Want to know what to do in Porto? If you are thinking of visiting Porto, but haven’t yet made your plans, then don’t worry. Read on for our list of 11 things you just can’t miss during a tour of Portugal’s second biggest city, a region full of tradition, culture, festivity, authentic locals and a rich history.
1 – Climbing the Torre dos Clérigos
Going to Porto and not climbing the Torre dos Clérigos is not so much like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope, but more along the lines of visiting the Vatican and not climbing up to the dome of St. Peter’s. Built in the XVIII Century by Nicolau Nasoni, the compound includes the Tower itself, the Clérigos Church and the House of the Fraternity. The tower stands at a height of 75 meters, giving you a fantastic panoramic view over the city of Porto.
2 – Visit the Livraria Lello bookshop
The Livraria Lello, or Lello Bookshop, has been open since 1906 and in that time has established itself as one of the most iconic bookshops in the world. With its neo-gothic façade and panels representing Art and Science, its interiors are a blend of eclectic styles and art nouveau, brought together by the proud red staircase which is one of its calling cards. The establishment’s golden rule can still be read in Latin in an impressive 8 by 3.5 meter stained glass window: “Decus in Labore” (Honour in Work). The atmosphere is magnificent and you can easily spend hours on end there without noticing the passing of the time — a good option for those that do not know what to do in Porto.
3 – A walk in the Ribeira
Night or day, a nice walk in Porto’s Ribeira district is something you cannot pass up. This is one of the city’s liveliest, most colourful and cheerful spots, right on the Douro, which reflects the façades of the XVIII Century houses and the Palácio da Bolsa, providing a romantic and traditional atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else in the world. This is a nice area just to walk along the narrow cobbled alleyways, or to sit and have a drink and take in all that is going on around you. You will soon see why UNESCO classified it as World Heritage back in 1996.
4 – Breakfast at Café Majestic
The Café Majestic opened at number 112 in Santa Catarina Street in 1921, although at the time it was called Elite. The name changed, but the atmosphere, the sumptuousness and the elegance of the delicious breakfast menu, which is capped by a flute of Champagne, remains the same. The Majestic is one of Porto’s most emblematic examples of are nouveau, giving life to the whole concept of the Belle Époque and glamour. It has been classified as a public interest building since 1981 and its definitely something not to be missed if you do not know what to do in Porto.
5 – A visit to the São Bento Station
For those who have never been, the idea of planning a visit to a train station might seem odd, but the São Bento Station is one that you won’t want to miss. Built at the beginning of the XX Century, it has a glass and cast iron ceiling, designed by architect Marques da Silva and its interior is covered in 20 thousand tiles painted by Jorge Colaço, illustrating the evolution of transports and some of the highlights of Portuguese history and life. It is one of the city’s main monuments and its façade shows a strong architectural influence of the Fontainebleau school, as well as traces of renaissance and the Belle Époque.
6 – Going to the Foz
If you really want to have a good grasp of the city then you’ll need to get to know the beach area and its people. Why not go for a walk, following the Douro River from the Ribeira – the historic area of the city – to its mouth, known as the Foz? It’s just six kilometres, always by the riverside, which provide plenty of opportunities to speak to the locals and appreciate the view, the calm lifestyle or just to sit down for a meal, a drink or a snack. Once you arrive, stop at the Avenida do Brasil, which connects the entire riverside, and take in the view of the ocean, then make your way to the famous Praia da Luz esplanade, an understandably popular haunt.
7 – Eat a francesinha
To eat a francesinha is mandatory for those who do not know what to do in Porto. There is no shortage of restaurants or cafés where you can taste the famous “francesinha”, a must of Porto cuisine and calling card of Northern culture as a whole. It is called francesinha, which means “French girl” because its creator, who made it quite spicy, used to say that the spiciest girls he knew were the French. Some, however, prefer to say that the name comes from the times of the Peninsular Wars, when the Napoleonic troops were seen eating bread sandwiches, into which they would place all sorts of meet. The francesinha is shaped like a sandwich but inside you can find the traditional linguíça sausage, fresh sausage, ham, cold cuts and a beef steak, all covered in melted cheese. It is served drenched in tomato, beer and piri-piri sauce and goes down best with a nice cold “fino”, as the locals call their draft beer, followed by a “cimbalino”, which means an expresso.
8 – Go to the Palácio da Bolsa
The Palácio da Bolsa, or Stock Exchange Palace, is one of Porto’s most important monuments, making a visit obligatory. It was built in a neo-classic style in the second half of the XIX Century and is currently used for cultural events. Its interiors include the Patio of the Nations and the Arab Salon, which draw on the Moorish style and extremely elaborate decoration. Your visit will allow you to witness the geniality of the artists involved in so grand a project, as well as the soul of Porto culture in its day.
9 – Lose yourself in the São Francisco Church
This XVIII Century Gothic church, located in the São Nicolau parish, is especially impressive due to the baroque gold leaf plated interior. Classified as a National Monument in 1910, it suffered the effects of a devastating fire in the neighbouring convent, which began when loyalist troops fired on it during the siege of the city, in the XIX Century. The damaged sector would later be razed to make way for the current Palácio da Bolsa, which used to house the stock exchange. You can still see the Gothic rose window on the façade and the whole set is marked by a profound architectural sense, which exudes influences such as Mudéjar, making it well worth a visit.
10 – Going to the Port Wine Cellars
This is another experience you just can’t miss when you visit Porto. The cellars are an ex-libris not only of the city, but of the whole Port Wine industry, the Douro region and the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Most of the cellars are in the latter, just across the river from Porto. A visit to the cellars provides you with more than historical context, you’ll also have the opportunity to taste the marvellous beverage which continues to carry enormous weight in the national economy.
11 – Visit the Porto Cathedral
Located in the heart of Porto’s historic centre, the Cathedral, or Sé, is the city’s most important religious building. Construction began in the XII Century and over the years it suffered several renovations, which is why it now reflects a variety of styles. Most of the building is Baroque, although the structure of the façade and the main body of the church are Romanic, with the cloisters and the Saint John Chapel showing a definite Gothic style. Both the Cathedral – which has been classified as a National Monument – and the Cloisters are a must see when you visit Porto.