The best things to see and do in Porto
Anticipation filled the air as we approached the final destination of our eight-day road trip along the west coast of Portugal. We had long been inspired by the images of the brightly coloured buildings lining the Douro River and its fame as the home of port wine, Porto seemed like the perfect way to end another road trip experience. It was time to park up the campervan for a while whilst we spent two days in Porto, to bring our trip to its natural end.
Porto is slowly making a name for itself as a must-visit destination in Portugal, creeping out from underneath the shadow of the more well-known capital, Lisbon.
Lisbon is an excellent place to spend a few days in Portugal, or much longer if your time allows.
Are two days enough to spend in Lisbon? We recommend at least three days in Lisbon.
Yes, it sure is. Many would-be visitors to Portugal often ask whether they should visit Porto or Lisbon. We say if you can visit both. Whilst both Porto and Lisbon are quintessentially Portuguese cities, they are both very different. Porto is much smaller than Lisbon and as such you can see more in a shorter period of time. The architecture is stunning, you can taste the port wine for which they are famous and there’s easy access into the fabulous Douro Valley.
Porto is just the same as any other Portuguese town in terms of travel safety. We did a road trip all along the west coast of Portugal, staying overnight in our campervan. At no stage during our road trip, overnight stopovers or travelling through any part of Portugal did we have a security issue. As always, when you are travelling in a foreign country, you should have your wits about you and take the usual security precautions to ensure you are safe. Porto is a safe city to visit.
Yes you can. If you only have one day in Porto, we’ve got a heap of suggestions to help you. Our recommendation though is to spend at least two days in Porto.
Port. Porto is the home of Port wine and you should make sure you try it in this famous city and buy some to take home with you.
There are plenty of free things to do in Porto. Most of the major icons around the city are free to admire from the outside and many from the inside too. There are several key locations where tickets must be purchased before going inside a church (for example) or on a tour. Porto is a very walkable city, so it’s easy to walk around all day and see many of the things to do in Porto, without spending a cent.
Portugal uses the Euro and is very welcoming of credit cards as well as cash.
Portuguese is spoken throughout Portugal, but northern Portugal has the oldest dialect of this language. English is also widely spoken, although in some very small rural areas, this may not be the case. In Porto, you would be fine if you only knew English.
Where is Porto?
Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, lies on the Douro River, in the northwest of the country. With an urban population of just under 250,000 people, its much larger metropolitan area extends westward to the Atlantic Ocean. The historical centre of the city was formalised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.
Porto had its earliest origins on the south bank of the Douro and had a strong Roman influence, much of which can still be seen today in the existing architecture. Centuries before it became the centre of the port export business, it was also one of the largest shipbuilding locations in the world.
Today, most of the city is on the north bank. Built around the waterfront area known as Ribeira, this is also where most visitors to Porto spend the majority of their time.
Porto is 313 kilometres (194 miles) north of the capital city of Lisbon.
What is Porto famous for?
Porto is famous for port. It’s no coincidence that this fortified wine was named after Porto, given the critical role the river and the maritime port had in the trade of this delicious tipple.
The source of the port wine comes from the vineyards of the Douro Valley, a rollicking collection of hills that overlook the river of the same name. Here the vineyards and the resulting liquor are planted, farmed and produced under strict appellation rules.
The buildings that line the south bank of Porto were once at the heart of the port industry. Today, these same buildings at Vila de Gaia, house modern restaurants and port tasting cellars.
Porto has also become a significant destination for many of the river cruises that are active on the Douro River. This has, in turn, created a reasonable amount of “day-trip” traffic, with many people breezing in and out of the city in a quick fashion, similar to places like Tallin, Venice and the Cinque Terre.
This can have an adverse impact on the city, with higher than normal traffic volumes, especially in the peak season. It’s also a good reason to travel in the shoulder periods if you can.
Two-day Porto itinerary
Everyone travels differently and has areas of interest that are different too. We are more likely to spend more time looking for great places to eat than walking around a museum. Others will be the direct opposite, grabbing the quickest meal they can in order to see more of a particular venue.
There will be great variation. Still, we are quite often asked for more help to put together itineraries and plans, so the following is provided as a sample only to assist with planning your own trip.
1-day itinerary in Porto
- São Bento Railway Station
- Porto Cathedral
- Walk the laneways
- Miradouro da Rua das Aldas
- Ribeira and Cais de Ribeira
- St Luís Bridge
- Vila Nova de Gaia
- Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar
- Funicular / Cable Car
- Fernandina Wall
- Praça do Infante D. Henrique
- Palais da Bolsa
- São Francisco Church
- Mercado Ferreira Borges
2-day itinerary in Porto
- Livraria Lello Bookstore (external look only)
- Igreja do Carmo church
- Clérigos Church and tower
- Church of Saint Ildefonso
- Trip to Foz – half day
Note: These sample itineraries do not include stops along the way for coffee, food, bar or dinner. Nor do they include nightlife. They take into account average-good fitness. They also include walking (apart from a trip on the funicular or cable car and catching the tram or riding a Vespa out to the Foz region)
They are totally interchangeable. If you are planning on staying for three days in Porto, this itinerary could be easily spread across the three days, giving more flexibility and allowing for a slower pace.
