Porto is one of Europe’s most charming destinations, with a medieval centre, port wine cellars and even a connection to Harry Potter. We visited Porto in June, and I’m excited to share my top 10 things to do in Porto, as well as recommendations on where to eat and stay in Porto.
1. Port Wine Caves
Porto is known for well, Port. I couldn’t write a list of the Top 10 things to do in Porto without mentioning the Port Wine Caves. Across the Douro River in Villa Nova de Gaia are numerous cellars where Port wine is stored and aged.
We visited the Calem Port Wine cellars, and had a one-hour tour of the cellar, and had a tasting of three port wines. The facility and tour was more modern, so I would recommend a more rustic cellar such as Sandeman. Regardless, it was fascinating to learn about the process of aging a port wine, as well as the history of port. We opted for three wine tastings for 15 euros each, which offered the most value.
I would recommend doing this tour after lunch or a very hearty breakfast and lunch, as port wines have a high alcohol content! Book your Port wine cellar tour at least a day in advance (perhaps more in case you are in high season), and maybe visit two tasting rooms to compare the varieties between ports. We only visited one port wine cellar, as we were heading to the Douro Valley the next day.
2. Ribeira District
Along the waterfront of the Douro River, you will find Ribeira Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, this medieval area dates back to the 1400s. The buildings are colourful, and have just the right amount of photogenic decay. Get lost wondering into little restaurants, alleys, boutiques and cafes.
In the Ribeira District, I’m wearing a black and white embroidered ruffle shift dress ℅ Ann Taylor, my ultimate travel shoe, the Melissa classy sandals (under $70 and so comfy), Sojos sunglasses from Amazon, and a Byrdie Make it Mine bag from Kate Spade.
Shop the look:
3. Ponte de Dom Luís I
The Dom Luís I Bridge is one of the Top 10 things to do in Porto that’s entirely free! This bridge connects Porto over the Douro river to Villa Nova de Gaia, where all the port wine cellars are located thanks to lower rent and more shade to keep the wine cool. The Ponte de Dom Luís I has two decks pedestrians can walk across, and take in the magnificent waterfront of the charming Ribeira district.
I’m a bit scared of heights, so I chose to stick to the lower deck to easily cross the bridge on both waterfronts. The top deck is nearly 300 ft above the river! The archway is incredibly photogenic, and a great spot to watch the sun set.
At the Ponte de Dom Luís I, I wore a ribbed white cropped tee from H&M, striped pink culottes (this pair is under $30), a straw hat from H&M, leather Clarks sandals, and a nude Gucci Marmont shoulder bag.
4. Torre dos Clérigos & Church
The Torre dos Clérigos is one of the symbols of Porto, and offers a magnificent view of the entire city. You need to purchase tickets to go up the tower, and the wait took about an hour to be allowed to climb up the narrow staircase. There are two levels of observation, with panoramic views of the city.
On your way up or back down, don’t forget to admire the beautiful interior of the Clérigos Church.
You can choose to visit the Clérigos Tower and Church during the day or at night, for 5 euros, but we opted to add on the Palacio de Bolsa for 14 euros total.
5. Livraria Lello
Located near the Clérigos is Livraria Lello, an infamous spot thanks to its gorgeous staircase and a little novel called Harry Potter. This bookstore was founded in 1881, and features both Art Nouveau and Neo Gothic architecture inside the two-storey building. It costs 5 euros to enter the book store, but you can get a discount on any book purchased at Livraria Lello. The reason this bookstore is known as the “Harry Potter bookstore” is that J.K. Rowling taught English in Porto, and would frequent the shop, and was possibly the source of inspiration for the setting and famous staircases in Harry Potter.
When taking a photo on the Harry Potter staircase in the Lello Bookstore, be patient. It’s very difficult to get a shot of the stair case without anyone in the background. I’d also suggest using your iPhone instead of a DSLR, as the lighting in the bookstore can be challenging!
Did you know that the famous Livraria Lello staircase is not made of wood? In fact, it’s a magnificent example of plaster work and faux finishing, that can also be seen at the Palacio de Bolsa
6. Base Porto
One of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to is Base Porto. This outdoor bar sits atop a small shopping complex and offers beautiful views of the Clérigos Tower, good music and lots of seating to relax in a garden with a beverage. They also have movie nights on a projector screen! The prices were reasonable for the location and novelty, and I enjoyed catching some sun and relaxing after walking up all the hills in Porto!
7. Majestic Café
We were told that Majestic Café still makes espresso on a copper machine from the 19th Century, but sadly, that is no longer the case. The cafe, located on Rua de Santa Catarina, is decked out in Belle Epoque decor reminiscent of Paris or Brussels, and a piano player even plays pop and Disney tunes. It’s one of those places you need to visit just to stay you went, but beware, the menu is 4x the price we were used to.
8. Palacio de Bolsa
Go on a guided tour of the Palacio de Bolsa, a 19th Century building that housed Porto’s Commercial Association. As a lawyer, I enjoyed seeing the old courtrooms that are now used for wine tasting nights! You can also get a glimpse into Gustave Eiffel’s office, who was commissioned to design the Maria Pia bridge.
One of my favourite moments of our entire trip was visiting the jaw-dropping Arab room, decorated in the Moorish revival style. The tour guide gave us several minutes to take in its beauty and take pictures of the splendour.
The main courtyard, Pátio das Nações, has a stunning glass ceiling and dome, as well as crests of all of Portugal’s trading partners. I loved learning the history of this commercial hub, and definitely recommend adding on the Palacio de Bolsa tour to your Clerigos Tower ticket.
