A guide of what to do in Porto, Portugal. This small riverside city is famous for its port wine and tiled buildings, and it an easy trip from Lisbon.
Porto is your quintessential small European city. It has colorful buildings, narrow winding streets lined with cafés, castles, historic churches, and plenty of wine. Porto is small, walkable, and heavy on the charm. It is the perfect place to unwind. If you are heading to Portugal, add Porto to your itinerary.
How to get to Porto, Portugal:
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, and it is only 3 hours from Lisbon. You can hop on a bus or train to get there. Or, if you want to drive, it’s an easy 3 hour drive.
What to do in Porto, Portugal:
Admire the Tiled Buildings
Porto is one of those cities where I just wanted to walk around and admire the architecture. Lisbon has some tiled buildings, but Porto has more. I love just wandering around finding tiled buildings.
Visit the São Bento Train Station
The interior of this train station is decorated with painted tiles, it’s basically a mural made out of painted tiles and it’s beautiful.
Stop into The Fantastic World Of Portuguese Sardines
This shop on Rua de Trás is elaborately decorated in a circus theme and it’s so fun! And yes, they sell sardines!
Ride the Funicular
Porto is on a steep hill. Going down it is no problem, but you might not want to climb back up it. Fortunately, there is a funicular to take you to the top of the city. It has a view you don’t want to miss too!
Walk along the Ribeira
The Ribeira is the bustling street along the Douro River that is lined with cafés. It’s the center of activity in the town.
Old City Center
The Old City Center is up on a hill and has a monument in the middle of the square.
This historic shop has become famous for bring a source of inspiration to J.K. Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter. I was curious to see how a bookshop might have helped to inspire some of my favorite novels, and it became clear as soon as I stepped inside.
There are colorful stained glass windows, ornate woodwork, and the centerpiece of the store is a twisting wooden staircase with crimson stairs. The ground floor has a wooden cart that moves on rails (similar to a train) and is used to move books. It is considered one of the most beautiful book stores in the world.
It’s a small shop, and it is a big tourist destination, so it was crowded. To enter you need to stop by the office next door and purchase a ticket for 4 Euros. I went on a Sunday, but it probably would have been best to visit on a weekday.
Rua Santa Catarina
This pedestrian street is the place to shop in Porto. It is also where you will find Cafe Majestic.
Sunset at Dom Luis Bridge
Take the train over to the Jardim do Morro stop in Gaia to watch the sunset. The station is at the top of the famous Dom Luis Bridge that connects Gaia and Porto and it is perfect place to watch the sunset.
Taste Port Wine in Gaia
Porto is the home of port wine, and even though it isn’t my favorite style of wine, tasting port in Porto just seemed like the thing to do. I figured it made the most sense to go to Graham’s, so I made an appointment for a tour and tasting. You do need to make an appointment since tours are given in different languages at different times, but there were several openings when I made a day of reservation.
Gaia is the village across the river from Porto, and it is where you will find all of the port wine wineries. Yes, I am confused about why we call the wine “port” if it really comes from Gaia.
Port wine is made from grapes grown in the nearby Douro Valley, an area known for steep rocky hills. The wine is sent to Gaia were it ages. All port wine is made from a blend of grapes, and it is fortified – which means that alcohol is added to the wine to stop the fermentation process. Usually as wine ferments the sugars turn into alcohol. With Port wine, the fermentation process is stopped so that the wine remains sweet. Since alcohol is added to the wine it has a higher percentage of alcohol.
I tasted three different styles of Graham’s Port: ruby port, tawny port, and vintage port. I liked the tawny port the best. Tawny port has a more caramel color and flavor, and it had less of a sticky sweet taste.
When you buy your ticket for the tour at Graham’s you pick which tasting you want to try. If had the Graham’s Tasting which included tastings of each style of port, and it cost 30 Euros. The basic tasting is just 12 Euros. When you spring for a more expensive tasting you get to enjoy it in the beautiful library and not in the somewhat sterile tasting room.
Go for a Boat Ride
There are many companies in Gaia and Porto that offer boat rides. The view of Porto from the river can’t be beat and we learned the history of the five bridges connecting Porto and Gaia as we cruised. We took one of the smaller boats that left from the Gaia side of the river and the ticket included a port tasting at a nearby wine cellar.
Hop on Hop Off Bus
On my first trip to Porto I went on the Hop on Hop Off bus, but I wouldn’t recommend. Porto is so small that you can easily walk everywhere. The only benefit to going on the bus is that you get to see the coast.
Where to Eat in Porto:
Located on Rua Santa Catarina, a popular shopping street, Cafe Majestic is one of the most beautiful cafes in the world. It first opened in 1921 and is glamorously decorated with mirrors, chandeliers, and wood carvings. We stopped in for a snack while we were there, they also offer afternoon tea if you want something more than just a snack.
Brunch at Do Norte Café by Hungry Biker
This cafe is the place to brunch in Porto. The health conscious food is served up in hearty portions. We ate so much that we didn’t need to eat again until dinner.
Rei dos Queijos
The name of this restaurant translated to the “king of cheese” and they have a happy hour where wine is served with cheese plates. We loved it so much that we went back for dinner.
Dinner at Patio do Duque
The food and the service at this restaurant are both exceptional. Try the savory cheese-filled profiteroles, something that the chef is known for creating. Then try Portuguese specialties like bacalhau, local sausage, and slow-cooked pork.
Wine Quay Café
My favorite thing to do in Porto was to sip wine and snack on cheese at the cafés in Ribeira. If you aren’t watching the sunset from the top of the bridge, watch it from Wine Quay Café, which is perfectly situated up on the second level of cafés along the river. The tables at the café face the river, making it the ideal place to enjoy the view. They have a great list of Portuguese wines, and a simple menu of cheese, meats, and snacks. They even give guests water guns to keep the seagulls away.
We didn’t have time to dine here, but several people recommended it via Instagram.
A restaurant up on a second floor away from the busyness of the Ribeira. Sit outside and people watch and sip sangria.
Where to Stay in Porto:
The first time I went to Porto I stayed at the Vincci Porto, which was just a 5-minute tram ride into the center of the city. The hotel seemed to be freshly renovated, had clean, comfortable, and spacious rooms, and it was only $90 a night.
NH Collection Porto Batalha
On my second trip to Porto I stayed at the NH Collection Porto Batalha with my sister. We loved the central location of this hotel, the accommodations themselves were pretty basic.