Best places to visit in Porto
Porto is generally a city that can be walked very easily, although there are areas that are quite hilly. Public transport (trains and buses) is also an excellent way of getting around.
If you only have a short time in Porto, you could consider this half-day tour comprising of a city sights bus tour, a cruise on the Douro River and a winetasting.
Top 5 things to see in Porto
- Luís Bridge
- Porto Cathedral
- Livraria Lello Bookstore
- Clérigos church and tower
Wander the Porto Laneways
If time permits on your Porto itinerary, allow several hours to stroll around the backstreets. Narrow, cobbled, winding and in some areas, quite steep, they are the source of authentic Porto living and lifestyles. It is also where you should pay particular attention to the different forms of architecture, a notable feature of Porto.
With a strong Roman history, it’s not hard to imagine finding many examples of Romanesque architecture. Look a little further afield and you’ll see French-inspired Beaux-Arts, Art Nouveau and Neo-Classical buildings.
Visitors may flock to the buildings that can be found in the Ribeira, greatly influenced by the photos that proliferate on Instagram. They aren’t the only pops of colour in this beautiful city. You are more likely to see a more significant number of coloured facades in the laneways than anywhere else.
Homes painted brightly mix in with the pale pastels and the typically Portuguese tiles Azulejo add a layer of texture and interest.
Rua do Almada and Avenida dos Aliados are two of the oldest streets in Porto and lie at the centre of the oldest part of the city. Rua do Almada is an old-looking street and typical of the streets you will also find in Lisbon. Resident apartments mix with restaurants and cafes, usually at street level.
Facades are covered in bright tiles, many showing more than a little sign of their age. Look up and you’ll often see a local sitting out on small wrought-iron balconies having a coffee or a cigarette break.
On Avenida dos Aliados, the apartments make way for much grander style hotels, many of which line a tree-lined promenade. At the top, you’ll find the equally elegant building of the City Hall.
Keep an eye out for bright yellow arrows, often seen on walls of buildings or on the road. These arrows point in the direction of Santiago and are used to help those walking the Camino de Santiago trail.
Hang out on the Ribeira riverfront
The oldest area along the waterfront would have seen quite some activity in its time as a distribution hub for port. Dockworkers and those who earned a living on the boats would have frequented this area, notably in an environment that would have looked a little different, a little grungier than it does today. Ribeira, whilst still maintaining its physical attributes, robustly protected by UNESCO, is now more of a modern-day social hub.
At the Cais da Ribeira, cafes, bars and restaurants are in abundance. Day-trippers from river cruises, looking to spend a few hours ashore, frequent this area.
We spent hours walking all around it, taking long walks along the boardwalk that line the river and tracking back deep into the sloping laneways that lie immediately behind.
The buildings are beautiful here and they set the scene perfectly. For the best views of the coloured buildings, head out onto the Dom Luís I Bridge or across the river at Vila Nova de Gaia.
Further along, at the Praça da Ribeira, the buildings open up into a large square. It’s usually a haven for tourists, filling the tables and chairs of the surrounding cafes and restaurants. It’s also another location to get a dose of the colourful, tiled buildings.
Short on time? Take one of these popular cruises on the river. The Douro River Six Bridges tour is only 50 minutes long and takes place onboard a traditional Rabelo boat. Tours operate frequently throughout the day.
Walk across the Dom Luís I Bridge
From the Ribeira waterfront, the Vila Nova de Gaia beckons for you to show it some attention. But first, you’ll need to cross the Luís Bridge, one of my favourite parts of the city.
It immediately conjures up images of Paris. With its large iron spans, it has the look and feel of the Eiffel Tower. It’s no coincidence. Built between 1881-1886, it used a similar design to another bridge, Ponte D Maria Pia further up the river.
The Ponte D Maria Pia was designed by Gustave Eiffel and it is believed that one of his design counterparts was instrumental in the development of plans for the Dom Luís I Bridge.
The Dom Luís I Bridge is striking. Flanked by the two original stone columns at each end, the bridge is a giant network of iron with an arch spanning across the river. At the top, another deck runs across the arch, carrying the local metro trains.
Pedestrians can walk across the river on the two levels. The views are awesome from the top.
If you don’t fancy walking back up the hilly streets, take the Funicular dos Guindais back up to the top. It leaves from just under the bridge and tickets can be purchased for €2.50 from the ticket office. The funicular stops at the top at Batalha.
