I Used to Live There | These Are My Can’t Miss Things to See & Do In Porto Portugal
The best things to do in Porto Portugal both old and new. I used to live there and just got back from visiting again. It’s a city to feel not just to see. There are so many things to do and see in Porto Portugal whatever you like to do. Whether you like culture, alcohol, scenic views, architecture or just wandering and exploring, it’s a fairly compact city with something for everyone. It’s also really easy to get around either on foot, by tram, taxi or Uber. There’s a lot to cover about this city but I’ll tr and cover as much as possible in this Porto travel guide.
Whatever you do, don’t rush. Porto is to be enjoyed and to get immersed in. To spend time sipping on sunset drinks and having leisurely meals, getting lost walking and finding random street art. Porto’s a feeling not just a place.
Here’s my suggestions on the top things to do, the best places to take photos in Porto Portugal and best rooftop bars with stunning views of the city.
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Top 15 things to see and do in Porto Portugal
These are my favorite things to do in Porto as a tourist and you can fit a lot in a day as it’s so easy to get around. We pretty much did all of Porto in 1 day, then Douro Valley the next day.
There’s a few I added onto the end that are on most Porto travel guides but not in my top picks as they’re harder to do and more time consuming.
1. Go Port tasting across the river in Villa Nova De Gaia
It’s named Porto for a reason and what’s a trip here without Port tasting. It’s one of the top things to do in Porto Portugal and can be as boozy or educational as you want.
There are so many Port caves to either book tours at or just simply turn up for as tasting to. We started at Espaço Porto Cruz for lunch to line our stomachs. It’s a modern rooftop bar with pretty much 360* views across the river and Porto.
From here, you can walk to Port houses like Kopke Port House (the oldest est. 1638), Cálem (who invented the pink port), Taylors, Grahams, Sandeman (est 1790) & Caves Ferreira which are all right below.
I definitely recommend doing a flight of a few different vintages to be able to compare them e.g. ruby, tawny and a 10 year + vintage. As well as a white and pink port. White port with tonic is one of my favorite long cocktails on a hot day or dry pink port as an after dinner drink.
You can get there by taxi, uber, metro or by talking a scenic walk across the upper deck of Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge upper deck.
While you’re here you can also take the cable car, have drinks overlooking the river at one of the rooftop bars (details below), have a sunset dinner overlooking Porto.
2. Free Things to do in Porto | Walk across Pont de Dom Luis 1 bridge
This is totally free to do and offers some of the best views in Porto of both sides of the river. It’s also quite a unique and bustling experience as the trains still run along the same level as the pedestrians. It does get busy at sunset so if you’re looking for a photo opp either get there early to claim your spot or take it at a quieter time.
Pont Dom Luis crosses from Porto over to Villa Nova De Gaia at the top of the hill by Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar and Jardim do Morrow. You can either walk down the narrow streets to the waterpront and port houses or take the cable car down.
3. Take the Gaia cable car
The Gaia Cable Car goes up and down between the port houses on the river level and up to Jardim do Morrow. It’s only a 5 min ride but expect to wait a while in line.
The views from the top at Jardin do Morrow are stunning and a great IG photo opp. You can either relax in the park and listen to live music (which happens on a lot of evenings) or grab a cocktail at the bar Esplanada Teleferico.
Which is what we did to enjoy the views with another cocktail. They have fabulous cocktails and charcuterie.
4. Ride the Porto tram #1 line
The #1 tram is a pretty quick 20-30 minute ride each way and one of the most popular tourist routes on the tram. The tram starts at Igreja de São Francisco by the river and makes its way along the river to end in Foz.
There’s not a whole lot to see in Foz but it’s a nice way to experience the old fashioned tram without taking up too much time.
The other option is the #22 tram which goes around a lot of the major tourist sights.
5. Lunch in Praça Ribeira on the river
This is such a bustling and buzzy spot for lunch with a view in Porto. It gets busy so be prepared to wait for a table. I say lunch and not dinner as I recommend dinner in Villa Nova De Gaia not the Porto side of the river so that you have Porto as your backdrop. The sunset’s better from the Villa Nova side as well, more on that below.
It’s also a great spot to take photos of Porto’s bridge, monastry, the river, boats and Villa Nova De Gaia. Repeat on the other side of the river in Villa Nova to have Porto as your backdrop.
