Porto was the final destination of our two-week sojourn in Portugal. By the time we were done seeing the city, we were in unison that we had saved the best for last. Porto was for Jacky and me, the most beautiful city in the country. While one day in Porto is not enough time to explore everything the city has to offer, you will still have plenty of time to see and experience some of the best things to do in Porto. Make the most of your 24 hours in Porto with our itinerary 🙂
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Table of Contents
Why You Should Visit Porto
Porto is world-famous among wine connoisseurs for its port wine but it’s far more than just a wine mecca. Opulent Baroque churches, wonderfully tiled Neoclassical buildings, medieval walls, picturesque squares, substantial museums, and the lovely UNESCO World Heritage Ribeira district all add to Porto’s grandeur.
Unlike the crowds of Lisbon or the kitsch of the Algarve, Porto feels like traditional Portugal at its finest and is one of the most romantic cities in the world. In recent times, the city has taken off as a center of the arts, fashion, and nightlife. Portugal’s second city has a special charm, and it’s no surprise that tourist numbers have been on the rise of late, so better get there soon.
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How to Get Around During Your One Day in Porto
Although Porto sprawls across eleven kilometers from the coast, most of the best things to see in Porto lie within the compact and very hilly center. Ideally, the best way to see Porto and discover its many hidden gems is on foot. While the center might not be the most pedestrian-friendly area, you will truly appreciate its charm by walking. Some parts of the Ribeira have a steep hilly terrain which can make walking strenuous, especially if you have weak knees or foot problems.
A large chunk of Porto’s sidewalks are made out of easily damaged basalt cobblestone meaning there are numerous cracks along the way. It would be optimum to stick with a comfortable pair of flat shoes rather than heels as they can get stuck in the pavement.
Most of the attractions that we’ve included in this ‘24 hours in Porto’ itinerary can be easily covered by walking. However, if you are feeling jaded or to reach some of the outer lying sights, you should make use of the Porto public transport which consists of a network of the metro, buses, trolleys, and trams. Buses will be most useful since other than for the ride from the airport, or for the trip up the coast, the metro isn’t particularly useful for sightseeing in Porto.
A 24-hour ticket costs 7 EUR (not valid on trams and funiculars) while a single ticket costs 2 EUR and can be purchased on board. For more information, you can check the local transport authority website. Otherwise, taxis are pretty reasonable, although they are considerably pricier than public transport.
Is the Porto Card Worth It For One Day?
When spending one day in Porto, I would recommend buying the Porto Card, especially if you plan on seeing all the sights we’ve listed in our itinerary. The 24-hour Porto Card costs 13 EUR and offers free unlimited access on public transport and free or discounted entry to some other attractions. For the sights that we’ve included in our itinerary, the Porto Card only offers discounts. The Porto Card is certainly worth it if you’re spending more time in the region.
Your One Day in Porto Itinerary
For this one day in Porto itinerary, I have included nearly all the major attractions in the city. For your convenience, this post includes a free map which highlights the main points of interest in Porto for one day. You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map.
Of course, everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below I have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Porto over the course of one day:
- Explore the Ribeira
- Dom Luis I Bridge
- Porto Cathedral
- Palácio da Bolsa
- Church of Sao Francisco
- Climb the Clerigos Tower
- Check-out the Gorgeous Lello Bookstore
- Avenida dos Aliados
- Relax at the Gardens of Palácio de Cristal
- Admire the Azulejos
- Sao Bento Train Station
- Sample Port Wine in Vila Nova de Gaia
- Feast on Some Local Delicacies for Dinner
1. Explore the Ribeira
A perfect place to start your one day in Porto is in the Ribeira, the city’s most vivid and touristy locale and is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Porto. Porto’s riverside district is an enticing maze of steep, constricted streets and zigzagging alleyways. Old arcades are dotted along the Ribeira promenade, and behind them are the dilapidated, multi-colored facades of rickety houses dating from the middle ages.
Ribeira’s steep, narrow streets and balconied houses cling to each other and to the vertiginous hillside, evocative of Lisbon’s Alfama district. The laundry strewn from the balconies and musty old-fashioned shops lend an authentic southern European feel here and reminded me of Naples.
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I swear that the pastel houses here seem as though they are stacked like LEGO bricks. So rare and precious are the structures that comprise this revered neighborhood that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1996. It’s no surprise that when you google Porto for images, you’re more likely to come across pictures of the Ribeira than any other district of Porto.