Stroll along the Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia is all about the fun of the promenade. In summertime, everything is happening here. Pop up vans sell beer and icecream, and market vendors ply their wares to those walking close enough to be in earshot.
To most, Vila Nova de Gaia appears as though it is part of the city of Porto. It is, in fact, part of the broader Porto region, and a city in its own right.
Set back off this are the cellars of well-known port houses including Sandeman and Calem. They offer tastings and the opportunity to take some authentic port home with you. Alongside the restaurants take centre stage, with lively wait staff out the front of most of them, trying to encourage you to try their food.
It all makes for a very relaxing scene. It’s got a fun vibe and it’s the perfect spot to have lunch, or to grab a gelato or drink.
From here it’s also a good opportunity to take in a full view of the Rabelo boats parked alongside the Cais de Ribeira. The Rabelos were once an important part of the sea trade here in Porto, many of which were used for the transportation of port. These days they are used for tourist purposes.
If you want to get to Vila Nova de Gaia in an unconventional way, why not try the Teleferico de Gaia aka a cable car. From high above the river and buildings, it’s another great opportunity to see Porto from a different perspective.
Monastery of Serra do Pilar
As you cross the Luís Bridge, the Monastery of Serra do Pilar appears on the left. The 17th-century round building sits on top of the hill, having been rebuilt after suffering great damage across the centuries. Today it is owned by the Portuguese military.
Tip: Come here for the best views over Porto at sunset.
Admire the traditional tiles at São Bento Railway
Many train stations in Europe are incredible examples of architecture and São Bento Railway Station in Porto doesn’t disappoint. Even if you don’t catch a train whilst you are in Porto, if you spend any time in the city centre, you will more than likely cross paths with this massive building.
In any case, be sure to try and find the time. Whilst the building, built in 1916 is impressive from the outside, the real beauty is contained within its walls. Inside, intricately adorned high ceilings set the scene for more than 20,000 Azulejo tiles, depicting life in Porto at the time of its establishment.
If you can cast your eyes further up, leaving the beauty of the blue and white behind for a moment, you’ll also see the paintings that wrap around the entire room. These represent one of the many battles of independence that Porto (and Portugal) faced.
Find all of the Porto Churches
Like most European cities, there is no shortage of churches and places of worship in Porto. They are also elaborate and commonly covered in traditional Portuguese tiles.
The Porto Cathedral sits up high on the hill in an older part of the city. From a religious perspective, it is considered to be the most important, however it is equally important to the history of the city.
Many architectural influences can be seen, with Gothic elements in the facade and inside in the cloister, Baroque and Romanesque. The rose on the facade dates back to the 12th century. Known as a fortress church, there is evidence of battlements being created along the tops of the walls.
Tip: If you are looking for the Porto Cathedral on a Portuguese map, look for Sé do Porto.
LOCATION: Terreiro da Sé, 4050-573 Porto
Whilst the church is another beautiful building in Porto, it’s the bell tower that attracts all the attention (more on that later)
LOCATION: R. de São Filipe de Nery, 4050-546 Porto
Igreja do Carmo
Stunning on the outside as a result of the Azulejo tiles, the Igreja do Carmo is one of Porto’s oldest buildings in the city centre. Often called the twin buildings, it is a combination of a 1600s and 1700s church. The building is now joined by a very narrow building. Once a gap, it is believed this was originally to keep the nuns and the monks separate.
LOCATION: R. do Carmo, 4050-164 Porto
Church Santo Ildefonso
Known as Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, this beautiful church was built in the early 1700s. Initially, it was a small church, later replaced by that which stands today. If you are at the Praça da Batalha, in the centre of the old town, you can’t miss the striking blue and white tiled facade. There are almost 11,000 of them. The matching bell towers are equally magnificent.
LOCATION: R. de Santo Ildefonso 11, 4000-542 Porto
Parish Church of St. Nicholas
Yet another church was damaged by fire, this time in 1758. Standing tall now, it was rebuilt in 1762 and decorated with its traditional blue and white tiles in 1861.
LOCATION: Rua do Infante D. Henrique 93, 4000-298 Porto
São Francisco Church
This church is undeniably Romanesque. Originally built in 1245, it was partially rebuilt following a fire in 1832. The fire did, however, destroy the temple, which was replaced with the Stock Exchange, now a grand building in the city centre.
LOCATION: Rua do Infante D. Henrique, 4050-297 Porto
Get a magnificent view from Miradouro da Rua das Aldas
If you are at the Porto Cathedral, take a detour through several backstreets to find the Miradouro da Rua das Aldas. You’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view along and across the Douro River and across the terracotta rooftops.
Climb the stairs of Porto old town
A feature of the laneways in the old town area of Porto are the stairs or escadas. Porto is a hilly city, and with much of it built within the city walls, on the highest parts of the city, there needed to be access to and from the river.
