Porto is one of our new favourite cities after our visit this year, and is more buzzing than you’d expect, with culture, history and beauty. The city of Port and tiles. It’s all walkable and there are a lot of tourist traps, so to help you on your visit we have whittled down the best things to do in Porto. You’ll be mad to not visit this year!
We love a weekend away, whether that’s Barcelona in the spring, Copenhagen in the cold or Porto at any time of year. We both love Port which was a huge pull; but then seeing the Anthony Bourdain Netflix episode of Porto (warning: graphic animal scene) we decided that it was a must. We took 4 days to explore, as part of our mini-moon adventures and below are some of the best things to do in Porto.
Now, we were incredibly lucky to be gifted a bespoke tour around Porto as one of our wedding presents. We had Ricardo for the day and he spoilt us rotten. History, food and drink and a really good way of getting our bearings of the city as well as giving us locals tips. Ricardo was Bourdain’s fixer for Parts Unknown and has worked with other TV stars on their visits too. You can book online from TastePorto, and tell them that Jess and Tim sent you! However, we’ve narrowed down the best things to do in Porto that we did, most on his recommendations.
The Foz area in general is amazing – lots of restaurants and it’s like a completely different part of Porto. You can get the old crammed ancient tram up (tourist attraction) or get the 500 bus from outside the main station the whole way, and it goes along the sea front past all the bridges – which also means you can avoid a tourist trap boat trip too.
There are LOADS of Churches in Porto. Some you need to pay to get in, some you don’t. Most are super attractive from the outside but the one by the tower Clerigos (you have to pay to go up the tower for the same view as some of the places on the map below) is free if you tell them you just want to see the church not the tower. Make sure you see the two cathedrals with a house in the middle too.
Go up to the main cathedral – Porto doesn’t have a castle as it was owned by the Vatican for ages so the main cathedral does that job for them! Good views from up there but also be aware that lots of the bits round the outside were added in 1942, even though they are made to look old.
Walking tours – if you aren’t booking for a tour with Ricardo, then Sandemans etc do free walking tours twice a day, or you can get a map from the tourist office like the one below and do your own with amazing views and off the beaten track directions.
Our best trip was to the Museum of modern art and gardens – fundacao de serralves. It is amazing! The gardens and the art deco house and the treetop walk and the museum. Just a great visit. Free for all on first Sunday of the month.
The best place to view the sunset. It’s an amazing place where all the locals and Erasmus students go to watch the sunset. Also there’s a Spar mini market, craft beer place called Musa and another bar there so you can get your beer to go and sit on the grass and watch the sunset over the river. Lush.
Banco de materiais is an odd place, but definitely worth popping in. It’s not open on Sundays and has odd opening hours but you can check these out on Google. It’s a tile place. A place to get tiles. A bank of tiles if you will. They have a collection of tiles, and you can just see if you want to pick up any to fix your building etc. Like a tile library!
There’s a great road with many bookshops and antiques shops on that is worth a stroll for anyone. Visit Rua dos martires da liberdade.
The municipal library (on Rue S Victor) is amazing to just pop in and visit and they have really old books just out everywhere. Like really old.
The main station in Porto is so impressive. Each section of the tiles inside tells a story of Porto’s history. Even if you aren’t travelling by train it is well worth the visit.
There are LOADS of markets in Porto, particularly just throughout the town on a Saturday and Sunday. Explore and buy! If, like us, you like to look at food markets of cities before you judge them then you have to visit the Mercado de Bolhao. It was under refurbishment when we were there and temporarily in the basement of a mall; but has just reopened and is amazing to wonder around. Get something to eat and drink (see below!).
Amazing viewpoint: passeio das fontainhas marked on the map below. You get a great view of Porto and all the bridges and out to sea. It’s where we walked across the river from to get to Gaia and the Port tours.
The tours are all much of a muchness. We enjoyed Graham’s – and at the tasting got some good cheese and an extra port to taste, we went for the classic tasting. You do need to book in advance as they full up quickly. We walked there from one of the bridge viewpoints – took about 45 mins and there are other ways of getting there but it was just so pretty to do so. Loads of other port lodges to try. We wanted to try crofts as it was highly recommended but I think it might be permanently closed post pandemic. Have a look at the map above of where we got a good bridge view spot. If you don’t book and don’t get in, Taylor’s is a great option too.
