When visiting Portugal for the first time, most people start with Lisbon, and for good reason: most flights arrive there and it’s spectacular. But is Porto worth visiting? Most definitely! We’ve traveled to more than ninety countries over the years and Portugal is our current favorite. Having been twelve times, including several times to Porto, we can say with authority that Porto is one place to include on your travels to Portugal.

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14 Reasons Why Porto is Worth Visiting

Portugal’s second largest city, Porto is located in northern Portugal on the Douro River. It can be reached from Lisbon by car or a three-hour coastal train.

Porto vs. Lisbon

While Lisbon offers the larger, more cosmopolitan atmosphere of a capital city, Porto provides a more intimate and authentic experience with its medieval charm, riverfront location, and proximity to the renowned Douro Valley. Plus, THAT BRIDGE! Furthermore, it is cheaper than Lisbon and less touristy.

Here are 14 reasons why Porto is absolutely worth visiting.

1. Long Rich History

Porto’s origins date back to over 2,000 years ago as a Celtic settlement. It was later transformed into a commercial port by the Romans, then influenced by subsequent invasions of the Visigoths, Moors and Spaniards. Well-preserved architecture and landmarks such as the Porto Cathedral, the Clérigos Church and Tower, and the neoclassical Palácio da Bolsa (stock exchange) fill the city. The historical center of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as are the Dom Luís I Bridge and the Monastery of Serra do Pilar. Explore the city’s historical sites and immerse yourself in its captivating past.

Igreja do Carmo - Porto
Igreja do Carmo, Porto

2. Picturesque Riverfront

Porto’s position along the Douro River offers breathtaking views of the city’s colorful buildings cascading down the hillsides. Stroll along the riverfront promenade, enjoy a boat tour, or simply relax at one of the many riverside cafes.

View of Porto and Dom Luís I Bridge that makes Porto worth visiting
Porto and the Dom Luís I Bridge

For the most splendid panoramic view, take a cable car from Cais de Gaia, on the Vila Nova de Gaia side, up to the Serra do Pilar Monastery and its viewpoint.

3. Majestic Bridges

Porto is renowned for its six stunning bridges that span the Douro River. The most famous is the Dom Luís I Bridge (pictured at top of page). It is a spectacular and iconic double-deck arched iron bridge designed by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. The bridge connects the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Upon its completion in 1886, it had the longest span of its type in the world. One innovation was the incorporation of two levels. Currently, the upper level serves as a platform for Porto’s light railway system and pedestrians, while the lower section is for road traffic, also accompanied by a footpath. Cross the bridge to enjoy panoramic views of the city and the river.

Infante D. Henrique Bridge, Porto
Infante D. Henrique Bridge, Porto

4. Port Wine Cellars

Porto is most renowned for its production of port wine. Visit the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. You can take a tour to learn about the wine-making process and indulge in tastings of this sweet fortified wine. There are around 40 merchant companies who produce over 200 brands, so you’ll have no trouble finding a cellar. Sandeman, Cálem, Taylor, Graham’s, and Kopke are some of the most well-known. We recommend that you book a port wine tour; typically you will visit three port houses and try six or more wines.

Vila Nova da Gaia, across the Douro River from Porto, makes Porto worth visiting
Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro River from Porto

Don’t miss World of Wine (WOW), which opened in 2020. It’s a remarkable destination that offers an all-encompassing experience for wine enthusiasts, history buffs, and culture lovers. With its diverse range of museums, exhibitions, gastronomic delights, and scenic vistas, WOW provides an unforgettable journey into the captivating world of wine.

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5. Stunning Architecture

Porto showcases a captivating blend of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical. Marvel at the iconic São Bento Railway Station, the Clérigos Tower, and the Livraria Lello, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.

Livraria Lello Porto
Livraria Lello & Irmão in Porto

Porto has some of the best examples of decorative azulejo tiles in all of Portugal. Some of the best places to see these azulejos are Porto Cathedral, São Bento Train Station, Igreja dos Congregados, and Capela das Almas (Chapel of Souls).

6. Vibrant Culture

The city exudes a vibrant and authentic Portuguese culture, a captivating blend of history, art, music, gastronomy, and a genuine sense of hospitality. The city’s distinct identity, shaped by its past and its people, creates a unique cultural experience for all who visit. Porto has a thriving art scene, with numerous galleries, museums, and artistic spaces.

Fado, a traditional Portuguese music genre known for its emotional and soulful melodies, holds a special place in Porto’s cultural landscape. Fado houses and venues can be found throughout the city, offering intimate performances where the melancholic tunes are sung, accompanied by the soul-stirring sounds of guitars and mandolins.

The São João Festival, held in June, is one of the city’s most beloved events, featuring lively street parties, fireworks, and the tradition of hitting each other with plastic hammers in good-natured fun. Other notable festivals include the Fantasporto Film Festival, the Festa da Ribeira, and the Porto International Book Fair.