A cornucopia of restaurants and cafes along the quayside makes this a popular spot for socializing. Locals flock here for the low-cost tascas (taverns) and seafood restaurants. The pier also provides the most straightforward access to the lower level of Porto’s most iconic bridge, the Ponte Dom Luis I.
Take a stroll along the Cais da Ribeira waterfront and soak up the aura of this magical place. Strolling around the warren of streets in the Ribeira was definitely one of our favorite things to do in Porto and we often reminisce about our time there.
2. Dom Luis I Bridge
The majestic Dom Luis I Bridge (Ponte de Dom Luís I) is one of the major points of interest in Porto and also one of the most widely recognized structures in Portugal. It is the middle of the trio of bridges over the River Douro to link Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia on the south bank. The bridge was built in 1886 by an assistant of Gustav Eiffel’s and the heavily riveted ironwork is indeed a testament to him.
A road runs across the lower deck while the upper deck lodges a metro line. From here the Ribeira forms a stunning backdrop and the vista is best seen at dusk. Remember to take your tripod as the view from here is breathtaking!
Porto is an industrial city and the city pulsates with a sense of industriousness. This reputation has given birth to the well-known Portuguese maxim: “Coimbra studies, Braga prays, Lisbon shows off and Porto works.”
3. Porto Cathedral
The Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) is the city’s chief religious building. It is a formidable 12th-century landmark that seems more like a fortress due to the dim hue of its exterior and grim towers. The cathedral still preserves vestiges of the primitive Romanesque building. It underwent modifications in the 18th century and has a lovely looking rose window.
The interior of the cathedral is an interesting amalgam of Baroque, and Gothic architecture coupled with the original Romanesque and seems a tad somber. The spartan Gothic cloister is tastefully decorated with azulejos (tiles) depicting events from the Song of Solomon. The cathedral’s main chapel is Baroque in style and features an attractive loggia. I really liked the twisted columns that flank the massive gilded altar.
The Porto Cathedral is open daily from 09:00–12:30 and 14:30–19:00 (April–October) and 09:00–12:30 and 14:30–18:00 (November–March). The entrance costs 3 EUR.
4. Palácio da Bolsa
Palácio da Bolsa was one of my favorite things to see in Porto. Porto’s former stock exchange is a grand 19th-century edifice with a vast Neoclassical facade and is one of the city’s most impressive historical buildings. Its richly decorated halls are a testament to the economic might of Porto during the Industrial Revolution and the booming port wine trade. You’ll see massive staircases, a library, a domed “hall of nations” (where stocks were formerly traded), and an intricately paneled portrait gallery which is exquisitely decorated in Louis XVI style.
Neoclassicism also incorporated hints of Gothic and Baroque art, but most of all, Islamic, which reached its zenith in the Arab Hall (Salão Árabe) of the Palácio da Bolsa. This oval-shaped hall is a pastiche of the Alhambra in Grenada. Some people may find this room rather gaudy, but the exuberant Moorish decorations are simply magnificent! Even Scheherazade from the Arabian Nights would have been proud of its blue and gold arabesques and the stained-glass windows.
Access to the interiors of the Palácio da Bolsa is only possible through a guided tour (offered every 30 minutes) that lasts for approximately 45 minutes. Admission is 10 EUR. You can check the opening hours here.
5. Church of Sao Francisco
Porto is chock full of churches but perhaps no single one stands out like the Church of Sao Francisco (Igreja de São Francisco). Like the Porto Cathedral, the Church of Sao Francisco is an amalgam of architectural styles. It is Porto’s foremost Gothic monument but also incorporates elements of Baroque. Lovers of religious artifacts will discover a number of special ornaments in this church.
The relatively bleak Gothic exterior belies the jaw-dropping interior. The high altar, pillars, even the ceiling, drip with over 200 kilograms of gilded Rococo carvings, reaching their apotheosis in an interpretation of the Tree of Jesse on the north wall. I really liked the baroque carvings that are omnipresent here: you see cherubs, saints, animals, and flowers on the ceilings, in the aisles, on the windows, and on the pillars. Due to these abundant carvings, often inlaid with gold leaf, the original building is almost hidden from view.
The Church of Sao Francisco is open daily from 09:00–20:00 (July–September); 09:00–19:00 (March–October), and 09:00–17:30 (November–February). The entrance is a tad pricey at 7.50 EUR but definitely worth it if you enjoy this sort of thing.
6. Climb the Clerigos Tower
The spindle-shaped Clérigos Tower (Torre de Clérigos) soars above Porto’s skyline and is the city’s most visible landmark. The 18th-century tower is Portugal’s tallest granite landmark rising to 75 meters. It is also home to an exhibition chronicling the history of the tower and its residents.
