Things to do in Porto – Portugal

After being lucky enough to spend approximately 5 weeks in the Porto and Douro region of northern Portugal on behalf of my research for Rough Guides, despite the sometimes very rainy and windy March/April weather (Porto is right on the Atlantic coast, and has a latitude not that dissimilar to the SW of the UK – hence the weather is quite similar), I found a city full of aesthetic delights and surprises.  Here, then, is what I consider to be my favourite things to do in Porto.

  1. Take a tourist bus ride

I know that it sounds as if it’s too touristy, but trust me, the Hop-On Hop-Off tour in any city, I feel, is a great thing to do in your first few days in the city.  Porto is no exception.  It gives you perspective and an overview of the city and an idea where to head back to later.  My red tour took me to all the major sites including the Cathedral, along the river and eventually out to the seafront.  Obviously you can hop-on and off but I chose just to make use of the good weather and sit on the top deck as a round trip, getting my bearings and enjoying the view.

Hop-on Hop-off tour of Porto, Portugal - red line route
Hop-on Hop-off tour of Porto – red line route


2. Walk along the Ribeira District

This is a highlight and must for any visitor to Porto.  Located along the Rio (river) Douro, and reached from the main town by way of a funicular ride down past the old castle walls (or walk the many steps and get the funicular back up), the Moorish architecture, daily life viewing people hanging their washing from colourful houses, the many cafes and restaurants on offer right on the river, you could spend a whole afternoon just wandering and chilling.

Ribeira district of Porto - plus Rio Douro views as you sip coffee
Ribeira district of Porto – plus Rio Douro views as you sip coffee

3. Randomly wander the streets, admiring the architecture and street art

There’s nothing I enjoy more than ‘loosing’ myself amongst the local streets and in Porto, it’s a sheer joy to do so.  Magnificent churches, street art, local architecture and even transport you wouldn’t get ‘back home’, it’s all appreciated.

Some of the lovely architecture, street art and local transport you'll find in Porto
Some of the lovely architecture, street art and local transport you’ll find in Porto

4. Walk across the Dom Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia & take a cable car ride

Across the river from Ribeira is the district of Vila Nova da Gaia, which is the famous area for its wine cellars, where the port is stored and aged.  Spend a pleasant few hours walking along the riverfront here again and see the views back to the Ribeira district and all those colourful houses – magnificent! Then to save your legs, for €5 (adult) take the cable car back up to the bridge and walk back across.

Streets of Villa Nova and looking back to Ribeira district
Streets of Vila Nova de Gacia and looking back to Ribeira district

5. Take a Taste Porto Food Tour

This has to be one of my favourite tours I did in my time in the city; connecting with locals, being shown the best spots where a LOCAL would eat and sampling delicious Portuguese food along the way, the Taste Porto Food Tour – at €59 for a 3.5 hour tour including your food (and dietary restrictions also catered to) and passionate guides is a perfect way to sample local life.  Visit the Bolhao indoor market, frequented by locals, in operation since 1914 and has everything from fish stalls, meat, olive oil and barber shops!

Produce at Bolhao Market, meat and cheese tapas and delicious pastries await you at Taste Porto Food Tour
Produce at Bolhao Market, meat and cheese tapas and delicious pastries await you at Taste Porto Food Tour

6. A cookery evening with Taste Porto Food Tours

Last but not least, I had the pleasure to experience the first of Taste Porto’s Cookery Class, held at the beautiful Rosa et al Townhouse accommodation.  Run three times a week from 6pm, for three and a half hours and €79 you’ll join others in a hands-on cookery class and, depending on your instructor, have the opportunity to make cocktails, bone codfish (yes, even I tried that!), make cake, starters and all manner of Portuguese dishes (all ingredients included in the cost – and be sure to advise them of any dietary restrictions). And even better, after you’ve all ‘bonded’ over the cooking experience, you get to eat your creations afterwards in the lovely dining room upstairs!

So what are you waiting for?! Whatever time of the year, Porto awaits.  Just don’t be fooled and think that just because it’s Portugal, it’ll be warm all the time. Due to its proximity on the Atlantic coast, there’s a real north/south divide in weather in Portugal.  Pack warm clothes up to about April time – actually, prepare for all seasons in one day!

Flight facts

  • Ryanair flys to Porto from Liverpool, Stansted, Dublin and various other European hubs
  • easy jet flies to Porto from Bristol (seasonally), London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester

Or check for flights to Porto:

Note: It’s also possible to get a train straight from Lisbon airport to Porto’s central station. So that could be another option.

