In case you didn’t already know, Porto is considered another symbolic capital of Portugal (Lisbon being the actual capital). Porto is like the ‘King in the North’ of the country, if you will. It’s a magical city with 1.7M inhabitants, and unique history!
Up until the 6th century, the city was named Portus Cale, and many civilizations have passed through it, like for example the Visigoths, Arabs or the ancient Spanish empire. Porto has seen periods of great splendor, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the city became one of the main commercial links between Europe and the New Continent.
Porto’s contemporary history presents the story of one of Europe’s most progressive cities, and the birthplace of philosophers, poets, and artists who initiated the revolution against the absolutist monarchy in the 19th century.
Porto today is a city that combines tradition with everything modern, and transformation collides with its rooted authenticity. Porto prides itself on its air of nostalgia and romanticism, and all this is just a small part of why it is a must for any avid traveler.
That’s quite enough on the history front!! Let’s get down to business. Drum roll please, trumpets even… Instead of the usual what to visit in Porto, top things to see kind of post, we present to you here 40 reasons that make Porto an unmissable destination!!
1. Luis I Bridge
Barcelona has the Sagrada Familia, New York has the Empire State Building, and Porto has the Luis I Bridge! This symbolic architectural landmark serves as an ideal example
of the 19th-century industrial style that Porto boasted. This colossal bridge was inaugurated in 1886. It connects Porto with its neighboring city Vila Nova de Gaia. It was designed by the Société de Willebroeck, AND one of the engineers who took on the project, Téophile Seyrig, was a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. IMPRESSIVE, hey?
This is Porto’s most typical dish and something you HAVE to try if your eyes can be bigger than your belly. Almost every single restaurant in Porto offers its own twist on the francesinha. The most traditional way to prepare this special sandwich is by putting sausage filling (linguiça), bacon, sometimes ham and chorizo, or veal fillet between two slices of white loaf. Add melted cheese and a fried egg to this meaty mixture and voilà. The most popular place to try this delicacy, it’s recommended in all the guide books, is Café Santiago (R. Passos Manuel 226).
3. Lello Bookstore
A Porto classic! Livraria Lello was the inspiration that J.K. Rowling used to come up with the design of the world’s most famous magical boarding school: Hogwarts! Rowling was a professor at the University of Porto, and the city’s great influence in the magical world of Harry Potter is quite clear. Even though a large number of Muggle visitors stroll through this magnificent store every day, it is well worth the visit!
4. The 6 bridges cruise
What’s special about Porto is that the city begins and runs along the Douro river. So it’s really no wonder why the most popular activity (which we organize at Cats Hostel Porto FYI) is the famous 6 Bridges river cruise that runs along the course of the Duoro, winding below the mythical six bridges that define the landscape of the city. You’ll enjoy these spectacular views on board a Rabelo, a traditional boat used to transport Porto’s wine vats.
5. Winery tours:
Just in case you missed this important detail: Porto is actually one of the world’s most important cities for WINE. The wine cellars scattered along the banks of Vila Nova de Gaia are home to the noble, tasty art of vino. Visiting these temples with their multiple port wine tastings and shows, will for sure leave you in a state of giggly joy and blushing cheeks.
6. Porto Cathedral:
Right beside Cats Hostel Porto, nestled in the vibrant Batalha neighbourhood, stands the city’s most important religious monument. The majestic Sé do Porto and its cloister date back to the 12th century. This Cathedral was labeled Portugal’s National Monument.
7. FC Porto:
What to visit in Porto if you are a soccer fan? Dragão Stadium, naturally. One of the most impressive on the continent. Did you know the city is home to one of Europe’s biggest soccer clubs? Yup, FC Porto is the most internationally successful Portuguese club with two Champions League titles under its belt! Just learn to say: Força Porto! Força Dragões!
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
8. Torre dos Clérigos:
Besides being one of the city’s most emblematic monuments, the Clérigos Church tower it is one of the best places to take in Oporto in all its glory, especially at sunset. The first stone of this beautiful baroque building, designed by the architect Nicolau Nasoni, was laid in 1732. Cats Hostel Porto’s guided tours will provide you with millions of interesting facts about this unique construction!
9. Crystal Palace Gardens
Kinda like the Eiffel Tower or the Atomium, the venue of the 1860 International Exposition in Porto left behind a spectacular space for future visitors to promenade through. We’re of course talking about the Crystal Palace. The original building was dismantled, but its giant and amazing gardens survived! Undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking views of the riverbank.
10. Green wine (Vinho verde)
A special wine that everyone drinks religiously in Porto. It’s the OFFICIAL beverage of the city. If you really want to fit in with the locals you need to wash down Porto’s delicious food with a glass of this sweet chilled white wine, made specifically in the country’s north-east Entre Douro e Minho region. Be careful though! It’s so tasty you may have a glass too many (Now wouldn’t that be a shame..!)
