead online; the cost goes against a book purchase if you decide to buy something. You can also do a priority entry for €15 and skip the line, which I did because who wants to sit in line for forever??
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Spend some time exploring the Bolhão neighborhood
The Bolhão neighborhood is busy and vibrant, with a blend of architectural styles (Beaux-Arts, Baroque, Neoclassical, and more) and adorned with Porto’s signature colorful tiles.
Mercado de Bolhão is considered a must-visit, though was under construction and temporarily closed when I was there. The former city market still has the original 19th-century wrought iron gates, and stalls sell fresh produce, fish, lavender, smoked meats, and more, just like their forebears. In the interim the stalls have moved to an indoor location (LaVie mall) that lacks ambiance, but at least allows the vendors to keep selling.
Bolhão is also home stunning azulejos on the Chapel of Souls and Santo Ildefonso Church, both of which I talked about above. The latter overlooks busy Batalha Square, full of cafes and gastrobars. Santa Catarina Boulevard and all its shopping is nearby as well.
Two must-visit spots here are Mercearia do Bolhão, a specialty grocer that has all sorts of Portuguese local delicacies (like the famous Serra da Estrela cheese, a great port selection, etc.). And Confeitaria do Bolhão, which offers a dizzying array of traditional Portuguese sweets and baked goods, perfect for fueling up before a long day of walking.
I already mentioned Majestic Café, but not only is it beautiful, it’s supposedly where J.K. Rowling finished writing the first Harry Potter book (she was living here at the time). To me it seemed overrated & touristy…if you’re looking for a similar experience, check out Café Guarany. It’s from the 1930s, beautiful, and owned by the same people, but prices are about one-third of Majestic.
Devour and learn on a walking food tour
I’ve become a huge fan of food tours and similar experiences, as they’re a great way to not only sample lots of different local food and drink, but also see the city and learn more about its culture. I found a walking food tour on Airbnb Experiences, where we visited five different locations.
The group I was with was a pretty fun one, good chatter and engagement. We started at a bakery (Padaria Riberiro), stopped for coffee at Café Guarany, chowed down on delicious tinned fish at the temporary Mercado do Bolhão, sampled petiscos (small plates) and vinho verde, and stopped for the traditional bifana (pork sandwich) at Cafe Guedes (this was underwhelming for me, as I don’t eat pork, so had some kind of sad soup).
This particular tour was fine but not as amazing vs. other ones I’ve taken. If you’re looking for a good food or drink tour, consider this 3-hour food tour that’s got a 5-star rating, this one that’s similar but goes a little behind the scenes, or this port and wine-focused one (VERY up my alley). Or try your hand at a cooking class!
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Fall in love with Porto at night
Porto is gorgeous at night, and you’d really be missing out if you didn’t spend some time exploring after the sun goes down. The riverfront in particular sparkles, and a walk across the top of Dom Luis I bridge lets you see both sides and pick your fave.
Now y’all know that nightlife is not my particular specialty, and particularly when I’m traveling solo…I’m basically an 80-year-old. But I really TRY! After dinner one night I had picked out a couple bar options that sounded interesting.
I started at Royal Cocktail Club, which even pretty early in the evening (by European standards) was busy. I managed to snag a spot at the bar and loved the super cool ambiance and fascinating cocktail list. Apparently there’s a super cool downstairs bar area too, but I didn’t realize at the time. I wish I could remember the names of the two drinks I had, but they were delish!
After that I walked over to Gin House, which sounded VERY up my alley. However, I thought it was overrated, with very slow service (for me especially, not everyone around me). There are interesting gin and tonics but no cocktails (though I enjoyed the ’80s music). Fine but could have been so much more interesting.
I planned to go to a live music place afterward, but was super tired at this point and decided to call it a night.
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Palácio da Bolsa
The Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) is located right in the historical center of Porto (which is overall a UNESCO World Heritage site). Another Neoclassical building from the mid-1800s, it once housed the Portuguese stock exchange and now pays homage to the city’s rich merchants through history.
What I didn’t have a chance to check out is the inside of the building, which is supposed to be stunning. There’s an intricate glass-domed Pátio das Nações (Hall of Nations), impressive Escadaria Nobre (noble staircase), and I’ve heard particularly great things about the Salão Árabe (Arab room) as a starting place.
If you want to explore all the rooms, you’ll need to join a 30-minute guided tour, which you can pre-book or join as a walk-in (€10 last I checked, and they do offer multiple languages).
