Colorful tiled facades, port wine and stunning vistas – that’s probably how I would describe Porto in a few words.
Porto, the second largest city in Portugal is a coastal town in the north of the country. Although smaller than Lisbon, Porto is unique in its own way and deserves a few days on your Portugal itinerary.
Here are some must do things in Porto
(in no particular order)
The Ribeira district, situated right by the banks of the Douro river is probably one of the most colorful and eclectic areas of Porto. It’s touristy, with restaurants facing the open square but also residential (as evident from the laundry hanging from the balconies). I found this juxtaposition really interesting.
2. Dom Luís I Bridge
Rising almost 150 feet above the Douro river, this bridge connects the Ribeira district to the Vila Nova de Gaia area where port wine is aged. The bridge has 2 levels and both levels have commanding views of the Ribeira area and the Porto Cathedral.
3. Cruise Down the Douro River
Several companies offer cruises along the Douro valley for about 12 euros or so. The tours last about 50 minutes.
4. Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia is located directly across the Douro river from Ribeira. Until recently, port could only be considered “port” if it was aged in this area. There are lots of companies that offer tastings in Gaia. I held out because I was doing a few tastings the next day in the Douro Valley area (also I’m not a massive port person) but it’s definitely worth it if you want to get a taste of port.
I really enjoyed the views of the Ribeira district and the Porto Cathedral from across the river.
5. Igreja do Carmo
Portugal is well known for its beautiful azulejo tiles and Igreja do Carmo in Porto is a fine example of this art. While the inside of this church is worth a visit, it’s really the exterior that steals the show.
6. São Bento Train Station
São Bento train station has some of the finest azulejos tile work I saw in all of Porto.
7. Colorful Tiled Facades
Tile decorated facades are not just limited to churches in Porto. Walking around, you will find many houses, shops and ordinary buildings with colorful tiles and designs.
8. Clérigos Church and Tower
Enter inside the church and climb the tower for an impressive 360 degree view of the city. The church is free to visit while the tower is 3 euros.
9. Livraria Lello
Livraria Lello is a bookstore that is supposed to have inspired J.K Rowling. It has an impressive staircase inside and is built in the neo-manueline style outside. This store gets super crowded so get there early (but not too early..I got there too early and the place was closed). There’s a small entrance fee that you can apply towards a purchase.
10. Porto Cathedral
The Cathedral in Porto is one of the city’s oldest monuments. Personally, I was more impressed by the views from and around the Cathedral.
11. Capela de Almas
Capela de Almas or the Chapel of Souls is famous for its azulejo tile work depicting scenes from the lives of saints.
12. Igreja De Santo Ildefonso
Situated near the Batalha Square, this church is another fine example of azulejo tilework.
13. Porto at Night
The busy and bubbling Ribeira district is relatively quiet at night. Take a walk around this area and see the magnificent Dom Luís I bridge lit up at night.
14. Porto Sign
If you like to take a picture with the name sign in each city, Porto’s sign is near the Clérigos Church.
15. Church of San Francisco
This highly decorated church is worth the 4 euro entry fee. The ticket also covers the catacombs situated inside the building on the opposite side of the church.
16. Palacio da Bolsa
Situated right next to the Church of San Francisco, the Palacio da Bolsa or the Stock Exchange Palace is a neoclassical building known for its richly decorated rooms and spaces.
This monument was closed when I visited but it should definitely be a part of your itinerary. They have guided tours every 30 minutes and the cost of the ticket is 8 euros.
17. Portuguese Food
Porto is the birthplace of Francesinha, perhaps one of the most well known Portuguese dishes. Francesinha is a sandwich with layers of ham, sausage and steak, covered in melted cheese and served in a mildly spicy tomato sauce with an option of an egg on top (which I got because, why not!).
In short, a heart attack on a plate! But oh so worth it!
18. Day Trips to the Surrounding Areas
If cruising down the Douro river, enjoying scenic valley views and tasting wine sounds like your kind of thing, head to the Douro Valley for the day. While port wine is aged and stored in Gaia, Douro Valley is the birthplace and source of port wine where the grapes are grown. Infact, port wine can only be grown in this region.
There are lots of tour companies that will pick you up from your hotel, take you to the valley and drop you back at your hotel in Porto. You can also explore this area by car.
Amarante is a quick detour on the way to the Douro Valley. The town has an old church and convent and a Roman bridge that is worth stopping to visit.
How to Get to Porto
Porto is about a 3 hour train ride from Lisbon. Campanhã is the name of the main train station that connects Porto with the rest of Portugal. São Bento station connects Porto with the regions close by.
Porto also has an airport that has good connections to Lisbon and the rest of Europe.
Once you arrive in Porto, you should be able to cover most of the city by foot. Porto does have a metro system if you want to get around the city faster but to be honest, the best views are by foot. The metro will connect you from the airport to the city. You can also uber (I paid about 15 euros from the airport to the city center)
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