What was once the center of the port wine trade has blossomed into a city that fuses its old world charm with its contemporary history. Porto offers plenty for its visitors, from avant-garde architecture to beautiful Portuguese tiles that line each street, laid-back vibes from the locals, and fresh cod dinners and drinks on the riverbank.
Porto has a melancholic air but also excellent modern architecture – it is the city of Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura. Ribeira is the most seductive neighborhood of the city, with its colorful houses nestled under the iron bridge of Dom Luis I.
Why you should visit Porto?
Ever since the 1st century BC, Porto has been an enclave desired by Romans, Germans, Visigoths, Muslims… and the list goes on. Different civilizations have valued its attractiveness, and thanks to this, Porto has accumulated a unique cultural wealth. It’s no wonder why its historic center is a treasured UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to Do & See in Porto
Porto is often seen as Lisbon’s charismatic, if albeit quiet, sister and is best explored on foot. Here are a few of the best recommendations on what to see in Porto to start:
1. Downtown Porto – Although Portugal has 17 places inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, we think downtown Porto is one of the most spectacular. With its characteristic windows, old trams, and beautiful churches covered with tiles, downtown Porto is a pure delight for both visitors and locals. However, downtown Porto’s magnetism doesn’t lie only in its personality, architecture, or the unevenness of its layout. It is something that is noticeable, an imprint that time has carved in the air and made it dense and expressive. Just stroll through the old town and pay attention to the houses to understand this aura. Don’t be fooled by their decadence: what may seem old and abandoned reveals valuable and intricate details
2. Azulejos everywhere in the tiled city: The historic buildings of Porto are a true tribute to the art of the ceramic. There are many colors of azulejo tiles, the most common being the classical blue and white. It’s especially important to note the beautiful naturalness of these handmade pieces, as machines can never replace artisanal craftsmanship. The habit of covering a building’s facade with tiles dates back to the reign of Manuel I of Portugal, who brought them from Seville in the 15th century. Some great examples include São-Bento Station, which deserves a special mention thanks to the historical images in blue and white tiles that adorn the walls; and the Gothic cloister of Sé do Porto Cathedral.
3. Serra do Pilar’s Viewpoint is our recommended spot to have the best view over Porto. Set in a privileged spot next to the Serra do Pilar monastery, the viewpoint is above the iconic Dom Luís I bridge, inaugurated in October 1886. Responsible for the design of the bridge was a Belgian company, the Société de Willebroeck, and specifically one of its engineers, Téophile Seyrig, who was a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. The bridge has two floors: the upper one, almost 400 meters long, runs the Porto metro and the lower one, about 175 meters long, is for vehicles, and there are pedestrian lanes at both levels. The views (and uncrowded space) are priceless, with Porto’s skyline right in front of you and the Douro passing by your feet.
4. Bookstores: Perhaps one of the most Instagrammable bookstores in the world, the Harry Potter-esque Livraria Lello is a must-visit for any bibliophile. Flanêur is a lovely point de rencontre for literature lovers, as they organize activities and serve brunch on Saturdays. You will also find Bertrand, one of the oldest and largest bookstore chains in Portugal, present in major cities across the country.
5. Capela do Senhor da Pedra, translated as Chapel of the Lord of Stone, is one of the most beautiful places of worship in northern Portugal. It is located in the parish of Miramar, in Vilanova de Gaia (on the other side of the Douro). Not only is the location striking, but also the history and legends that revolve around it. With a hexagonal plan structure, the Capela do Senhor da Pedra has survived for more than three centuries as well as the rise and fall of the tides and the ocean winds. It was formerly a pagan altar where thousands of rites were carried out. To this day, hundreds of Neopagans make their annual pilgrimage.
6. Green escapes – there are many options to relax and enjoy green scenes while in Porto! Not far from downtown, the Crystal Palace Gardens, whose name was inspired by London’s Crystal Palace, was built in 1865 by the English architect Thomas Dillen Jones for the International Exhibition of Porto. Unfortunately, on the pretext of hosting the Roller Hockey World Cup in Porto, the Crystal Palace ended up being ingloriously demolished in 1951, but the gardens and the romantic memories have stayed forever. The Serralves Park is somewhat far from the center, but is definitely worth a visit, especially for those interested in art. Designed by the architect Jacques Gréber in the 1930s, it is a unique example of landscape heritage in Portugal. Serralves Park is an 18-hectare sculpture park that integrates part of the outdoor art collection of the Serralves Museum, plus a House of Cinema and the Art Deco Serralves Villa. The park hosts over 200 species and a variety of autochthonous and ornamental exotic plants, and you can enjoy strolling along several different paths.