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Praça da Ribeira
One of the most well-known squares in Porto, the historic Praça da Ribeira sits right on the riverfront. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, packed with crazily colorful buildings, Roman foundations, narrow alleys, cute (touristy) cafés, and great views.
You can sit in a café and enjoy the views and people-watching (though I personally prefer the other side of the river for that) But don’t just focus on the riverfront, make sure to explore all the narrow streets and chaotic alleys that wend their way up from the square.
This is also where you can grab the six-bridge Porto sightseeing boat tour, which I think is a must-do! I wish I’d had time, because you KNOW I love me a boat. In this case you float down the Douro on a traditional rabelo boat, following the old route that wine merchants did when transporting port from the Douro Valley to the port. Seeing Riberia from the water, and Dom Luis I bridge from underneath, would be awesome!
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Marvel at Dom Luis I Bridge
I love this bridge!!! And I know it’s insane that I haven’t talked about it til now, because it honestly should be #1 or #2 on the list of things to do in Porto. But it made more sense bridging (ha!) Praça da Ribeira and Vila Nova de Gaia (which I’ll talk about next) geographically.
This double-deck metal arch bridge is one of the most recognizable and iconic sights in Porto. When it was constructed in the 1880s, it was the largest wrought-iron arch bridge in the world. You can cross on foot or bike on both levels, and a tram also runs on the top deck.
I’ve already talked about Porto’s best views, and there’s no question that the top of Dom Luis I deserves a spot on the list. The weather was perfect when I visited (quite hot!) and it made for a beautiful mosaic of orange-tiled roofs, colorful buildings, blue sky, and the sparkling Douro river.
Here’s the thing I learned the hard way because I didn’t research ahead…if you walk over top deck of the bridge, it’s harder to find your way down to the waterfront of Vila Nova de Gaia. Normally this isn’t an issue, but I was running tight on time to make my fancy lunch reservation.
Your best bet is to take the cable car, which is €6 euro one-way or €9 euro round trip (same day before 6p). I couldn’t find a taxi, and the bummer was that I then had to intensely climb the hills back up to Graham’s (at a very fast pace, to get to my reservation). I tried finding a taxi both at the top and at the waterfront, and came up empty.
Back on the Porto side, your best bet for getting from the top of Dom Luis I bridge to the waterfront (or vice versa) is the funicular that runs up and down the hill (€2.50 each way).
And of course you can cross on the bottom, which is definitely the easiest way to get to Vila Nova de Gaia on foot if that’s your end desination. TRUST ME. The views aren’t quite as sweeping and grand as from the top, but the water-level glimpse of Porto is still very cool.
The lower level of the bridge spits you out right at the waterfront with all the port houses, which is super convenient.
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Sip your way through the port houses of Vila Nova de Gaia
I loooooove port, and even though I’d just spent a couple days exploring the wineries of the Douro Valley, I immediately dove in here as well.
Even if you think you don’t like port, my #1 Porto itinerary tip is to visit a few port houses! People are often surprised at the various styles and ages of port, since in the U.S. the majority of what we see is just simple ruby (which is fine, but probably my least favorite). If you’re newer to port, I’d recommend visiting blend of the large, well-known ones (like Cálem) and more under-the-radar ones (maybe Poças).
I’d already done some deeper winery tours on the process and history, so my focus here was trying different styles and especially some of the higher-aged ones. Here I tried aged tawny ports (including a 40-year) and aged whites (very rare but amazing), a rosé port, a Lágrima (golden and sweet), and more.
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Explore everything Vila Nova de Gaia has to offer
I spent a lot of my time in Porto over in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is technically another city rather than part of Porto. This is where all the port houses are located, and also has the most amazing views back across the river toward Porto.
My favorite thing to do overall was just walking up and down the waterfront, doing a bit of shopping at the stalls (I got a gorgeous cork purse), stopping for a snack or glass of port, and soaking in the views.
One of the interesting things to check out is Espaço Porto Cruz, a five-story building celebrating Porto’s wine history and culture. There are interactive exhibits, 3-D wine-making games, and sommelier-led wine tastings. Or you can just enjoy their rooftop bar, with interesting port cocktails (get a porto tonico!) and awesome views of the city.
Besides just enjoying the waterfront views and vibe, there’s a lot more to see and do here. First, let’s talk about that gorgeous, vibrant rabbit street art I mentioned earlier!
