The beautiful coastal village of Porto on the Douro River stole my heart in no time with its Eiffel Tower-inspired bridges, traditional wooden Rabelo boats, and intricate tile everywhere. It’s also a great European getaway in winter. You’ll feel like you’re walking through a charming painting here! While 3 days in Porto is enough to see the highlights, consider adding an extra day or two in your itinerary to lounge on one of the scenic beaches nearby or just sip more port at sunset. Is Porto worth visiting? Absolutely! It was my favorite city in Portugal.
- 3 Days in Porto
- Porto Itinerary: Visit Porto in 3 Days
- Day 1: Porto Walking Tour (Old Town and Ribeira)
- Chapel of Souls (Chapel of Santa Catarina)
- Mercado do Bolhão
- The Church of Saint Ildefonso
- Avenida Dos Aliados
- Clérigos Church and the Bell Tower
- Livraria Lello: Yes or No?
- The Twin Churches: Igreja Carmo & Igreja Carmelitas
- Praça do Lisboa
- Church of São Francisco
- Take the #1 Tram
- Fado Performance
- Where to eat on Day 1
- Day 2: Vila Nova da Gaia
- Day 3: Duoro Valley Wine Tour
- Day 1: Porto Walking Tour (Old Town and Ribeira)
- Only 2 Days in Porto?
3 Days in Porto
While you’re here, consider a hop-on hop-off bus tour. Or even a yellow bus tour.
I never understood how wonderful these were until I had the experience myself in Barcelona. It’s a great way to see a lot in a limited time and get a nice orientation to a city. If you want to add one to your Porto itinerary, you can check prices here.
Where to Stay in Porto
If you want to be fairly central for walking Porto, your best bet is to choose lodging in the Aliados or Bolhão neighborhoods as you’ll be close to restaurants and nightlife. The Miragaia is another alternative, a beautiful neighborhood with lots of steep streets to climb. Ribeira is Porto’s prettiest waterfront neighborhood…oozing ambiance (and tourists)!
Here are my recommendations:
Luxury: Infante Sagres
Stay here if you love the idea of ensconcing yourself in stylish, old-world elegance! This historic 5-star hotel in a hip area of the Aliados neighborhood features neo-baroque and custom-made furnishings and is decorated with antique chandeliers. It comes with sundeck, plunge pool and a beautiful breakfast too!
A perfect choice for luxury lovers looking for a vibrant, central location. Be aware that there can be a bit of street noise as a result and there is no gym on-site. You can check prices and availability here. Or read reviews here.
Budget: Airbnb apartment in Bolhão
During our week in Porto, we stayed at this lovely one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and sunny, comfortable bed in the loft. The skylight makes for a nice breeze. This place was a great value with super friendly, helpful hosts.
Just a 10-minute walk into central Porto, there’s a cafe on the same block for morning coffee and a grocery store (and also a fruit seller) just around the corner.
You can check prices and availability here.
Budget: Selina Porto
This is a truly unique and special hostel! Honestly, it feels more like a boutique hotel. I don’t typically stay in a hostel, but if I was a solo traveler, I’d stay here in a heartbeat. I stopped here for a drink in the beautiful garden on a guided tour and loved every minute.
Selina is located centrally, just steps from Lello Bookstore, and the best bars and restaurants Porto has to offer. From beautiful boho reading nooks to chic communal spaces, Selina is adorable. Choose from a private room with a comfy bed or a shared space. You need to go visit even if you don’t stay here!
Porto Itinerary: Visit Porto in 3 Days
Porto got its name way back in the 4th century when it was an outpost for the Roman empire; “Porto” is derived from its Latin-Celtic name: “Portus Cale.”
Later, when it became a major commercial trading port, Europeans began calling it “OPorto” after they misunderstood that locals were using the article “o”—”the”—in front of the name. The name stuck and it’s still a source of annoyance to some locals!
The city used to also go by the name “Invicta” or “Invincible” because it was never conquered by the Moors or other invaders that attacked Portugal and Spain throughout the millennia. As a result, Porto has a long tradition of fierce independence.
Residents see themselves as a little more authentic and “rough and tumble” than Lisbon city folk. After all, the whole country—”Portugal”—took its name from Porto. (Lisbon or Porto? It’s tough to decide. It’s true there are many, many things to do in Lisbon.)
Lisbon is steep, hilly, and sprawling; Porto a little less hilly, but more compact and walkable. Lisbon is all about the “miradouros” or viewpoints. Porto offers those, too, but the city is best known for its “azulejos” or colorful glazed ceramic tiles. They literally cover the facades of churches, monuments, and buildings here!
In fact, it won’t take you long to wonder why the majority of the building facades you see are in a beautiful cobalt blue pattern. Why is this so? They were easiest to clean, of course!
Here are my suggestions for a 3-day trip to Porto: Spend the first day orienting yourself in Old Town, the second exploring across the river in Gaia, and the third day on a day trip to the Douro Valley. Porto makes a great destination for solo travelers, too!
Day 1: Porto Walking Tour (Old Town and Ribeira)
The walking tour below is designed as an independent walking tour, but if you’re looking for a guide to iconic spots in Porto, check out prices and availability for a guided tour here. Or, a Jewish heritage walking tour would also be fascinating.
If you’re staying at any of my recommended lodgings above—or at others in Bolhão or Aliados—as we did, these sites are ordered in a convenient walking route to see the best of Porto. Several of the sights below are recommended as quick stops…particularly to admire the stunning blue and white tile facades.
