Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, and it is located along the northwest coast of the Iberian Peninsula. This city is known for its production of port, its successful football team FC Porto, its stately bridges, and its diverse architecture. If you decide to visit this beautiful city on your next vacation, you will find plenty to keep you entertained during your stay. To help you get the most out of your vacation, here are the 20 best things to do in Porto for first-timers.
20. Go to the Sao Bento Railway Station
Sao Bento Railway Station is a magnificent and grand, yet elegant structure. On the walls of the grand entrance, there are more than 20 thousand azulejo tiles, and these are designed to depict the history of Porto. Introducing Porto describes this railway station as one of the most beautiful in the world. From the station, you can take a train ride to the towns, villages, and countryside surrounding Porto.
19. Try Francesinha
Franceshinha is the national dish of Portugal, and you will not find it anywhere else in the world, so you should try it during your vacation. You will find this dish on the menus of many cafes and restaurants in the city. This calorie-busting dish is for meat-eaters only, as it is layers of sausage, steak, ham, and melted cheese encased in dough and topped with a tomato sauce and an egg. It is often served with crispy fries.
18. See the Azulejo Tiles
Porto is famous for the Azulejo tiles, and these are found around the city. It is almost impossible not to see them but pay attention as there are many designs to see. Originally, the tiles were brought to Portugal from Spain by King Manuel I in the 15th century, and the tiles had already been popular in Spain since the middle ages. Azulejo is a word originating from an Arabic phrase that means 'polished stone.' The tiles were initially made with simple geometric designs. Later, the designs depicted the cultural events, religious stories, and triumphs of Portugal. Although you will see these tiles all around the city, some of the best places to see the tiles include Porto Cathedral, the Church of Saint Ildefonso, Sao Bento Railway Station, and Igreja de Carmo.
17. Stroll Around the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal
The Palacio de Cristal is an unusual, domed building that was constructed for a world rollerskating championship. It is now a tourist attraction that is set within stunning gardens. The gardens are the highlight of the visit for most people, as the grounds are stunning. You will share your stroll with peacocks, as these magnificent birds roam freely around the grounds.
16. Ride the Cable Cars
An alternative to taking the tram to see the sights of Porto is riding in the cable cars. Taking a cable car will allow you to see the sights of the city from a bird's eye perspective. You will find the cable cars on the opposite side of the river in Gaia, and you can enjoy views of the River Douro and across the city. The ride takes you to the top of a hill that is adjacent to the Luis I Bridge. You must buy a ticket to ride the cable car, and this also gives you access to a free wine tasting close to the cable car depot.
15. Try the Seafood at Matosinhos
Its coastal location means that seafood features highly in the traditional cuisine of Porto. Although you will see seafood dishes featuring on the menus of most cafes and restaurants, the best place to try fresh seafood is at Matosinhos, which is a neighborhood next to the fisherman's port. The seafood restaurants in this neighborhood all have their own outdoor grill. As you walk past, you can buy some of the freshly grilled local fish. Some of the popular options are codfish, octopus, and sardines.
14. Visit a Port Wine Cellar
Porto's most famous export is port, so it makes sense to include a visit to a port wine cellar in your itinerary. On the opposite side of the river, you will find some of the major cellars and old warehouses that are used to bottle and store the fortified wine. At almost all of the cellars, it is possible to take guided tours and enjoy port tastings.
13. Browse the Livraria Lello Book Store
Indie Traveller recommends browsing the Livraria Lello book store during your visit to Porto. Opened in 1906, it is the oldest bookstore in Portugal. When J.K. Rowling was working in Portugal in the 90s, she often visited this store. Some say that the interior of the store was her inspiration for Hogwarts. It is possible that this is true, as there are some similarities. The book store is split over several levels that are connected by a winding staircase, and each level has a balcony overlooking the ground floor. Both Portuguese and English-language literature are available from the store.
12. Spend Time on the Beach
Porto is usually a destination that people visit to enjoy the urban areas, history, and culture. However, the city also has some fabulous beaches. Many of the beaches that line Porto have Blue Flag status. One of the best beaches to visit is Matosinhos, which is just past the Parque de Cidade. It has a large bay, and you can take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
11. Visit Porto Cathedral
One of the most significant religious structures in Porto is Porto Cathedral. The cathedral is located in the oldest part of the city, and it has a terrace that boasts views across the rooftops. You can also see several of the city's landmarks from this vantage point, including the Celrigos Church Tower. Although there have been many additions and remodeling of the cathedral, it retains many of its 12th-century features. On entering the building, you will walk along a Romanesque nave and choir towards the apse, which was renovated in the 17th-century and given a Baroque design.
