The city of Porto is the second most populous in Portugal and constantly recognized for its diversity of tourist attractions such as the elegant landscapes offered by the Douro River, the regional wineries and cellars, the artistic and cultural scene, and the balance of urban development with preserved historical heritage.
Porto is also highly praised for its gastronomy, its many cultural and leisure options and the local spirit of northern Portugal. It has already been elected for several years as the best European destination.
Check out the main tips on what to do in the city of Porto in just a few days.
Things to do in Porto
The Serralves Foundation is a cultural project that brings together art and nature in a plural space that appeals to all types of audiences. The place is a little further away from the other tourist attractions in Porto, so we recommend going early in the day to explore all the environments that make up the Foundation’s space.
Created in 1989, the Serralves Foundation is the result of a partnership between the Portuguese government and private institutions. Before becoming a foundation, the place was the home of Mr Carlos Alberto Cabral, a wealthy businessman in the textile industry and a lover of arts.
Basically, the Foundation is divided into 5 main structures:
- Museum of Contemporary Art (the most important in the country in this category);
- Park Serralves: 18-hectare park known for its beautiful gardens and the diversity of flora and fauna;
- TreeTop Walk: An elevated walkway at the height of the trees to enjoy the local biodiversity from above;
- Serralves Villa, an example of Art Deco architecture;
- Casa do Cinema Manoel de Oliveira has a fixed exhibition about the famous Portuguese filmmaker and an auditorium for events.
There are several types of tickets to access the Foundation. It is possible to purchase tickets with access to all areas or to each area separately. Admission is free for children under 12.
Casa da Música
Inaugurated in 2005, Casa da Musica is the main venue for musical concerts in Porto and a famous tourist spot due to its architecture, designed by the prestigious Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Casa da Música also has a cafe with many options for food and drink, a really cool place to study and work online.
Some events are free and there is a possibility of guided tours. You can check all this and more on the official website.
Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
The gardens, designed by the German landscaper Émile David in the 1860s, are divided into different themes such as the Garden of Aromatic Plants, Medicinal Plants, Rose Garden, Twinned Towns and Feelings. The place also has a fantastic view of the Douro River.
If you are looking for a romantic stroll or an ideal location for photographs, visit the Gardens of the Crystal Palace.
Its old name was Palácio de Cristal (english: Crystal Palace) because it housed a structure made of iron and glass built in the 19th century for exhibitions. Currently, the Rosa Mota Pavilion, a venue for sporting events, was built to replace the Palace.
Invicta (nickname of Porto) has several museums, one of the reasons for its nomination as European Capital of Culture in 2001. Meet some of them:
- Quinta da Macieirinha Romantic Museum: the museum reproduces a 19th-century bourgeois residence with furniture and objects from that period (free entry on weekends). It is near the Gardens of the Palácio de Cristal and therefore our recommendation is to visit this whole area on the same day, you can take the route bordering the Douro in a beautiful and pleasant walk;
- National Museum Soares dos Reis: it is the oldest museum in Portugal, founded in 1833. The museum has exhibitions of arts, decorative arts and archaeology;
- Porto Puppet Museum: you will find the puppets used in the Puppet Theater of Porto, a theatre created in 1988 (free entry on weekends). A fun program different from conventional tourist spots. If you have time, take the opportunity to watch a puppet show.
Porto Regional Wines
Porto wine, the best known wine in the region, is a liqueur wine with high alcohol content, ranging from 19% to 22%, due to the addition of spirit in its production. Its origin came from the idea of English sailors to mix brandy in Douro wines to preserve them until reaching their destinations.
Such wine has a Controlled Denomination of Origin stamp, that is, only Porto wine is produced in the Douro Demarcated Region. The region’s terroir (set of environmental conditions for wine production) is marked by unique characteristics such as the schistous soil which influences the properties of the grape.
However, the Porto region is also known for producing two other types of wines:
- Vinho Verde (Green Wine): Portugal’s largest wine region produces a light and fresh wine with an alcohol content of less than 11.5%. There are two explanations for the name of the wine, one due to the high acidity of the grapes in this region and freshness as if the grapes are not yet ripe and the other would be a tribute to the exuberant landscape where the grapes are produced.
- DOC Douro: these are traditional wines from the Douro region, that is, they are not fortified with the addition of spirit as is the case with Porto Wine. Although the production of DOC Douro wines is relatively new in the region, it has surprised wine lovers by the great variety and high quality of both red and white wines.