6. Sunset dinner in Villa Nova Da Gaia
The reason I say to do sunset dinner in Villa Nova Da Gaia riverfront instead of Porto is for 2 reasons. One because you’re on the other side of the river to Porto and have it as you’re sweeping backdrop. If you do dinner on the Porto side, you’re looking at Villa Nova which is still stunning but it’s not Porto.
Two because of the curve of the river and how high the hills are in Porto you don’t get much of a sunset from the Porto waterfront versus Villa Nova De Gaia. It’s also a lot less busy. I highly recommend for a more authentic dining experience at very reasonable prices.
7. Try traditional Portuguese food
What would a trip to Portugal be without trying their national dish Bachalhou (salted cod). If that’s a bit intense for you, try Bolinhos de bacalhau (cod cakes) which you can find at pretty much every little street cafe.
Casa Portuguesa Pastel de Bacalhau is super touristy but it’s also gorgeous and if you’re on a time crunch it’s easy to pop in to just try one of these which you can also see being made.
If you have a sweet tooth, try the Portuguese custard tarts ‘pasteis de nata’. The bakeries in Portugal are so good so don’t miss their bread, croissants, pastries and coffee.
For a really authentic Portuguese dinner frequented by locals, check out Escondidinho (little hiding place). It’s the 1st Portuguese restaurant with two Michelin stars but the prices in no way reflect that. The prices are incredibly reasonable for the quality.
8. Visit Porto Cathedral
If you’re looking for something cultural head up to Porto Cathedral at the top of the hill. It’s another great panoramic view point and an escape from the heat.
If you’re looking for somewhere lively for lunch, check out the street cafe with its daily ongoing BBQ’s and music. It’s located right at the bottom of the steps you have to climb to get to the cathedral. You won’t be able to miss its music and bbq aromas.
9. Book a sunset river cruise
If you’re looking for something romantic to do in Porto, book a sunset river cruise. It’s a lovely way to see all the way along the river and both sides of it, get some fresh air and relax.
10. Walk along Rua das Flores for street art
There are so many cute streets for shopping, cafés and street art. It’s become a lot more geared towards tourists than when I lived here but in a good way. It’s still held onto it’s charm and authenticity.
Some streets to explore if you’re into street art: Rua das Flores (look for the Perspéntico blue cat), Rua Miguel Bombarda, Escadas do Codeçal, the backstreets of Riberia and Cedofeita. There’s also a really cool 3D Half Rabbit in Villa Nova De Gaia.
11. São Bento train station
São Bento train station is included in a lot of tours if you’re taking one. Where they’ll explain the meaning and history of all of them. However, if you’re doing a self guided tour, it’s quick, easy and free to just poke your head in and have a nose around for 5 minutes on your way to lunch.
12. Clerigos tower
I used to walk past this everyday on my way to work and not even notice it. Now it’s become quite the tourist attraction. You can climb it if you want but honestly there’s better views from a lot of the rooftop bars. I know most of you reading this Porto travel guide are doing short 2-3 day city trips and want to know what to do and what to skip so I’m giving my honest opinion.
However, if you have kids with you and can’t go to rooftop bars, then climbing the tower, going to Jardim Do Morrow or Porto Cathedral are great vista points.
If you get there for noon, you can listen to the bells while have an espresso and Bolinhos de bacalhau from at the foot of tower.
Ticket prices: Tower & Museum: €5 | €2.50 w/ Porto Card. Guided Tour €6.50. Tower Night Pass 7 PM–11 PM: €5
13. Visit Douro Valley
Ok, this isn’t technically in Porto but it’s a tour offered from Porto that was the highlight of our trip. If you like breathtaking views, wine, port, exploring and want an authentic Portuguese experience do this!
I recommend booking one that includes a river cruise like the one we booked. Especially if you’re looking for something romantic to do in Porto or something relaxing and scenic. I’ve done a separate review of this as there’s too much to share here and it deserves it’s own review.
14. Enjoy views from a rooftop bar
Like I said, Porto is one of those cities you feel you don’t just see. The pace is more relaxed and it’s one of the most beautiful European cities at sunset. So definitely take time to enjoy the views. 360 is also great for photos as you can get the river, Dom Luis 1 bridge, cable car and Porto in your shot.
15. Go to a Fado show
There are lots of Fado shows in Portugal. Whether you go to a dinner show or a more traditional taverna with live music. I used to be a dancer in the show Amar Amalia when I lived here and it’s a very moving and traditional way to experience the Portuguese culture.