7. Delicious Gastronomy

Indulge in Porto’s culinary delights. Porto’s culinary scene is diverse and tantalizing, offering a mix of traditional Portuguese dishes and contemporary gastronomy. The most iconic local food is the francesinha, a hearty sandwich filled with a mixture of meats including ham, steak, and pork, topped with a fried egg, melted cheese and finished with a spicy tomato sauce. Other popular specialties are hearty stews like tripas à moda, bacalhau (salted cod), grilled sardines and pastel de nata (a delectable custard tart). Don’t forget to finish your meal with a glass of port wine!

We’re especially excited about TimeOut Market, which is opening later in 2024. A food hall with 14 restaurants and two bars, plus an outdoor deck with city views, it will be located at the famous São Bento railway station.

Where to Eat in Porto?

  • Restaurante Flor dos Congregados
    170-year-old family owned restaurant, cozy and rustic, tucked away on a side street in the heart of Porto.
  • O Buraco
    Authentic traditional Portuguese cuisine with friendly service, reasonably priced in the heart of Downtown.
  • Cantinho do Avillez
    Comtemporary urban bistro offering traditional Portuguese cuisine by famed Lisbon chef José Avillez.
  • Gruta
    One of those places where you can eat really well for a reasonable price; features contemporary fish and seafood with a Brazilian influence.
  • Cafe Santiago
    Known for the best francesinhas in Porto! If you don’t want to wait, you can also try Santiago F, a café run by the same owners, just down the street.
  • Mercado Bom Sucesso
    This old market building from the 1950s has been transformed into a modern cultural experience in the heart of the Boavista neighborhood. Its collection of local trade stalls is noteworthy, but what truly captivates are its petite eateries featuring authentic gourmet delicacies and tapas.

8. Charming Neighborhoods

Explore Porto’s distinctive neighborhoods, each with its own character. Wander through the narrow streets of Ribeira, venture up the steep hills to the artistic district of Miguel Bombarda, or visit the trendy Foz do Douro for a relaxing beachside experience. Baixa, the central downtown area where most of the monuments are located, is the best district for nightlife, but artsy Cedofeita is hip and trendy. Boavista is a posh and peaceful neighborhood known for its long boulevard, Boavista Avenue, that leads to the ocean.

9. Vila Nova da Gaia

Just across the river from Porto lies the city of Vila Nova da Gaia, which is worth visiting for more than its famous port cellars and World of Wine. Here you will also find no fewer than 15 Blue Flag beaches to enjoy on warm sunny days. Also on this side of the river: the UNESCO Serra do Pilar Monastery. Gaia offers many beautiful parks and gardens, including the Gaia Biological Park, Lavandeira Park, Jardím do Morro, and the Local Nature Reserve of the Douro Estuary, a small nature reserve established in 2007 with the aim of the protection of birds and landscape.

10. Lively Nightlife

Porto offers a vibrant nightlife scene, particularly in the downtown area. Ribeira’s central plaza is brimming with vibrant bars and clubs, offering a lively atmosphere where you can revel until daybreak. The nightlife in Porto truly comes alive after midnight, and numerous nightclubs stay open until 6:00 am, making it a haven for night owls seeking to fully embrace the city’s vibrant clubbing culture. From trendy bars and clubs to cozy taverns, you’ll find plenty of options to enjoy an evening out, socialize, and experience the local energy.

11. Warm Hospitality

The people of Porto are known for their warm and welcoming nature. Experience the genuine friendliness of the locals, who are always ready to help and make your visit memorable.

Where to Stay in Porto

LUXURY CHOICE: Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel
Located in Ribeira, right on the river at the foot of the Bridge, its central location allows easy access to all Porto has to offer.

MID-RANGE CHOICE: Hotel Dom Henrique Downtown
Located downtown in Porto’s city center, just moments away from theatres, art galleries, monuments, and shopping.

BUDGET CHOICE: Porto Lounge Hostel & Guesthouse
Relaxed, contemporary hostel on a cobbled street 7 minutes’ walk from São Bento train station.

12. Day Trips from Porto

Porto’s location in northern Portugal provides easy access to other great places in the area. Here are some of the best day trips from Porto:

Braga

Braga is Portugal’s religious capital, and the stunning Bom Jesus do Monte is the most photographed church in Portugal. It is characterized by its intricate zigzagging Baroque style staircase (about 600 stairs in total) that lead up 381 feet to the main basilica. You can climb the steps like a pilgrim, or you can simply take the funicular like we did, then walk down the stairs. It is the oldest funicular in the world moved by water counterbalancing and it’s worth checking out.

Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, Portugal is worth visiting
Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, Portugal

Guimarães

Guimarães is one of the finest historic cities in northern Portugal, and the Portuguese regard it fondly as the birthplace of their country. The hilltop 10th-century Guimarães Castle offers sweeping city views. There are many day tours from Porto that offer a combination of Guimarães and Braga.