That is why, with so much diversity in wine culture, wine tourism experiences in Porto and North are at the top of any must-see list and things to do in Porto.
Tasting Sessions – Vinho do Porto, Verde e Douro
A great way to get to know and taste the region’s wines is going to the stores that have Tasting Packages, which are tasting sessions with different types of wines and snacks at a fixed price. For those who don’t drink much, there is an option of glass tasting, paying per glass of wine consumed.
There are also several specialty wine stores in the city offering a wide variety of labels (some of which can be sampled) and experienced salespeople who can recommend the best type of wine according to your taste and budget.
An advantage is that in most stores it is possible to ask to pack bottles for air transport.
Porto Wine Cellars (Caves)
Cave is a Portuguese term that means ‘underground’, also the name of the places where Porto wines mature and age in large vats.
The cellars are concentrated in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, but to get there just go to Ribeira do Cais and cross the Dom Luís I bridge. In the cellars, there are several types of tours where you can learn how Porto wine is produced, its history and how to harmonize it with food, in addition to tasting it, of course.
Here are some recommendations:
- Calém (includes experience with Fado show and wine tasting)
- Adriano Ramos Pinto
- Real Companhia Velha
For more information about locations and opening hours visit the website of the Association of Porto Wine Companies (AEVP).
Boat Trip and Visit to Wineries in the Douro Region
The Douro wine region is approximately 100 km from Porto, where the wineries that produce Porto wine are located. The vineyards are planted on steep slopes and provide a beautiful landscape, named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2001 in the Cultural Landscape category.
Complete List: The UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy
The Portuguese wineries are called Quintas. If you want to visit a Quinta, it’s possible to take guided tours, participate in the harvesting, see the wine production process and also taste them. Some of them also include accommodation options for those who want to stay at the winery.
An option to visit the wineries is by boat on the Douro River, which allows you to contemplate the mountainous landscapes of the region. The boats leave from Porto, Peso da Régua and Pinhão and there are several types of tours, some of which include lunch and visits to wineries.
The Porto Wine Museum
The Porto Wine Museum is located on the banks of the Douro River, in the historic part of the city. The new museum was redesigned and opened in 2019 (the museum has been in existence since 2004 but operated elsewhere). The exhibitions show the history of wine (ex: grape production, wine transport on the Douro River) and the importance of the beverage trade for the development of the city.
After the visit, it is possible to taste some Porto wines (the tasting is paid).
Ribeira do Cais
An unmissable experience is to stroll in the Cais da Ribeira region, located in the Historic Centre on the banks of the Douro River. In addition to the charming narrow streets and colourful buildings, the area has several restaurants, bars and cafes, making it possible to taste typical foods and drink wines overlooking the Douro River, the Dom Luís I Bridge and the Vila Nova de Gaia waterfront on the other side of the river. In the region, it is also possible to take boat trips and buy souvenirs.
Our tip is to enjoy the walking and get to know the nearby sightseeings and attractions such as Casa do Infante, Palácio da Bolsa, São Francisco Church, etc. For a break, walk through Praça da Ribeira where the restaurants are located. There you can eat and relax while enjoying the Douro landscape.
Explore more: Travel Guide to Porto
The viewpoints, called miradouros in Portugal, are perfect places to have a panoramic view of the landscape in addition to offering another perspective of various tourist spots.
Some are viewpoints with free access to the public while others are private establishments that have a privileged view. Our favourites:
Viewpoints in Porto
- Miradouro da Vitória: One of the most famous which offers a complete view of both the historic part of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia;
- Miradouro das Virtudes: Located in Jardim das Virtudes, very popular among local residents during the summer;
- Torreão do Jardim do Palácio: On one side the Crystal Palace Gardens, on the other Gaia with the Douro River cutting the horizon. Climb the medieval-style Tower and catch a glimpse of the view;
- Bar Guindalense: the bar is located in the Sé district and has a beautiful view of the Douro River and the D. Luis I bridge;
- Bar Miradouro Ignez: the bar was opened in 2009 and offers stunning views of the Douro River.
Viewpoints in Vila Nova de Gaia
- Jardim do Morro: Here is an excellent viewpoint tip. If you want to see Porto for real, cross the Dom Luís I bridge and go to Jardim do Morro. If you are in summer, stop by at the end of the day to enjoy the sunset with a view of the Douro River and the Ribeira, well accompanied and with a good wine, you will have a simply magical moment.
