Even though Porto may be smaller than Lisbon, it packs a punch with various activities that offer more than just the typical tourist experience.
From the tiled beauty of historic buildings to the vibrant food markets and peaceful parks, this guide is about diving into local things to see in Porto. So, instead of just sticking to the well-trodden paths of the city center and Ribeira, this article takes you through the spots favored by those who know Porto best—its residents.
Enjoy the serene viewpoints, mingle with locals at food courts, or explore charming streets offering a unique slice of Porto's vibrant and varied culture. In this article, we are not just bringing you the top 10 things to do in Porto but a whopping 15 things!
1. Ponte de Dom Luís I
One of the best things in Porto is The Ponte de Dom Luís I. It's more than just a bridge; it's an engineering marvel and a must-see landmark that offers stunning views of the city and the Douro River. Built in the late 19th century, the bridge has two levels. The lower level is excellent for a stroll, and once you cross over, you can explore the Gaia waterfront. If you prefer, you can take a cable car for €6 to reach the upper level, which provides even more breathtaking views. The bridge also has a subway line, offering another way to cross for just €1.20 plus a 60-cent reusable card charge.
The atmosphere around the bridge is vibrant and lively, especially on weekends. Visitors often gather on the grassy hill on the other side, which becomes a makeshift amphitheater. People relax here, enjoying picnics and drinks, as local musicians provide entertainment. It's a popular spot from the afternoon until sunset, so bring a jacket, as it can get chilly in the evening.
2. Porto Cathedral (Se Catedral)
If you're searching for incredible photography spots and a deep dive into Porto's history, the Porto Cathedral (Se Catedral) should be on your list. At just 3 Euros, the admission is a bargain, especially considering the rich experience you get. While the exterior might seem fortress-like and uninviting, don't be fooled. Once inside, you'll be greeted by an astonishing array of artistic chapels, each dedicated to different saints and each a masterpiece in itself. The Baroque-style main altar is breathtaking, described by some as “Baroque on steroids.”
A pro tip: check the opening hours and aim to visit about 1-2 hours before sunset. The tower, one of the best vantage points in the city, closes about half an hour before the cathedral itself. Stick around in the plaza afterward to catch a glorious sunset over the river, completing an enriching visit. So whether you're a photography enthusiast, a history buff, or someone who just appreciates beauty, the Porto Cathedral is one of the top things to do in Porto.
3. Cais da Ribeira
Cais da Ribeira is not just a district in Porto; it's the city's essence. This riverside area, framed by the iconic Dom Luís I Bridge, captures the spirit of Porto in a single, bustling locale. From historic cobbled lanes to vibrant eateries, it's one of the best things to see in Porto. Imagine yourself wandering through ancient, narrow streets. Each turn reveals intricate architecture and colorful houses. Then, savor the city's famous gastronomy in one of the countless restaurants overlooking the Douro River.
For the wine enthusiast, top port cellars await just across the water on the Gaia side. Are you interested in a river cruise? This is your launch point. If all this isn't tempting enough, consider the atmosphere as the sun sets: locals and tourists gather to relax, sip drinks, and watch the river's slow dance.
4. Palacio da Bolsa
If you think visiting a stock exchange building sounds dull, think again. Palacio da Bolsa is not just any building; it's a magnificent structure with a captivating history that mirrors Porto's commercial and financial prosperity. We think it's one of the unique things to do in Porto. With its striking ballroom, central hall, and exotic Moorish room, you'll be amazed by its architectural grandeur. However, note that you can't wander the building independently; guided tours are the way to go, but they're more than worth it. The guides are exceptionally knowledgeable, walking you through the history and significance of each room without overwhelming you with information.
Booking online is advisable to avoid long waits, especially during peak hours. Some visitors have noted that ticketing could be more streamlined, but don't let that keep you from visiting.
5. Torre dos Clérigos
Visiting Torre dos Clérigos is more than just ticking off a box on your tourist checklist; it's a journey through Porto's rich history and an adventure that tests your stamina but rewards you with breathtaking vistas. This towering landmark is visible from almost everywhere in the city, serving as a constant reminder of Porto's historical and cultural significance.
Start your visit with the beautifully ornate church at the base. Whether religious or not, you'll be captivated by the intricate stone carvings, the lavish gold decor, and the atmospheric artwork that tells tales of devotion and grandeur. The adventurous can climb roughly 240 narrow, spiraling steps to reach the top for one of the best views of Porto. It's not an easy feat, especially as the space tightens nearer the summit, but once you're there, the 360-degree view of Porto is simply unbeatable.
6. Igreja de São Francisco
If you've visited your fair share of ancient churches, prepare to be blown away by Igreja de São Francisco. This is not your average church; it's an overload of intricate detail and a sea of gold that covers carved wood and plaster in Baroque style. Whether it's the elaborate Jesse and The Tree of Life or the depictions of the beheading of the Moors, every inch of the interior is a work of art.
Add the sunlight streaming through the windows, and the golden interiors seem almost magical. However, don't plan on capturing this beauty on camera; photos and videos are a no-go, and the security is tight. The €7.50 ticket price might seem steep, but it's a bargain for what you get: not just the church but also access to the atmospheric catacombs and the museum across the small courtyard.
7. Estadio do Dragao
A visit to Estadio do Dragao is a must, even if you're not a die-hard soccer fan, as it costs just 15 euros, and the experience is well worth it. Easy to reach via the metro, the stadium is right opposite the station exit. The museum inside offers a fascinating look at the club's history and importance to the community.