One of the most unique sights in Porto are all the gorgeous blue tile azulejo murals adorning church walls and train stations. I wrote more about the Azulejos here, but I would recommend visiting:
- Capela das Almas, Rua de Santa Catarina 428 – the most popular option, centrally located, with a beautiful tiled facade complete with a picturesque green door.
- Church of Saint Ildefonso, R. de Santo Ildefonso 11 – located nearby, this grand church has azulejos up the entire facade, but it has fallen into disrepair and is currently being refurbished.
- Igreja do Carmo, R. do Carmo, 4050-164 – This option was by FAR my favourite location to see the azulejo tiles! The picturesque stone windows and a massive wall add some incredible visual punch. It is close by Livraria Lello as well, and less frequented by tourists.
- Sao Bento Train Station – If you arrive to Porto by train, you will likely be greeted by these splendid tiles depicting Porto life.
For ease of reference, I’ve included photos of each location mentioned below:
Capela Das Almas:
Church of Saint Ildefonso
Igreja do Carmo
São Bento Train Station
10. Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
Another free option, and part of my Top 10 things to do in Porto, Portugal is the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. This sprawling garden has many gorgeous sights including a rose garden and many peacocks. When we visited, there was also a craft beer festival going on!
The original Palácio de Cristal was destroyed in the 1950s and replaced with a domed sports complex was closed for renovations when we visited in June 2018. Regardless, there are many beautiful little gardens and sights to see in this park, as well as a gorgeous view of the city of Porto. Try to arrive in the late afternoon to catch the sun set on the Douro River.
Bonus: Galleries on Rua Miguel Bombard
If you’re into modern art or are looking to add to your collection, there are many contemporary independent galleries in this area. Porto felt like a bohemian artists’ city, just like Berlin, and there was lots of creativity and interesting pieces in the windows.
Where to Eat, Stay and Go Out in Porto, Portugal
Where to eat in Porto
Porto had some incredible culinary offerings, but also some tourist traps. I would steer clear of the Ribeira district for food and opt for restaurants further away from the centre.
Arco-da-Velha Bistro and Wine Bar was an incredible little tapas restaurant located nearby the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. The decor is very cute and the restaurant had an incredible menu that would suit vegetarians and meat-lovers alike. We loved the homemade chorizo (that you get to grill at your table), and don’t skip the baked brie! The service and wine list was lovely, and I was even able to have a gluten-free chocolate mousse for dessert!
On recommendation from our AirBnB hosts, we visited Taberna dos Mercadores in the Ribeira district. We ordered a whole bass to share for lunch, and it was a little bit tiny for the price. We were used to Lisbon’s plentiful seafood, so next time, I would order two whole fish. The atmosphere was very cozy and authentic, however they are incredibly busy so make sure to book at least a week ahead of your visit. Since there was only two of us, we were able to snag a table for lunch.
If you’re gluten-free and CRAVING a classic Portuguese Pastel de Nata pastry, Porto has you covered! I visited Com Cuore twice during my 3-day stay in Porto. Beyond the famous pastries, they also offer bifanas, sandwiches and a variety of cakes.
And if you’re not gluten free, you must try a Francesinha sandwich. It’s a heart attack on a plate with french fries, bread, cheese and ham all baked together. Bonus points if you can eat this while in a Portuguese sports bar during the World Cup.
Mercada do Bolhão was unfortunately closed during our visit, however, a temporary location offered a glimpse into fresh seafood, delicious pastries and local produce. When I come back to Porto, I look forward to visiting the permanent location and picking up a fresh fish to bake for dinner.
Where to go out in Porto
One of the most fun nights of our trip was spent bar-hopping in Porto. There are dozens of cocktail bars and clubs for you to dance the night away. We first stopped at The Gin House, and enjoyed amazing Caipirinhas and gin cocktails. The prices were great, and we were able to have a conversation and pre-drink.
Next, we wandered around R. de Cândido dos Reis and popped in to a couple clubs. I can’t remember the names because, well it was a fun night. The first played bangers from the 1990s and 2000s, while the second club was playing more Reggaeton and Latin music, which I loved. Take note that smoking is allowed indoors in the club, so I’d advise to wear something you can easily wash while travelling, as my clothes smelled like smoke by the end of the night. For a non-smoker, or if you’re allergic to smoke or just quit, I might advise to stick to a patio or cocktail bar instead!
Where to stay in Porto
In Porto, we opted for a charming AirBnB, recommended by Victoria from The Lust Listt. Her posts on Porto helped inspire my trip and create a list of the Top 10 Things to do in Porto! This gorgeous building is located a short 10 minute walk from Rua Santa Catarina with all the shops, restaurants and sights nearby.
The building is owned entirely by the host, and I loved the way she decorated this building. With real tiles in the entrance to a gorgeous staircase and vaulted ceilings, it was incredibly beautiful and still affordable. We even had free parking!
I hope you enjoyed my roundup of the Top 10 Things to do in Porto! This post was long, but I wanted to create a single source with the best Porto tips for young couples to explore the city. It was a charming stay, and I enjoyed the bohemian, old-world vibe of Porto.
If you enjoyed this Top 10 Things to do in Porto post, be sure to check out my other Portugal posts to help plan your visit.
Have you been to Porto? Let me know in the comments below, and if you liked my Top 10 Things to Do in Porto guide, pin my post to Pinterest!