You’ll require a robust pair of legs to scale the 240 steps to the top of the tower. Unfortunately, at the time Jacky and I weren’t in the best of shape and the steep steps added to our woes. Fortunately, after having huffed and puffed our way to the top of the belfry, we were rewarded with a superlative birds-eye-view of Porto’s hills and the mosaic of terracotta roofs tumbling down to the Douro River.
The entrance to the Clérigos Tower is 5 EUR and it is open daily from 9:00-19:00.
7. Check-out the Gorgeous Lello Bookstore
If you’re ardent devotees of the Harry Potter books like we are, the Lello bookstore (Livraria Lello) is one of the best places to see in Porto. The building’s Neo-Gothic facade is already beautiful, but inside you will be amazed at the Art Nouveau interior. This bookshop has sumptuous interior architecture, exquisite wooden walls, and a stained glass ceiling.
The seemingly endless wrought staircase is one of the most enchanting ones I have seen. No wonder JK Rowling found inspiration from here for the library in the Harry Potter books, which she partly wrote in Porto while working as an English teacher from 1991 to 1993.
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I swear that I could have spent an entire day there just roaming around admiring the interior and perusing the books. The only downside is that around 80 percent of the books here are in Portuguese. For 5 EUR you can obtain a ticket to go inside which can be used as a voucher if you buy anything. Be prepared for hordes of Potter-lovers as it is extremely touristy. The Lello Bookstore is open daily from 09:30-19:00.
8. Avenida dos Aliados
Avenida dos Aliados is a magnificent tree-lined avenue that dominates the city center as it descends the hill towards the Ribeira. Some fine examples of Portuguese architecture can be found here. It is bordered on all sides by prominent and imposing institutions, such as the Câmera Municipal (Town Hall) at its upper end.
The lower end widens to become the Praca de Liberdade, fronted by an equestrian statue of Dom Pedro IV, the founder and the first ruler of the Empire of Brazil. There are many fine shopping boutiques as well as hordes of eclectic eateries lining the avenue.
9. Relax at the Gardens of Palácio de Cristal
If you’re feeling a bit knackered due to pounding the concrete with your feet, a visit to the Gardens of Palácio de Cristal (Jardim do Palácio de Cristal) is the perfect remedy. The resplendent gardens are one of the best things to see in Porto and the verdant lawns are crisscrossed with scenic paths which are dotted with fountains, sculptures, cypress and lime trees.
Don’t forget to take in the lovely river views from high vantage points on the south side of the gardens. It’s no surprise that swathes of locals and tourists flock to picnic in this popular park.
The Gardens of Palácio de Cristal are open daily from 08:00-21:00 (April-September) and 08:00-19:00 (October-March). Free entrance.
10. Admire the Azulejos
One of the best things to do in Porto is to admire the plentiful azulejos (hand-painted glazed ceramic tiles) that bedeck the facades of numerous buildings. Azulejos are an integral part of Portugal’s architectural heritage are ubiquitous in everything from cathedral cupolas to liquor dens. This idea of covering walls, floors and even ceilings with tiles was actually introduced to Portugal by the Moors.
Portugal started producing its own decorative tiles from the 16th century onwards. The use of azulejos has both a decorative function and a more complex practical and architectural role such as helping to regulate indoor climate and temperature in buildings. Azulejos in Portugal represent an exciting dynamic with oblique lines and figurative compositions as well as religious themes and historical events. During our time in Portugal, we both became infatuated with azulejos and sought them actively.
In Porto, azulejos are mostly blue-white and can be found in residential homes, train stations, markets, restaurants, shops, and street signs. The city’s churches are some of the best haunts for witnessing azulejo craftsmanship at its finest. Two of the most instagrammable places in Porto are the Church of Saint Ildefonso (Igreja de Santo Ildefonso) and the ornate Chapel of Souls (Capela das Almas).
Some 11,000 blue-and-white azulejo tiles grace the facade of the Church of Saint Ildefonso, arguably making it the most striking church facade in Porto. The tiles that depict scenes from the Gospels and the life of St. Ildefonso are highly captivating. Similarly, the riotously over-the-top exterior azulejos of the Chapel of Souls make it instantly recognizable. They portray scenes from the lives of numerous saints such as the death of St. Francis and St. Catherine’s martyrdom.
11. Sao Bento Train Station
The Sao Bento Train Station (Estação de São Bento) is Porto’s main station which also happens to be one of the must-see attractions in Porto. The station dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The station’s departure hall is lavishly filled with a beautiful tableau of 20,000 azulejos! Twirl on your heels to marvel at the tiles that represent the history of transport, ethnographic aspects and important events in Portuguese history.