In the early days, many of the stairs were built close to the walls. Most of these no longer exist, replaced by other methods. Some still remain, and it’s fun to try and locate them in amongst the winding lanes. These stairs are one of the true secrets of Porto and can be easily missed if you don’t know where to look, or why you should.
Escadas Do Codeçal
These stairs were originally built to connect the Church of Santa Clara to the Douro River.
As the building of the Dom Luís I Bridge commenced in the 1880s, some of these stairs were demolished to make way for the bridge foundations. Later, the widening of the bridge and construction of the Ribeira Tunnel resulted in further demolition.
These stairs offer insight into the local’s life. It’s not uncommon to see washing draped over the iron railings of balconies. Street art is often seen along this route also. There’s also signs of urban decay. Like many old and ancient European cities, populations wax and wane with the times as does the public funds needed to invest in the upkeep of many city landholdings and buildings.
LOCATION: Start in the Sé region, near the Church of Santa Clara (Tv de Santa Clara) and Largo Primeiro de Dezembro.
Escadas dos Guindais
Located nearby the funicular, the stairs connect the Ribeira to Praça da Batalha.
Walls of Dom Fernando
Porto was once a walled medieval city, with the construction of walls commencing in the 1330s. Over the centuries, the walls were improved upon, particularly by King Fernando, to protect a growing city.
The Muralha Fernandina wall is the most intact today and runs alongside the Funicular dos Guindais.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the funicular point of entry/exit (R de Analdo Gama),
Walk south on R. de Augusto Rosa. Turn right onto R. de Saraiva de Carvalho.
Turn left onto Largo Primeiro de Dezembro.
Turn right to stay on Largo Primeiro de Dezembro.
Turn right onto Tv. de Santa Clara.
Turn left onto Av. Vimara Peres.
Slight left and you will arrive at the wall.
Praça do Infante D. Henrique
There are quite a few green spaces in Porto, which break up the usual streetscape of granite and tile buildings. Praça do Infante D. Henrique is one of them and has been in this city since 1885. On a usual summer’s day, the grass becomes a canvas for travellers and locals alike, taking time out to rest, read and enjoy the day.
On one side you’ll find the Palacio da Bolsa and the other the bright red Mercado Ferreira Borges. In the centre, the statue of early adventurer Henry the Navigator (Dom Henrique) dominates.
Palacio da Bolsa
Meaning Stock Exchange, this is one of several significant neoclassical styles of architecture in Porto. It resembles Buckingham Palace in London too! It and the São Francisco Church that sits adjacent occupy one entire length of the park. The palace was built on the site of the former convent attached to the church. When it was destroyed, the convent was not replaced, building instead the stock exchange.
Like many Porto buildings, the interior of the hub of Porto’s Commerical Association deserves a mention.
If you want to see inside you will need to do a formal tour, currently costing €10 for adults. For accurate opening times, visit their official website.
LOCATION: R. de Ferreira Borges, 4050-253 Porto
Mercado Ferreira Borges
You can’t miss this building. Following the lead of many French outdoor permanent markets, this iron structure was built in the 1880s as the main fresh food and produce market for the city.
Now, it’s become a food and nightlife precinct. Even if this isn’t your style, or you don’t have time to venture out in the evening, be sure to pop your head inside to check it out.
LOCATION: R. da Bolsa 19, 4050-253 Porto
Livraria Lello Bookstore
In an article on the best things to do in Porto, the Livraria Lello Bookstore must rate a mention. Whether you can be bothered going in there will entirely depend on a) your love of books b) your love of Harry Potter author JK Rowling c) the amount of time you have and d) your stamina.
JK Rowling lived for some time in Porto. Apparently, although there are certain inconsistencies in this story, a certain amount of inspiration was gained from here for her Harry Potter books. “Don’t let truth get in the way of a good story” seems to have some application here as if nothing else, it ensures that hordes of people arrive here every day, and queue for long periods of time, waiting to get inside.
It could, of course, be also related to the fact that this is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful.
The centrepiece of the building is the Art Nouveau internal spiral staircase, resplendent in bright red sits underneath the intricately carved plaster ceilings.
Being neither a Harry Potter fan, a lover of queuing or enough of a fan of bookstores, my viewing was limited to being “through the looking glass” or at least the window. I was rather pleased with the exterior of the building: a mix of neoclassical with a gothic top and fresco-type paintings.
You really need to be a die-hard Harry Potter or book fan to bother with the time it takes to get inside. People by the hundreds (and hundreds, and hundreds) come here just because it’s cool on Instagram.
Avoid the queues as much as possible by getting in EARLY! You also need to buy a ticket to enter the bookstore (I told you it was popular!)
Tickets can be purchased from the store Armazéns do Castelo, a few stores down to the bookstore.