Don't spend too much time in the museum, because you won't want to miss the Porto stadium tour. The atmosphere during games is electric, with passionate fans filling the seats, making it an unforgettable experience. It's a great way to feel like a local and avoid the usual tourist traps.
8. Capela das Almas
What makes this chapel stand out are the stunning blue azulejo tiles that cover its exterior, telling the stories of São Francisco de Assis and Santa Catarina. These captivating tiles make for an unforgettable sight you won't want to miss, and it's definitely one of the top things to see in Porto. While the inside may not be as striking as the exterior, it's free to enter, and you can even purchase a candle to light if you wish. The chapel's central location makes it easy to fit into any sightseeing plan, and the neighboring Church of Santo Idelfonso, adorned with blue tiles, offers another dose of Baroque art.
9. Mercado Bom Sucesso
If you're looking for places to eat in Porto that offer a wide variety of options, Mercado Bom Sucesso is worth a visit. Unlike typical food courts, this market leans towards a high-end food hall and is a local hit. You can reach it with a 45-minute walk from the old town or take the 403 bus from Ribeira or the 201/208 bus from Trindade metro station. The choices are almost endless, from fresh vegetables to flatbread burgers, suckling pigs, and desserts.
An extensive bar area also offers international beers, wine bars, cocktails, and specialty foods like air-dried ham and seafood. The setup allows you to buy food from any vendor, grab a drink from another, and sit indoors or out in the market. The reasonable prices make it a solid choice for good food without breaking the bank.
10. Sao Bento Railway Station
If you find yourself near Sao Bento Railway Station, consider stopping by to experience its elegance. The station's waiting room is adorned with stunning tiles that depict significant events in Portugal's history.
This feature makes it worth visiting even if you're not catching a train. If you are in Porto on a rainy day, the station is a starting point for train trips up the Douro River, close to the Spanish border. The station captures the spirit of an era when travel was about much more than getting from one place to another. Back then, it was about the journey and the experiences along the way. Take your time appreciating the artwork and craftsmanship, making this more than a train station, and is one of the best free things to do in Porto.
11. Parque da Cidade
It's the largest urban park in Portugal, stretching over 83 hectares and located at the western end of Avenida da Boavista. The park faces the ocean and provides direct access to Praia International Beach. It is designed to mimic a rural setting and is often described as a “naturalist” style park. It's on our list of things to do with Kids in Porto, and free!
You'll find a mix of open fields, large central lakes, and wooded areas that provide shade, particularly welcome during hot afternoons. One notable feature is the Fir tree walk, a shaded path along the park's southern edge from west to east. While the main walkways are popular with locals for various recreational activities, the park's size ensures you can always find a quieter spot in the northern section if you prefer solitude.
12. Liberdade Square
Liberdade Square, or Praca da Liberdade, is a key landmark in Porto, dating back to the 18th century. Dominated by the city hall and its 70-meter-high clock tower, the square is a hub for both business and leisure. Financial institutions, hotels, theatres, and the Cardosa Palace all find a home here.
The square also hosts a 10-meter-high bronze equestrian statue of Pedro IV, adding a historical touch. While the square may not offer much entertainment, it's exceptionally clean and well-maintained, perfect for photo ops or simply enjoying the surroundings. The square is flanked and bordered by Avenida dos Aliados, known for its beautiful buildings and major shopping streets. Suppose you are after things to do in Porto for a day. Its central location makes it a convenient starting point for visiting other major tourist sites like Torre dos Clerigos, Se Cathedral, and Sao Bento Railway Station. Several cafes and pastry shops around the square offer relaxing places and people-watch.
13. Jardins do Palacio de Cristal
Jardins do Palacio de Cristal is a sprawling garden in Porto offering diverse floral displays, statues, and scenic viewpoints. It's one of the best free things to do in Porto.
Visitors can find gardens styled differently, particularly near areas that overlook the river, creating a unique experience as one strolls through the grounds. The park is large enough for a substantial walk and offers the opportunity to explore various sections, each distinct in its floral arrangements.
The park is also family-friendly and suitable for picnics and outdoor activities with children. Navigating the park is simple with the help of Google Maps, and entrance to the area is free.
14. Rua das Flores
Rua das Flores is a pedestrian-only street in Porto rich in charm and local flavor. Known for its quaint shops, bustling cafes, and restaurants, it provides a snapshot of Porto's emerging commercial landscape alongside its traditional roots.
The architecture of the buildings is noteworthy, with many undergoing restoration, showcasing a blend of the old and the new. As the city evolves, there's a sense that Rua das Flores is quickly becoming a sanitized tourist spot, risking the loss of its traditional character. However, for now, it remains a lively avenue where buskers and artists add a layer of culture and entertainment. The street leads down toward the river, making it an excellent route for a scenic walk.
Among the various establishments, you'll find small delis and wine shops where you can sit outside, enjoy a glass of wine, and engage in people-watching, encapsulating the relaxed atmosphere currently defining the area.
15. Miradouro da Vitória
Miradouro da Vitória offers striking panoramic views of Porto, capturing the rooftops and the river Douro in one sweeping glance. It's tucked away amidst narrow streets in what used to be the old Jewish quarter, adding historical context to the vista. However, the viewpoint is quite basic, consisting of a large concrete platform surrounded by several derelict buildings.
There are no bars, cafes, or other amenities, making it feel somewhat shabby compared to other viewing spots in the city. Despite its lack of facilities, it still offers compelling photo opportunities and a sense of rustic charm. For those looking for a less crowded experience, this viewpoint tends to be quieter than others, offering a bit of solitude for contemplative moments.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.