I often get asked about things to do in Porto, especially its ‘must sees’. This intriguing city has such a lot to offer that it’s hard to narrow down the selection but some places definitely make it onto an itinerary for 2 days in Porto.
Ideally, you should allow more than 48 hours in Porto, especially if you want to do any day trips. After all, we’re talking about a UNESCO World Heritage city at the mouth of the River Douro that is famous for producing port wine.Get my tips for where to stay in Porto Check Out The Best Boutique Hotels in Porto
However, if you are trying to fit as much as possible into your time in Portugal, I’ve developed a self-guided walking tour of Porto’s highlights that’s flexible enough to do in just one day, or to split over two days, and gives you a well-rounded selection of the best things to do in Porto. You’ll find full details of most of these sights, including addresses, opening times, etc. in the tour documentation.
Read on for a summary of key Porto attractions, whether you choose to use my Porto itinerary or not.
Note: If you’d prefer to visit Porto as part of a fully managed itinerary that includes guided tours of Porto, take a look at these core Portugal itineraries that I’ve designed.
Porto, an ever-changing blend of ancient and modern
Like any ancient city, Porto has plenty of variety and is constantly changing. You’ll encounter traditional grocery stores with drawers of nuts and spices that are weighed at the counter within spitting distance of gourmet and concept stores and designer urban outfitters.
Similarly, eateries range from no-frills family-run tascas where the day’s menu is scrawled on a paper tablecloth stuck on the door to specialist cafés, gourmet markets and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Note: If you’re into learning about Portuguese food and drink, take a look at this Porto food tour.
Best views in Porto
Porto offers many outstanding views, including the ones from the cathedral terrace, Dom Luís I bridge, Serra do Pilar Monastery and Clérigos Tower, which offers 360º views.
You’ll find more information in this post about Porto’s best viewpoints.
Best architecture in Porto
The city’s architecture spans millennia with traces of Roman dwellings, plenty of medieval houses and monuments as well as Baroque buildings, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and innovative contemporary designs.
Porto Cathedral features Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles although you only see the full range of these if you pay the €3 to enter the cloisters. It’s worth it, in my opinion, just to see the Gothic cloisters and the tiled panels, although it contains other treasures.
Serra do Pilar Monastery is one of my favourite Porto monuments. It has a unique circular church and cloisters and an intriguing connection with the military that makes it well worth paying the small entrance fee to discover. It’s hilltop location offers incredible views of the river, the colourful jumble of buildings in the riverside Ribeira district and the rows of port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.
The Palácio da Bolsa is far more impressive inside than out. It was built in the 19th century as the city’s Stock Exchange and never a finer temple to finance has there been, I’m sure. The interior architectural features, which you will learn about on the guided tour, are exquisitely and skillfully executed. The golden Arab Room certainly has the wow factor.
Igreja de São Francisco is very close to Palácio da Bolsa and is an extreme example of gold decor, a far cry from the original Franciscan simplicity. The catacombs are a chilling place to escape from the summer heat or a rainy day.
Best gardens in Porto
My first of my favourite green spaces are the Jardins do Palácio Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens). They don’t look like much until you get around the other side of the domed sports pavilion.
Once there, you’ll be able to explore various terraces, sculptures and ponds while admiring the views across the river.
The other top spot in the city centre is Jardim do Cordoaria, where the rope makers used to ply their trade. I love it for the hilarious sculptures and weird bulbous trees.
You should have time to visit both of these gardens in 2 days.
Best museums and art galleries in Porto
The best known of the two major art galleries in Porto is the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum. The grounds are as interesting as the regularly changing exhibitions in the main galleries, one of which is in an Art Deco house, the other in a sleek modern building.
Note: You need to allow half a day to get to and make the most of visiting Serralves so unless you have at least 2 days in Porto or a particularly strong interest in what Serralves has to offer, you may want to focus on more central sights.
Closer to the city centre, the Soares dos Reis Museum is named after an extremely talented sculptor who studied here when the building, a former palace, was the School of Fine Arts. As well as some of his finest marble sculptures, the museum has a wide range of paintings, furniture, glassware and ceramics and can easily take up 2 hours of your time.
For independent contemporary galleries, the best place to head for is the Rua Miguel Bombarda Arts District, which includes the connecting streets. My favourite is Ó! Galeria, which specialises in illustrations. You’ll also find plenty of design and concept stores in this part of the city.
As well as the art galleries, there are a few museums worth visiting. Casa do Infante is the medieval building where Prince Henry the Navigator (one of Portugal’s key figures during the Age of Discovery) was born. You can find out about his explorations and adventures in the museum and discover traces of Porto’s Roman past and the building’s time as a customs house and mint.
I really wouldn’t waste time at the Port Wine Museum though – go to one of the port wine cellars for a more enjoyable experience (see below).Get my tips for where to stay in Porto
Where to see azulejos in Porto
Some of Portugal’s most impressive azulejo panels (hand painted tiles) are proudly on display on the interior and exterior of Porto’s buildings.
São Bento train station has to be on your Porto itinerary, even if you’re not using it to travel anywhere. In the early 20th century, the walls of the entrance hall were clad with over 20,000 azulejos painted with scenes of significant moments from Portugal’s rich history.
Porto’s churches like to wear their tiles on the outside. Igreja do Carmo is one of the best examples, as is the Capela das Almas near Bolhão market.
Port wine tasting
Any trip to Porto should include time in Vila Nova de Gaia, where you’ll find a selection of port wine establishments. Go on a cellar tour to learn about the port wine production process before tasting white, tawny and ruby ports.
Each port wine house offers a different experience, as you’ll see here: Port Wine Tasting: A Traditional And A Modern Approach
You probably don’t need to do more than one cellar tour but there’s no reason not to do tastings at different venues. Here are just a few of the main players:
Espaço Porto Cruz has a rooftop bar and offers tastings and informative videos but no cellar tour.
Calem offers cellar tours and tastings and a special fado performance during evening tours.
Taylors has a great audio guided tour that teaches you every step of the port wine production process and, because it’s self-guided, you can skip bits that don’t interest you that much.
Kopke only offers a tasting room but their wine list is impressive. I tried a 10-year old white port that was divine.
As I said, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Porto but if even you’re short on time, you can see the best bits in a logical order and learn about the city’s history with my walking itinerary.
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