Have a bit more time on your hands but still want to visit the bookstore? Book this three-hour city tour of Porto + skip the line ticket for the bookstore.
Teatro Nacional Sao Joao
This is Porto’s theatre, known more commonly as the São João Theatre. Inside a building that wouldn’t look out of place in the centre of Paris, stage shows and musical performances have been entertaining people since 1798.
Designed and built by Italians, the theatre was the home of Italian opera until the late 19th-century.
Another Proto fire destroyed the building in 1908, but such was its place in city life, that it was quickly redesigned and rebuilt. Despite the people’s love of the stage, it became a cinema from 1932 until the building became rather unloved and fell into disrepair.
In 1992, the building was bought by the Portuguese government and following an extensive refurbishment, was reopened in the mid-1990s as a theatre once again.
Clérigos Bell Tower
If there is something we can climb up to get a birds-eye view of a city, we’ll find it and we’ll climb it. The Clérigos Bell Tower, standing at nearly 76 metres (249 feet) is visible from many locations in the city of Porto.
The beautiful church bearing the same name is attached to the tower and is a wonderful example of Baroque architecture and opulence.
Climb the stairs to the top of the tower. It’s not ideal for people with mobility issues as there are over 200 steps in a confined space.
For €6 you can climb the tower and check out the permanent exhibitions.
Catch the #1 tram
Similar to Lisbon, the old trams still operate in Porto. The #1 tram takes you for a ride along the Douro River, providing a chance to rest your legs that will have been working overtime since you arrived in Porto.
Once an important part of the transport system in Porto, today there are only three lines remaining. Protected under historical heritage conditions, they remain mainly as a service to visitors wanting to see the town.
As well as the #1 tram, the #18 runs from Massarelos to Carmo whilst the #22 starts in Carmo and ends in Batalha.
Tip: This tram can get very busy so if you want to be assured of a seat, go early and come back from Foz earlier too. For a water view sit on the left. Bring cash with you to buy tickets on the tram.
For accurate timetables check the official website.
LOCATION: The Line 1 tram operates from immediately outside Igreja de Sao Francisco (on the corner of Rua do Infante D Henrique and Rua de Ferreira Borges) and finishes at Passeio Allegre Park
The oceanfront region of Foz is an unsung part of Porto, but well worth making the trip westwards. Whilst catching the #1 tram out to this area is popular and simple to do, we chose to hire a Vespa. It’s very easy to hire a Vespa in Porto and inexpensive too.
Once you clear the inner city, the journey becomes quite scenic as you make your way out to the Atlantic Ocean. We rode as far as Matosinhos, known to have the largest sandy beach near Porto.
Foz is known for the two forts that once protected the city from ocean-faring invaders. São João Baptista da Foz is a late 16th-century fortress, built at the mouth of the strategically important Douro River.
Further north, the Fort of São Francisco do Queijo (translated to Castle of the Cheese) was built in the 15th-century to protect Matosinhos.
We didn’t stick around until sunset but all the locals will tell you that Pérgola da Foz is one of the best spots to take in the yellow glow over the ocean.
Port wine tasting and port house tours
Port and Porto are synonymous with each other and you don’t need to look any further than Vila Nova de Gaia to get a chance to taste them. Of course, if you have more time in the area, we highly recommend getting out into the vineyards of the Douro Valley.
Read our article on some of the best day trips from Porto, which includes the Douro Valley.
If you know the ins and outs of port, or just hate doing tours, it’s easy enough to do your own. You can even call it a port crawl if you like. Just make your way along the port houses and call in to have a look around and sample a few ports. We recommend buying a ‘flight’ so that you can taste all the house has on offer.
If however, you feel more comfortable getting some expert guidance, the Port lodges tour with seven tastings is a good one.
In 2020, the innovative World of Wine (WoW) complex opened in Vila Nova de Gaia. With a plethora of wine experiences, wine cellars, exhibitions and even a chocolate factory, the World of Wine will be a cultural experience like no other. It includes a wine school and over 55,000 square metres of cellars. Sitting alongside the famous port houses, the area of Vila Nova de Gaia is one not to be missed when in Porto.
Buy tickets to all of the events at Porto World of Wine in advance right here.
Porto food tours
The food in Porto is excellent. If you aren’t familiar with it, why not include a food tour early in your stay?
We take food tours wherever we can and use Eating Europe whenever they operate in a city we are in. Fortunately, they operate in Porto. They have a four-hour food and port tour or you can also book a private tour.
What to eat in Porto (and where to eat it)
If there is one thing for certain in Porto, it’s that you will never starve. Whether you are on a budget or looking for something fancier, you’ll be spoilt for choice here.
Being a city on a river and with direct access to the ocean, seafood features prominently. Portugal is well known for bacalhau, a salted codfish. In Porto, try the bolinhos de bacalhau, a tasty cod cake filled with mashed potatoes, eggs, onion and parsley. They are delicious.