- Serra do Pilar Monastery: When crossing the Dom Luís I bridge, Jardim do Morro will be on your right while the Monastery of Serra do Pilar will be on your left. It is impossible not to notice its presence. For an even higher view of Porto from above, go up to the Monastery and enjoy the scenery!
Eat like a ‘Tripeiro’
One of the typical dishes of the city is the Porto-style Tripas, made with veal tripe, sausages, pork belly and white beans. A legend around the dish is that in the Age of Discovery the Infante D. Henrique requested meat from the local population to supply his caravels; the residents gave all the meat they had, leaving only the guts, which led to the creation of the recipe. A tip is to order this dish in the traditional restaurant A Cozinha do Manel.
Porto is also known for its sandwiches, such as ham sandwiches, hot dogs, bifanas (a sandwich stuffed with seasoned pork steaks), prego (sandwich stuffed with beef) and the famous Francesinha, a dish originated in the city of Porto made with bread, meat, cheese, sausages, egg and a special sauce.
A tip is to eat these delicacies in traditional Tascas, simple family establishments around the city that offer good and affordable food.
For those who like seafood, we recommend the restaurant Marisqueira de Matosinhos, founded in 1978 (Marisqueiras are restaurants specialized in seafood).
A great way to get to know the local products and gastronomy, in addition to finding souvenirs to buy, is to visit the local markets:
- Bolhão Market: opened in 1839 and recognized as a Monument of Public Interest, it is one of the most famous markets in Porto. Since 2018 the market is under renovation but it is possible to stroll and shop at the Temporary Market of Bolhão, located 2 minutes from the original building. The place, in addition to the traditional flower and fruit stalls, also houses restaurants, bars, cafes and craft shops.
- Bom Sucesso Market: the market is in the Massarelos / Boa Vista region, close to the Casa de Música. Opened in 1952, the Bom Sucesso Market has undergone a major renovation and in addition to newsstands, food stalls, shops and cafes, it has a hotel called Hotel da Música. Tip: take a break during your itinerary around Porto to drink a fino (as draught beers are called) at the stalls of Mercado do Bom Sucesso.
Porto has several fairs where you can buy unique items such as decorative objects, books, coins, records, clothes and paintings. Some recommendations:
- Vandoma Fair: Saturdays morning in the avenue 25 de Abril;
- Porto Belo Market: Saturdays from 10h às 19h at Carlos Alberto Square;
- Antiques Fair: third Saturday of each month at Francisco Sá Carneiro Square.
- Porto Handicraft Market: Thursday to Sunday at Parada Leitão Square, next to the University of Porto building from 10 to 18h (winter time) and from 9 to 20h (summer);
- Mercadinho da Ribeira: Thursday to Sunday from 10 to 20h at Cais da Ribeira;
- Batalha Handicrafts Fair: every day from 9 to 20h at Batalha Square.
With numerous art galleries, Porto has become a “Center of the Arts” for painting, sculpture and photography enthusiasts.
Check out some gallery recommendations to see:
- Fernando Santos Gallery: the gallery was founded in 1993 and is located at Street Miguel Bombarda, the main street for Arts Gallery;
- Pedro Oliveira Gallery: founded in 1990, its exhibitions feature works by renowned Portuguese and foreign artists (the place also offers a great view of the Douro River);
- Quadrado Azul Gallery: opened in 1986, the gallery’s name comes from the work K4, the Quadrado Azul (english: Blue Square), a futuristic style work published in 1917 by the writer and artist Almada Negreiros.
Day Trips from Porto
From Porto it is possible to make day trips to some nearby cities:
- Matosinhos: located in the metropolitan region of Porto, it is famous for its beaches and has several options for walks, such as the Municipal Market and the Church of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. Take the opportunity to eat at seafood restaurants.
- Guimarães: the municipality is considered the birthplace of Portugal. A famous tourist spot is the Castle of Guimarães, built in the 10th century as protection against attacks by Vikings and Moors.
- Braga: the oldest city in Portugal with more than 2,000 years old, famous for its gardens, churches and palaces.
- Aveiro: known as “Portuguese Veneza” for its river channels. Take the opportunity to try the sweet delicacy called ovos moles (soft eggs, made with egg yolk and sugar), typical of the municipality.
- Costa Nova: Excellent to spend a sunny day, either on the beach or walking by the sea. In addition to the traditional striped houses, the place attracts many people who seek to practice water sports and good seafood restaurants.