11. Gaia cable car:
Tourist attraction+mode of transport: a winning combination. Porto’s steep slopes are notorious, so you might wanna consider a few other options to move around the city or visit the neighboring city Vila Nova de Gaia. The cable car is always a WINNER!
12. Seralves Museum:
It’s difficult to choose what to visit in Porto during your stay, but for every art lover, this is an unmissable one. Surrounded by its impressive French-style gardens, the Fundação Serralves (Seralves Foundation) is Portugal’s main contemporary art museum. Prepare to marvel at this stunning institute’s Art Deco architecture and stunning exhibits. Afterward make sure you go for a romantic stroll through its green gardens, losing yourselves in the beauty of its flowers like an artist in awe of their muse!
13. Porto’s Ribeira:
If you are wondering what to visit in Porto first, this is our pick: the Ribeira! The true spirit of Porto. The winding streets flow into the banks of the Douro, taken over by moss, dew, and mist, and dotted with small houses of all different colors and wacky styles. It’s well worth getting lost in this labyrinth, enjoying every corner and their narrow streets, and breathing in the real Porto. Always a good idea to stop at the Plaza de Ribeira to recharge your batteries and take in the authentic atmosphere.
14. Bolhão Market:
Hidden among the modern buildings in the center of Porto you will come across this emblematic market place. It’s absolutely HUGE. The Bolhão market is the essence of this ancient city, and dates back to 1914. With its air of nostalgia and authenticity, it’s made up of loads of little stalls filled with all kinds of tempting merchandise. You can buy flowers, fruit, meat, and fish, as well as little souvenirs to take home from your trip
15. Café Majestic:
About as imperial as they come, this café takes us on a journey back in time to 1921, when the city was in its greatest moment of splendor. Porto’s great artistic personalities gathered here to debate and create. Café Majestic is located in the most famous shopping street in Porto, Santa Catarina and in 2011 was named one of the most beautiful cafés in the world.
16. Nata cakes:
Porto’s take on the custard tart. Much like the pastéis de Belem from the capital Lisbon, these creamy cakes are the most typical pastries to try in the city. The best place to munch on this sweet treat is probably Fábrica de Nata, on Santa Catarina street.
17. Porto Music House:
Probably the most recognizable and modern building in all of Porto. The Casa da Música is an architectural prodigy of the Dutchman Rem Koolhaas and is currently the auditorium where the Porto National Orchestra performs. The project was completed in 2005 and its cubic shape soon became an icon of the city.
18. Casa Guedes:
Hands down THE most famous tavern in the city. Determined to stick to its original and traditional style, Casa Guedes stands out for not ever adapting to new trends. Visitors notice the ‘old man’ spirit of this humble bar and fall in love with its Pernil sandwich. The menu is so simple that it wins you over for being so wholesome: the delicious pork sandwich with melted cheese and green wine. The waiter doesn’t seem to mind that EVERYONE tries it, has it again and again and never wants to try anything else!!
19. Soares dos Reis National Museum:
It’s the oldest museum in Portugal and holds pieces almost entirely made by Portuguese authors, mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries. Its name comes from the famous sculptor António Soares dos Reis. The museum has more than 13,000 art pieces, of which 3,000 are paintings.
20. Guimarães and Braga:
Planning a day trip? You should head to two of the country’s most amazing historical sites (both are doable in one day). Guimarães is a spectacular ancient city located 50km northwest of Oporto. The Palace of Bragança and its historic center will remind you of the backdrop for a medieval story. Braga, one of the country’s more religious locations, has an overwhelmingly beautiful 12th-century cathedral.
21. Galeria de Paris restaurant
The rarest of sights in this city full of surprises. Located in the chicest neighborhood in Porto, Galeria de Paris is a bizarre pub-restaurant from the early 20th century. It’s COMPLETELY full of toys from all periods and has become a tourist attraction. If you’re lucky enough to catch the live music performances you’ll enjoy the place’s peculiar, fun and unique atmosphere.
22. Vitória Lookout
A small, secluded and semi-abandoned area from which you can enjoy the best panoramic view of Porto in all its glory. The lookout is located at the end of Rua de São Bento da Vitória, near the Portuguese Center of Photography (also highly recommended).
23. Stock Exchange Palace
The Palácio da Bolsa currently serves as the headquarters of the Porto Trade Association. If you have an eye for beauty, you’re in for a treat. This Neoclassical building was inaugurated in 1891, and hidden inside are some of the most impressive spaces in the entire country (so it’s obviously a National Monument). If you still don´t know what to visit in Porto that worth your money, this is the place: it’s huge central courtyard, the Golden Room or the Arab Room, inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, will make it worth it for sure!
Walking along the riverbank you will stumble upon one of the most recommended restaurants in Porto. The taste of its bacalhao grelhado or its biscuit dessert (bolacha) will make your tummy (and your pockets) sing with glee! Read our post for more tips of where to dine in Porto.
25. São Mamede Art Gallery
This is where modernity meets tradition in this ancient city. This contemporary art gallery sets the aesthetic trend in Porto. Abstract paintings, conceptual photography and surrealist sculptures all come together in this artistic haven for those lovers of the most avant-garde art.
