Porto Travel Guide: The best things to do, eat, and see on tour
Tucked between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, the medieval city of Porto, Portugal is fast becoming a dream destination for travelers. Wandering its ancient cobblestone streets and historic waterfront, you’ll find a world worth exploring in this small city with a big heart. The magnificent Douro River runs through this charming city, bejeweled with traditional Portuguese tiles and bursting with museums, cafes, historic buildings, street festivals, and, yes, the famous wine that bears its name.
As you get ready to explore the world of Port wine, Portuguese cuisine, and laid-back charm, check out our comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Porto, Portugal.
The euro. Staffer Lindsay recommends carrying small bills (readily available at ATMs) when you travel to Porto, as vendors appreciate not having to make change for larger denominations.
Portuguese, but English is widely spoken, especially in Porto’s hotels as well as at its major travel attractions. Note: In Portugal, they speak European Portuguese, which is slightly different from Brazilian Portuguese. Think of it as the difference between British and American English.
Etiquette tip: While Spanish is very similar to Portuguese, keep in mind that some locals might consider it rude for you to fall back on your Español—the two languages may seem interchangeable, but the most politest thing to do is give the country’s actual language your best try when possible.
Phrases to know: A good tip to remember is that when a word begins with an R, it’s pronounced as H. The phrases below are spelled out phonetically so you can sound out the words as you see them.
- Hello— olá (pronounced oh-la)
- Please—por favor (pronounced por fa-vor)
- Thank you—obrigada (female speaker) (pronounced obri-gah-da)
- Thank you—obrigado (male speaker) (pronounced obri-gah-du)
- Yes—sim (pronounced see)
- No— não (pronounced no)
“The people in Porto are incredibly friendly!” said staffer Erin. “They are very social and are happy to help you with directions, recommendations, etc. The Portuguese people speak and understand English and are the nicest Europeans I’ve met yet!”
Get prepped for traveling to Porto with our Portuguese phrase guide →
The best ways to get around
Though Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, it is small enough to navigate easily. You can get to most must-see spots on foot (with the added advantage of discovering more of Porto up close). The city also has plentiful options of public transportation. Trams and buses run above ground, while the Porto Metro runs trains underground in the city center. Taxis and ride shares, like Uber, are readily available. And with over 30 miles of bike lanes and lots of bike rental options, Porto’s a great place to see on wheels.
When to go to Porto
Thanks to its location on the coast, Porto is a temperate, year-round destination. The summers are pleasantly warm and sunny. The winters are mild, but tend to be rainy. It’s rare to have unbearable hot or cold days. You really can’t go wrong any time of year, but keep these seasons in mind when considering the best time to visit Porto.
- Go in the summer to spend time in alfresco cafes or at the beach. Rain is rarely in the forecast from June to mid-September, making it perfect for bicycling, planning picnics at the beach, or attending lively outdoor festivals that give Porto a party-like atmosphere. But do expect more tourist crowds.
- Go in September for the grape harvest. If wine is on your mind, the annual grape harvest is the best time to tour the nearby wineries in the Douro River Valley.
- Go in the winter for less crowded conditions. From November to February, the weather in Porto cools and the tourist crowds thin out. It might be harder to find a rain-free day, but easier to find a seat at taverns and restaurants.
Things to do in Porto while on tour
Small enough to explore on foot, but big enough to offer something for everyone, there’s no end to the fascinating things to do in Porto, Portugal. The laid-back city is full of life, history, and art. From its cobblestone streets to the banks of the Douro River, you’ll discover some of the best museums, eye-catching azulejos (those painted tiles that decorate the city), welcoming cafes and taverns, and peaceful spots to relax and drink it all in. It’s no wonder this Old-World city is quickly becoming one of the most popular places to visit. Here’s a sampling of the top things to do in Porto.
