10 Things To Do In Porto Portugal

Things To Do in Porto Portugal

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city. With roughly 200,000 inhabitants it is less than half the size of it’s rival city and capital of Portugal, Lisbon. But arguably Porto’s smaller size is part of its charm. During your stay you will find a city with a rich history and fierce pride as it shoulders an economic crisis that shows its scars in vacant and crumbling buildings among expansive gilded churches. The contrast is intriguing and you will find yourself wanting to learn more while enjoying all of the amazing food, history and panoramic vistas that Porto has to offer.  Here are a few must-do activities that will help you get to know Porto and understand why a visit here is well worth your efforts.

1. Discover the Portuguese tile – Azulejo

Azulejo are the famous tiles that adorn many of the interior and exterior of the buildings in Portugal. In Porto you will find samples everywhere you look. But don’t miss the interior of the train station. The tile murals are not only beautiful but they also depict important stories about the history of Porto.

Tiled Church Exterior

Tiled Church Exterior

Portuguese Blue Tile

Iconic Portuguese Blue Tile

Porto Train Station Tile

Tile Inside Porto Sao Bento Train Station

sao bento tile

Tile in Sao Bento Train Station

2. Cruise down the Duoro River

There are many operators that will take you for a tour of the Duoro River for about 10 euros. You will be treated to a view of the 6 bridges in the area and magnificent views of the city. Most operators throw in a visit to a wine cellar for a sampling of Porto’s famous Port Wine. There is also an option to take a longer trip along the river to the Duoro wine region where the Porto grapes are grown.

Duoro River

Duoro River View

3. Meet the little French girl – Francesinha

Porto has a lively café culture. You will find several restaurants lining the major city streets and the majority of them will invite you to try Porto’s most famous sandwich – the Francesinha (roughly translated as the “little French girl”). But don’t let the name fool you, this “little” sandwich will cost you 2000 calories. It is piled high with sausage, ham, beef,, and cheese and is swimming in a slightly spicy beer sauce, usually surrounded with fries. For one of the best head to Cafe Santiago.

franceshina

Francesinha Sandwich

4.  Taste the Wine

Or more accurately, the famous Port wine. You can get a sample at any number of restaurants in Porto, but interestingly all of the Port Wine is actually aged and stored across the Duoro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. Tours and tastings are available at each of the wineries. You can also view replicas of the boats (rabel0s) used to transport the wine from the Duoro Region where the grapes are grown and pressed.

Wine Maturing in Porto Winery

Wine Maturing in Porto Winery

Rabelo formally used to transport wine

Rabelo formally used to transport wine

5. Take a Free Porto Walking Tour

There are several tours available but we chose to join the Wild Walkers Tour. They actually divide the tour into a morning and afternoon tour highlighting different areas of the city. This is partially because you will need to be prepared to hike up some hills to see some of the cities most impressive sights. Highlights include the ancient wall that once surrounded all of Porto, gilded churches, and one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Well, you be the judge.

View of River from the Ancient Wall

View of River from the Ancient Wall

 Santa Clara Church Ceiling

Santa Clara Church Ceiling

Porto Street

Getting to Know the Streets of Porto During the Tour

http://acidadenapontadosdedos.com/

Livraria Lello Book Store (courtesy http://acidadenapontadosdedos.com)

6. Lose yourself in the side streets

There are stone steps and narrow cobbled streets that beg to be explored throughout Porto. Each neighborhood has a slightly different look and feel. It’s fun to just wander along listening to music and neighbors calling out to each other and smell amazing things coming from the kitchens (you can learn more about them by taking the walking tour).

porto side street

Colorful Porto Side Street

Former Jewish Quarter

Former Jewish Quarter

Narrow Stairway in Porto

Narrow Stairs Wind Up the Hills Throughout Porto

7. Sample the fresh seafood

There are plenty of options as the Portuguese love their grilled fish. The area best known for seafood is Cascais, accessible by bus or metro. Or you can also head to the hundred year old MERCADO DO BOLHÃO. There the chef will assist you in picking out fresh fish from the vendor next door and grill it for you. There are also restaurants grilling fish outside of their restaurants in the summer.  Difficult to go wrong!

Fresh Grilled Fish

Fresh Grilled Fish

8. Discover the Street Art

There are examples of tagging on buildings in Porto, as in most cities. But if you look closer you will also find works of art. One of the best known street artist, Hazul, signs his trademark work, which often depicts wildlife or religious themes.

Porto Street ARt

Porto Street ARt

street art on stairway

Artwork at the Top of a Steep Stairway

hazulstreetart

hazulstreetart

9. Take a food tour

What better way to get to know a city than to be guided to the best the area has to offer by a local? For 55 euros Andre of Taste of Porto Food Tours will introduce you to chefs, food vendors and restauranteurs and treat you to 6 different tastings. Some options: Porto’s best slow cooked pork sandwich, Chaves pastries (flaky pastries that come in savory and sweet varieties) and local wines, pastries, cured meats and cheese. Andre’s passion for Porto and the food is infectious. And he’ll give you great recommendations about things to do and places to eat while in Porto.

Bolhão Market

Bolhão Market

sardines

Sardines – A Local Favorite

Eclairs

 

10. Visit the San Francisco Church

The San Francisco Church of the most important and beautiful churches in Porto.  It is thought that the interior is decorated with more than 400 kg of gold leaf. It also contains the catacombs where remains of Franciscan friars and some dignitaries of the city are buried.  When Napoleon conquered Porto he reportedly utilized the gilded church as a stable for his horses as a way to mocking the city.

San Francisco Church Porto

San Francisco Church Porto

Porto Catacombs

Sao San Francisco Catacombs

While wandering the streets it is hard to miss that Porto has suffered during the current economic crisis. There is currently 35.5% unemployment for those in the age range of 18-25 and 14% overall.  And it doesn’t take too long to find an abandoned building or one that is in disrepair. We heard several reasons for this.

Owners of buildings in the historic center must adhere to strict guidelines before renovating making it financially unfeasible. If a building front is to crumble on its own, however, the owner is then free to make necessary changes. Also Porto has a history of utilizing very strict guidelines regarding rent control that has created disinsentives for landlord’s to upgrade homes that are already a financial drain. Lastly we learned that many of the buildings in the downtown area are owned by foreign investors who maintain high rent on their properties and gain high tax advantages by leaving their properties vacant.

Despite these challenges things are improving. Employment rates are beginning to rise, some buildings in the downtown area are being renovated and turned into hotels and rent control and renovation restrictions are easing. The future of Porto is uncertain. But if you speak with the people who live there you will find a great deal of hope in the future and pride in all that Porto has to offer.Porto Bridge

Cheers! Saúde!

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15 thoughts on “10 Things To Do In Porto Portugal

  1. I didn’t know anything about the typical blue Porto tiles, I guess that’s why I should visit this city, to discover more about it 🙂
    The street art looks pretty nice too and, considering I’m a huge street art lover, that would add an extra reason to visit Porto.

  2. What a beautiful city. I loved the book store. Being a New England carpenter it’s wild to see tile work on the outside of buildings.

  3. Been to Porto a few times, love it! The azulejos are definitely part of the charm! And I love the food too, except the francesinha, since I’m veggie it’s a bit too meaty for me 🙂

  4. Lovely post! I’ve been to Lisbon last year, but Porto is still on my list! The photos look incredible! Can I hop on a plane now? Haha!

  5. Wow! Porto looks simply stunning! Your photos are gorgeous! That tile work is amazing, and I love all the funky street art. You are definitely making me want to visit!

  6. And one I’d add – discover the boys! Yes yes cheeky, but it’s so true no? They are gorgeous!!! 🙂

  7. Thanks for sharing. Porto seems a very beautiful city full of interesting things and the only thing I knew about it is the porto wine. What really caught my eye as a book lover is the amazing book store.

  8. What a great guide! My number one priority would be enjoying some port! I’d be a sucker for the free photography walk and street art, as well! Definitely want to visit Porto someday; thanks for the tips.

  9. I would definitely add seeing a football match on to that list! Football is a massive part of the culture there, and the atmosphere is incredible! 🙂

  10. I haven’t been and hope to make it someday. I love those tiles, they seem so unique. Also who doesn’t want tasty pastries. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Porto has been high on my list for quite some time! Wonderful list of things to do–the Azulejo look so beautiful! The winery, food tour and street art would also near the top of my list, but there are just too many fun spots that it would be hard to fit everything in!!

  12. Okay, you had me at seafood. But the tiles! They’re so gorgeous. I’ve been hearing so much about Portugal lately, it really seems to be the ‘it’ destination. I guess it’s time to go back and explore in more depth.

  13. Your photos and descriptions have sold me on Porto! What a beautiful destination. The food looks so fresh and delicious. Portugal is one European country I have yet to visit – an oversight I will have to correct, and quickly!

  14. I live in Porto and I really have to say, Lello Bookstore’s and San Francisco Chruch’s photos are switched.
    But it still is a wonderfull article! Porto trully is a wonderfull city!

  15. HI’m allways happy when people speak highly of my city. Just a little repair: the first photo you have in the S. Francisco Church is from the Lello Library, on of the most beautiful in the world 🙂

    Hope you’ll visit us again!

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