Located on the corner of Rua Dom Afonso III, the Half Rabbit is a must-see if you’re visiting Vila Nova de Gaia. From further away it looks like a mural, but it’s actually a more tactile installation made entirely out of trash, created by famous Portuguese artist Bordalo II.
I do recommend taking the cable car either up or down, both to experience the area both at the top and bottom, but also because the views of Porto FROM the cable car are amazing.
I also got a coffee (check out 7g Roasters!), sampled gelato at Gelados de Portugal, snacked on fried dough (rather unfortunately) called farturas, and tried the bacalhau at gaudy, touristy Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau.
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Indulge yourself with at least one amazing splurge-y meal
For me that was a five-course pairing menu at Vinum, the restaurant at Graham’s port house. Graham’s is one of the most well-known names in port internationally, and their location in Vila Nova de Gaia isn’t along the riverfront but instead is a 15-minute walk uphill offering some of the best views out over Porto.
I loved everything about this experience. The food was amazing, from the melt-in-your-mouth thin roast beef on peppery arugula with a light honey mustard dressing, to the silky cauliflower soufflé thing, to the insanely rich duck breast embedded with foie gras. The port pairings were fine, but nothing super special, and the dessert was the only part of the meal that let it down.
Overall though I would do this again in a heartbeat. You can also come here and just order your meal regularly off the menu, or come and have a glass of wine on the patio.
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If time allows, hop aboard one of the famous trams
Lisbon gets all the hype on trams, but Porto actually had the first Portuguese tram network (built in 1895). These are among the oldest electric transportation systems in Europe, and can be a fun way to spend an hour.
The #1 is the most popular tourist route, going from the famous Igreja de São Francisco along the Ribeira to Foz do Douro (on the coast). I tried taking the #1 tram, but though I was the first person in line I got pushed out by lots of parents and old people with baby strollers. It was honestly kind of frustrating, and I just grabbed an Uber to Foz instead.
The other most well-known tram is the circular #22, which will take you through the Clérigos area, Avenida dos Aliados (where my hotel was), past beautiful São Bento train station, and back around the Batalha area. This route is a great way to see a lot of Porto in a short time!
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Soak in the sun in Foz do Douro
Just a few miles west of Porto, the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. You know I’ll always try to find a way to get to the ocean when I can, and Foz was a perfect cherry on top of my Porto itinerary.
Foz is considered one of the most exclusive parts of Porto, with trendy restaurants, eclectic boutique shops, and a quieter feel. Bask in the sun and sea air, walk down the esplanade, check out the Felgueiras Lighthouse or one of the historic forts, and enjoy the dramatically crashing waves on the beaches.
You can take the vintage #1 tram from the city, or grab an Uber/Lyft (about $10 from where I was). There’s also a bus, or you could walk or bike.
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I started out at the quiet Jardim do Passeio Alegre, but made my way down the esplanade until I found what I was looking for—a great spot to have a drink, nibble on a snack, and eventually watch the sunset.
I think Foz do Douro is one of the best sunset spots in Porto, and I wanted to spend my last few (waking) hours here. I was on the hunt for a bar or café with amazing ocean views, and pulled up a seat at Praia dos Ingleses Bar Restaurante Esplanada (also consider Praia da Luz, just a few minutes further).
I read my Kindle, had a snack, sipped a porto tonico, and then finally got to watch the horizon turn shades of gold and pink (which reflected off the crashing waves). It was perfection.
Take a day trip to the Douro Valley
First I want to STRONGLY recommend that you actually spend at least an overnight in the Douro Valley (at least two nights, ideally). It’s an amazingly rich historic and foodie area, and worth your time.
But if you’re super tight on time, at least try and do a day trip out there from Porto. Here are a few options to consider for day trips, all of which are highly rated…
- A visit to three vineyards with wine tasting and lunch
- A full-day food and wine tour, including wineries, olive oil museum, lunch, and the option for a boat cruise
- A tour focused on vinho verde wineries (which I also love!) rather than port
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What to buy in Porto: the best souvenirs
Portugal is heaven for people who don’t just want tacky tourist kitsch. There are so many unique souvenir choices in Porto, so here’s some inspiration. I always look for beautiful coffee mugs, and I found one with the gorgeous delicate azulejo blue-and-white pattern. I also got a fun clutch purse made of cork (a Portuguese export).
