Visit Porto: 15 places not to be missed
Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, has been one of the ten most popular cities in Europe for some years now. There are several reasons for this: the warm climate with temperatures that rarely drop below +15 from February to November, the historic centre listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the seafront and beaches that can be reached by metro, the low prices and the very good local wine. Visiting Porto can be done on foot in just a few days but to help you, below is a list of 15 interesting places in and around the city: palaces, monasteries, wine plantations and medieval towns that are worth a visit if you decide to go on holiday in Porto.
Visit Porto with an English speaking guide
Some will prefer to visit Porto on their own and go where the wind takes them but others will not know where to go during their 3 or 4 day stay, in which case it may be interesting to be accompanied by an english speaking guide who knows the city of Porto like the back of his hand. For these people, you will find below a selection of the best guided tours of Porto. All these tours I have selected have the best marks, are conducted by English speaking guides and can be cancelled 24 hours before the start of the tour if you finally wish to change the program. You can therefore book with confidence.
Visit Porto with the Porto Card
Just like the Lisboa Card, the Porto Card allows you to benefit from free transport in the city of Porto but also discounts on various places to visit in the city. It may or may not be interesting depending on the program you have planned but it deserves to be taken into consideration.
The Porto Card can be valid from 1 to 4 days depending on the length of your stay in the city: take advantage of transport and 150 discounts including free access to 6 museums and a free visit to a winery in the city.
Visit Porto in 10 must-see places
Ponte Luís I
The old city of Porto is located on the hills on the right bank of the Douro River. It is connected to the port centre (Vila Nova di Gaia) on the other bank of the river by several beautiful bridges. The most famous of them is the elegant metal bridge “Ponte Luis I”, built by Eiffel’s pupil Theophilus Serig. The upper level of the bridge offers the best view of Porto, the river and the old boats moored in the marinas. The bridge itself has long been one of the symbols of the city and its image can be found everywhere in Portugal’s second largest city.
Ribeira, the most beautiful area of Porto’s old town
Ribeira, with its colourful houses, narrow cobbled streets, craft shops, endless staircases and harbour bars, is the most picturesque district of Porto. The facades of many houses are tiled with azulejos that shine in the sun. The houses on the hill are so narrow, small and hanging from each other that they look like birds’ nests. Ribeira’s seawall is the widest and most beautiful in the city, with pleasure boats and old boats coming and going. In addition to the cheap cafes and restaurants in Ribeira, there are many excellent ceramic and leather goods shops.
Sao Bento station (Estação de São Bento)
Sao Bento was opened in 1916. The walls of the main hall of the station are decorated with 20 thousand azulejos (traditional Portuguese tiles painted in blue and white), representing the main historical events in Portugal and the landscape of Porto. All the azulejos were hand-painted by the artist Georges Wheels, which took more than three years to complete.
Lello bookshop in Porto
Lello is the oldest bookshop in Portugal, which for many years has been one of the 5 most beautiful bookshops in the world. The facade and the interior are neo-gothic style, with an abundance of small details, complex sculptures and a magnificent decor. The curved red staircase, carved walls, shelves and tinted glass ceiling inspired Joan Rowling and became the prototype for the Hogwarts library in Harry Potter. In addition to the striking interior, the store pleasantly surprises with a selection of books in English, Portuguese and French. Admission to the library costs 4 euros. But if you buy a book, the entrance fee will be deducted from its price.
Miradouros in Porto
Like Lisbon, Porto is a city on the hills and there are many observation platforms from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of the city during the day (during the day, because the old city is poorly lit at night):
- A site near Se Cathedral: The cathedral stands on top of the highest hill in the city. In addition to the main scenic area, there is a small one near the Chafariz do Pelicano fountain.
- The site at the top of the 18th century Torre de los Clérigos tower, in the heart of the old town. This 75-metre high tower was considered the highest in Portugal for more than a century. Entrance is paying and costs 4 euros.
- The site near the monastery of Serra do Pilar, from where you can see at the same time all the old town, the river and the bridge of King Luis.
