I smile every time I think of last year’s trip to Porto. I booked a trip to Porto in early 2019 for my boyfriend’s birthday, neither of us knowing what to expect, and immediately got to work planning a full itinerary so that we could make the most of our stay. However, as soon as we arrived in Porto, we quickly scrapped my busy itinerary in favour of beer, food, and naps in the sun.
To me, Porto feels both lazy and energetic in one. It’s a colourful place, with azure blue tiled buildings and cherry red trams, but the leisurely pace of the streets, overcrowded coffee shops and packed out parks force you to move slowly. Walking through Porto almost feels like stepping into a postcard; the city feels animated and alive, but there’s a sort of stillness to appreciate at the same time. It’s a welcome change of pace from the streets of Bristol, the type of city where someone’s always in a rush.
Nevertheless, we still managed to see and experience a whole lot in Porto without trying very hard at all. It’s not a very big place, so we felt very much at home after just a couple of days. The downside of this is that I can imagine Porto to be extremely busy in the summer months, but in April, it was pretty perfect.
Whether you’re a proud tourist, map in hand, or an ‘off the beaten track’ type of traveler, Porto is brimming with fun things to do. Here are some of my favourites.
Go Port Tasting
Visiting Porto and not going port tasting would be like visiting Paris and not catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Even if you don’t like port, a tasting tour is a must! There are loads of brilliant wine cellars on both sides of the Dom Luís bridge that offer port tasting tours for less than 20 Euros. We chose to do our tour with Sandeman but other popular wine cellars include Taylor’s and Graham’s.
Don’t forget to take a jacket if you go into a wine cellar – they’re pretty dark and pretty cold! I’d also recommend booking a port tasting tour in advance to make sure you don’t miss out. This way, you can also make sure you go with a guide who speaks your language.
Ride a Portuguese Tram
Iconic photographs of Lisbon always show gorgeous, old-fashioned trams careering through narrow, cobbled streets, but this isn’t the only Portuguese city to have this on offer. You’ll also spot lots of trams in Porto, some which take you right through the city and down to the coast. Riding the tram is a really great way to travel, and although they may be more expensive than local buses, tickets are still reasonably priced.
Wander Through Ribeira
Ribeira is one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods in Porto, so give yourself a couple of hours to wander through the cobbled streets, watch the boats navigate the Douro River and of course, find somewhere serving port wine. Walking along the Douro River offers some of the best views in Porto, including of the Luís Bridge and Cais de Gaia, a quaint, riverside road lined with colourful houses and popular restaurants.
Cross the Dom Luís Bridge
Porto is home to lots of great bridges but the Dom Luís is one of the most iconic. Crossing it allows you to reach Vila Nova de Gaia, a trendy city on the other side of the Douro River, and watch the sun set over Porto. I often think that landmark bridges are overrated, but the views from the Luís are definitely worth the climb (and the crowds). The stairways leading to the bridge are also pretty edgy, with little alleyways and crevices inviting you to wander through.
Watch the Sunset from Jardin do Morro
We were so, so glad that we did this on our first night in Porto. Jardin do Morro is a small, grassy park in Vila Nova de Gaia (simply cross the Luís and you’re there!) known for attracting large crowds at sunset. It’s a popular spot but the views are truly beautiful. From here, you’re high enough to watch the sun set over Ribeira and the Douro River, which turns orange under the sun’s rays.
Visit the São Bento Railway Station
Porto is famous for its historic Azulejo tiles. You’ll spot these everywhere throughout the city, often hidden behind a crowd of Instagrammers trying to get the perfect shot, but one of best displays can be found in Porto’s São Bento Railway Station. There are beautiful blue and white Azulejos covering every wall, showing incredible battle scenes and more. São Bento Railway Station (like every train station!) is often very busy, so try to avoid this place at rush hour.
Browse the Antiques at Armazém
Armazém is one of the coolest and quirkiest antique shops I’ve ever been to. It looks pretty nondescript from the outside, tucked away behind a large green railing off the side of a main road, but it’s certainly full of surprises! Firstly, it’s much bigger than its shopfront would have you believe. Once you step inside, you’re taken aback by a maze of treasures and relics, some very traditional and others kitsch and gaudy. There’s also a bar inside selling beers, wines, hot drinks and bar snacks.
Marvel at Porto’s Street Art
Being from Bristol, I have a real appreciation for street art – and it’s safe to say that Porto and Gaia both deliver. Though Porto’s Azulejo tiles often command the most attention, there are lots of impressive examples of modern street art dotted on corners throughout both cities. You’ll find some hidden in Porto’s alleyways and narrow stairwells, but Boldarlo’s ‘Half Rabbit’ (perhaps the most famous piece of street art in the area) can be found in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Ride the Teleférico de Gaia
I love seeing places from above, which is why finding the highest and most interesting spots in a city can always be found on my travel itinerary. While there are lots of picturesque bridges and towers to climb in Porto, there’s also another fun way to get a bird’s eye view of the city streets: catching a ride on the Teleférico de Gaia. This short cable car ride takes you from the Dom Luis down to a cluster of port tasting cellars, including Sandeman, that sit alongside the banks of the Douro River. The journey may only be a short one, but it’s a pretty fun way to spend five minutes!
Browse the Books at Livraria Lello
Most travel blogs will call Livraria Lello, Porto’s most beautiful bookshop, a tourist trap – and in many ways it is. You need to queue for a ticket, queue to be let in, and queue to shuffle around the bookshop one person at a time. It’s very busy (apparently at all times of day) and most of your time will be spent waiting for someone to snap the perfect Instagram shot before you can climb Lello’s iconic sweeping stairwell. Despite this, you should still go! It’s one of the oldest bookshops in the world, and if you can look past the sea of phone screens and cameras, you’ll recognise just how beautiful it really is.
These are just 10 fun things to do in Porto but I know there’s still so much left to see. Let me know your top recommendations below!
Ps. Sometimes it rains in Portugal…(who would have thought it?) Here’s my guide to What To Do In Porto When It’s Raining.
If you’re vegan (yay!), you may also be interested in A Vegan Guide to Porto, Portugal.