One of the obvious souvenirs is port wine, though you have to be careful about bringing it back. If you’re buying a lot, then just ship it back (trust me, it’s worth it). But if it’s only a few bottles, you can carefully pack it in your luggage (I always travel with these sealable protective wine sleeves). The Tawny 20-year is considered best value for money, or get something like an aged white or rosé that’s hard to find back home.
And then one of my favorite souvenirs is food and drink! Whether local cheese, smoked meats, pasteis de nata, tinned fish, or something else, here are a few spots to try.
- Comer e Chorar Por Mais (roughly translates to “eat and cry for more”) was recommended by my driver, Fernando, and is a great specialty grocer with all sorts of Portuguese local delicacies. I picked up a good aged white port here, which is impossible to find in the U.S.
- Similarly, Mercearia do Bolhão is a specialty grocer that has all sorts of Portuguese local delicacies (like the famous Serra da Estrela cheese, a great port selection, etc.).
- Mercearia Flores – From good food to a vibrant atmosphere, this is a great place to actual sit and eat, but also to buy souvenirs
- Mercado de Bolhão is also a great spot to find a local souvenir (like the colorful and delicious tinned fish below…I brought a few of these back)
Where to eat & drink in Porto
Northern Portugal is a foodie’s dream, and I couldn’t possibly try all the spots I wanted. But we definitely have to start with pastries, sweets, and coffee.
- Confeitaria do Bolhão, a 120-year-old patisserie offers a dizzying array of traditional Portuguese sweets (including pasteis de nata) and baked goods, perfect for fueling up before a long day of walking
- Manteigaria has two locations, one by Clerigos Tower and one in the Bolhão neighborhood. They do one thing (pasteis de nata) and they do it to PERFECTION. Sip some espresso or ginja with your custard tarts and congratulate yourself on good decisions.
- Delta Coffee House Experience (right next to Manteigaria), perfect for a good coffee before or after your custard tarts
- Fabrica Coffee Roasters was nearby Livaria Lello, with a cute hipster ambiance and delicious coffee (the pasteis de nata were fine but not fresh out of the oven)
- Leitaria da Quinta do Paço is a little café (formerly a milk producer, hence the name) known for having best eclairs in the city. The éclairs are filled with artisanal whipped cream, and come in all sorts of flavors, from the traditional chocolate to passion fruit, banana mousse or salted caramel. Personally I prefer a custard middle, but these are done very well.
- 7g Roasters in Vila Nova de Gaia had great coffee, good pastry and lunch options, and a really beautiful, peaceful seating area
And I guess life isn’t all pastries and coffee. Porto’s food scene is varied and vibrant, but I didn’t get to explore it as much as I wanted. That was for a few reasons…first, a lot of restaurants are closed on Sundays, and I was only there two nights (including a Sunday).
Second, the country had just lifted all their COVID restrictions, so restaurants weren’t at normal speed or occupancy, and reservations were a must (always true, but now more so)…and I didn’t have them. So I definitely recommend booking reservations ahead of time for any place you really want to try.
Personally I’d steer clear of the Ribeira waterfront for food and opt for restaurants further away from the center. Stop in at a bar for some petiscos (Portuguese tapas) and wine. And make sure to try some bacalhau (codfish) in its various guises. I like the pasteis de bacalhau (salted codfish cakes), and you can even try them stuffed with cheese, or with a port wine sauce.
I ate at Vermurteria one night and it was good enough, had the burratina, bruschetta with pear and’Gorgonzola, sweet potato fries, and a cocktail. The next night I ended up at Taberna do Largo, sharing a table (held hostage) by two hilarious Dutch people. The food wasn’t great but part of that is I couldn’t eat a lot of it for religious dietary reasons.
The couple of dinners I had in Porto were underwhelming due to my poor planning, so instead here is what was on my list:
- Adega São Nicolau – good traditional Portuguese food
- Bacalhau, a small restaurant nestled in a quiet walkway on the river, and enjoy some deliciously simple traditional Portuguese tapas
- Arco-da-Velha Bistro and Wine Bar, an incredible little tapas restaurant located nearby the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
- O Buraco
- Taberna dos Mercadores
So…I guess that was my VERY long-winded way of saying that I completely fell in love with Porto! I was only there about two and a half days, and yet I was able to see and do so much. Hopefully this detailed Porto travel guide has given you inspiration and lots of tips for planning your own northern Portugal adventure!
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