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The Top Things to Do in Porto
1. Pose in Front of Pretty Azulejos
Blue-and-white painted ceramic tiles (known in Portuguese as azulejos) can be found throughout the country, but they’re at their most beautiful in Porto. Start your azulejo adventure at historic São Bento Railway Station, which, in addition to its beautiful wall art, is where most journeys to other destinations in northern Portugal begin. Additional locations to appreciate this delicate art form include churches like Capela das Almas and Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, as well as many of the buildings in the city’s Ribeira district, which is located just north of the Douro River.
2. Visit the World’s Most Beautiful Bookstore
It may sound odd, but it’s true—Porto is home to what’s arguably the most stunning bookstore in the world, Livraria Lello. This 19th-century landmark has a dramatic interior, ornate stained-glass ceiling, and beautiful staircase that is said to have served as J. K. Rowling’s inspiration for the Hogwarts Castle’s grand staircase in Harry Potter.
3. Get Fresh Air in Porto’s Perfect Parks
Porto is home to dozens of lush green spaces, from the Victorian-era Jardim do Palácio de Cristal to the manicured rows of Parque de Serralves. Stroll through the city’s beautiful Botanical Garden, which dates back to the 19th century, or Jardim da Cordoaria with its towering trees juxtaposed with an eclectic array of statues.
Go Beyond Porto: Discover Northern Portugal
4. Take in a Panorama from Ponte Luiz I
Once you’ve finished (or at least taken a break from) exploring the churches, bookstores, parks and other delights of Porto’s city center, walk due south from São Bento Station and, eventually, onto the Ponte Luiz I. Whether by day, night, or at sunset (with colors that are particularly stunning on a not-too-cloudy day), this iconic metal bridge offers a perfect panorama of Porto, and the especially colorful Ribeira. The bridge is also worth admiring from the water’s edge or out on the Douro River.
5. Ride Along the Douro in a Rabelo Boat
A ride on a Rabelo is a wonderful option for enjoying Porto’s imposing bridges and colorful facades of the Ribeira from a unique perspective. These traditional Portuguese cargo boats transported port wine casks along the river, and now they are available to take visitors on a Douro River tour.
6. Say “Saúde” With Plenty of Port Wine
Vila Nova da Gaia is on the Douro’s south bank and a hub of the port wine industry. Port is a sweet, fortified wine unique to Portugal. Just as real champagne can only be made in the region of Champagne, France, port wine can only be made in Portugal, in the region of Douro. Common types of port include ruby (red), Tawny (barrel-aged), white, and rosé.
Port producers such as Calém, Churchill and Ferreira offer a variety of tastings and tours, as well as educational pairing sessions with a guide. A typical tasting-and-tour combo will cost around for 13€ and provide a guided tour, museum visit, and sample of two types of port, which differ based on the cellar.
If you’ve got time to explore more of Northern Portugal, an excursion to the port wineries of the Douro Valley makes for a perfect addition to your itinerary.
7. Surf or Sunbathe on the North Atlantic
The Douro River is the defining water feature of central Porto, but you don’t have to travel very far west before the city ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins. The top two beaches closest to Porto are Praia do Carneiro, which is actually within the city limits, and Praia de Matosinhos, with golden sandy shores that have earned it a reputation as the most popular beach in Porto.
8. Dive Deep Into Portuguese Cuisine
Like most things in Portugal, Portuguese cuisine is delightfully unpretentious. You can sit down to a delicious meal in restaurants that range from local and authentic, to upscale and even opulent. Enjoy local specialties such as Francesinha (a uniquely Portuguese sandwich layered with meats and smothered in cheese), tripas à moda do Porto (a traditional stew originating from Porto) and Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (a popular Portuguese salted cod casserole).
9. Walk on Porto’s Weird Side
If you’re searching for something a little off-center, you’ll be delighted to know that Porto, like Paris and Rome, is home to its own catacombs, which you’ll find beneath the Igreja de São Francisco. A less eerie (but equally quirky) option is to visit the former Imperial Cafe building, which today houses – wait for it – a McDonald’s, arguably the world’s most beautiful one. Who says a Big Mac can’t be a work of art?
10. Sit for a Performance at Casa da Música
Casa da Música is Porto’s concert hall dedicated to—you guessed it—music. The facade is unmistakably modern, with sharp edges and angled walls made of white concrete, serving as a visually dramatic contrast to the traditional row houses across the street. The “House of Music” hosts events nearly every day of the week, ranging from solo performers to gospel choirs and the National Orchestra of Porto.
Porto Practical Matters
When to Visit Porto
There’s never a bad time to visit Porto. If you want to avoid the larger crowds, consider visiting during “shoulder” months like April, May, September, and October. Those wanting to experience harvest season in the Douro Valley should plan to visit around September and October.
We’ve had a look through our data and have found these incredible flight deals, to get you on your way! Remember that flight prices can go up and down, so we recommend booking as soon as possible to get the best deal.
|Boston (BOS)||$381*||14th to 25th January|
|Miami (MIA)||$390*||13th to 21st March|
|New York (JFK)||$424*||1st to 8th July|
|Miami (MIA)||$431*||13th to 19th February|
Where to Stay in Porto
Porto offers a range of accommodations for every budget, from some of the highest-rated hostels in all of Europe, to boutique hotels housed in Baroque buildings, to five-star luxury from the world’s top hotel brands. Find accommodations in your price range by searching Skyscanner for hotels in Porto.
How to Get Around in Porto
Porto’s city center is very walkable, but public transportation around Porto is also excellent. The Porto Metro is the most efficient way to travel, but the city’s historical trams are certainly the most charming option.
If all else fails, of course, you can feel free to ask a local if they can help you, even if you can’t falar Português. Porto’s locals are famous throughout the country for being hospitable and welcoming.
Time to Travel
Now that you’re fully immersed in inspiration, it’s time to start planning your itinerary. Follow the cobblestone roads between the city’s churches and port wineries; use your tastebuds to discover the unique cuisine of Northern Portugal; enjoy a performance at Casa da Música; or simply laze in a park or on the beach. Porto has something to offer everyone—and your love for the country is sure to grow and blossom as you partake in all of Porto’s delights.
Explore beyond Porto: European Charm Meets Modern Culture in Northern Portugal
*Flight prices are correct at time of searching on 5th December 2019. They are subject to price fluctuations and may be higher or lower based on market demands.