16 Best Things (Must Dos) to do in Porto
With a culture distinct from the rest of Portugal, a whole host of traditional food and drink to get stuck into and an unmistakably European jigsaw of architecture, there are so many things to do in Porto. This is a city on its way up and you won’t want to miss it!
Porto is one of the oldest cities in Europe, flourishing firstly as a Roman outpost and in the 18th century as a well-established trading post for wine. This rich history, distinct culture and architecture have led to its relatively untouristed highlight, the old town, being labelled as a UNESCO historic centre in 1996; more funds for major reconstruction has led to a cleaning up of run-down parts of the city.
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Temperatures reach as high as 40 degrees in the summer, and winters are mild, meaning it’s the perfect place for a warm city break. With all of that in mind, here are 15 things to do in Porto.
Booked your Porto accommodation yet? Check out our guide to Where to Stay on Porto – The Best Areas
1- Eat Tripe
Yes, you read that correctly. The native inhabitants of Porto are big tripe eaters. In fact, they eat so much tripe that they have been affectionately labelled ‘Tripeiros’ – tripe eaters. The fondness for tripe dates all the way back to 1415 when the city went without meat so that Lisbon and the mercantile fleet could have their share. The people of Porto were left to make do and today tripe stew is a Porto speciality. Though it doesn’t sound like the most enticing of Porto attractions – the dish is made up of white beans, pig’s ears, cows’ stomach lining and other tidbits – this tasty tripe is not to be missed.
2 – Porto Nightlife
If you like eating, drinking, dancing and chatting late into the night then Porto is the place for you. With an explosion of new cafes and bars opening up on every corner and a sultry European vibe to match, there is an electric atmosphere in the old lanes of Porto. Cafe Piolho has a long history of being a meeting place during Portugal’s long dictatorship and still continues to be a hangout for the city’s student population. It’s open until 4 in the morning and abuzz with the life of the city.
3 – Livraria Lello
One of the top things to see in Porto has to be Livraria Lello. This ornate bookshop claims to be one of the most visited bookshops it the world and it’s not hard to see why: it’s beautiful. Visitors have to pay around 5 euros to enter through the doors of what the owners describe as a ‘living bookshop’. Once inside you will be greeted with a bookshop that looks like it is out of the pages of a book itself. Engraved wood twists into ornate double staircases and even the wall seep with history. Grab a cup of coffee at the cafe on the top floor and watch life inside this incredible bookshop unfold.
4 – São Bento Railway Station
Stunning azulejo blue tiles decorate the interior walls of this still functioning 19th century railway station. Depicting scenes of Portuguese history, key events and economic activities as well as images of everyday life, the tiles are classically Portuguese and well worth your time. The station is connected to the Metro too, so the easy access means there is no excuse not to go and stare in wonder at the tiles. While you’re there why not sit for a while and take in the daily routines of Porto unfolding.
5 – Kadoorie Synagogue
A symbolic structure for the Jewish residents of the Porto region and the biggest synagogue on the Iberian peninsula, the Kadoorie Synagogue plays an important role in supporting the 800 years of Jewish Porto history. The synagogue was inaugurated in 1938 at a time when the Jewish communities were being persecuted across Germany. The synagogue played an important role in helping the local Jewish community, formerly persecuted by royal decree from 1496 and by the Church during the Inquisition. It’s a good idea to arrange a tour with the synagogue and get a detailed and engaging insight into the history of the Jewish community and the importance of the building itself.
6 – São Francisco Church
Walking through the catacombs to get to this church might feel a little eerie to some. Step between the tombs and even over some of them as a large ossuary room under your feet reveal the bones of the once rich and powerful lying awaiting judgement day and then get more than a little spooked by the sight of a mummified head that appears to be smiling at you. The real draw to this UNESCO World Heritage site is the outstanding church that dates back to 1383 and really is totally awe inspiring. Statues and altarpieces drip with baroque excess, capturing the imagination and leading you into a world of the Porto of the past.
7 – Coliseu do Porto
This art deco concert and theatre venue is an elegant landmark in the cultural landscape of the city. Go and see a performance and admire the architecture in a concert hall that has a special place in the hearts of the people of Porto. Catch a concert, get enthralled by a ballet, or see a movie, and while you sit there among the people of the city you will feel much less like a tourist and more like you belong. You can also hire a guide to discover the secrets and lesser known facts about the Coliseu do Porto.
8 – Capela do Senhor da Pedra
Take a trip out of the city by train to discover the sandy beaches of Greater Porto seaside town, Miramar. Once a site for ancient Pagan worship, a sacred boulder that juts out of the sea was built upon in the 17th century in an effort to Christianise the land. A hexagonal church now sits on the rock which you can scramble over to gain access to the chapel itself. The unique placement of the church on the rocks gives enticing views of the surrounding landscape. Paganism is still practised in Miramar town with an annual festival involving a parade of cloaked witches which starts on Trinity Sunday.
9 – McDonald’s Imperial
What is claimed to the “most beautiful McDonald’s in the world” opened its doors in 1995. Housed in what was the Imperial Cafe, this isn’t one of the normal Porto highlights but this McD’s has retained many of the historic building’s original 1930s art deco features. Order your Big Mac whilst taking in the large stained glass windows looming above the ubiquitous lit-up menu and sit sipping your coke under the stylish rendered ceiling and sparkling chandelier.
10 – Drink Port Wine
One of the top Porto attractions is a Porto wine tour. Port wine is in the city’s blood: a deal with England in 1703 effectively gave the English dominance in what the world knows as port, but to counter them Portugal set up a rival firm that held a monopoly over Duoro valley wine, leading to essentially was the first attempt at controlling the production and quality of wine in Europe. No trip to the wine-rich region would be complete without sampling some of its namesake wine (not just port). Explore Porto’s various wine caves on a tour and get a little taster too. Wine is cheap in Porto, almost as cheap as water!
11 – Take a Trip to the Duoro Valley
So you’ve been lucky enough to sample the many wines on offer in Porto, but where does it all come from? Port Wine has been produced in the nearby Douro Valley for over 2000 years, so is one of the oldest wine regions on the planet! The area is mountainous with vineyards clinging to the slopes that line the Duoro River creating a very striking landscape.
Day trips to the Douro valley are available via river cruise, train or road but we recommend spending a few days in Pinhao to really soak up the region’s laidback vibe and winemaking atmosphere. Check out our guide on where to stay in the Douro Valley.
12 – Case de Serralves
Indulge in the delicious design of the Case de Serralves, one of the coolest architectural Porto sights to see. Born out of the industrial and cultural boom that followed the First World War, the house is an elegant mix of neo-classical, romantic and art deco design. Take a stroll around the satisfyingly symmetrical grounds, gaze in awe at the aesthetically pleasing pastel pink facade and take in the contemporary art on display inside the Serralves Museum.
13 – Igreja do Carmo
One of the most beautiful churches in Porto, Igreja do Carmo was built in the 18th century and is one of the best examples of rococo architecture in the city. The facade is covered in beautiful tiles whilst inside is coated in a whole load of engraved gold, perfect if you love taking pictures. And the entrance is free.
14 – Bairro Herculano
If you are looking for real Porto sightseeing head to Bairro Herculano, a small non-touristy district in Porto that is perfect for a stroll. Quaint two-story houses that date back to 1880 dot the lanes and are packed full of the history of the working class population that traditionally lived in the area. Photo opportunities are abundant as local life is still being lived out among the lanes. Wander around and take it all in, but try not to stand out too much as a tourist.
15 – Eat a Francesinha
There’s tripe, and then there’s francesinha. Literally translated as ‘little French lady’ this is one dish that is a classic Porto sight. Made from bread, meat and melted cheese, topped with spicy tomato sauce and served loaded with french fries, it will leave you in awe of its deliciousness. This tasty dish originates in Porto and is served all over the city so it would be difficult not to try it!
16 – Buy Fresh Fruit at Bolhão Market
Markets are great places to experience daily life, and this Porto sightseeing spot is no different. This famous market has been around since 1914 and is set right in the heart of the old town. Take a stroll and get lost among the stalls and experience a slice of local life, meet friendly shop owners, buy some fresh fruit or simply sit and have a coffee whilst people-watching and breathing in the sights, smells and sounds of the market.
Other useful resources:
Guide to the Douro Valley
30 Awesome Photos of Porto
2 Weeks in Portugal Itinerary