Credit: Facebook Sao Mamede Gallery Facebook
26. São Bento Railway Station
São Bento station was built in the late 19th century. Its façade is classic and monumental, but the real jewel is locked inside: a massive vestibule lined with more than 20,000 Portuguese style tiles. How Porto is that?
27. Vandoma Flea Market:
Another classic plan to pencil into your stay in Porto! Make sure you’re in the city on a weekend, because this flea market is on from 08:00 until 13:00 in the Fontainhas area every Saturday. It started out in the 70s when some students got together to sell their belongings, such as books and uniforms. Today you can find absolutely anything among the many many stalls. Keep your eye out for any small treasures!
28. Casa dos Pregos:
Tripeiros always give the best advice on what to visit in Porto, and guess where they go? To Casa dos Pregos!! It’s a well known little spot on Porto’s food map. And what is a Prego, you ask? Well, you’re in for a treat! It’s a classic baguette filled with beef and melted cheese! Just like the pernil sandwich we mentioned earlier, this dish has become an all-time classic. And as always… yep, that’s right! It should be washed down with some vinho verde wine!
29. Gare Club:
Let’s get down to it! Time for a little party in Porto! Gare is the city’s most well known electronic club. It’s located right next to the São Bento train station. A real temple of techno… This club boasts an alternative music feel and a more underground culture. More about clubs in our post of Porto nightlife
30. Tiles Galore:
If one thing really makes Porto stand out, it would be the city’s millions of TILES. They’re everywhere. Many churches, houses, and institutions are covered with these white and blue slates. The Chapel of Souls, the Church of Carmen or the Church of San Ildefonso, are very good references of this endearing style.
31. Santa Catarina Street
Without a shadow of a doubt, this is Porto’s busiest shopping street. It’s the city’s main high street and is perfect for picking up a few needed things! All the big and known stores have a windowfront on this vibrant street. Get your pockets ready, and shop till ya drop!
This typical style of Portuguese music can be heard anywhere in the nostalgic ambiance that Porto is known and loved for. There are many places in the city that showcase this classic art. Top tip: try to avoid the most touristy ones. A good example of how to achieve the authentic experience is visiting any of the places we recommend in our post of the Best fado in Porto.
33. Passeio dos Clérigos:
The Passeio dos Clérigos mall is such a modern design, right in the heart of Porto. It represents yet another new urban statement, helping to give the city its distinguished and heterogeneous character that we all learn to love.
34. Liberdade Square:
Whether you mean to or not, you will most likely stumble upon the Plaza da Liberdade many times during your time in Porto. The central plaza is a huge esplanade holding many of the city’s institutions. It’s typically used as a meeting point for groups and friends. You’ll be blown away by the sheer size of it!
Only a stone’s throw away from Porto (ok, an hour and a half away!), Coimbra is one of Portugal’s most fascinating and jawdropping locations. The huge University of Coimbra welcomes you into the city, but there’s a lot more heritage to discover. There’s usually some kind of student celebration going on, like la Queima das Fitas (May), when classmates get together to party for the end of the school year!
Aveiro is a small coastal town, and the perfect backdrop for your Instagram photos! Its colorful houses, countless architectural styles, and several canals are only 45 minutes away from Porto. If that weren’t enough, its real white sand beaches make this city one of the most beautiful places in the country. If you want to know more about the beaches in Porto you should read our post: Porto beaches.
37. Le Brunch Parisien:
The brunch tradition has made its way to Porto. The city is already home to several hipster-ish restaurants specializing in brunch goodies. Le Brunch Parisien, located in Santa Catarina, has become a well-known choice. Quiet, elegant, tasty and inexpensive… What could be better?
38. Fernandina Wall:
This is the name given to Porto’s stunning medieval walls. They were built in the 14th century, during the reign of Don Fernando, to perimeter the city’s expansion at the time. At present, only a few small sections remain, but it gives us an idea of the sheer size of the capital that Porto once was.
39. Tapabento restaurant:
Riiiiight next to your favorite hostel (Cats, naturally), in the wonderful Batalha neighborhood, stands one of Porto’s most exquisite culinary alternatives. Papabentos has made a real effort over the years to come up with a menu that will knock your socks off: variety, creativity, and quality… all at a very reasonable price. Don’t miss out on the dessert of all desserts: Tapabento’s special peanut butter foam! Yum!
40. Tendinha dos Clérigos Club:
This club is a guarantee for a good night! Wanna rock out to some late-night guitar tunes in Porto? You’ve come to the right place indeed. Seriously, could there be anything better than some Rock music, cool people and a few drinks to finish off the night? It’s the perfect plan!! For more information about what to visit in Porto at night, let the Cats Hostel Insiders (aka, our receptionists) to guide you on this. Come to the hostel for some first-hand information and design your perfect night out!
Credit: Facebook Tendinha Dos Clérigos