OK, so there isn’t much that we wouldn’t suggest doing but if you are short on time then we would suggest skipping some parts. Do visit the Ribero part by the bridges BUT don’t spend too long there as it’s super touristy, with the normal pickpockets and tourist tat.
We didn’t go on a boat as we went out to the beach by bus as above, and walked back (it was long). If you fancy a boat though, then avoid the mega tourist ones. We were recommended instead, For about €35 each you can have a two hour private cruise on a little yacht with a fisherman; who takes you along the river and out to sea and you get loads of port and Prosecco and snacks – if you want to do this just WhatsApp Antonio as it’ll be cheaper than through a tours website. He’s on +351 911 040 164.
The most controversial thing we will say in this blog post is avoid Libreria Livello. The “Harry Potter” bookshop. You could pay €5 online in advance to queue for hours for the bookshop OR you can walk past and see how pretty it is and not waste the time on it. The supposed Harry Potter links were debunked for us so we gave it a miss and had a peer in instead.
Eat and Drink
There are so many amazing places to eat and drink in Porto so here is a roundup of our favourites.
The food in Porto is to die for. There is something for everyone but it is really difficult to eat fully vegetarian there. Additionally, we were told that there are few vegetable side dishes as the people of Porto eat out as a treat rather than regularly. This means that they see vegetables as something they can have everyday at home. But, if you want any, just ask for them as they can rustle them up in the kitchen for you.
Gazela. This is the place Bourdain loved. It’s fantastic, there are two. When you go, get the Porto hotdog it’s about €3.50 and a delicacy – sausage, cheese and spicy sauce in a baguette sliced. Perfect with a beer and chips.
Taxca. Small plates. Incredible. Traditional. Get cured meats, get the bowl of beans/tripe/blood sausage if you’re feeling brave. Get the sparkling rose wine that comes out a tap. Don’t order water they have a shame bell that rings whenever someone asks for water!
Muti. OK less Portuguese as it’s Pizza but it’s amazing pizza.
Taberno st Antonio. Porto is still a Christian city and Sunday is a quiet day, where not much is open. This is open on Sundays and great for Sunday lunch or late lunch/early dinner.
Boa Bao. Again, not very Portuguese but on a Sunday we struggled for choice as we ate really late. This was bao and great.
Museu d’Avo. Literally translated as “grandma’s museum”, was where we ate on our first night. It’s in an area that is full of Portuguese eating in, a locals spot, and they do lots of Portuguese plates as tapas. It does get very busy, so either book, or get down early enough or be prepared to wait. It’s covered in trinkets and objects you’d expect to see in Avo’s house!
If you visit the Mercado Bolhao as above – wonder around and look at the produce and then right at the back are some stalls selling ready to eat/drink things with some small tables. One of them sell the most incredible pork bun you will ever eat. I can’t tell you we dream about it daily.
Pastels de nata. You’re in Portugal! You must eat some. There are so many good bakeries around but if you wander down the main shopping street a great experience is fabrica de nata.
Do have churras queira (peri peri chicken) especially on a Sunday. Not nandos. So good.
If you’re in the town centre, there’s a restaurant called Marinheiro which is cheap and great local, simple food.
If you’re up at the beach and feeling fancy, then stop at Praia Da Luz in the Foz. Gorgeous food and wine, and slightly more expensive.
If you’re looking for brunch, Zenith Brunch is really popular, but NOLA kitchen is better!
We love craft beer. If that’s your thing too, or you just fancy a pint then Musa is the place for you. It’s right by the best place for sunset views and everything is loosely music related. You can drink in, or you can get a pint to take out and sit and watch the sunset. We did that two nights running!
If drinks and a view is what you’re after, then aside from Musa you should try Esplanada De Telerifico. A great bar and restaurant on the Gaia side (where the Port tastings are) and it overlooks the river through Porto.
Candelabro was cosy, and dark, and reasonably priced. It was a bookshop that when it was sold the new owners decided to keep as such. It’s now a cool bar with the bookshop still in it, and silent movies screened on the wall. Definitely worth a visit.
Brutt was (just round the corner from Candelabro) great for a drink on the street. It’s in the “Portuguese” area rather than a tourist area so all the bars and restaurants around there are great. If it’s cold they have heaters and blankets too. Live like the Porto!
If you’re looking for a dive bar then head to Torto, where the staff are fantastic, the music is great and the drinks flow fast.
You can see more from our Porto trip on Instagram, visit our highlight reel. Let us know if you go, and take a look at our other weekend breaks.