This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2019. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
A handful of people had hinted that Porto is the kind of place Rob and I would enjoy visiting.
Boy, were they right! Porto had the slightly-grungy-but-also-charming vibes that flow through many of our favourite destinations. Packed with colourful buildings, al fresco dining, and views to die for, this city was a perfectly picturesque place to spend a weekend away.
I’ve done loads of city-hopping in my time, and honestly, I think Porto was one of my best experiences. Although it was a little more touristy than I expected, it was still a winning destination. If you’re also planning a city break in this happening seaside hotspot, here are 12 essential activities for a weekend in Porto!
Where we stayed:
We booked an Airbnb apartment on a quiet street near Trindade Station. The modern, IKEA-filled apartment had a perfectly adorable Portuguese balcony, just big enough to fit two seats and a tiny table, which looked directly onto a building covered in deep-green azulejos across the street.
Needless to say, our mornings were spent drinking coffee on the balcony as seabirds flew overhead and the sun rose over the rooftops. Our evenings were spent much the same way, except the coffee was swapped for Portuguese wine and a cheese spread. It literally could not have been more perfect.
The best things to do in Porto:
1. Go hunting for azulejos
Azulejos (Portuguese tiles) started appearing in Porto in the 16th century. They were traditionally white and blue, though nowadays you can find them in a range of colours. You’ll see them covering both the outside and inside of historic and modern buildings throughout the city.
Take your camera and go hunting for these pretty patterned tiles. If you’re feeling crafty, you can even do an azulejos tile painting workshop to learn the traditional painting techniques!
2. Walk over the Dom Luís I Bridge
The Dom Luís I Bridge is an impressive structure crossing the Douro River, connecting Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia. This double level arch bridge was built in 1886 and was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel (who did the Eiffel tower! Can you see the similarities?).
Walking over the bridge is a popular activity for visitors to Porto. I walked over both the top level and the bottom level, and absolutely loved the city views from both!
3. Check out the Douro
The gorgeous river that flows through Porto is the Douro. The river actually starts 897 kms (557 miles) away in inland Spain, and it meets the ocean right here in Porto! If you follow the river upstream, you’ll come across some pretty landscapes and a stellar port wine region. While you’re in Porto, you can walk along the river in either Ribeira or Gaia, or take a sailing boat trip on the water.
4. Sip on some port wine
Did you know that port wine is from Porto?? I had no idea, but it seemed so obvious once I found out! Wine tasting is one of the best things to do in Porto. If you head across the Douro to one of the wine cellars in Gaia, you can sample different types of this sweet wine such as white, rose, tawny, and ruby in these little port glasses. My fave was the tawny!
5. Do a cellar tour
If you enjoyed tasting the port wines, then it’s also worth doing a cellar tour. Many of the wineries in Gaia have a warehouse where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of making port wine. Book your spot a few days in advance, as these tours are very popular. We enquired at a few places and ended up on a tour of Cockburn’s, which included 3 port wine tastings.
6. Wander around Gaia
After you’ve finished up with your wine tastings and cellar tour in Gaia, take a walk around! This area has some special spots, like Jardim do Morro, pictured above. It’s a steep walk up the hill to the park, but it’s worth the effort for these views! If you’re feeling extra lazy, you can choose to take the cable car from the riverfront to this insta spot instead.
7. Walk along Ribeira
Although Ribeira was rather touristy and the restaurant options were almost 100% seafood (not great for us vegetarians!), it was still nice to walk through and see what this area was all about. Ribeira Square is lined with some pretty pastel buildings, and you get some lovely views of the Douro from around here.
8. Check out the church tower views
Clérigos Church should definitely be on your Porto itinerary! This Baroque church was built in the 18th century, and is well worth the 5€ entry fee. The bell tower attached to this church is 76 metres (249 ft) tall, standing high above the surrounding rooftops. If you can climb the 200 steps to the top, you’ll be treated to this above vista of the city! The historic architecture inside the church is pretty neat, too.
9. See beautiful historic buildings
Porto has a huge number of historic buildings in the city center that are worth seeing. Stop in to visit Clérigos Church (pictured above), Igreja do Carmo church, São Bento station, and the Chapel of Souls. You can get an overview of the history of these buildings on an essential Porto walking tour.
Another one is Livraria Lello bookshop, which is one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal. Keep in mind that this is a very popular activity in Porto, and you can expect to pay an entrance fee and wait in line to get inside the shop. We gave it a miss as I really hate wasting time waiting in queues, and just peeked in from the doorway instead.
10. Hit up the beach
The above yellow structure is the Pergola of Foz, and it was my favourite place from our beach day in Porto! The temperature was a tad too cool for swimming during our September visit, but Rob and I spent hours staring out at the Atlantic from our seat at a nearby beach bar with a jug of sangria to share.
It’s pretty easy to get to the beach via bus, which takes about 30-40 minutes from the center of Porto. If you search for Pergola of Foz in Google Maps, it should give you a few route options including the 200, 202, and 500 buses.
11. Try some Pastel de nata
Portuguese tarts (Pastel de nata) may just be the best thing to eat in Portugal! These drool-worthy treats are made of pastry, egg custard, and a cinnamon dusting.
You can find them in cafes all over Porto, and they taste pretty great no matter where you get them from. I had a few in various cafes, coffee shops, and even at the airport as I was leaving Portugal. If you want, you can even learn how to make Pastel de nata!
12. Drink and dine
Porto has some amaaazing food and drink options, and it’s not too difficult for vegetarians to find a decent meal! Here’s how I suggest you spend a day drinking and dining in Porto:
First up, order brunch at Fabrica Coffee Roasters – a hip little coffee shop in the city center. After you’ve spent a few hours sightseeing, relax with an afternoon Super Bock (Portuguese beer) at Base Porto – a rooftop garden bar right next to Clérigos Church. When you’re finished exploring for the day, tuck in to an all-you-can-eat veggie buffet at daTerra restaurant. The food here was amazingly good!