7. Matosinhos, northern of Porto and facing the Atlantic Ocean, it is famous for its seaside promenade and imposing beach. Matosinhos is the place where Porto locals swim and go to enjoy the best fish – and so do we! To get to Matosinhos you need a vehicle, whether it’s a car, taxi, or bike for the most adventurous – but remember to travel by the seaside. Want to get back to Porto by foot? Expect at least a 90-minute non-stop walk.
8. Vilanova de Gaia is Porto’s wine cradle. At the other side of the Douro River, the hills are alive with century-old wineries and riverside gems. Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia, is synonymous with port wine. In fact, barrels of wine would be transported by boat from the upper Douro Valley to Gaia, where they would mature in the riverside cellars until they were ready. Three centuries later, not much has changed, and Gaia is still the center of port wine! To get a panoramic view of the city, take the Teleferico de Gaia cable car up to the Monastery of Serra do Pilar.
9. Foz neighborhood – Where the Douro ends, one of Porto’s most exclusive districts begins. Foz is chic, lively, stylish, inspiring… the list can go on. A small former fishing town, once separated from Porto by about six kilometers of orchards and pine forests, is now an intriguing neighborhood where tourists and celebrities coexist in harmony. Foz is sprinkled with high-end clothing stores, cafes, beach clubs, and traditional pastry shops, as well as the Mercado da Foz, a delicious farmers market with fresh produce and friendly locals.
Food & Wine in Porto
Thanks to Porto’s proximity to the ocean, the city is full of tantalizing seafood and local dishes packed with flavor. Here are just a few to get you started.
✧ FOODS NOT TO MISS
- Francesinha, a local take on the popular croque monsieur, might as well be the official sandwich of Porto! The Francesinha is made of ham, steak, bacon, sausage, cheese, and fried egg sandwiched between slices of bread and generously topped with a special blend of tomato sauce. If you ask a dozen locals where to find the best Francesinha, you’ll get a dozen different answers – each person has his or her favorite restaurant. The only way to find out is to try it for yourself!
- Tripas a modo do Porto – A person from Porto is diminutively called a ‘Tripeiro’ (tripe eater) because of a famous story: Back in the 15th century, Henry the Navigator was planning to conquer Ceuta and stopped into Porto to gather supplies. The locals sacrificed everything that they had and gave the navy all of their meat except for tripe. Thanks to the generosity of Porto’s locals, who effectively ‘took one for the team,’ Henry the Navigator was successful and lead to a historic victory for the Portuguese. Tripas a modo do Porto is known as ‘Porto-style Tripe’ and is a stew that consists of tripe, roasts, beans, sausage, vegetables and herbs – and with over 600 years of eating tripe, you can bet that the locals have perfected this dish!
- Ovos verdes: The delicious deep-fried cousin to deviled eggs, ovos verdes (‘green eggs,’ so called after the parsley that’s used for the stuffing) are a classic snack that can be found across menus in Porto.
- Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, or Salt Cod and Potato Casserole was created in the 19th century by Gomes de Sá, the son of a wealthy cod merchant. After the family fortune dwindled, Gomes de Sá had to find work at a restaurant called Restaurante Lisbonense in Porto, where he created this notable recipe. This simple yet incredibly tasty dish is typically made out of bacalhau (salted cod), potatoes, eggs, olives, olive oil, and onion.
- Rojões – Perhaps one of the most traditional and unique dishes in Northern Portuguese cuisine, rojões are a combination of fried pork meat and pork rinds.
- Sopa do dia – Because Portuguese love soup so much, you’ll find the soup of the day on virtually every restaurant’s menu. The soup of the day is normally made from vegetables and is an inexpensive addition to any meal. In fact, most Portuguese do not consider their meal complete without a delicious bowl of soup as an appetizer!
