Porto is a beautiful city in the North of Portugal; known also as the “capital of the North“, it shares some distinctive characteristics with Lisbon.
Porto is a real pleasure for the eyes; a city that will seduce you from the very first moment thanks to its ups and downs, its decadent houses and its magical atmosphere, especially in the Ribeira district from where you can admire a stunning landscape and the many boats passing under the Dom Luis I Bridge, an iron construction made by a coworker of Gustave Eiffel.
The city is not too big and one can easily walk around; the only “issue” are its steep climbs. However, as you stroll around the narrow streets of the city you will have the opportunity to admire its daily life made of clothes hanging from the balconies and stairs leading to areas that seem to be suspended in time.
In such a limited space like the center of Porto there are several things to do and see, making this city the perfect destination for a long weekend. It is also great as starting point for a tour around the North of Portugal.
Ribeira is the most picturesque neighborhood of Portugal as well as the most popular among tourists. It is located on the banks of the Douro river and it is a mix of narrow streets, houses decorated with the the typical azulejos, and restaurants serving local delicacies.
Spending time around Ribeira is a real pleasure, especially if you spend some time in a caffe or at the harbour looking at the boats crossing the Douro river and enjoying some people watching.
Dom Luis I Bridge, icon and symbol of the city of Porto, connects the two shores of the Douro river. It was built in 1881 by the engineer Theophile Seyrig, who was a close colleague of Gustave Eiffel.
The structure reminds of the works made by Eiffel thanks to the use of iron, which represented one of the favorite materials of the French architect. Besides being an architectural element with a distinctive aesthetic taste, the Dom Luis I Bridge has some functionality for the city of Porto, as its lower level is open to road traffic and since 2003 its upper level is crossed by the city metro.
The Porto Cathedral is the main catholic church of the city. It is located on a hilltop and from its square you can enjoy a stunning view over the city of Porto, the Douro river, and the area with wine cellars.
It was built in the XII century but it was restored during the following centuries. Today it is possible to admire its interior, but it is also worth to see its facade and enjoy some relax on its terrace.
Most railway stations are just places to pass through, to leave as quickly as possible. Others are so beautiful that they invite you to stop by. One of these is São Bento, Porto’s main station, located in the city centre.
Its exterior is harmoniously integrated with the decadent atmosphere that permeates the Portuguese city. But it is the interior that is the real masterpiece: the walls of the 42-metre long and 14-metre wide entrance hall are entirely covered with azulejos, the typical blue and white Portuguese tiles. More than 20,000 tiles have been used to create spectacular mosaics depicting key scenes in Portuguese history such as battles, triumphal entrances, weddings and scenes of popular life.
The São Bento train station is an attraction in itself and is also a starting point for wonderful day trips to places like Braga or Aveiro.
The Clérigos Tower is another symbol of Porto. It was designed by the Italian Niccolò Nasoni around the half of 1700. It is a 70 meters high tower built in Baroque style.
You can get to the top through a tight spiral staircase made of 225 steps; once you get to the top, the stunning view of the city will be worth every effort.
The Avenida dos Aliados is a large boulevard located in the heart of the city of Porto, not too far from the Ribeira district. Here there are some important and majestic structures such as banks, luxury hotels, and the town hall, with its unmistakable 70 meters high tower that reminds of the architecture from the Fiandre region in the North of France.
Towards the end of Avenida dos Aliados, among souvenir shops and outdoor cafes, there is Praca da Liberdade, a beautiful square with the statue of King Pedro IV on a horse.
The Igreja de São Francisco is one of the hidden gems of Porto located to the west of the Ribeira district. From outside it doesn’t look very special, but once you walk in you will realize why this church is included on every itinerary of the city: its interiors are completely adorned by gold, and between the aisles there are also some wood sculptures coated in gold. A real joy for the eyes!
There are numerous sculptures inside the Church of Sao Francisco, including the altarpiece of the main Chapel, dedicated to the Three of Jesse, a sculpture carved out of wood by Filipe da Silva and António Gomes in 1720.
In the modern area of the city, towards the end of Avenida de Boavista there is the famous Casa da Musica, the main concert hall in Porto.
Construction works began in 1999 to celebrate the nomination of Porto as European Capital of Culture of 2001, but they only finished in 2005. It soon became one of the new symbols of the city. When there are no shows, or if you do not have a ticket, you can only visit the lobby. However, the Casa da Musica is really unique: a block made of white concrete with irregular walls that is worth to be photographed from every angle.
