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It is the city of wine, endless sunsets and aged buildings adorning the riverbank. Just before the Douro River flows into the Atlantic, Porto stretches from the hills to its banks.
The Douro is the driving force and the soul of the city. The river and city together make up one of Portugal’s most distinctive and special landscapes.
To think of Porto is to remember the sound of the seagulls, the endless facades of colorful tiles and the clothes hanging on the balconies. It is going up and down steep slopes and through alleys to unexpected corners loaded with charm.
Also, it is long walks through the Ribeira district of colorful houses and across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia with its many Port wine cellars. Truly the best way to discover Porto is to walk aimlessly.
Many have visited Porto and have fallen in love with this sentimental city. Here, old buildings are interspersed with delicately restored ones. Perhaps it’s the air of decadence or the life it breathes at the same time, its streets steeped in history and nostalgia.
Things to Do in Porto
Admire the Beauty of Sao Bento Railway Station
This curious train station was built on the ruins of the old Sao Bento Convent of Ave Maria. The convent was destroyed in a fire and gave its name to the later station. From the moment you enter you are aware of being in one of the most genuine places in Oporto.
The walls of its lobby are covered with more than 20,000 blue and white tiles, so characteristic of the city. An impressive display of Portuguese art recounts the country’s history: from countryside scenes to epic battles.
It is common to see drawing enthusiasts and fine art students capturing the beauty of this place in their notebooks. This station is the perfect place to give free rein to the imagination and begin your tour of the city. Here the doors open to the old town, declared a World Heritage Site in 1996.
Cross the Dom Luis I Bridge
The Douro River is crossed by several bridges as it passes through the city. However, the most emblematic is the Dom Luis I Bridge. This bridge was built in 1886 by Teofilo Seyrig, a disciple of Eiffel. It links the city with Vila Nova de Gaia. The panoramic views from this bridge are unbeatable both day and night.
Built on two levels, the highest platform is used by trams, while cars circulate on the lowest one. Pedestrians can access both levels, with the upper level connecting to the heart of the city and the lower to the riverside. During the summer, children often jump into the river from the lower level.
Explore the Ribera
The iconic neighborhood along the river finds the perfect balance between the spectacular and the decadent charm of its buildings. The crowded and colorful houses facing the river create an unforgettable landscape.
Strolling around quietly, relaxing, sitting on one of the terraces or listening to a street artist are some of the best ways to enjoy this wonderful place.
You can also cross the Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia for an even more spectacular sight. On this opposite bank of the river, you can see the city spread out on the hillside with its coloured tile roofs and towers.
Concentrated here are all the cellars where the famous Port wine, is aged. Guided tours are available to learn about their production process and history. Plus of course Port wine tasting.
Climb the Tower of Clérigos
This monument, the pinnacle of Portuguese Baroque architecture, is made up of a group of buildings. It has a museum, a church and a tower. The tower is the highest in Portugal, rising 76 meters above the rooftops of the city. Climbing its more than 200 steps gives magnificent views of the old town of Porto.
Being located in the upper part of the city, for years it served as a reference point for navigators on the Douro River. Today it is also used as a guide for travelers as it can be seen from any point in the city.
The most characteristic feature of the church of the Clérigos is its main facade decorated with garlands and shells. The grand staircase leading to the main entrance does not go unnoticed by travelers either.
It was built by the artist Nicolau Nasoni, but the history of this building dates back to the 18th century. Therefore it marks a before and after in Porto’s urban planning due to the difficulty of building an infrastructure of such size and innovation at the time.
Discover Lello e Irmao: Porto’s Most Beautiful Library
The longest queues, sometimes around the corner, can be seen at this small library in the center of Porto. Its fame is due to the charm of its interior. It has been recognised as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
But the main reason is that it has served as a source of inspiration for writer J.K. Rowling. The popular author lived in the city for two years, where she worked as an English teacher.
Furthermore, it is said that she relied on this bookshop to create some scenes in her successful Harry Potter series of novels.