There’s tripe, a special sausage called Alheira (usually chicken or game meat), Broa de Avintes, a dark rye and cornbread, and Confeitaria do Bolhão, a Northern Portuguese almond dessert.
Perhaps the most famous dish in Porto is the Francesinha, a thick, gooey, cheesy, high in calories, big in flavour sandwich that looks very much like a French Croque Monsieur. It’s less delicate than the French variety and not something you could ever consider eating on the run.
The sandwich is made with white bread, ham, sausages and steak. More than an average serving of cheese is melted over it so that it is completely covered. Traditionally, an egg sits on the top.
Whilst sounding a little over the top, it still just sounds like a sandwich, albeit a large one. What makes this sandwich different is that it is also served with a tomato and beer sauce. Served hot, the idea is to smother the sandwich in the hot liquid.
As if you don’t have enough to contend with, the sandwich is usually served with hot chips (French Fries). Cafe Santiago is one of the most well-known cafes to get a traditional Francesinha.
There is a strong influence from the Douro Valley region as well as the ocean, and some of the foods found here are more Northern Portuguese in general, as opposed to being Porto specific.
Like all Portuguese food, however, it’s simple and tasty fare.
The Majestic Cafe is one of the most significant Art Nouveau buildings in Porto, and indeed deserving of its name. Originally built in 1926 under another name, the years have witnessed the city life of Porto playing out under its roof. From noblemen to the city’s society ladies, it was a place to come and relax, drink tea and eat ice cream.
Like many of the Porto buildings, life wasn’t always kind to the Majestic and it gradually fell into disrepair. In 1994 it was re-opened following an extensive, and expensive restoration. All internal floors were replaced and all of the furnishings were restored.
The facade is a decorative one, with columns and carvings but it is inside that will blow you away.
Leather banquette seating lines the walls and chandeliers hang overhead. Dark wood, large mirrors and lamps add a soft glow to the old-world ambience. Out the back, a set of spiral marble stairs link to an outdoor garden on the terrace.
Eat here knowing you are paying an inflated price, but do so knowing you are eating in one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Porto. You’ll also find better, authentic Porto cuisine elsewhere. We didn’t eat here but popped in for morning tea.
Tip: As the cafe has also become a tourist attraction, the queues waiting to get in can be quite long. Consider coming outside of peak hours if you don’t have much time or simply don’t want to wait.
The Majestic Cafe is located on the pedestrianised street, Santa Catarina. If you like shopping you’ll find enough to keep you occupied along this strip.
LOCATION: Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto
Fabrica da Nata
Now, these little tasty pastries may not exactly be born and bred in Porto but they are authentically Portuguese and I am happy to eat them anywhere I can.
There are many places in Porto, but we popped into Fabrica da Nata as we were passing through the shopping area on Santa Catarina. Here you can watch the bakers making the tarts and you can even enjoy them with a glass of port. Why not, “when in Porto….”
We taste-tested our way along the west coast of Portugal looking for the best Portuguese tart. This is what we found.
LOCATION: Rua de Santa Catarina 331 335, 4000-451 Porto
Cerca Velha is a little cafe tucked away in one of the small laneways behind the Porto Cathedral. It’s a steep, but quick, descent down through the cobbles. Even the little table and chairs that we perched on outside the cafe were on an angle! This type of cafe is indicative of the great places you can find if you get away from the Cais de Ribeira and the Praça da Ribeira.
LOCATION: Largo da Pena Ventosa 23, 4050-471 Porto
Eating anywhere along a waterfront area in a busy city frequented by tourists is always going to throw up some less than satisfactory dining experiences. No doubt there will be some of these at Vila Nova de Gaia and along the Ribeira waterfront.
Try to pick locations where you know there are locals, where the food looks good, and where you can see service being given. The food, more than likely, won’t be of a fine dining standard either.
We chose to eat at Beira Rio because all of the above boxes were ticked and on a beautiful summer’s day it was one of the best spots to sit along the promenade.
Service was good, the beer was very cold and we had no complaints about the food. It was here we tried the famous Porto Francesinha.
A reminder that in Porto, like most of Portugal, when you sit down for food, the waiters will bring you some pre-meal nibbles. Usually, these comprise of olives and bread but we have seen sardines, cured ham and other tasty goodies.
Note that none of this is free. A cover charge (couvert) will be added to your bill. They are usually very inexpensive in Portugal, so they also offer great value and a chance to try something new perhaps. However, if you do not want them, be sure to say no to the waiter immediately, before touching them, and have them removed.
LOCATION: Av. de Diogo Leite 64, 4400-111 Vila Nova de Gaia
Other places to eat in Porto include the Casa Guedes where you can get another local specialty, the sandes de pernil (roast pork sandwiches).