12. Sample Port Wine in Vila Nova de Gaia
Considering that Porto has been the epicenter of Portugal’s port wine trade, it would be injudicious to leave without at least an introduction to one of the world’s finest wines. The history of Porto itself has been largely shaped by this product, and no other city in Portugal is as fond of port wine as Porto.
Cross to the south side of the Douro River, over the Ponte Dom Luís I, into the separate town of Vila Nova de Gaia. While port wine takes its name from the city of Porto, all port wine here actually comes from Vila Nova de Gaia or the “New Town of Gaia”. When the port wine trade developed in the 17th century, it was centered around Vila Nova de Gaia. Port wine was transported from vineyards on the upper Douro to Vila Nova de Gaia, where it was allowed to mature before being exported.
Head to one of the myriad port wine lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia which offer tours and samplings. Some of the best ones are Ramos Pinto, Sandeman and Taylor’s Port. Learn about winemaking, as well as the provenance and characteristics of wine. Guided tours always end with a tasting of one or two wines and an opportunity to buy bottles from the company store. The cellars are massive, stacked to the rafters with huge barrels. I’m by no means a wine buff but even I found the tour enjoyable.
While you’re in Vila Nova de Gaia, you can also marvel at the Rabelo boats moored along the esplanade that traditionally transported barrels of port from the vineyards upstream. With the Ribeira district of Porto providing a romantic backdrop, you will be treated to a postcard-perfect cityscape of Porto reminiscent of the 18th century. It is an unforgettable sight!
13. Feast on Some Local Delicacies for Dinner
If you’re wondering what traditional food to eat to cap off your one day of sightseeing in Porto, Tripas à Moda do Porto should definitely be on the top of your list. It is perhaps the dish that is most synonymous with Porto and is so deeply entrenched in the culture that Porto natives are known as tripeiros (tripe eaters).
Legend goes that when Henry the Navigator was preparing his ships to conquer Ceuta in 1415, the people of Porto donated all their choice meats to feed the sailors to such an extent, that all that was left to eat was tripe. The locals then came up with a concoction that is a casserole of tripe, veal shanks, chicken, ham, smoky sausages, white beans and carrots, all heartily seasoned with spices. OMG, this was so yummy! You can eat this hearty dish at some of the best restaurants in Porto like Adega do Carregal and Abadia.
While we’re on the topic of food you ought to try the francesinha, a famous belly-buster sandwich which needs to be sampled at least once on a visit to Porto. The sandwich is layered with pork, smoked sausage, bacon, a medium-rare beefsteak covered with melted cheese and a peppery tomato-and-beer sauce and finally topped with a fried egg.
If that isn’t enough to get your gastric juices in full flood, then you must be a vegetarian. It is simply delectable and a must for bon vivants! Wash it down with a pint of beer. You can get some of the best francesinha in Porto at Cafe Majestic or Café Santiago F.
Of course, you can always go for dried salted cod (bacalhau), a firm staple of Portuguese cuisine. There are evidently 365 ways to prepare it, one for each day of the year. Some of the best-known ones are bacalhau à brás (composed of salted cod with scrambled eggs, onions, and shoestring potatoes), bacalhau à Conde de Guarda (salt cod creamed with mashed potatoes).
Extending Your Stay
Ideally, we would recommend that you spend at least 2-3 days in Porto. There are many great sights which we had to exclude from our one-day Porto itinerary, such as the Soares dos Reis National Museum, the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, and a Douro River cruise.
Day Trips From Porto
Although Porto is a beautiful city with plenty to explore, it is also worth to explore further. Porto makes the perfect days for several day trips into the lesser-known regions of Portugal. In fact, we have compiled a list of our favorite day trips from Porto as well as an in-depth guide to a day trip to the Douro Valley. Check them out below!
Where to Stay in Porto
The best place to stay in Porto would be in the Ribeira district or in the vicinity of Avenida dos Aliados as many of the star attractions are close by. By staying here you’ll also get to experience Porto at its most vibrant.
Hostel: The Passenger Hostel, a great option inside São Bento train station.
Budget: Moov Hotel Porto Centro, an excellent low budget option just two minutes from São Bento train station.
Mid-range: Ribeira do Porto Hotel, top-notch selection in the heart of the Ribeira.
Splurge: Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel, a superb choice in the Ribeira overlooking the Douro river.
Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? How would you spend one day in Porto? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. Let’s stay in touch!
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