Home to Port wine, Porto is Portugal’s second city that some would argue more authentic than the capital Lisbon.
Porto is smaller than Lisbon, but has a UNESCO-listed historic centre. Some of the highlights include the quaint Cais da Ribeira riverfront, the impressive Dom Luís bridge, and the beautiful São Bento station. And of course, the port wine lodges for a tasting experience.
Also, in Porto history goes hand in hand with contemporary architecture – think of the impressive Serralves Museum and the innovative Music House.
Discover Porto with these top 12 things to do and see. Use the map below to locate the attractions.
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage attractions in Porto, Ribeira is a riverside historic neighbourhood that retains all its medieval charm. Besides the winding alleys, the beautiful façades and little squares, the area offers the Douro riverfront with Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank, and a promenade filled with cafés and restaurants to enjoy.
2. Torre dos Clérigos
Torre dos Clérigos (Cleric’s Tower) is Porto’s iconic building, part of a complex that includes a church and a museum. Designed by Nicolau Nasoni in the 18th century, the building’s irregular and bizarre shapes are a key feature of the Portuguese Baroque style. Climb the 225 steps up to the tower’s top for some spectacular views over the city.
3. Sé (Porto’s Cathedral)
Porto’s Cathedral is an imposing structure that dominates the city. Building work started in the 12th century, but it wasn’t completed until the 13th century, being renovated throughout the centuries. The building combines Romanesque elements (façade, towers, rosacea, three naves) and a Gothic style (funerary chapel, cloister). Its exterior is actually Baroque. The lateral galilee, the balustrades and the domes from the towers were added during this period, and the original Romanesque portal was also replaced. It’s worth paying €3 to visit the cloister. Don’t miss the views from the terrace.
4. Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)
No longer working as a stock exchange, Palácio da Bolsa is now the seat of the Associação Comercial do Porto (Porto’s Commerce Association), serving mainly for official events and ceremonies. A neoclassical style prevails in this 19th-century building. But it is its sumptuous interior that fascinates visitors, especially the Arab Room, decorated in Moorish fashion and inspired by Granada’s Alhambra. Tours are available in many languages.
5. São Bento Station
Porto’s central railway station is not merely the place one arrives at. Made of glass and wrought iron, the structure designed by architect Marques da Silva dates from the beginning of the 20th century. Inside, twenty thousand azulejos (hand-painted tiles) cover the grand entrance hall. Depicting important events in the Portuguese history, the tiles took painter Jorge Colaço over a decade to complete.
6. Dom Luís Bridge
Dom Luis is a metallic bi-level bridge. On the upper level, dating from 1886, now runs Porto’s metro. It was designed by the Belgian engineer Theóphile Seyrig, Eiffel’s disciple, and the bridge’s metal arch is still today one of the longest in the world. Traversing Dom Luís bridge is a rite of passage in Porto: cross it via the upper level on foot or by metro to visit Port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, and walk across the lower level back to the waterfront Ribeira.
7. Port Wine Lodges
Located in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite side of the Douro River, across the Ribeira area, the Port wine lodges run tours and tastings. Porto Cálem, Sandeman, Offley, Porto Cruz, Cockburn’s, and the list goes on, are equally popular. They offer similar tours and tasting experiences.
8. Lello Bookshop
Livraria Lello has been voted one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. When it opened on Rua das Carmelitas back in 1906, it was a true cultural happening. More than a century later, Lello continues to be a popular bookstore, even more so since it is rumoured to have inspired Harry Potter’s author, J.K. Rowling.
To visit inside, you need to buy a ticket, which entitles you to a discount of the amount paid if you purchase a book from the store. The crowds can be overwhelming, making the cramped bookstore feel like a tourist trap. If you can, try to visit on weekdays, when it’s less busy.
9. Mercado do Bolhão (Bolhão Market)
The iconic Bolhão Market sells fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, bread and olives. While the historic building is under renovation (2018), the market is in a bright, modern, temporary location. Unfortunately, it will only give you a flavour of the authentic Porto. Either way, Bolhão is a reference that represents the true spirit of Porto.
10. Majestic Café
Founded in 1921, Majestic is a historic café on the pedestrian Rua de Santa Catarina housed in one of the best examples of Art Nouveau in Porto. Meeting point of writers and artists of the Belle Époque, the café fell in decline in the 1960s. Thanks to its beautiful façade and historic role, Majestic was classified as heritage building and restored in the early 1990s. Now, anyone can step back to the Belle Époque with a cup of tea or coffee and a rabanada, a kind of French toast wrapped in a creamy egg custard with dried fruit (one of the house’s treats).
11. Serralves Park & Museum
Set in an 18-hectare (9-acre) park, the Serralves Museum is housed in a modernist building designed by architect Álvaro de Siza. Besides a unique environment, the museum is also an international reference of contemporary art. Another of Serralves’ highlights is the Art Deco Villa built in the 1930s. You can also visit its fascinating interior.
12. Casa da Música (Music House)
Casa da Música is another of Porto’s impressive modern buildings. Designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas for the European Capital of Culture event in 2001, it was only completed in 2005. Outside, a large plaza surrounds the building. Inside, take a tour or go to a concert to enjoy the excellent acoustics – there are a wide range of performances from jazz to classical music. In the rooftop restaurant, you can sample signature dishes at friendly prices, accompanied by views of the city.