As Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto is a vivid, lively and exciting destination that seems to charm every traveller. Despite being considerably smaller than Lisbon, Porto is becoming a favourite for those seeking to soak up the Portuguese sun.
Although the colourful metropolis is perhaps best known for its quality wine, there is so much more on offer. Porto authentically combines mouthwatering cuisine, sophisticated bars and cafes, historic culture and out-of-this-world architecture with a heavenly skyline.
Headed to this vivacious city but not sure what there is to see and do yet? Read on for 25 things to do in Porto, Portugal, as well as some additional travel tips to make your time here as smooth as possible.
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Bolsa Palace, also known as the Stock Exchange Palace, is a stunning Neoclassical building in Infante D. Henrique Square. While the general structure of the palace was completed by 1850, the interiors would continue to be lavishly decorated by artists up until 1910. Highlights include the Moorish Revival Arab Room and the extravagant Pátio das Nações central courtyard, which is encased in glass to provide gorgeous natural light to the palace.
You will be in awe of every ornate detail, from the colourful mosaic floors to the stained-glass ceilings. Palacio da Bolsa can be explored via tour for only €10, with your guide telling you fascinating details about each room.
Clérigos Church and Tower
The Clérigos Church is a Baroque Roman Catholic church built in the mid-1700s. The facade is adorned with dramatic Baroque motifs, including wreaths and shells. However, the church is most well known for its 75-metre-high bell tower, the tallest structure in the city’s historic centre.
Seen from various points throughout the city, this tower has become one of Porto’s most iconic monuments. Climbing to the top takes over 200 steps, though the views are incredibly rewarding. The observation deck is without a doubt the best spot to take panoramic photos.
While the church has free entrance, climbing the tower costs a few euros. Both are open to the public every day from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
One of Porto’s many impressive landscaped gardens is Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. The picturesque escape offers serene views over the River Douro. Wander the mosaic of smaller gardens and maze-like walkways while stopping to smell the blooming magnolias and olive trees. You’ll also spot some majestic peacocks roaming around.
Find this haven in the chic neighbourhood of Massarelos. The gardens are open until 9 p.m. during April to September or 7 p.m. from October to March.
Livraria Lello is a bookshop like no other. One of the oldest in Portugal, you’ll find the Lello Bookstore in the Cedofeita, Santo Ildefonso, Sé, Miragaia, São Nicolau e Vitória civil parish. The pleasant exterior elegantly mixes Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic architectural elements, yet the facade will not prepare you for the grandeur that awaits you inside.
The focal point is the forked spiral staircase in the centre. Above the stairs is a large stained-glass skylight with “Decus in Labore” inscribed, meaning honour in work. The structure utilizes painted plaster to elegantly resemble sculpted wood.
Fans of Harry Potter should definitely put this attraction on their must-visit list. As J.K. Rowling once lived in Porto, it is suggested that the ornate architecture influenced various settings from the series, including Hogwarts and the bookstore in Diagon Alley.
Despite the large number of tourists who visit each day, Livraria Lello still worth checking out for yourself. There’s a small entrance fee to ensure you are still supporting the business even if you choose not to purchase any books. Try to arrive before the store opens at 9:30 a.m. or an hour before the closing time of 8 p.m.
One of the oldest and most important Romanesque monuments in the city is the Porto Cathedral. Construction began in 1110 in the oldest district of Porto, Morro da Sé, although the cathedral continued to see alterations until 1737. For this reason, you’ll see a mix of architectural styles and influences, from the Baroque temple to the Gothic chapels.
As you enter the narrow nave, gaze up at the beautiful circular rose window. Towards the right of the temple, you can enter the 14th-century cloister walkway. Be aware that the cloister costs a few euros to explore, and has shorter opening hours than the rest of the cathedral.
The Church Of Saint Francis
In the historic riverside quarter of Ribeira, you will discover one of Porto’s finest masterpieces, the Church of São Francisco (aka Saint Francis). Although it may not look like anything special from the outside, the outstanding Baroque interiors will take your breath away.
There are three large intricately-carved naves coated in 300 kilograms worth of gold. Although construction of the church was completed during the 15th century, these golden touches were not added until the 18th century.
Beneath the building is the catacombs, where Franciscan monks and wealthy residents were buried. There’s also an ossuary containing thousands of human skeletons, which you can view from behind glass.
The church is open to the public from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily, so there’s plenty of time to stop by and be amazed.
Casa da Música
Porto’s Casa da Musica redefines the typical concert hall with its unique shoe box-shaped design and two walls completely made of glass. The 1,300-seat auditorium is the home of the National Orchestra of Porto and is the first building in the country devoted entirely to music.
Casa da Musica opened in 2005 with a performance by Lou Reed and continues to be a beloved live music venue amongst locals.
For €10 per person, you can have the opportunity to access VIP rooms and hear anecdotes about the building’s design. These hour-long guided tours in English run daily at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., as well as 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the summertime.
Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas
On the corner of Rua do Carmo and Praça de Carlos Alberto are two churches standing almost side by side, separated only by a narrow metre-wide house.
The Igreja dos Carmelitas on the right was the first to be built, completed in 1628. Its granite facade includes three arched entrances. The elegant bell tower on the left side is covered with white and blue Portuguese azulejo tiles.
On the left is the Igreja do Carmo, built over 12 years in the mid-1700s. Its style features more Late Baroque influences, with sculptures of the prophets Elijah and Elisha featuring prominently. The entire right side of the church again uses azulejo tiles to beautifully depict the founding of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel.
If you wish to enter any of the churches, avoid interrupting the daily mass held at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., as well as the Sunday mass at 12:30 p.m.
One of the most unique things to do in Porto is to check out Serralves. A villa, a park and an art museum all in one, this cultural institution is like no other.
Museu Serralves was designed by the internationally renowned architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, seamlessly incorporating Modernism and Art Deco. Since its opening in 1999, it has become one of the most visited museums in Portugal. The contemporary art exhibitions rotate quarterly, so you can anticipate new and fascinating collections by both Portuguese and international artists. Once you’ve finished exploring, sit down on the terrace and enjoy a cuppa at the tea house.
Nearby is Casa de Serralves, a rose pink Neoclassical and Art Deco villa built in the 1930s. The romantic gardens and water features leading up to the building are a dream. The surrounding park extends for 180,000 square metres and is an ideal escape for anyone seeking a little peace.
Serralves is open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Soares dos Reis National Museum
The oldest museum in Portugal is Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis. It was established in 1833 at the Carrancas Palace, the oldest palace in the country. The museum’s collections focus primarily on the work of 19th and 20th-century Portuguese artists. Various mediums are on display, from sculptures, paintings and ceramics to furniture and metalwork.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Monday. There’s a charming cafe for you to take a quick break before continuing your Porto sightseeing adventures.
Porto Bridge Climb
As the city of six bridges, Porto offers the only bridge climbing experience in all of Europe. With a harness, you’ll walk across the arch of Arrábida Bridge to the peak 65 metres above the Douro River. At this spot, you can get out your camera or simply stop to take in the incredible views. Your guide will provide you with some interesting information about the bridge, from its history to its cultural significance.
Porto Bridge Climb has a great track record for safety, which is comforting for those that are a little hesitant when it comes to heights. Also, to avoid crowding, climbing groups only ever contain a maximum of 12 people. The climb costs only €15 per person, and you’ll take home a small postcard of the bridge as a souvenir. If you only have time for one guided activity while in Porto, this is definitely worth considering.
Mercado do Bolhão
Want to feel like a local in Porto? Visiting the Bolhão Market is essential for getting a taste of daily life. Open since 1914, the popular marketplace specializes in fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, meat and fish. That being said, it’s worth checking out simply for its lively and vibrant atmosphere.
While the market is usually held in a charming open-air building between Rua de Fernandes Tomás and Rua Formosa, the area is currently undergoing renovation. Until June of 2020, you can stop by the temporary setup at the nearby La Vie Funchal Shopping Centre.
Igreja de Santa Clara
Another church that is unassuming on the outside yet opulent on the inside is the Igreja de Santa Clara. Construction of this Baroque Catholic temple began back in 1416, although it has been modified and expanded over the centuries. In 1996, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walls and ceilings feature impeccably intricate wood carvings that are completely covered in gold.
Although a little hidden from the main road and accessible only via the back courtyard, it’s undoubtedly worth seeking out. From its elevated location, there’s a superb view over the city as well. From Monday to Friday, Igreja de Santa Clara is open from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. On Saturdays, you can enter between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Funicular dos Guindais
Looking to see some sights without too much walking? Take the Guindais Funicular, which connects the riverside neighbourhood of Ribeira to the hills of Batalha. While the original line was built in 1891, it has been recently improved and renovated. The trip takes about 10 minutes and costs €2.50. This cable car is a lifesaver if you want to avoid climbing up steep stairs yet still appreciate some wonderful views from above.
Make the most of your proximity to the Douro Valley with a lunch and wine tasting outing. Explore two or three vineyards throughout this enchanting valley and take in the luscious terraced landscapes. Sample world-class wines (including Portugal’s famous port wine) as you learn about the area’s production process and wine making history. For lunch, you’ll be spoiled with a traditional (and delicious) Portuguese fare.
You can easily book a nine or ten hour day trip on Viator in advance to avoid disappointment. Depending on the tour you choose, you can also upgrade to enjoy a Rabelo boat tour along the Douro River.
Portuguese Centre of Photography
Portugal’s Centre of Photography is held in a rather unusual and unexpected location: a former prison. The old cells and workshops are now exhibition galleries showcasing contemporary photographs. Prolific Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco was imprisoned for adultery here, although his incarceration inspired some of his best work.