- Fresh fish and seefood — Did you know that the Portuguese have the highest seafood consumption per capita in Europe? It’s true: the average is 56 kg of seafood per year per person. That’s more than twice the average of a typical EU member! For the absolute freshest seafood, head 8 kilometers north to Matosinhos, a seaside city that claims to have the world’s best seafood – but we’ll let you be the judge of that. The Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos is a must-visit for any seafood pilgrimage: the market boasts rows upon rows of delicious cod, octopus, lobster, and dozens of other varieties. Can’t wait to try your catch of the day? There’s a fantastic on-site restaurant that will prepare the fish in front of your eyes.
- No matter which bar or restaurant you visit, you’re bound to find Super Bock on the menu. This beer is a favorite not just for Portuguese, but in many other countries as well – it’s the best-selling Portuguese beer in the world! When ordering beer, do as the locals, and ask for ‘um fino.’
- Pingos de tocha — Translated as torch drops because of their shape, this flavorful dessert is made out of eggs, sugar, and water. The recipe originally comes from the monastery of Santa Clara de Amarante, near Porto.
✧ WINES REGIONS AROUND
There are many wines in Northern Portugal – let’s explore two of the most famous:
- Vinho do Porto – Besides Cristiano Ronaldo, port wine is arguably Portugal’s most famous export. This fortified wine is produced from grapes grown in the Douro region, with more than one hundred varieties of grapes sanctioned for port production. Port wine has a long and varied history: the wine was originally transported from Porto in flat-bottom boats called rabelos to Gaia, where they would be kept for aging. Likewise, the wine could only be exported from Portugal from Gaia until 1986, whereas nowadays, it is a nobel wine around the world.
- DOC Douro – Although wine production in the Douro Valley dates back to Roman times, the ‘modern-day’ region began in 1756 after it was officially established by the Portuguese Prime Minister. Besides the dozens of wineries dotted along the valley, the Douro valley has one of the most beautiful roads to drive along, as well as one of the best viewpoints in the world at Casal de Loivos, according to the BBC.
Where to Stay in Porto?
Top: Maison Albar Hotels Le Monumental Palace | Bottom left: Hotel Infante Sagres | Bottom right: Torel 1884 Suites & Apartments
Maison Albar Hotels Le Monumental Palace is pure refinement located on Porto’s magnificent main avenue. As a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, Maison Albar promises to be “your five-star second home.” The hotel offers 76 chic rooms decorated in an Art Deco flair, set inside an original 1920s building with a glamorous Gothic façade. Other noteworthy amenities include the Monumental Café, a lovely throwback to its glory in the 1930s; the sleek Nuxe spa, with a heated indoor swimming pool; and a library with a fireplace.
Infante Sagres was the first luxury hotel in the city and is still widely considered to be one of the most beautiful and prestigious hotels in Porto. Thanks to its status, Infante Sagres hosted plenty of famous persona, including the Dalai Lama, Bob Dylan, Catherine Deneuve, and the Norwegian royal family. The hotel recently had an upgrade in 2018, yet from the moment you step inside, the grandeur and elegance of a 19th-century manor remains. It is now one of our preferred partners in our CÚRATE Trip to Portugal.
Torel 1884 Suites & Apartments – Set in a tasteful 19th-century palace, Torel 1884 is ideal for those in search of privacy and serenity. The hotel offers 12 deluxe rooms and suites and 11 apartments in a separate building. Torel 1884 created their suites and apartments around the interesting concept of ‘the spirit of Portuguese explorers’ – no matter where you look, you’ll see exotic souvenirs, rare porcelain, tapestry, and goods from far-flung places.
If you prefer to stay outside of the center, then Vila Foz Hotel & Spa is your perfect choice. Located in the exclusive neighborhood of Foz, this hotel is located right next to the seaside and features magnificent and unobstructed views of the ocean. Of course, with such an esteemed hotel comes top-level perks like a vintage Rolls Royce to whisk guests to and from the airport, an on-demand personal trainer for sporty guests, and a Turkish hammam to relax after a long day of sightseeing.
Let us help you in finding the accommodation that better suits your personality.