The Palácio da Bolsa in Porto – more precisely the Palácio da Associação Comercial do Porto – is one of those attractions unknown to tourists that instead deserves a visit, especially if you stay for at least a couple of days in Porto.
Located very close to the Ribeira district, can go unnoticed as its exterior is not particularly flashy but, on the contrary, its interior is certainly one of the most fascinating places in Porto.
In neoclassical style, the building was built in the 19th century by the city trade association (Associação Comercial).
Tucked away in the charming old part of the city of Porto, the Livraria Lello & Irmão is a historic bookshop opened in the second half of the nineteenth century where you can still breathe in an atmosphere of yesteryear. It has become world-famous and was forced to charge an entrance fee to limit the number of people inside.
Although the Livraria Lello & Irmão has a long history and unique architecture (the exterior façade and the magnificent interior wooden staircase are beautiful), its fame is mainly linked to the Harry Potter saga. The number of visitors has increased disproportionately since the rumour spread that Rowling took inspiration from this place, which is so dear to her, for many of the settings in which the stories of the famous wizard take place.
The few euro entrance fee can easily be recouped because it is converted into a discount on the purchase of books. But even if you don’t find a book you like, you won’t regret the money you spent because Lello & Irmão is a very special place.
Along Avenida de Diogo Leite, located on the opposite side of the Douro river, there is the administrative area of Vila Nova de Gaia, a real paradise for wine lovers; here there are all the cellars of the famous Porto Wine, which is exported all over the world.
It is possible to attend guided tours at given times and in different languages to learn more about the history, the wine production process, the cellars, and enjoy some wine tasting.
Casa do Infante is an historical house of Porto which was originally built in the XIV century, and then it was restored in the XVII century. Its name comes from the idea that, according to many, it was the home where prince Henry the navigator was born in 1394.
The Casa do Infante is one of the best preserved buildings in the old Porto, and every floor is made of 4 rectangular rooms, each one with a different ceiling decorated with tiles. On the main facade there are a series of white windows, as well as a plate built in Neo-Manueline style to honor Henry the Navigator.
The Capela Das Almas in honor to Saint Catherine is one of those monuments that a distracted traveler visiting Porto could miss: it is located not far from the Bolhao market, in an area mostly crowded by local people rather than tourists. But missing it would be a real pity, as it represents one of the most incredible buildings in the city.
A small church with white and blue ceramic azulejos adorning its facade depicting the Death of St. Francis of Assisi as well as the martyrdom of Saint Catherine. These incredible decorations date back to the beginning of the last century and were made by the artist Eduardo Leite, while the glass windows were made by Amandio Silva during the XIX century.
Near Avenida Dos Aliados there is this characteristic market where visitors have the opportunity to observe the daily life of the local citizens.
Fruit, meat, fish, souvenirs, home products, liquors, and local delicacies, are for sale at this small yet cozy Mercado do Bolhão. The exterior of the market is made of wrought iron. Near the market there are some of the most interesting shopping streets of this area of Porto.
If you don’t have much time to visit the city, here are some of the most characteristic streets of Porto that you should not miss.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Porto is considered a small city, and this is certainly true when compared to capitals and metropolises. However, Porto includes different areas, sometimes not very close to each other: although they are well connected, it is good to choose carefully where to stay to be sure to stay in an area suitable for the type of holiday you want to do.
Most tourists choose Ribera, the historic centre, to have all the main tourist attractions and services close at hand. This is the best area to experience the romantic atmosphere of Porto and also the one with the widest choice of hotels, B&Bs and flats, with something to suit all budgets.
If you’re looking for modern and comfortable hotels, look to Avenida da Boavista. This is one of the city’s main arteries and is a popular area for business travellers, so the hotels usually guarantee high standards.
Vila Nova de Gaia is actually a city in its own right, but is now incorporated into the territory of Porto. Located on the opposite bank of the river, it is an area with a high concentration of wineries, making it an ideal destination for all wine-loving travellers.
A less popular area with tourists but not to be underestimated is Bessa, a residential area about halfway between the centre and the seafront. It’s quiet, slightly cheaper on average and a good base for both cultural visits and afternoons on the beach.
The following are the most popular tickets and tours in Porto that we recommend you don't miss.
Porto, Portugal's second largest city, is located in the northwest of the country, along the left bank of the Douro River. It is about 300 km from the capital Lisbon and 100 km from the Spanish border.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.