This magnificent temple of books takes the traveler back more than 100 years. A curious wooden staircase leads up to the first floor where sunlight streams in through a beautiful stained glass ceiling.
Besides enjoying every detail, the best way to visit this place is to get lost among its endless wooden shelves until you find the right book. This could become your best souvenir of this magical city.
Visit the Carmo Church
Very close to this bookshop and the Torre de los Clérigos are two of the most special buildings in the city. These are the Iglesia del Carmen and the Iglesia de las Carmelitas and they are attached to each other.
The ensemble of these two buildings is classified as a National Monument, as it is one of the most important examples of rococo in Portugal. Its facade is almost entirely covered by a large mural of beautiful blue and white tiles, painted in 1912.
Take a Sightseeing Cruise Down the Douro River
A different way of getting to know the city is to take a boat trip and contemplate the city’s character from the waters of the Douro. These tours take place aboard rabelos.
They are traditional Portuguese boats that were once used to transport wine barrels from the vineyards to the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia.
Departing from the Gaia pier, you will sail along the river, crossing under bridges and learning more about the city’s history. This is the perfect opportunity to see the fisherman’s quarter with its houses overlooking the Douro. From here you get a completely different perspective of the city.
Visit Porto Cathedral
Located in the upper part of the city, in the Batalha district, Porto Cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Also known as La Sé, this is the most important religious monument in Porto.
Its austere facade and fortified appearance contrast with its beautiful Gothic-style cloister decorated with 14th-century tiles. In the middle of the square where the Cathedral stands, there is a pillar where criminals were once executed.
The location of this place, in the heart of medieval Oporto, offers magnificent views of the city. From this hill, you can walk down to the Ribeira district, through narrow streets of simple life and tranquility.
Eat Porto’s Most Famous Dish: Francesinhas
Portugal is one of those countries where the traveler can delight his sense of taste. The francesinha is the specialty of the city. Tasting it is a culinary ritual for those who visit Porto.
This star dish is a kind of sandwich filled with sausage and meat, with melted cheese a slightly spicy beer and tomato sauce drizzled on top. It is served with fries and a fried egg on top. These two last ingredients are optional but it would be a shame not to dip the fries in the delicious sauce.
It is said that this recipe was born thanks to a Portuguese emigrant who tried to make a Portuguese version of Croque Monsieur. It usually costs around 12 euros and although some tourists are surprised by the price, it is more than just a sandwich. The dish is quite hearty and elaborate, a real calorie bomb.
Café Santiago makes the best in the city, although a more refined option is the legendary Café Majestic. This bar-restaurant with its amazing decoration also serves delicious coffees and cakes.
For vegetarians, the best address is the Lado B Café, which serves delicious francesinhas made with smoked tofu, soy and a delicious vegetable sauce.
Check Out the Vistas from Fontainhas Viewpoint
Porto offers several spots from where you can enjoy incredible panoramic views of the city. More than a viewpoint, this is an enjoyable walk along the Douro River leaving the city and the Luis I Bridge behind.
There is a small balcony where you can look out over the rooftops of the city and get a special perspective of Porto. It is little frequented by tourists, in fact, it is still a rather unknown place in the city. This is precisely why it’s a special spot.
Book This Trip
Start planning your coastal escape to Porto today. Get prepared with insider knowledge on the best shopping, hotel and VRBO accommodations, local restaurant reviews and more through Travelocity and TripAdvisor.
For the best flight deals, train tickets and car rental reservations, check out OMIO Travel Partner.
If You Go:
- How to visit us (livrarialello.pt)
- Clérigos Tower (torredosclerigos.pt)
- Majestic Café (cafemajestic.com)
- Sightseeing cruise:
- Douro Acima – Transportes, Turismo e Restauração
- Tomaz do Douro – Douro Cruises
- Rota do Douro – Cruises on the Douro River in Porto, Portugal
Author Bio: Based in France, Lucia Otero Medraño is Spanish with a master’s degree in travel journalism. She has worked in the tourism sector but her true passion is to live enriching experiences and discover amazing places around the world and write about them. In her spare time, she likes to enjoy her second passion, music.