Ocean coast, beaches, lighthouses and best fish restaurants
Porto is located on the banks of the Douro River, a few kilometres from the mouth where it flows into the ocean. The beaches and ocean lighthouses in Matosinhos can be reached in 30-50 minutes by bus or metro from anywhere in the city. There are many beaches: wild and equipped, sandy and pebbly. The largest and most popular beach is the sandy beach of Matosinhos. Near this beach in Porto you will find the Heróis de França street, which is home to dozens of the best fish restaurants in the city. I also recommend you to visit the old lighthouse of Farol de Felgueira, whose foot sometimes breaks huge waves.
Historic tramway from the city centre to the coast
Porto has far fewer old trams than Lisbon but some of them are still moving. The old yellow trams from 1872, decorated with wooden panels, leather seats and brass parts inside, follow three lines: 1, 18 and 22. The most popular of these is tram 1, which runs from the Infante station along the Doro coast to the ocean coast. Lines 18 and 22 are much shorter and run along the most beautiful streets in the city centre. Normal passes on these three lines do not work, a ticket must be bought from the driver and in cash.
Palácio da Bolsa in Porto
This Palace is a masterpiece of neoclassical style, built in 1891. Dozens of artists have worked on its interior. Each room is made in an original style and they are all designed to show the wealth and power of Porto, the city of rich merchants and winemakers. The Arab room dazzles with its gold sequins and arabesques, the walls of the courtyard are decorated with the coat of arms with which Porto traded, and the gold room and the assembly hall are decorated with frescoes, sculptures and gold leaf. The price of the ticket is 8 euros full price, 4.5 euros discount for students and pensioners.
Church of San Francisco (Igreja Monumento de São Francisco)
The church of San Francisco in the Gothic style with Baroque elements is beautiful both inside and out. The interior is decorated with wooden panels, the walls and dome are covered with frescoes and huge altars are decorated with golden carvings. According to the legend, the gilding of the altars of San Francisco has 370 kg of gold leaf. There are also catacombs, where citizens were buried in the 18th and 19th centuries and which are now open to the public, as well as a museum of ancient painting and furniture. The ticket price for the church, the catacombs and the museum is 4 euros.
Fundação de Serralves Museum of Modern Art
Serralves is one of the largest and most visited museums in Portugal and was built in 1999. On an area of 5000 m², there is an impressive collection of Portuguese and European contemporary art and several temporary exhibitions. The museum building, built by the architect Alvar Vieira, is an interesting example of modern architecture. The museum is surrounded by a large garden decorated with sculptures by Graham and Serra. The garden often hosts exhibitions of artists, sculptors and designers. Entrance fee: 10 euros full price, 5 euros discount for students and pensioners.
Visit the region of Porto in 5 must-see places
Aveiro is located 74 km south of Porto, nicknamed the “Portuguese Venice” because of the dozens of canals where the painted boats of “Moliceiro” sail. The fishermen’s houses overlooking the canals are painted in all the colours of the rainbow, palm trees grow on the banks, and in the town centre there is the Monastery of Jesus (Convento de Jesus), the Chapel of Senhor das Barrocas and the Church of Mercy (Igreja da Misericórdia), whose interior is decorated with beautiful wood carvings.
Costa Nova do Prado
Costa Nova est une station balnéaire située à 84 km de Porto et à 11 km d’Aveiro, connue pour ses excellentes plages, ses dunes de sable, ses plages de surf et ses lodges de pêche. Toutes les maisons sont peintes en bandes horizontales et verticales, et les habitants affirment que la couleur de chaque maison est unique. Vous trouverez également à Costa Nova des boutiques d’excellents plats en céramique à des prix très accessibles.
The Douro Valley is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It can be reached by train, car and even by one of the boats that leave Porto in the morning and return in the evening. The valley is covered with hills where vines, fig and lemon trees grow. It is here that the wine farms and cellars with the best wine in the world can be found.
Guimaraes is a beautiful medieval town located 50 km northwest of Porto. In the historical centre of the town there are cheap restaurants, medieval houses and old fortresses. The Ducal Palace houses an excellent collection of 15th century tapestries and furniture. The best view of the city opens from the cable car cabin, which leads from the city to the Peña hill.
Braga is located 50 kilometres from Porto and is considered the religious capital of Portugal. The city has an 11th century cathedral, medieval houses, palaces, a museum with a large collection of old household objects, as well as a museum of the artist Henrique Medina. 6 kilometres from the city is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Portugal, the Bom Jesus do Monte, with an amazing staircase that leads to the top of the hill.