The top two floors, which housed women and wealthier prisoners, contain permanent exhibitions. These include some vintage camera collections that any photographer will appreciate. Surprisingly, the views from the barred windows are quite astonishing.
Although a visit here could be considered one of the more weird things to do in Porto, admission is free, so what’s there to lose? It’s open between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesday and Friday, and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.
Capela das Almas
Without a doubt, one of Porto’s most eye-catching buildings is the Chapel of Souls. It is famous for its exterior walls clad with thousands of blue and white azulejo tiles, which depict significant moments from the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine. The chapel has a small two-storey bell tower to the left and a stained-glass window representing the souls of purgatory.
Located opposite the Bolhao subway station in the Santo Ildefonso area, it’s hard to miss this amazing attraction. Entrance is free if you wish to explore inside, yet keep in mind the chapel is often closed during lunch hours.
Mercado Bom Sucesso
Another market worth visiting while in Porto is Mercado Bom Sucesso. Unlike Bolhão, this vibrant indoor market offers local food stalls, allowing you to sample a range of Portuguese and international dishes all at once. With live music performances, weekly workshops, and handmade products available to browse and purchase, it’s a superb cultural haven.
Even more fantastic are the trading hours. The market opens at 9 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sunday) and stays open almost until midnight, making it an ideal destination for some late night shopping and snacking. Situated near the Rotunda da Boavista, it’s easy to locate as well.
World of Discoveries
Immerse yourself in a world of wonder for an hour or two. The World of Discoveries is an interactive museum and educational theme park. Impressive technological displays re-enact the journey of Portuguese navigators as they set out to uncover the rest of the world.
Take a riverboat ride and learn about life on board a ship, as well as the development and influence of Portuguese culture. If you have no prior knowledge about Portugal’s history, this is certainly a fun and engaging introduction.
Porto Tram Museum
One more niche museum in Porto is Museu do Carro Electrico, aka the Tram Museum. On display are an array of well-looked-after vintage trams, many of which you can enter. If you’re travelling with kids, they will love getting the chance to jump in and explore around. As a bonus, you can use your entrance ticket later on for a free tram ride anywhere in the city. The museum is open daily, with the exception of Monday morning.
Praça da Liberdade
As the city’s most important square, Praça da Liberdade connects the old town with the more modern areas of Porto. With designer boutiques, looming Baroque buildings and a 10-metre bronzed statue of King Peter IV, the square projects a sense of elegance and class.
Many consider Liberty Square the heart of Porto due to its proximity to the São Bento Railway Station and many other iconic structures. Make a note to wander through when you’re nearby.
Câmara Municipal do Porto
Lovers of architecture will enjoy visiting one of the city’s most notable landmarks, the Câmara Municipal do Porto. While it looks as though it could have existed for centuries, construction only began in 1920. This city hall is made from stunning granite and features a 70-metre-high clock tower in the centre. Find the building by the Praça do Município square near the Aliados subway station.
Visit the former residence of the bishops at Porto’s Episcopal Palace. The original structure dates back to the 13th century, although its notable Late Baroque elements were not added until the 18th century.
The palace is an important part of the city’s historic centre. There are some impressive interiors and elegantly-decorated rooms to admire, beginning with the monumental U-shaped stairway. For a few euros, you can take a guided tour running every half hour.
Not far from the Luís I Bridge are the Walls of D. Fernando. These are remnants of a medieval castle from the 14th century. You can easily reach this World Heritage Site by taking the funicular mentioned earlier, although there is a staircase too if you’re feeling athletic. The view of the city and the Douro River from the top is simply unmatched.
For a chill night out, Capela Incomum is your go-to. Located inside of a former 16th-century chapel, this bar is an unexpected gem. Fortunately, this means it’s never too crowded and you can enjoy a conversation with some of the locals. Sample a range of Portuguese wines from the Minho and Douro valleys until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday (or midnight from Monday to Thursday).
Recommended tours in Porto
- Douro Valley Small-Group Tour with Wine Tasting, Portuguese Lunch and Optional River Cruise
- Santiago de Compostela and Valença do Minho Day Trip from Porto with Lunch
- Guimarães and Braga Day Trip from Porto
- Porto: 3-Hour Food and Wine Tasting Tour
- The Best of Porto Walk: 3-Hour of Private Guided Tour
- Port Wine Lodges Tour Including 7 Wine Tastings
- Full-Day Tour: Douro Valley Trip from Porto
- Fatima and Coimbra Day Trip from Porto
- Skip the Line: World of Discoveries Entrance Ticket in Porto
- Porto Jewish Heritage Walking Tour
- Paiva Walkways and Alvarenga Small-Group from Porto
- Porto Half-Day Tuk Tuk Private Tour with Lunch
- Make Your Own Traditional Porto Tile
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