9 best Porto Rooftop bars and restaurants with views
- 360 Lounge, Villa Nova De Gaia (port cave side of the river on top of Espacio Porto Cruz). We went here for lunch and after dinner drinks, it’s also a stunning place to watch sunset as the views up here are incredible. They serve food and drinks and are open from 12:30-midnight. If you’re going for sunset, either make a reservation or go early as it gets busy.
- Vinum (in Grahams) is a romantic spot for for dinner and/or sunset drinks.
- Esplanada Teleferico ok so it’s not technically a rooftop bar but it’s perched on the top of the hill and has the most incredible views, cocktails and charcuterie.
- LIFT Rooftop ViaCatarina 11am-11pm. If you’re looking for somewhere to have brunch in Porto with a view, they offer a rooftop brunch every Saturday from 12.30-4pm. You need reservations for brunch but the rest of the time it’s on a 1st come, 1st serve basis basis.
- Decimosetimo 17 rooftop bar and restaurant, is an elegant rooftop bar with reasonable prices and beautiful views. It’s located at the top of the Hotel Dom Henrique Downtown.
- Douro sky lounge buzzy cocktails, by river.
- Portobello rooftop, opens 5pm and is centrally located.
- Rooftop bar at Porto Coliseum Hotel. If you’re looking for somewhere more casual that’s also central.4-9pm.
- AUGE Porto is quite far North but swanky and worth checking out online.
Other things to see and do in Porto Portugal
We didn’t have time to do these but they’re on a lot of Porto travel guides and worth checking out if you’re there for a few days or looking for something else to do. If you don’t drink and aren’t doing the Port caves or Douro Valley you’ll definitely have time to do them.
- Livraria Lello: I’d really wanted to do this but my husband didn’t so we skipped this. I’d wanted to snap pics here as it looks like a fabulous photo opp but my husband correctly pointed out it’d probably be impossible to get a photo without lots of other people in it too. If you want to go to this Harry Potter-esque library you need to pre-purchase tickets as it’s one of Porto’s most popular tourist attraction. If you didn’t buy tickets in advance online, you can get them from Armazéns do Castelo (9.45am-7 PM)which is right on the corner close by. Entry tickets 5E Livraria Lello.
- TukTuk guided city tour
- Private walking tour w/port tasting
- Palacio da Bolsa stock exchange 45 min guided tour. We wanted to do this but you really need to book in advance and we couldn’t commit to a time. The language the tour is done is determined by 1st arrival, so get there early! Single: € 10.00, 50% off with Porto Card. R. de Ferreira Borges, 4050-253 Porto.
- Igreja de São Francisco if you like churches this is worth a visit. If you’re looking for a Porto photo spot, you can take pictures on the steps. The #1 tram mentioned above goes from here if you’re planning on taking that.
Where the best place to take photos in Porto
If you’re looking for the perfect Insta photo this city has so many great photo spots. There’s lots more but to name a few:
- Jardim Do Morrow
- The middle of Pont Dom Luis 1
- Bar 360 at Espaço Porto Cruz
- Esplanada Teleferico veranda
- Ribeira waterfront
- Villa Nova De Gaia waterfront
- Jardins do Palacio de Cristal Porto (my apartment used to be right by here and we’d take our pastries here to sit and enjoy the views).
- Livraria Lello if you have the patience
- Anywhere in the Douro Valley
How to get around Porto
This is my favorite way to get around Porto and explore cities. It’s a beautiful city to explore by foot but be prepared for lots of hills and steps.
Taxi or Uber
Reliable, fast and pretty affordable. The Ubers in Portugal and much cheaper than in America.
Metro / Tram
The trams in Porto are a scenic and easy way to explore the city. They run pretty frequently and are easy to hop on and off at, at frequent stops.
This card gives you free public transport as well as entry to 6 museums. It also offers some discounts on skip-the-line passes & some restaurants. I’ve never personally bought one but most Porto travel guides will suggest this if you’re planning on going to a few museums.
Where to stay in Porto
We stayed at Torel Palace for its location, rating and how gorgeous it looked in all of the photos. Here’s my complete review of this Porto hotel. It was so lovely to come back to each day as it was so peaceful and well air conditioned. Plus the champagne breakfast, pastries and cakes were really good (yes, I like my food and drink).