Porto was the final destination of our two-week sojourn through 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 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. 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 tourist numbers have been on the rise of late, so better get there soon.
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Porto in One Day Itinerary
Nearly all the attractions we’ve included are within a comfortable walking distance of each other. Some parts of the Ribeira have a steep hilly terrain which can make walking strenuous, especially if you have weak knees or foot problems. We recommend not taking public transport or taxis as you will miss out on all the best Porto has to offer. On this one day in Porto you’ll see:
- Dom Luis I Bridge
- Porto Cathedral
- Palácio da Bolsa
- Church of Sao Francisco
- Clerigos Tower
- Lello Bookstore
- Avenida dos Aliados
- Portuguese Azulejos
- Sao Bento Train Station
- Wine Tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia
- Traditional Portuguese Food
Porto’s riverside district is an enticing maze of steep, constricted streets and zigzagging alleyways. The Ribeira is the city’s most vivid and touristy locale. 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. So rare and precious are the structures that comprise this revered neighborhood that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1996.
A cornucopia of restaurants and cafes along the quay make this a popular spot for socializing. Take a stroll along the Cais da Ribeira waterfront and soak up the aura of this magical place. The pier also provides the most straightforward access to the lower level of Porto’s most iconic bridge, the Ponte Dom Luis I. I personally loved the Ribeira more than any other place in Portugal. The Ribeira easily tops the list of my personal list of must-see attractions in Porto!
2. Dom Luis I Bridge
The majestic Dom Luis I bridge (Ponte de Dom Luís I) is one of the most widely recognized structures in Portugal. It spans the Douro river 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!
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 and Baroque cloisters with blue azulejo tiles.
Opening hours are April – October: 9:00 – 12:30 and 14:30 – 19:00 and November – March: 9:00 – 12:30 and 14:30 – 18:00. Entrance is free.
4. Palácio da Bolsa
The Palacio da Bolsa is Porto’s former stock exchange which is one of the city’s most impressive historical buildings. It dates back to the 19th century and its richly decorated halls are a testament to the economic might of Porto during the Industrial Revolution. On the first floor hang paintings of Portuguese kings. This portrait gallery is exquisitely decorated in Louis XVI style.
The vow factor in the Palacio da Bolsa is definitely the Arab Hall (Salão Árabe), that is a pastiche of the Alhambra in Grenada. Some people will find this room rather gaudy, but the exuberant Moorish decorations are simply magnificent! Access to the interiors is only possible through a guided (every 30 minutes). Admission is 9 EUR. You can check the opening hours here.
5. Church of Sao Francisco
Like the Porto Cathedral, the Church of Sao Francisco (Igreja de São Francisco) is an amalgamation of architectural styles. Originally it was a Gothic church which can still be clearly seen at the back, but later parts in baroque style were changed, such as the front porch and the interior. Lovers of religious sights will discover a number of special ornaments in this church.
I really liked the baroque carvings that are omnipresent here: you see cherubs, saints, animals, and flowers on the ceilings, in the aisles, along the windows, and on the pillars. Due to these abundant carvings, often inlaid with gold leaf, the original building is almost hidden from view. Opening hours are November – February: 9:00 – 17:30, March – October: 9:00 – 19:00, and July – September: 9:00 – 20:00. Entrance is 4 EUR.
6. Clerigos Tower
The spindle-shaped Clerigos Tower (Torre de Clérigos) soars above Porto’s skyline and is the city’s most visible landmark. It rises 75 meters so 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. Consequently, we were bushed by the time we made it up to the top. From here you can get a birds-eye-view of the city’s hills and red roofs which is quite impressive.
The entrance to the tower is 3 EUR and it is open daily from 9:00-19:00.
7. Lello Bookstore
If you’re ardent devotees of the Harry Potter books like we are, a visit to the Lello bookstore is a must while you’re in Porto. The 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 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 world.
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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 9:30-19:00.
8. Avenida dos Aliados
Avenida dos Aliados is a magnificent tree-lined avenue 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 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. Admire the Azulejos
Porto is one best places to see azulejos (hand-painted glazed ceramic tiles). 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.
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, such as the Church of Saint Ildefonso (Igreja de Santo Ildefonso) and the ornate Chapel of Souls (Capela das Almas).
10. Sao Bento Train Station
The São Bento train station is Porto’s main station and is one of Porto’s major tourist attractions. 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.
11. Wine Tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia
Considering Porto is the epicenter of Portugal’s port production, it would be injudicious to leave without at least an introduction to one of the world’s finest wines. 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 and for most of the history of Port Wine, it has only been legally possible to sell it from Vila Nova de Gaia.
Head to one of the myriad port wine lodges just across the Douro river 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. 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 an atmospheric cityscape reminiscent of the 18th century. It is awesome!
12. Feast on Some Local Delicacies
Perhaps the dish that is most synonymous with Porto is Tripas à Moda do Porto. It 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 in 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 have it in traditional Portuguese restaurants like Restaurante Tripeiro or Adega do Carregal.
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, topped off with a medium-rare beefsteak, and finally, it is topped with a fried egg and covered in a thick coat of cheese sauce. It is served hot with a crimson dark sauce. 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’ s at Cafe Majestic or Café Santiago F.
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 tour, such as the Soares dos Reis National Museum, the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, and the 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, great option inside São Bento train station.
Budget: Moov Hotel Porto Centro, 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!