Float along the beautiful Douro River during a boat cruise. There is no better (or more relaxing) way to take in the beauty and history of this medieval city along the Douro River than by boat. You’ll want to take advantage of this added excursion on our Porto tours, which include a post-cruise visit and wine tasting at one of Porto’s most prestigious Port wine cellars. Your cruise will navigate the Iberian Peninsula’s third-longest river, while taking in scenes of Porto’s vibrant waterfront. You’ll pass the historic Villa Nova de Gaia, home to the region’s centuries-old Port wine warehouses. And as you cruise, you’ll drift under five of the river’s most iconic Old-World bridges, passing colorful hillside villas and traditional rabelos (flat-bottomed boats) along the way.
“There is an audio tour on the cruise, and it requires you to download an app ahead of time to listen to the tour, so bring your phone, the app, and headphones,” said staffer Lindsey.
Wander through the medieval lanes of the Old World Ribeira district. The lifeblood of Porto flows from its relationship to the water. No place captures that more magnificently than the Douro Riverfront, where the city first came to life. This ancient district—with its labyrinth cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, restaurants, cafes, Port wine cellars, and bustling street life—is as full of life today as when it served as the city’s commercial center thousands of years ago. It’s here you’ll find one of the most beautiful examples of azulejos, the blue and white tiles Porto is famous for. The main hall of the São Bento train station is covered with 20,000 tiles depicting Portuguese history.
“Porto is actually where I feel most at home because the locals welcome visitors so warmly,” said traveler Chadner.
Step inside the city’s famed neoclassical Stock Exchange Palace (Palacio da Bolsa). One of the top things to see Porto, and one of the city’s most popular sites, this monumental building once hosted the city’s stock exchange. Today, with its impressive mix of architectural styles, this World Heritage Site looks more like a royal palace. When it was built in the mid-1800s, the idea was to impress European businessmen to invest in Porto. Impress it does. From its neo-classical façade to the glass-domed Hall of Nations, there is splendor at every turn. But the highlight is the Arabian Hall, inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Staffer Lindsey, who visited it on one of our walking tours, describes its Arabic architecture as “wicked cool.” We think you’ll agree.
Sip a glass of Port wine in the city it’s named for. If the Port’s not from this region, it isn’t Port! Just as only the sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France can be labeled as Champagne, only the sweet, fortified red wine produced in the Douro Valley can be marked as Port. While the grapes are grown in the Douro Valley, the wine is produced in Porto, making the city a great spot to sample its most famous export. For tastings, head across the Douro River to Vila Nava de Gaia to visit its renowned wine cellars, including the Sandeman, Cálem, and Ferreira cellars.
“Take a tour of a Port winery and get a tasting,” said staffer Erin. “Port wine is typically sweeter and drank as an aperitif or digestif. We went to Ferreira.”
Things to do in Porto during free time
On our guided tours, your itinerary will be filled with the best of Porto: the must-see sites and cultural experiences. But even with expert local guides showing you the highlights, there is always more to see, do, and eat in this jewel of a city. When you’re looking for what to do in Porto, here are a few of our favorite free time activities.
Go treasure hunting for Porto’s iconic glazed tiles: azulejos. Those eye-catching, mostly blue and white, ceramic tiles adorn the interiors and exteriors of everything, from churches to homes to street signs, giving Porto its visual charm. They also make for awesome travel photos! Introduced to Portugal by the Moors in the 13th century, the Portuguese eventually moved on from intricate geometric patterns to storytelling pictures. You’ll find the best example of storytelling at the São Bento Train Station, where the tiles illustrate Portuguese history. A couple of hours (or an afternoon) searching out the best azulejos will reward you with some of your favorite photos. The exterior of churches, such as Igreja dos Congregados, Porto Cathedral, Igreja do Carmo, and Capela das Almas make for especially compelling photos. So, grab your camera and set off for some no-cost, free time fun!