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Things to do in PortoLifeBeyondBorders

Looking at the many things to do during a city break in the beautiful European city of Porto, Portugal
Things to do in Porto, Portugal
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28 COMMENTS

  1. Porto seems to be the up and coming place to visit in Portugal and your list of things to do has given me all sorts of ideas for when we finally make our way north to see this city for ourselves! The Taste Porto Food Tour sounds like lots of fun and I’d love to try a cooking class and learn how to make some of the starters. (But no cod, please! 🙂 )
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go recently posted…It’s FEZinating! Ten Things We Liked About Fez, MoroccoMy Profile

    • Thanks Anita.
      Actually, I thought I’d be all ‘codded out’ but when it came to it, I really wasn’t! The cookery class is something else, it really is.

  2. I HAD to read your post because in the past year I have booked and cancelled my hotel reservations in Porto. (France always came up!) The post was perfect because it covered all the key points I would want to know about. I agree, too, that the Hop On Hop Off can be great for a first timer to any city. I see you went in March/April and need to investigate if it would be OK in January. If you have any advice, I’d love to hear it!
    Janice Chuung recently posted…Relaxing Paris Oasis: Promenade PlantéeMy Profile

    • Thanks Janice. I think January will be very wet, cold and windy. Just be sure to take warm clothes. I think that region of Portugal is best explored in the spring/early summer. I had a good time despite the weather – but you really can get all seasons in one day.

    • Yes – the Taste Porto Food Tour and Gastronomy class was out of this world, and I don’t like to cook usually!
      I loved Porto for its architecture, beauty and history…but would definitely recommend going well into the spring, early summer. It sure can rain there.

  3. I agree with you about the Hop On – Hop Off tour buses! They are perfect for a first introduction to any new location. As you say, you get a solid perspective of your surroundings. The food tour is very reasonably priced! I’ll keep it in mind for a future visit to Porto. I was really looking forward to your Portugal posts! 🙂
    Eleanna @Damsel Adrift recently posted…Hotel review: A comfortable stay in Titanic City IstanbulMy Profile

    • Thanks for that Eleanna. Yes, I think you would love Porto for its diversity and definitely you’d enjoy the cookery class…I did, and I usually hate cooking!
      Be sure to take a variety of warm/cold clothes whenever you do go; the climate and weather sure changes quickly.

  4. Agreed, these are all great ways to get to know Porto! It was lovely to meet you while doing #6. I too was surprised–and delighted–to find that my codfish tolerance is growing 🙂

    • Hey Shannon,

      Yes, I went by road but I saw the train station in Pinhao and also a lot of the cute stations along the way. It looks really interesting and I might do it that way next time.

  5. Really looking forward to a work trip to Porto in June. While I won’t have time to do everything you’ve suggested I’m looking forward to checking out as many suggestions of yours as I can. In particular that market has definitely got my name on it

    • You’ll love it Jo. Be sure to at least do the Taste Porto food tour as it’s only 3 hours and they take you to the market – and places where LOCALS like to eat.

  6. I’d love to take a stroll here. This looks like a fun, yet relaxing place to explore. Wandering through the streets sounds fine, but can you literally wander or should you worry about jaywalking? I love that you included a map, as that always seems to be what myself and others are hunting for.

    • Jaywalking??!! Hahahah! That’s such a North American concept! I’d never heard of ‘jaywalking’ until I went to the States. And don’t forget, Europe – and especially places like Portugal – have gorgeous, ancient cobbled side streets that make wandering perfect. We’re so lucky to have so much history in Europe.

  7. We have never done the Hop On- Hop Off Tours. I wonder how that would be with the kiddos. I love it that you look for experiences like the locals do. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be eat like a local in Portugal!

    • Thanks Stephanie. Yes, for my guidebook research I try to wear all different types of hats, as it were, and see things through a solo cultural travellers point of view, or family traveller viewpoints. When I went on the bus tour, there were a lot of families with different aged kids on the bus. I guess each family knows their own kids and if they’d be interested in such a thing.

  8. Porto could easily become my second home if it wasn’t for the weather. Although on both times I was there (February/March), the weather was actually quite nice. They called me lucky! And the food? And the people? I’m glad they’re growing in popularity because no one should come to Portugal and not visit Porto.

    • Yes – I have to admit that weather plays a big factor for me too. I was there in March and it didn’t stop raining. But I loved the city when the sun shone

  9. Porto is on my travel bucket list, it looks like a great place to visit! I love taking the bus around new places, it gives you an opportunity to see everything and get to now the neighbourhoods.

    • I absolutely loved it Katie – and yes, it should be on everyone’s bucket list.
      I hope you get to visit it one day and enjoy it as much as I did. I certainly hope to go back again one day soon.

  10. Reading your post brings back positive memories of visits to Porto. I loved tucking into the heavy but delicious Francesinha sandwiches that are an inexpensive delicacy in the Ribeira district.

    • Thanks Stuart. I do love Porto and yes, fell in love with the cuisine and beauty of the place, if not necessarily the weather (bit chilly in March!)

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