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.
- Cross the Ponte Dom Luis I Bridge
- Take the Six Bridges River Cruise
- Sip a Coffee at Cafe Majestic
- Taste Port Wine in Vila Nova de Gaia
- Take a Day Trip to the Douro Valley
- Take the Cable Car
- Sample Bacalhau
- Visit Porto's New World of Wine
- Stroll the UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Buy a Book from the Lello Bookshop
- Explore the Crystal Palace
- Go to McDonald's (Just Trust Us)
- Enjoy the Nightlife
- Visit the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art
- Visit the Palácio da Bolsa
- Visit the Sé Cathedral
Essential & Authentic Things to Do When Visiting Porto
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 in 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.
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.
If you’re interested in taking a river cruise on the Douro, the Mar Douro tour company offers a memorable private 2-hour excursion down the river on a sailboat. You’ll get to witness most of the major landmarks on the way, and it’s all you can eat and drink BYOB. So be sure to snag a couple bottles of Touriga Nacional beforehand.
Sip a Coffee at Cafe Majestic
Cafe Majestic is one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful cafes, dating back to 1921, and is 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. Be sure to schedule an expertly guided food and wine tasting tour through the city when arranging your trip with Bluedragon.
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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 below. We highly recommend making advanced reservations. Alternatively, Porto Walkers offers a locally guided experience to several famous port houses and will arrange everything for you.
Some of our favorite Port Houses include:
Take a Day Trip to the Douro Valley
The Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a breathtaking region that offers a delightful escape from the bustling city life of Porto. With its terraced vineyards, meandering river, and charming quintas (wine estates), the Douro Valley beckons visitors to experience its natural beauty, rich history, and renowned wine culture.
Taking a day trip to the Douro Valley from Porto presents an opportunity to witness the birthplace of Port wine and sample some of the finest vintages, as well as other notable local whites and Douro reds. Visiting the wine estates, you’ll not only enjoy tastings but also learn about the winemaking process and the region’s centuries-old viticultural traditions.
The Douro Valley’s enchanting landscape features steep hills adorned with terraced vineyards that seem to defy gravity, creating a harmonious connection between humans and nature. A leisurely boat cruise along the Douro River is an idyllic way to appreciate the region’s spectacular scenery and the quaint towns that dot the riverbanks. Alternatively, a scenic train ride or a drive along winding roads offer equally impressive views and the chance to explore the valley at your own pace.
Throughout the Douro Valley, you’ll encounter charming villages such as Pinhão and Peso da Régua, where you can meander through the narrow streets, admire the historic architecture, and savor authentic Portuguese cuisine at local restaurants.
Numerous tours run from Porto on a daily basis, but you can also opt to stay at some exceptional luxury wine estates, such as Six Senses Douro Valley, if you’d rather spend a few days exploring the region.
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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.
Bacalhau (codfish) is one of Portugal’s most revered fares, and you should plan to eat it as much as possible when in Porto. 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 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 some of the port houses accompanying your wine tasting (Calem 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 candlelight and table-side.
If you really want an immersive Fado experience, you can schedule an entire concert with up to 10 different Fado performers in the evening with a chance to meet some of them.
Visit Porto’s New World of Wine
Step into 429,050 sq. ft. of incredible Portuguese culture, gastronomy and shopping experiences at the new World of Wine in the Vila Nova de Gaia neighborhood. The facility itself offers incredible views of the city from a 360-degree perspective, including the skyline and the Douro River.
“Visitors to WOW have the option to choose from six immersive museum experiences, nine restaurants, bars, cafes, event space, temporary exhibition space, retail outlets, and even a wine school. Wining and dining are top priorities when visiting a city like Porto, and at the World of Wine, travelers have the option to enjoy a juicy steak at a top fine-dining spot, indulge in a chocolate treat, or simply grab a sandwich to-go and explore dozens of additional things to do in the space.”
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, 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.
Go to McDonald’s (Just Trust Us)
McDonald’s! What? But trust me on this one and visit Porto’s McDonald’s 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 McDonald’s 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.
Enjoy the Nightlife
To fully enjoy the nightlife of Porto, start by exploring the variety of vibrant neighborhoods and entertainment options that the city has to offer. Begin your evening with an early dinner at a local tasca or a chic restaurant, indulging in mouthwatering Portuguese cuisine and regional wines. Once you’re fueled up, venture into the city’s eclectic mix of bars, pubs, and clubs.