See Porto from the sky at the top of Clérigos Tower. Stretching 249-feet into the sky, Torre dos Clérigos is the tallest campanile (bell tower) in Portugal and until the late-19th century, the tallest building in Portugal. Though its pencil-thin silhouette doesn’t suggest it, there is a 200-step, winding, narrow staircase inside the tower. You can pay a modest fee to climb it to the observation deck. You’ll find the journey is worth every step, as you take in panoramic views of Porto and the Douro River, each view begging to be the star of your Instagram post. (During the summer you can visit at night and capture moonlit photographs!) Keep in mind this is a working bell tower. During your climb, you’ll see the 49-bell carillon. If you’re in the tower when the bells ring at midday, cover your ears or they’ll be ringing the rest of the day!
Note: Some sections of the stairway are quite narrow and may not suit those who don’t like confined spaces. Instead, enjoy the free pipe organ concert held at noon each day in the adjoining church.
Head to the beaches of Foz do Douro to soak in the sun. Do as the locals do when a beautiful sunshiny day comes calling: take the day off and hit the beach. There are several small beaches east of Porto’s center in Foz do Douro you can get to by renting a bike in the city, riding the bus (#500), or taking the historic tram (Line 1). Once there, you’ll enjoy cooling breezes, beachfront bars, seafood restaurants, and plenty of spots to enjoy the sights and sounds of the surf. Don’t worry about taking a bathing suit with you. Most find the Atlantic Ocean in northern Portugal too cold for anything more than getting your feet wet. If you do find yourself here late in the day, it’s well worth staying for the sunset.
Roam the most romantic spot in Porto in the company of peacocks. If you’re looking for an escape from the bustling center of Porto, take off for an enchanted afternoon to stroll through flower gardens, past bubbling fountains, and to some of the most incredible viewpoints in Porto. The Crystal Palace Gardens (Jardins do Palácio de Cristal) are free to enter, and worth the walk from the city center. The gardens are one of our favorite things to see in Porto. Named after the Crystal Palace that was completed in 1865 to host the International Exhibition of Porto (but has long since been torn down), the winding walkways and expansive gardens are a favorite escape for locals. Come to relax, soak in the beauty, and marvel at the colorful peacocks that roam the grounds.
Find the perfect spot to take in one of Porto’s stunning sunsets. With its prime location on the coast and the sparkling Douro River running through it, the hilly city of Porto is full of viewpoints to watch amazing sunsets. Some of the very best are Miradouro das Virtudes (a favorite of locals), Jardim do Palácio de Cristal (where peacocks roam), and Panorâmico (where the Douro River spills into the Atlantic). But if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, head for the Dom Luis I Bridge (also called the Luis I Bridge) which soars 190-feet above the Douro River. The top deck of this double-decker engineering marvel has a pedestrian walkway where you can take in great views of the city. Time it right and you’ll find it the ideal spot to snap an amazing sunset photo. But if heights make you dizzy, you can plant your feet firmly in the sand at Matosinhos Beach and capture the sun setting into the ocean.
“We watched the sunset on the south side of the Douro River, just west of the Luis I Bridge (where the tour drops you off for free time),” said staffer Lindsey. “We walked up to the top of a hill to the Jardim do Morro garden, took some pictures, and walked across the bridge. It was stunning.”
Explore all of our Porto tours
What to eat and drink in Porto
Portuguese food is fresh, hearty, and delicious. You’ll find that especially true in the country’s foodie central: Porto, where cod, octopus, sardines, and shrimp are at the heart of the fish-based cuisine. Along with its renowned Port wine, the city serves up a delicious menu of sausages, stews, sandwiches, and cheeses.
Staffer Nicole said that, of all the things to experience in Porto, the cuisine stood out the most. Making and sharing meals is an important part of Portuguese culture, and she learned that firsthand. “There was so much amazing food, I feel like I ate everything in sight!” Nicole said.
Francesinha. There’s no one standard recipe for this calorie-heavy sandwich, and local chefs are notoriously silent on exactly how they make their versions. But, generally, francesinha is made with ham, linguiça sausage, and steak, then topped with melted cheese and a fried egg. The whole thing gets covered in a tomato-and-beer sauce and is served with a side of fries, in case you’re still hungry. “It seems crazy, but you have to try it,” said staffer Nicole—and Cerverjaria Brasão is a favorite spot to dig in.