10th-century Guimarães Castle
10th-century Guimarães Castle

Peneda-Gerês National Park

Peneda-Gerês National Park is located in the northern part of Portugal. It is the only national park in the country and offers breathtaking landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, and an abundance of outdoor activities like hiking and camping. Spanning across approximately 270 square miles, it encompasses a rugged mountainous terrain, dense forests, crystal-clear rivers, and picturesque waterfalls. It is known for its stunning beauty, tranquility, and preservation of unique ecosystems. The park is home to numerous species, including the endangered Iberian wolf and the majestic Garrano horse.

Peneda-Gerês National Park near Porto is worth visiting
Peneda-Gerês National Park

Aveiro

Aveiro, situated on Portugal’s western coast, is a picturesque and captivating city nestled alongside the Ria de Aveiro lagoon. It is often referred to as “the Venice of Portugal,” since it features is a network of canals traversed by vibrant boats called barcos moliceiros, historically employed for seaweed harvesting. Adjacent to the city center, renowned for its art nouveau architecture, stands the prominent Cathedral of Aveiro, boasting a striking bell tower. The opulent Museu de Aveiro, housed in a former convent, showcases a magnificent marble tomb.

Aveiro, Portugal
Aveiro, Portugal

13. Access to Douro River, Valley and Wine Country

Porto is the main embarkation point for river cruises on the Douro River, both day cruises and multi-day cruises through the Douro Valley, Portugal’s most well-known wine region. The river originates in Spain and ends in the Atlantic, at Porto. We highly recommend that you spend a full day cruising the river, visiting vineyards, and tasting local wines.

Douro River Valley
Douro River Valley

14. Inspiration for Harry Potter?

J. K. Rowling moved to Porto in 1991 following the death of her mother. She taught English in the evenings and worked on the manuscript of the first book during the day. Many elements of the city are rumored to have inspired the Harry Potter series, among them the art nouveau Café Majestic, the Livraria Lello Bookstore, and even the long black robes of the university students.

Potteresque Students in Porto
Students in Porto with Hogwarts-style capes

When is the Best Time to Visit Porto?

The best time to visit Porto is generally during the spring (April to June) and the early autumn (September and October). During these months, the weather is typically mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 59°F to 77°F. There are fewer crowds than in the peak summer season, allowing you to explore the attractions comfortably.

It’s worth noting that Porto can experience some rainfall throughout the year, so it’s advisable to pack a light jacket or umbrella regardless of the season. The winter months (November to February) are typically cooler and rainier, but the city still has its charm and can be a good option for those who don’t mind the cooler temperatures.

How Many Days in Porto is Enough?

You can get a great feel for Porto and see many of the sights in two days, but we recommend three to fit in a Douro River day cruise.

Two Day Itinerary in Porto

Day 1: Exploring Porto’s Historic Districts and Riverside

Morning:
Start your day at Cafe Majestic, a historic and elegant café. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast with pastéis de nata and coffee.

Take a stroll through the charming Ribeira District and have a mid-morning coffee at Piolho, a popular and historic café in the heart of Porto.

Late Morning:
Cross the Dom Luís I Bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia. Visit the Sandeman or Graham’s port wine cellars for a tasting session.

Lunch:
Head back to Porto for lunch at DOP. This Michelin-starred restaurant offers a modern twist on traditional Portuguese cuisine.

Afternoon:
Explore the Livraria Lello and then wander through the Clérigos District. For a quick pick-me-up, stop by Manteigaría for a custard tart.

Evening:
Enjoy a traditional Portuguese dinner at A Grade in the Foz do Douro area, offering great seafood and river views.

Day 2: Nature, Parks, and Hidden Gems

Morning:
Have breakfast at Nicolau Porto in the city center, known for its delicious brunch options.

Visit Parque da Cidade for a morning walk. Consider bringing a picnic or try Mercado Bom Sucesso for some local bites.

Late Morning:
Head to Crystal Palace Gardens for more stunning views. Have a light snack at Café do Cais, overlooking the Douro River.

Lunch:
Enjoy lunch at Da Terra, a vegetarian-friendly spot in the Miragaia district, offering diverse and flavorful dishes.

Afternoon:
Explore the Miragaia district’s hidden gems. For a coffee break, try Biblioteca, Casa do Châ for a cozy tea experience.

Take a boat tour along the Douro River and capture the beauty of Porto. Consider grabbing a snack at Tapabento near Ribeira.

Evening:
Return to the Ribeira District for dinner at O Fado, a restaurant known for its delicious Portuguese cuisine and live Fado music.

Budget Tips:
Stick to local eateries and markets for affordable meals.
Consider using rideshare services like Uber or Bolt for convenience.
These restaurant recommendations should add an extra layer of enjoyment to your Porto experience, offering a mix of traditional and modern Portuguese cuisine.

Enjoy your trip!

Conclusion: Why Porto is Worth Visiting

These are just a few of the many reasons why Porto is worth visiting. The city’s combination of rich history and culture, stunning landscapes and architecture, location at the mouth of the Douro, proximity to wine country, and fabulous gastronomy make it a captivating destination for travelers.


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