Ribeira, the city’s historic heart, is an excellent starting point. As night falls, the riverside promenade comes to life with a cheerful crowd, lively street musicians, and riverside bars offering stunning views. Grab a drink at one of these bars and soak in the lively atmosphere as the sun sets over the Douro River.
If you’re in search of trendy cocktail bars, head to the bustling Baixa and Cedofeita districts. Discover innovative mixologists and stylish venues, where you can sip on handcrafted cocktails while mingling with Porto’s hip crowd. Baixa is also home to the famous Galerias de Paris, a lively pedestrian area filled with popular bars and clubs, attracting a diverse and energetic crowd.
For a more alternative scene, explore the vibrant bars and clubs around the Virtudes and Piolho areas. Many of these venues host live music events, ranging from traditional Fado performances to indie bands and electronic music.
To enjoy a unique Porto nightlife experience, consider hopping on a late-night cruise along the Douro River. Dance to the beats of DJ sets or live music while admiring the sparkling cityscape and its illuminated bridges.
Visit the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art
A visit to the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art is a captivating experience that blends culture, nature, and striking modern architecture. Located within the verdant Serralves Park, the museum, designed by renowned Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, is a masterpiece in itself. As you approach the building, you’ll be struck by its clean lines and minimalist aesthetic, which harmoniously complements the surrounding lush gardens.
Upon entering the museum, you’ll be immersed in a world of thought-provoking contemporary art. The permanent collection showcases works by influential Portuguese and international artists from the late 20th century to the present day. Additionally, the museum hosts an ever-changing array of temporary exhibitions, ensuring that each visit offers a fresh perspective on the art world.
As you wander through the spacious, light-filled galleries, take time to contemplate the thought-provoking installations, sculptures, and multimedia works that challenge the boundaries of artistic expression. The museum’s commitment to education and public programs, such as artist talks and workshops, further enriches your experience, allowing for a deeper understanding of the creative minds behind the artworks.
After exploring the museum’s interior, step outside and meander through the beautifully landscaped Serralves Park. The 18 hectares of lush gardens are punctuated with outdoor sculptures, reflecting pools, and serene pathways, providing the perfect setting for quiet contemplation or a leisurely stroll.
Visit the Palácio da Bolsa
Journey back in time to the Porto’s prosperous past. This majestic 19th-century neoclassical building, once the city’s stock exchange, now serves as a testament to Porto’s commercial heritage and architectural splendor. As you approach the palace, its grand façade adorned with statues and intricate carvings invites you to explore the opulence within.
When you first enter, you’ll notice the Pátio das Nações, covered by a stunning glass and wrought-iron dome. Marvel at the intricate Moorish-style details and the harmonious blend of architectural styles as you begin your guided tour. Each room in the Palácio da Bolsa reveals a unique story and is adorned with exquisite decorative elements, including ornate ceilings, lavish chandeliers, and gilded accents.
The crown jewel of the palace is the dazzling Arabian Hall, inspired by Granada’s Alhambra. This breathtaking ballroom features an intricately hand-carved ceiling, ornate plasterwork, and sumptuous golden decorations that evoke an atmosphere of unparalleled luxury. The hall still hosts prestigious events and celebrations, furthering its legacy as a symbol of Porto’s cultural and economic importance.
Visit the Sé Cathedral
A visit to the Sé Cathedral in Porto is like stepping into a time capsule of history and architectural wonder. Perched atop the highest point in the city, this imposing fortress-like cathedral provides a perfect vantage point to soak in the breathtaking panoramic views of the city and Douro River.
As you make your way towards the Sé Cathedral, its Romanesque roots and Gothic flourishes immediately capture your attention. The moment you step inside, you’ll find yourself immersed in a serene atmosphere, surrounded by centuries of religious art and history.
One of the cathedral’s most striking features is its beautiful rose window, which casts a soft, colorful light into the main nave. Take your time to admire the ancient azulejos, the iconic blue-and-white Portuguese tiles that adorn the 14th-century cloister walls. These intricate tile works depict biblical scenes, adding a touch of artistic storytelling to the sacred space.
While exploring the cathedral, don’t forget to visit the Treasury, a hidden gem housing a remarkable collection of sacred art, religious relics, and lavish ecclesiastical garments. Each piece offers a glimpse into the wealth and devotion of the Catholic Church throughout Porto’s history.