“It’s really good, but it’s so heavy,” said staffer Lindsey. “I recommend just getting a small version to accompany the meal or splitting one to share. Literally, no one on our tour finished their sandwich.”
Bacalhau. Centuries before refrigeration, Portuguese fisherman preserved their catch of cod on long voyages by salting it. Today, salted cod (bacalhau) is Portugal’s national dish, and you’ll find it on almost every menu in Porto. Some say the Portuguese have nearly 1,000 recipes for cod and it feels like you can find every one of them here. Depending on your tastes, you won’t be disappointed with a delicious dish of bacalhau à gomes de sá (a casserole with potatoes, eggs, and olives), bacalhau à brás (shredded cod casserole), or bacalhau com natas (baked with cream and cheese).
“Get a fresh salad at the Mercado Beira-Rio,” says staffer Lindsey. “You’ll be eating so much cod on your trip, it’s nice to have a break.”
Vinho verde. While we’re talking cod, staffer Erin recommends having some vinho verde with your salted cod dinner. “Vinho verde translates as green wine but is actually a white wine and is typically a young wine, bottled after only two to three years,” she said. “It’s fresh, fruity, and slightly bubbly!” The wine is produced in the lush, green rolling hills in a region neighboring Porto. If you tour during the summer, you’ll find vinho verde, with its subtle carbonation, especially refreshing.
Tripas à moda do Porto. While Porto is famous for its seafood, meat plays a big role in its culture, too. And they believe no part of the animal should go to waste. So, you may need to be the adventurous type to dig into the city’s signature dish. This stew features tripe (a cow’s stomach lining) and calf knuckles. But when mixed with rice, chicken, beans, and plenty of cured meats, the result is a delicious combination of flavors and history you’ll be glad you tasted.
Cachorrinho. When you’re in the mood for street food to get you to dinner or something delicious to share with your fellow travelers, Porto’s version of the hot dog is the way to go. Francesinha may get all the glory, but cachorrinho is nearly as famous. The specialty sandwich features grilled Portuguese sausage cut lengthwise and placed into long, thin, toasted bread. It’s then topped with a spicy sauce and cheese and sliced into bite-sized pieces. Cachorrinho is easy to devour and even easier to share. You’ll find them in pubs and cafes everywhere. For a real treat, order one at Cervejaria Gazela along with an ice-cold Super Bock (a Portuguese beer that’s a local favorite).
Pastel de nata. Satisfy your sweet tooth with this egg custard-filled, flaky pastry, Portugal’s most popular and beloved treat. While its centuries-old origins are mysterious, one thing is indisputable: the classic recipe has stood the test of time. Tripeiros (Porto residents) can’t get enough of them. You’ll find you can’t avoid them (nearly every bakery in the city offers them), so go ahead and give in to the temptation. If you can find them fresh-from-the-oven warm, you’ll be an instant convert. For a real treat, stop in at Confeitaria do Bolhão in front of Mercado do Bolhão. This historic pastry shop serves up its delights on Vista Alegre porcelain crockery along with silver cutlery.
Cimbalino. If you love coffee, this is your drink in Porto. Cimbalino is how locals refer to traditional Italian espresso. Named after the original La Cimbali espresso machines in Portugal, cimbalino makes a great kickstart to a day on tour or the perfect complement to dessert. Splurge and head to one of the most beautiful cafes in the world, the nearly 100-year-old Majestic Café, where a piece of chocolate accompanies your cup of coffee.
“For lunch, the Majestic Café is very popular and has delicious food!” says staffer Erin. “However, they are a bit more expensive compared to the average prices.”
Port wine. As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” In the case of Porto, you simply can’t escape without trying its namesake wine. The sweet, fortified red wine is best enjoyed after a meal, paired with cheeses or desserts. Or you could head to one of the many wine cellars, where you’ll learn about how Port is produced and get to sample the different varieties.
