Porto, Portugal is one of Europe’s most underrated cities — and home to the world-famous Port wine. Often overlooked in favor of Lisbon, Porto is a hidden gem where visitors can bask in UNESCO Heritage architecture, art, cuisine, shopping and of course, the famous River Douro and the wine culture that runs with it. Read on to find out the top things you should do and see when visiting Portugal’s second-largest metropolis.

Ponte Dom Luis I Bridge in Porto, Portugal | Winetraveler.com

Cross the Ponte Dom Luis I Bridge 

This impressive iron structure connects the city of Porto with the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, crossing the Douro River. The bridge was designed by Théophile Seyrig, a prized student of Gustave Eiffel. Crossing the bridge can be done a variety of ways: on foot and by car at the bottom, and by metro and on foot on the towering top level, which offers vertigo-inducing, expansive views over the riverside.

River Cruises in Porto - Best Things to do in Porto Portugal | Winetraveler.com

Take the Six Bridges River Cruise

Although the Ponte Don Luis I is the most famous of Porto’s bridges, five other bridges cross the river at various points. Many different tour companies lead 50-minute boat trips along the river, cruising under all six bridges. The trip is a great way to orient yourself with the city and river, especially on a warm, sunny day.

Sip a coffee at Cafe Majestic

Cafe Majestic is one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful cafes, dating back to 1921 and known for its glamorous art nouveau decor. Aside from this coffee shop’s regal, gilded interior and delectable pastries, it also happens to be the spot where J.K. Rowling was rumored to have written her masterpiece Harry Potter

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Best Port Houses to Visit in Porto Portgal | Winetraveler.com
An example of the Port Wine Tasting at Graham’s Port House in Gaia.
Best Port Houses for Wine Tastings and Tours in Porto | Winetraveler.com
Comparative Port wine tasting in Porto, Portugal.

Taste Port Wine in Vila Nova de Gaia

It often rains in Porto and wine tasting is the ideal indoor activity. Starting from the moment you step off the Dom Luis I bridge, Port wineries line the edge of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. The closer you stay to the bridge, the more expensive the tastings and tours are. As you trek up the hill, the prices slowly lower, and as you weave back, you may even stumble upon free tours and tastings. 

While each Port House offers a unique experience, we’ve selected some of our favorites. We highly recommend making advance reservations. 

Top Things to do in Porto Portugal - Ride the Cable Car | Winetraveler.com

Take the Cable Car

One way to avoid the hilly walk in Vila Nova de Gaia is to take the cable car, which also offers panoramic views of the bridge, river and city of Port. Short and sweet, the ride takes just a couple of minutes, but is worth it for the views alone.

What To Eat in Porto, Portugal Bacalhau | Winetraveler.com
Bacalhau is a famous Portuguese dish, a must try for any foodie in Porto!

Sample Bacalhau

Bacalhau (codfish) is one of Portugal’s most revered fares, and you should plan to eat it as much as possible when in Port. You have never-ending options when it comes to preparation, but here at Winetraveler, we like it à Brás — salted, with eggs and potatoes. Try at at the trendier Restaurant LSD, or the more authentic and traditional Cao Que Fuma.

Winetraveler Tip: Keep your ears peeled for Portuguese “Fado.” This classic and historical style of Portuguese music can usually be found at any number of bars, restaurants and even at of the port houses, accompanying your wine tasting (Calem usually includes a Fado show towards the end of their tour of the facility). It’s an expressive style of musical storytelling, usually involving a singer and one or two string instrumentalists, done in candle light and table-side.

Stroll the UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The historic city center of Porto is exceptionally beautiful, so plan to get lost in the maze of crumbling churches and squares, colorful homes and intricate tile work. Don’t miss the famous  Torre dos Clérigos. Plan to trek up its 225 stairs to see the city from high above. Another worthwhile stop is the São Francisco church — its interior is practically dripping in opulent gold.

Buy a book from the Lello Bookshop

Known as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, the Livaria Lello dates back a century or so, and its magnificent staircase and stained glass windows make the entry fee worth it. If you happen to purchase something, though, your entry fee is discounted from the prices, so shop away.

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Explore the Crystal Palace

Perched atop a hill, the Crystal Palace Gardens are exceptionally breathtaking. Besides the overwhelming number of exotic plants and flowers, manicured gardens and bushes, hanging trees and grand statues, the view of the Douro River and beyond is fantastic. Although the original glass structure no longer stands, the dome which replaced it is an important Porto landmark.

McDonald's Restaurant in Porto, Portugal | Winetraveler.com
The McDonald’s Restaurant in Porto is actually a historical location.

Go to McDonalds (Just Trust Me)

McDonalds! What? But trust me on this one and visit Porto’s McDonalds Imperial, located in the Dos Aliados Square. Don’t bother ordering a Big Mac, though, instead, just look around and soak it all in. Beyond the smells of frying grease, this is known as the most beautiful McDonalads in the world, retaining the original beauty of the interior when turning what was once the Imperial Café into the world’s most well-known fast food joint. With stained glass windows and chandeliers hanging over the deep fryers and milkshake machines, you’ll see how firsthand how historical and modern living meshes together.

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Comments ( 10 )

  1. I’d love to visit Porto! From the historic City center, to the beautiful bridges and the cable cars, the views and culture are amazing. Beautiful photos, by the way!

  2. After spending a month hiking the Camino across spain, I went down to Oporto and absolutely loved it! It was a great way to recover mentally and physically from my long walk. I loved walking around the Duoro and watching all the local boys who would jump off the bridge into the river below. I also loved sitting on the boardwalk restaurants drinking port while eating my weight in Bacalau! I was a bit leery spending money on entrance into Livaria Lello or riding the Gondola but both were 100% worth the money! Porto is probably my favorite city in Portugal!

  3. Would love to visit Portugal and Porto. Thanks for the tips – the McDonalds looks quite impressive and will stop at the Livaria Lello bookstore for sure apart from tasting all the wonderful Port wine

  4. I often tell people you will never see a McDonalds like the one in Porto. We spent 3 days in Porto in 2015 and I am always wanting to go back. The old town on the river banks is amazing. The bridges just wow. Everyone should spend a few days in Porto

  5. I would love to visit Porto. It looks like such an beautiful historic city. I’ve never actually had port before so it would be great to try in Porto.

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