As you exit the Sé Cathedral, pause for a moment to appreciate the stunning views of the city below, letting the blend of history, spirituality, and architectural beauty leave a lasting impression on your Porto experience.
Top Neighborhoods in Porto for Wine & Food
As Winetravelers, we’re always seeking out the best neighborhoods that harbor legendary wine lists and pairings to boot. That being said, Porto is full of epic eateries that cater to wine lovers. Here are some of the top neighborhoods to explore during your trip to Porto to get a real sense of the city’s cuisine.
The vibrant heart of Porto, Ribeira is a picturesque neighborhood lined with historic buildings, quaint cobblestone streets, and inviting riverside terraces. Sample traditional Portuguese dishes and the region’s famed Port wine at any of the many family-run restaurants and wine bars.
With its elegant architecture and bustling atmosphere, Baixa is a must-visit for foodies. Stroll through Mercado do Bolhão, a lively market offering fresh produce, and then indulge in a Francesinha – Porto’s signature sandwich – at one of the neighborhood’s trendy eateries.
Foz do Douro
Where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean, Foz do Douro boasts a charming mix of upscale seafood restaurants and cozy beachside cafés. Savor mouthwatering grilled fish, sip Vinho Verde, and relish the stunning sunset views.
Known for its artsy vibe, Cedofeita is a haven for creative cuisine and eclectic dining experiences. Discover hidden gems and innovative restaurants offering fusion dishes, contemporary Portuguese plates, and curated wine selections in this trendy neighborhood.
A stone’s throw from Ribeira, Miragaia is a lesser-known treasure offering a quieter, more authentic Porto experience. Wander the narrow streets to find local taverns and tapas bars, where you can share petiscos (Portuguese small plates) and sip on Douro wines with the friendly locals.
A seafood lover’s paradise, Matosinhos is home to Porto’s main fishing port and a vast array of delectable seafood restaurants. Enjoy the freshest catch of the day, grilled to perfection over charcoal, accompanied by a crisp glass of local white wine.
Vila Nova de Gaia
Located just across the Douro River from Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia is the hub of the Port wine industry. Tour the centuries-old wine cellars, sample a variety of Ports, and savor delectable Portuguese cuisine at the area’s fine dining establishments.
Upscale Hotels in Porto
As the sun sets over the Douro River, Porto’s vibrant and bustling cityscape gives way to a tranquil and luxurious atmosphere for those seeking an upscale hotel experience.
One standout option is the opulent InterContinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas, a lovingly restored 18th-century palace that exudes timeless elegance.
Not far from the historic Ribeira district and within Vila Nova de Gaia (where all of the Port Houses are), The Yeatman Hotel offers unparalleled views of the city and river, while pampering guests with its lavish rooms and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
For a boutique experience, the charming Rosa Et Al Townhouse marries contemporary design with traditional Portuguese influences, ensuring a truly unique stay.
Meanwhile, the Pestana Palácio do Freixo is a neoclassical gem situated on the banks of the Douro, featuring regal gardens and a tranquil spa.
Recommended Private & Guided Tours of Porto and the Douro Valley
If you’re a Winetraveler planning a trip to Porto and the Douro Valley, one of the best ways to explore the region is by scheduling a privately guided tour with a local expert. This option takes the logistics out of the travel planning equation, allowing you to focus on immersing yourself in the local wine culture and enjoying the stunning landscapes.
A private tour with a local guide gives you access to hidden gems and insider knowledge that you might not discover on your own, and allows you to tailor your experience to your specific interests and preferences. With a local guide leading the way, you can relax and enjoy the best that Porto and the Douro Valley have to offer, from the region’s world-renowned port wine to its delicious cuisine and breathtaking scenery. Here are some of the most highly-rated and popular Porto city tours and Douro Valley experiences our readers are booking this year.
Frequently Asked Questions about Things to Do in Porto
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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!
It’s such a beautiful city, Tami, I hope you visit!
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!
Eric, it sounds that you had a wonderful vacation. Relaxing in Porto is an excellent way to recover from the Camino!
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
It’s hard to squeeze in other visits once you realize how epic the Port wine is, haha! But they are worth it!
It’s hard to want to leave all the Port wine, haha, but all the other visits are worth it!
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
I couldn’t agree more!
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.