Located in the north of the country, Porto is one of Portugal’s most famous cities. Best known for its Port wine houses, beautiful river, and historic architecture, the city offers an abundance of things for visitors to see and do. To help you make the most of your trip, here is my list of the top 10 things to do in Porto:
Go Port Tasting
Port wine tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto’s neighbor across the Douro River, is a must on any visit to the city. There are a lot of places to choose from, including many household names. Taylor’s, Graham’s, and others are all great places to go for a cellar tour and tasting. Port tasting is great way to learn about how the wine is made, and a good way to discover an important part of the local culture and economy (not to mention have an excuse for a drink!).
Visit the World’s Prettiest Bookstore
One of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, Livraria Lello (Rua das Carmelitas, 144) is also the prettiest. Ranked the third best bookstore in the world by Lonely Planet, it is worth a visit on any trip to Porto. What makes Livraria Lello so special is its dramatic Gothic Revival facade and stunning wooden interior, complete with a curving double staircase that ascends to a platform suspended in mid-air. Rumor has it that J.K. Rowling, who lived in Porto for many years, used Livraria Lello as inspiration for her Harry Potter novels.
Take a Trip to the Douro Valley
Porto’s Douro River runs inland into the famous Douro Valley, where the grapes for Portugal’s Port wine are grown. You can drive or take a train from Porto to the Douro Valley to explore the vineyards and wineries. Many of the wineries in the valley have tasting rooms and restaurants, and a lot of them offer tours where visitors can learn about Port wine production. If you want to extend your trip, there are great hotels in the Douro Valley, some of which have excellent spas and restaurants.
Take a River Cruise
Many companies offer boat trips to the Douro Valley, and they are a great way to see the vineyards ascend up the steep hills from the river. River cruises from Porto make great day trips, and are easy to book from the stands along the river in the city center.
Visit the City’s Famous Churches
Porto has no shortage of churches, many of which date back to Portugal’s golden age of exploration. As such, some have spectacular interiors filled with gold from floor to ceiling. This is particularly true of the Igreja de Sao Francisco, which has a stunning Rococo interior with golden cherubs as far as the eye can see. Also worth a visit are the Capela das Almas and Igreja de Santo Ildfonso, both of which are covered in iconic blue tiles, called azulejos, that can be seen throughout the city.
Go to the Market
For foodie travelers, no trip to Porto would be complete without a trip to the Mercado do Bolhao, the city’s historic market. Don’t expect any frills here, but do expect to find some great produce and local foods. If you’re still hungry after your visit, the nearby Confeitaria do Bolhao has great pastries.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Porto has no shortage of good dining options. Start out your evening in the city with drinks on the terrace at the Yeatman Hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia. The terrace overlooks the city, and the hotel’s decanter shaped swimming pool makes a stunning foreground for the panoramic view. Elsewhere, make sure to have lunch at Barao de Fladgate at Taylor’s Port Lodge. The restaurant, which is near the Yeatman, also has great views over the city.
Visit the Casa da Musica
If you love music or architecture (or ideally both!), architect Rem Koolhaas’ trapezoidal Casa da Musica concert hall in the west of Porto is a must. You can see a performance of one of the three resident orchestras there, or just take a tour. All the while you can marvel at the building’s maze of halls and lack of right angles.
One of the best things about exploring Porto is getting lost in the little streets near the river. Narrow and mysterious, many of them house historic buildings and great cafes, shops, and restaurants. The area is too small to get completely lost in, so it’s a good way to explore the city before finding yourself at a riverside bar on the banks of the Douro River.
Ride the Funicular
Re-opened in 2004 after being closed for many years, the Funicular dos Guindais takes passengers from the riverside at Ribeira to the top of the hill at Batalha. It is a great way to avoid the steep climb from the river up to the city center, and offers great views of the Eiffel-inspired bridge and Vila Nova de Gaia as it climbs up the 61-meter (200-foot) ascent.