10. Enjoy a Performance at the Casa da Musica
Opened in 2005, the Casa da Musica is one of the more recent additions to Porto attractions. It is a concert hall designed by Rem Koolhaas in collaborations with high-tech acoustics and scenography firms. The venue is home to the Porto Symphony orchestra. If you want to see one of the orchestra's performance or a famous soloist's performance, you should check out the schedule and book tickets in advance. However, it is worth visiting the concert hall even if you are not watching a show. You can take a tour of the 1,300-seat auditorium, admire the interior design features, and potentially hear the orchestra rehearsing.
9. Go to Celrigos Church
The Celrigos Church is a Baroque building that is an iconic landmark in Porto as it has a 75.6-meter tower that you can see from most places in the city. At the time of the structure's completion, it was the tallest building in Portugal. There is a clock on the tower, and there are carvings all the way to the top. Visitors can climb the 240 steps in the tower, and they are rewarded for their efforts with panoramic views of the city.
8. Visit the Church of Sao Francisco
This church was completed in 1425, and it is the last Gothic monument standing in Porto. Some of the architectural highlights of this structure are the ornate portal with a rose window, the long lancet windows, the lavishly gilded woodwork, Gothic vaults, and pillars covered in carved panels featuring foliage, cherubs, and birds.
7. See the Luis I Bridge
Porto is famous for its bridges, and you should see all of them if possible. However, if you only have time to visit one, then make it the Luis I Bridge that crosses the Douro River. Opened in 1886, this bridge was designed by Theophile Seyrig, an engineer who co-founded the Eiffel Company. Climb to the upper level of the bridge first, as there are excellent views along the river. You cannot cross the bridge on this level as it is used for the light railway. Next, take the funicular down to the lower level of the bridge, which is open to pedestrians.
6. Go to Serralves Museum & Villa
There are three components of the Serralves Museum & Villa to enjoy during a visit. First, there is the Art Deco villa, which was built between 1925 and 1944. You can tour the villa and admire the interior features, many of which were designed by Rene Lalique and Charles Siclis. The next component to explore is the terraced grounds of the villa. These are beautifully landscaped and include topiaries, tree-lined avenues, pergolas, and perfect lawns. Finally, there is the Contemporary Art Museum, which usually has four or five exhibitions at any time. You will see works by various artists, including Liam Gillick and Joan Miro.
5. Explore Cais da Ribeira
Cais da Ribeira is the riverside district of Porto, and The Crazy Tourist recommends exploring this area during your visit to the city. There is a riverside walk that is lined with a picturesque piazza with bars and restaurants. From the riverside walk, you will have excellent views of the iconic Luis I Bridge. If you head away from the river, you will find yourself walking along steep streets and stairways that take you between pastel-colored houses.
4. Enjoy the Views from the Miradouro da Vitoria
From the outside, the Miadouro da Vitoria looks a little rundown as it has broken window panes, and abandoned buildings surround the structure. However, this structure is one of the most popular places to visit in Porto, and many people come to watch the sunset. From the Miraduoro da Vitoria, you can enjoy views across the rooftops of Medieval houses and over the River Douro. Some of the sights you can see include the Dom Luis Bridge, Bishop's Palace, and Porto Cathedral.
3. Visit Bolsa Palace
The Stock Exchange Palace, officially called the Palacio da Bolsa, was constructed between 1842 and 1910. It was built on the ruins of the St. Francis Church of Porto's cloisters, and it is devoted to Porto's merchants, past and present. This neoclassical building was once the stock exchange building, but it is now an attraction for visitors to tour. It will particularly interest those who are enthusiastic about history, architecture, and interior design. The guided tours start at the building's entrance, and they last for approximately 45 minutes. Some of the highlights include the Arab room, the noble staircase, and the impressive Hall of Nations, which boasts an intricately designed glass-dome.
2. Explore Porto by Tram
An excellent way to get around the city and to see the sights is to take one of Porto's historic trams. Porto's tram network was the first in Portugal, and it was built in 1895. There are now three tram routes through the city, and the best one for tourists is #1. This tram route starts at the Church of St. Francis along the Ribeira and takes you to the Douro River's mouth in Foz, where you will find the Passcio Alegre.
1. Take a Cruise Along the Douro River
According to The Common Wanderer, one of the best things to do in Porto for first-timers is to take a cruise along the River Douro. You should try to do this at the beginning of your vacation, as it is a great way to acclimate yourself with the city and see the sights. Many different river cruises are available, and some teach you about the river's importance to Porto's history. A river cruise is also one of the best ways of seeing Porto's famous bridges.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn