News Top 15 attractions and things to do in Porto

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Top 15 attractions and things to do in Porto

Framed by the sea and the mighty River Duoro, Portugal's second city is home to one of the most beautiful old towns in Europe, a swathe of historic churches, gardens and (naturally) port wine. We pick out 15 of the best things to do in Porto.

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1. Climb up Torre dos Clérigos

The Torre dos Clérigos (Clérigos Tower) is the most iconic feature of Porto’s skyline and provides fantastic views of the city. The tower is part of Clérigos Church, a Baroque building from the eighteenth century, located at one of the highest points of town. After hiking 75 metres up 240 narrow steps, you’re rewarded with a spread of tall orange roofs fighting for space all the way down to the river. Schedule your visit for mid-to-late afternoon: the sunset light on the rooftops is unmissable.

Opening times: Daily, 9am – 7pm; night visits 7pm – 11pm during summer (check website for schedules).

Location: Rua dos Clérigos.

Price: Entry to tower and museum €4; Guided visit €6; Night ticket €5.*

2. Visit the Palácio da Bolsa

Translated as the Stock Exchange Palace, this monumental Neo-Classical building dates back to the nineteenth century, when Porto was the business capital of the country, but it has a lot more to offer than the symbols of commerce. Visit the Arabian Hall for a masterclass in Moorish interiors, said to be inspired by Grenada’s Alhambra Palace, admire the soaring courtyard dome and pause to look up on the staircase to see Antonio Ramalho’s celebrated frescoes. Guided tours are part of the ticket price.

Opening times: (Nov to March) 9am – 12.30 / 2pm – 5.30pm. (April to October) 9am – 6pm.

Location: Rua de Ferreira Borges.

Price: Adult €8.50; Concessions €5 (book in advance via the website).

Palácio da Bolsa, Porto

3. Look inside the Church of São Francisco

Next door to Bolsa Palace lies one of the more spiritual and significantly older Porto attractions – the Church of São Francisco. Built in the Gothic style in the 12 and 1300s, Baroque-style interior details were added later, giving the inside a sumptuous, golden glow that has to be seen to be believed.

Opening times: (Nov to Feb) 9am – 5.30pm. (Mar to Oct) 9am – 7pm. (Jul & Aug) 9am – 8pm.

Location: Rua do Infante Dom Henrique.

Price: Adult €4; Child €2.

4. Visit the Serralves Museum and gardens

Located between downtown Porto and the seafront, Serralves offers a combination of culture and natural beauty. The vast green gardens of Serralves, which cover an astonishing 18 hectares, are home to exquisite flora and fauna and are free to access on the first Sunday of every month (10am – 1pm). The park surrounds a bright pink Art Deco villa and the Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses a collection of Portuguese art from 1960 onwards. Don’t forget to end your visit with coffee and cake on the lovely terrasse of the museum café. Serralves hosts dance, performance art and music as well as temporary exhibitions throughout the year, including the annual ‘Jazz in the Park’ outdoor concerts in July.

Opening times: (October to March) Tues to Fri 10am – 6pm; Sat, Sun & public holidays 10am – 7pm. (April to September) Tues to Fri 10am – 7pm; Sat, Sun & public holidays 10am – 8pm.

Location: Rua Dom João de Castro, 210.

Price: Museum & Park €10, Park only €5. Under 12s get in free. (Some exhibitions not included in ticket price).

Serralves Museum, Porto

5. Explore Ribeira

After a day walking the narrow streets in the shadow of the tall buildings of downtown Porto, descend to the true heart of the old city. It’s always a good time to visit, but night brings the best out of Ribeira. Pick a terrasse and enjoy a chilled sangria as you face the Douro river. On the other side, the hill of Gaia (the neighbouring city across the river) is covered with lights marking the presence of the famous Port wine cellars, the D. Luiz bridge and the church of Serra do Pilar – it’s an unforgettable view.

Ribeira Old Town, Porto

 

6. Experience Porto nightlife

You don’t have to go far from the city centre to find the hottest places for a night out on the town. The streets near the Clérigos Church are virtually empty during the day but they bustle with people, good food and music from late afternoon to the (sometimes not so) early hours of the morning. There are cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs aplenty, with locals and visitors alike streaming in and out of their doors. Try Rue de Miguel Bombarda for the hippest after-hours joints, including Casa de Ló, an old Portuguese bakery which is now a bar with a garden for those long summer nights…

7. Ride on the old trams

Porto’s hilly streets can be very steep at times, so a good way of getting to know the city quickly on a weekend break is to take a ride in one of its restored electric cars. Also known as ‘American cars’, these classic yellow vehicles were first introduced in the early 1900s, but the trams gradually disappeared in the second half of the twentieth century as buses took over. However, in the past few years the vintage cars have been re-introduced and now run on three ‘heritage routes’, linking several downtown sites and the seafront, so once again trams are part of the public transport system. A good place to start is with Line 1, which leaves from outside the Casa do Infante in the Old Town and heads out to sea along the River Duoro. Single tickets cost €3.

 

8. Take a stroll around Passeio Alegre and Foz

Foz is one of the oldest quarters of Porto. It literally means ‘river mouth’ and spans the area between the end of the Douro river and the city’s seaside. Start your walk towards the sea on Rua Passeio Alegre, a low and bright path that runs directly by the river and is lined with palm trees, leading to the celebrated Jardim do Passeio Alegre, a peaceful landscaped garden next to the ocean. The Atlantic and its many small beaches await you with gorgeous sunsets, ready for a romantic stroll or an end-of-the-day drink.

9. Visit Livraria Lello

Book fans, mark this one high on your list of things to do in Porto. A beautiful bookshop worth seeing just for the architecture alone, the Livraria Lello was designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves in Neo-Gothic splendour and was opened in 1906 by brothers José and António Lello. Ascend the gorgeous circular red stairs to leaf through the volumes and look down to admire one of the most attractive shop floors in the world. JK Rowling worked as an English teacher in Porto in the 1990s, and local legend has it that this bookstore inspired the library in the Harry Potter books.

Opening times: Mon to Sat 10am – 7.30pm, Sun 11am – 7pm.

Location: Rua das Carmelitas 144.

Price: €3 (free if you buy a book).

 

Livraria Lello

10. Fort of São Francisco do Queijo

This unusually named fortress, or ‘Castle of the Cheese’, is so called because it sits atop a wedge-like cliff, but was actually built for the serious purpose of defending Porto in the turbulent medieval period. The location is the best reason to visit, as the coastal views are second to none, particularly at sunset.

Opening times: Tue to Sun, 1 – 6pm.

Location: Praça Gonçalves Zarco.

Price: €0.50.

11. Visit a port wine cellar in Gaia

Take in the oaky smell wafting through the cold air of a dusty, dark port cellar. The foothills of Gaia, just south of the Douro river, are home to all of the major cellars for the famous fortified wine, which is only produced in northern Portugal. Almost all of the cellars offer wine tastings and guided tours that reveal the secrets of port wine making: how the grapes are selected, how the wine is produced and what makes a vintage. Caves Croft Cellar is close to the Gaia seafront and offers not only port tastings, but the chance to pair wine with chocolate. Need we say more?

Opening times: Daily 10am – 6pm, apart from Dec 25 and Jan 1.

Location: Rua Barão de Forrester, 412 – 4400-034 Vila Nova de Gaia.

Price: Tours start from €10; chocolate pairings from €20.

Port wine cellar

12. Eat a francesinha

Hungry? Craving a decent portion of meat? In Porto you won’t need to look hard to have your wish granted. One of the city’s food staples might not be fancy and is certainly not good for the waistline, but it’s a source of local pride – not to mention an unforgettable experience. Francesinha is composed of steak, sliced hams and spicy sausage between toasted bread, all covered with melted cheese and a hot sauce, the recipe for which is a well-kept secret. There is eternal competition for the best francesinha in town: just ask any local for their favourite and embrace the challenge, or go with collective opinion and opt for Bufete Fase on Rua de Santa Catarina.

13. Have an _apéro _in Vila Nova De Gaia

This city across the river offers the perfect opportunity to look back across at the colourful houses tiling the hills of Porto, perhaps sipping an apéro (maybe chilled white port wine or moscatel, a sweet wine from north-east Portugal). Snack on tremoços (lupin beans) and peanuts, before finding somewhere for dinner: go for traditional Portuguese cooking at Restaurante Mario Luso (Largo Franca Borges 308), or the fresh seafood and veggie flavours at Bacalhoeiro by the river (Av. Diogo Leite 74).

14. Explore the Douro Valley

The emblematic Douro river, which starts in Spain and cuts across northern Portugal to Porto, can be explored in many ways. Boats leaving from Ribeira will take you on a quick tour of the city’s bridges or on longer cruises up the river to the valleys in the inner country. These valleys, which form a UNESCO World Heritage site, are where most of northern Portugal’s wine is harvested and produced, including the famous port wine. The trip to this unique area can also be done as a an organised day trip from Porto, by train or, if you’re feeling energetic, on foot – spring and autumn are the best times to go hiking in terms of temperature and there are lots of guided walking tours if you don’t want to go it alone.

Vineyards of the Douro region

15. Catch a concert at Coliseu do Porto

A comparatively modern landmark in Porto, this famous venue nonetheless has a rich history of theatre, music and ballet performances, surrounded by other noteworthy Art Nouveau buildings on Rua Passos Manuel. The theatre celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2016 with a bursting programme of events; check the website for upcoming shows while you’re in town.

Opening times: (Box Office) 1pm to 8.30pm. On show days from 1 pm to the start of the show. Closed Sundays and holidays.

Location: Rua Passos Manuel, 137.

Price: Varies depending on show.

How to get to Porto

There are direct flights to Porto from the UK, including regional airports like Manchester and Bristol; Birmingham and Liverpool tend to offer the cheapest deals if you’re looking for a short break in Porto. Alternatively, you can connect to London Stansted, Luton or Gatwick from elsewhere in the UK and fly onward to Porto from there.

Porto Airport, also known as Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport, is 11km from the city centre, and easily accessible via the metro.

Planning a city break in Porto? Find the cheapest flights with our comparison tool:

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Where to stay in Porto

Stay central at the friendly Hotel Da Bolsa, within easy reach of Ribeira and other Porto attractions, and with decently priced rooms starting from £40 a night. Look to Gaia on the other side of the river for a more luxurious stay at The Yeatman: the spacious rooms, panoramas of Porto (from your private balcony) and onsite Turkish baths should hopefully make up for the somewhat heftier price tag (from £300 a night).

If you just want cheap and cheerful, Porto has plenty of that too – try the lively PILOT Design Hostel, with its 24 hour bar(!), sociable lounge and terrace and helpful staff on hand with local tips.

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*Published February 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.

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