For all things cod, head to Bacalhau along the riverfront. For a touch of fine dining, the two Michelin starred restaurant Gastronomic, in Vila Nova de Gaia will have you covered.
Where to stay in Porto
There is no shortage of places to stay in Porto. Like always, it will come down to budget and location and the features that are most important to you as a paying guest.
Anything on the Ribeira waterfront is going to be pricey.
Luxury hotels in Porto
Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel
- Riverfront hotel in Ribeira
- UNESCO protected building
- Free wifi, restaurant onsite
- Located in Vila Nova de Gaia
- Home of Michelin starred restaurant, Gastronomic
- Set in amongst the port houses
- Views over the river and the city of Porto
Intercontinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas
- Located in the centre of Porto
- Historic palace
- Views over Liberdada Square
- Fully restored interior
- Pet friendly
- Car parking
Mid-range hotels in Porto
Mercador Guest House
- Located in one of the coolest streets in Porto
- Surrounded by cafes, shops and galleries
- Public car park close by
- 19th-century building
- Modern interiors
- Rate includes breakfast
- There are no TVs in the rooms
PortoBay Teatro Hotel
- Located in the historical centre of the city
- Themed hotel
- Built on the site of the former Baquet Theatre (hence the Teatro in the name)
- Onsite restaurant and bar
Where to park a motorhome in Porto
Porto was our final destination on our eight-day road trip from Lisbon. Parking a campervan or motorhome in Porto is not recommended. Even though parking is free in the evening, parking a large vehicle is not so easy.
Porto has very good public transport, so we took advantage of a very good parking site on the city’s outskirts. Similar to an Aire in France, the car park was a hardstand and had an area where the motorhomes all gathered together. It was safe during the evening and we had no trouble leaving it here through the day when we ventured into the city.
It was free and there were water facilities and a dedicated dump station too. It was also the perfect location to allow us to clean the vehicle and pack up prior to returning it to the depot.
It is immediately across the road from the Venda Nova metro station. Orange Line F will take you into the city in about 30 minutes. It’s the most efficient way of getting there and back. Tickets must be bought at the machines on the platform and validated.
Depending on how often you are planning on using the metro, a day card might be the best option. We bought a blue Andante card which can be reloaded. Note the Venda Nova station is in Zone 4.
LOCATION: Avenida Professor Doutor Anibal Cavaco Silva 4435 Rio Tinto
How to get to Porto
Porto is home to Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, an international airport located only 10-12km north of the city. It is known simply as Porto airport.
The airport is serviced by taxis, the Metro and even Uber. From the airport use the E line on the metro. It departs every 20 minutes from 6 am until 12 am.
Get Bus is the name of the direct bus service that goes into Porto. Note however that this bus terminates at the Campo 24 de Agosto bus station which is not in the city. If you catch the bus and need to get into the city, you will need to walk (approximately 1.4km) or get a taxi/Uber.
Note: You won’t find this information noted down anywhere but it’s worth knowing. Each year in Porto the Festa de São João – St John’s Festival occurs. On the evening of June 23 thousands of people come into the city to celebrate. Thousands of balloons are released into the air, sometimes causing havoc for the aircraft. Unofficially, flights can be delayed or even cancelled due to the potential impact on the flight path. We had a flight cancelled out of the blue for such a reason. Our tip, stay away from booking flights on this date to be sure.
There are two main train stations in Porto and as such the use of trains as a method of transport is common.
The São Bento Train Station is found in the centre of Porto and is the main terminal for mostly regional trains. Campanha Train Station (Porto Campanha) is where you’ll find the trains that run to and from the south of Portugal. The ticket to Porto will also include a free transfer into São Bento Train Station. You should allow 3.5 hours to get to Porto from Lisbon. International trains also use this terminal.
Bus transport is still popular in Portugal. Park of the Cammelias Bus Station is near the São Bento Train Station and Casa da Musica bus terminal is also in the city. There are many affordaable bus companies that operate from various European cities to Portugal including Flixbus.
We drove from Lisbon to Porto up the west coast (and into the Douro Valley) with no issue. Whilst some of the driving can be a little unpredictable, driving in Portugal is not difficult at all.
There are many highways in Portugal that make driving even easier. The main link between Porto and Lisbon is the A1.
You don’t need a rental car in Porto but if it is part of a larger road trip or you are wanting to do some side trips out of Porto, then a rental car is a good idea. We use and recommend Rental Cars for our car hire in Europe.
How to get around Porto
The best way to see Porto comes for free. Porto is best seen on foot although be warned it will require some effort: hills, steep slopes, cobblestones and narrow laneways are the norm.
Thankfully there are plenty of things to see and do in Porto that you will be stopping constantly along the way. And, if you can’t find an iconic piece of the city instantly, you’ll certainly be able to find a cafe or bar to pop in for a drink.