“For a twist, try a Porto tónico, especially if you’re a fan of the Spanish staple: the gin and tonic,” said staffer Nicole. “It’s a cocktail made with white Port, tonic, and a hint of orange.”
Licor Beirão. Port wine may be Porto’s most famous libation, but Portugal’s national drink is the botanical-flavored Licor Beirão. Sweeter, smoother, and not nearly as potent as Jägermeister and Pimm’s herbal liqueurs, it’s used to flavor both coffee and cocktails. (Though at 22% ABV, it’s no lightweight!) The recipe is a trade secret, but you’ll detect the strong aromas of cinnamon, rosemary, and eucalyptus among its many herbs. Poured over ice, Licor Beirão makes a delicious drink to sip while enjoying Porto’s pub culture.
What to pack for Porto
No guide to Porto is complete without tips on what to pack. Unlike southern Portugal, Porto’s weather isn’t warm year-round. Evenings can get cool in summer, and winters can be rainy. Layering is key to a successful trip any time of year and you should focus mostly on casual wear, except for a few special occasions.
- Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that can be easily layered to accommodate varying temperatures, as well as a light jacket. Summer brings warm, but not extreme temperatures—the coast keeps things cooler.
- Comfortable walking shoes or sneakers with rubber soles are a must for sightseeing. Porto’s medieval cobblestone streets can be tricky in sandals or when the streets are wet.
- Dressier attire if you plan to visit a high-end restaurant or attend a special performance.
- A travel umbrella or rainwear will come in handy as it can get wet in Porto, especially in the winter months.
- A pashmina. Even though most places in Portugal are reasonably casual, you will need to dress more modestly at religious sites.
Best souvenirs to buy in Porto
While you can’t bottle Porto’s Old-World charm and bring it home, the shops along its cobblestone streets, the craft fairs, and the wineries offer plenty of mementos unique to the city and the region. Here are some of our favorites.
- Handpainted tiles. Staffer Lindsey suggests buying them from local art vendors that paint them themselves. “Porto has been having a problem with people stealing the vintage tiles off buildings and selling them, buying from local artists ensures you don’t accidentally buy one of those,” she said.
- Anything cork. Did you know Portugal is the biggest exporter of cork in the world? You’ll see it in shops throughout the city, and snagging a souvenir made from the material is one of the best things to do in Porto. “You can get cork purses, aprons, shoes, keychains, trivets, and much more,” said staffer Erin. “I got a cork purse to bring home and I use it all the time in the spring and summer,” said staffer Jules.
- Barcelos Rooster. You’ll find the Portuguese symbol of good fortune and happiness in every conceivable shape and form throughout the tourist shops of Porto. Bracelet charms, painted azulejos, wooden boxes, tablecloths, and our favorite, the colorful figurine, all pay tribute to the Barcelos Rooster. Its legend stems from a 15th-century tale in which a pilgrim was saved from hanging by a crowing rooster.
- “Believe it or not… canned sardines,” said staffer Gustavo. “They’re different than the ones we have in North America, and I was actually surprised when I enjoyed them,” he said. As a bonus, they often come in really pretty, vintage-looking tins, which makes for a nice memento. A great place to browse is the retro Casa Oriental in downtown Porto, where the colorful displays of thousands of sardine cans make for a great photo.
- Port wine. There’s no better souvenir than a bottle of wine from a local vineyard or shop you visited during your trip. It quite literally brings the flavors of Portugal back home with you. However, if you don’t want to travel with a bottle of Port through customs or on your flight, take a snap of your favorite Port’s label. You’ll be able to find many of the vintages back home.
- Painted ceramics. Painted pottery has been a part of Portugal’s culture for centuries—and makes for a great gift to bring home, too. You could buy beautiful bowls and plates, or stick with a more traditional tile. The patterns and colors alone will bring you right back to your time here!