Pick up a street map from one of four tourist offices to help you find your way around the city. They are available in several languages and are free.
There are only three lines in the city that still operate and are mainly for tourist purposes. See here for more information.
Trains and buses
Looking for a quick way to see the main sights? Book the hop-on-hop-off bus here.
The metro system in Porto is easy to use. 81 stations and six lines give excellent coverage across the city. It is also inexpensive to use and operates every day from 6 am until 1 am. Buses run across the same times.
Tickets can be purchased as single-use but if you are planning on using the buses and trains often, it is recommended to get an Andante card. We also recommend this if you are planning on spending more than two days in Porto and seeing some of the areas that are out of town. The Andante 24-hour card costs €4.15 for Zone 2 and as much as €6.40 for zone 4. We used the Andante card as it saved having to worry about buying individual tickets and it represents excellent value for money.
These cards require an initial fee of €0.60, are rechargeable, and can be used for single-use, 10 tickets or 24-hour travel. Tickets range from €1.20 to €2.00 per trip.
Pro tip: If you are planning on seeing a lot of the city’s icons and using public transport, consider a Porto city card. They are available for 1, 2 and 3 days.
Funicular and cable car
The funicular runs from the base of the bridge up to the top of the hill near the Fernandina Wall and Santa Clara Church. The cable car comes to/from Vila Nova de Gaia and Jardim do Morro.
Best time to visit Porto
We visited in the latter part of June which was perfect for us. The weather was very warm but you would typically expect it to be at this time of year. As we were travelling in a campervan, we didn’t need to worry about booking hotels nor the price of them.
Of course, travelling at this time of year is always going to be busier, especially with the main tourist period in Porto running from May to October. If you want to encounter fewer people, try the shoulder seasons in April-May and September-October.
Packing tips for Porto
- Comfortable walking shoes – this always sounds so basic when I include it in a list but I can’t be more serious about it for Porto. If you haven’t already picked up the commentary, it is a hilly, cobbled city to walk, and there’s plenty of areas to cover. We particularly love our walking shoes.
- Rain protection – when we were in Porto we had heavy thunderstorms to contend with every afternoon. Whether it is an umbrella or a rain jacket just make sure you have something handy.
- Sunscreen – it’s hot here in summer so be sure to either cover up or take some sunscreen with you.
- Reusable water bottle
Planning a trip to Portugal
If you are planning on spending more time in Portugal, you might also like to read these articles.
- One day itinerary Sintra
- Comprehensive one-day itinerary Belem
- How to hire a campervan in Portugal
- Three-day itinerary Lisbon
- The best day trips from Porto
- How to find the best pasteis de Nata in Portugal
- Eight-day road trip itinerary west coast Portugal
Looking to travel to France next in a motorhome?
- 20 days in south-west France + France Passion stopovers in south-west France
- Lot River and Lot Valley itinerary
- Following the Tour de France in a motorhome
- 10-day itinerary Burgundy France
- Itinerary through Rhone-Alps and Provence
- Travelling through Europe in a campervan – a 42-day itinerary
- South of France – 2-week itinerary
Useful travel resources
Book your flight: Flights are an important part of travel and we’re always looking for the best deals. If you can travel mid-week and be flexible, you’ll often find great deals on flights. We use I Want That Flight in Australia (for domestic and international flights deals). We also use Skyscanner and Momondo(US) and Airfare Watchdog is a useful resource for checking flight prices.
Book your accommodation: We all love to stay in different places. From the comfort of a self-contained apartment or house to a resort or luxury hotel. sometimes we just need something quick, easy and comfortable for an overnight stay. Vrbo is great for holiday rentals of more than seven days and often has great discounts for longer periods. Trip Advisor is perfect for getting reviews, checking availability and pricing comparisons all in one place. For the same reason, we also love Booking.com (they have excellent cancelling and refund options) and Hotels Combined and have often found great savings on their sites.
Book your rental car or motorhome: We always use Rentalcars.com anywhere in the world for car hire. We recommend Apollo Motorhomes in Hamburg (use our code APDEBEERCROI for €50 off your hire) and Anywhere Campers if you want one-way hire motorhome in Europe. If you’d like to buy your own motorhome in France, we use and recommend France Motorhome Sales.
Book a tour: We travel independently but occasionally even we find a great tour we are dying to take. If you are looking for advance tickets to an attraction, groups tours or private tours, we use and recommend Get Your Guide and Viator. Both have a great range of tours and flexible cancellation policies. If you are looking to do a food tour in Europe, we also recommend Eating Europe Tours.
Be covered: We always travel with travel insurance. We did it before the pandemic and it’s even more important for us to do so now. We use Cover-More in Australia. SafetyWing has great rates for travellers who are away from home for extended periods. World Nomads also has good coverage.