Keep your eyes open and you’ll also see tile facades that demonstrate the Moorish architectural influence here. Architecture lovers may want to tour two of the cathedrals on Day 1.
Chapel of Souls (Chapel of Santa Catarina)
Located on at the corner of Rua de Fernandes Tomas and Rua de Santa Catarina—just a block from Bolhão Market, this little chapel is hard to miss; the facade is awash in nearly 16,000(!) beautiful blue and white tiles depicting the death of St Francis of Assisi and the martyrdom of Santa Catarina.
Dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, the chapel was originally constructed in wood and later restored at the beginning of the 19th century. You can peek inside if you like, but there are more impressive cathedrals in Porto to tour.
For this one, the show is on the outside of the building. It offers a serious “wow” factor if you’ve just arrived in Porto.
Mercado do Bolhão
It’s just a short block to Mercado do Bolhão from Chapel of Souls. If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that I always make it a point to seek out a lively market when I’m visiting a European city.
Not only is there inevitably fantastic locally sourced food and food products to be enjoyed, but you get to be part of the local shopping experience and feel less like a tourist. From the Dordogne in France to Barcelona in Spain, this experience is always on my list!
The Mercado do Bolhão in Porto has been welcoming visitors since 1839. You’ll find several floors of farmers, fishmongers, butchers, and fruit sellers hawking whatever is local and in season. Don’t miss the fishmongers who specialize in cod here!
When I visited in June 2019, they were in the process of restoring the commercial space, with a temporary market set up just two minutes away in Fernando Tomás Street. So don’t let that stop you from visiting!
The Church of Saint Ildefonso
It’s hard to miss the 18th century Church of Saint Ildefonso. The tall narrow facade of beautiful blue and white azulejo tilework—almost 11,000 tiles total—almost begs you to stop.
If you’re pressed for time, you can skip the interior of this beautiful little church as there are others with more opulent interior decor on this walking tour. However, architecture lovers will want to see the retable (the shelf behind the altar) here by the Italian artist Nicolau Nisoni.
Avenida Dos Aliados
As you head onto Avenida dos Aliados or “Avenue of the Allies,” you are in the very heart of old Porto. This is a wide, grand promenade lined with stately old hotels. This beautiful boulevard commemorates the 14th-century treaty between the UK and Portugal, which is still honored today. In fact, it’s the oldest alliance in the world!
At one end, you’ll spy the bell tower of the old town hall. At the other is Praca da Liberdade, a beautiful square. At the center of that square, you’ll find a bronze equestrian statue of King Pedro. There are some cafés in this area, but keep walking towards the Clerigos bell tower!
Clérigos Church and the Bell Tower
Spend some time here! This is one of Porto’s most famous monuments.
The Clérigos Church (or “Church of the Clergyman) is an absolutely incredible Baroque church. Construction began in 1732 and finished eight years later. On the facade, you’ll spy lots of Baroque symbols…like shells and garlands. The inside of it is simply awash in gold.
But the most famous feature is the iconic bell tower. Inspired by bell towers in Tuscany, this tower can be spied from most spots in the city. If you climb its 200 plus steps, you’ll be rewarded with a phenomenal bird’s eye view of Old Town and the Douro River. There are 49 bells up there at the top!
It’s free to enter the church but costs 3€ to climb the tower. Hours: 9 to 7 am daily. You can buy an online admission ticket here.
Livraria Lello: Yes or No?
The Lello bookstore is a unique and beautiful bookstore—perhaps Porto’s most famous sight these days—made so by JK Rowling who allegedly used it as inspiration for Hogwarts in Harry Potter. After all, she worked on the books while she taught English in Porto.
There is no question that Livraria Lello, also one of the world’s oldest bookstores—hosting Portuguese intellectuals since 1906—is architecturally stunning. It’s a tiny jewel box of a boutique with a dramatic red staircase that ascends to the second floor.
All of that said, I’d urge you to skip it. What?!
Here’s the problem: Before Lello became so famous, there used to be lines in Porto to climb the famous bell tower…which makes sense. If there must be lines somewhere, that view is worth it!
Now, however, no one waits to climb the tower (good news for you!); instead, the lines are all about getting into the bookstore. But the place is tiny and no matter what time of day you go, you will likely feel claustrophobic from the crowds as you strain like a salmon swimming upstream to access the second floor…only to come back down and exit. Because too many people!
If you really want to go: If you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan and you’re dead set on going despite my warnings, here are my best tips: First of all, pick a time and buy your ticket online. (Ticket cost is 19.90€.) Otherwise, you will have two lines to brave at the bookstore.
First, you’ll go into the building next to the bookstore, head downstairs, and then stand in a long line to buy a ticket. Next, you’ll need to lock any backpacks or packages in a locker there. (You can enter with a purse, however.) Then you’ll head back out onto the street where you will wait in a second line to show your ticket to get in.
So, you’ll need to organize your whole day around the time you selected in advance. Or wait in the two lines at the shop. Internet was not great outside the store so I was ultimately unsuccessful when I tried to skip the line by purchasing a ticket online right before entering.
My other tip is to plan your visit to Lello during a weekday (versus a weekend) and be in line when they open at 9:30 am or right before closing at 8 pm. But expect lines and crowds then also!
See what I mean? Climb the bell tower instead!
The Twin Churches: Igreja Carmo & Igreja Carmelitas
You’ll spy these two churches side by side—the Carmo Church and the Carmelite Church—on the corner of Carlos Alberto Square and Rua do Carmo, near the Clérigos Tower. How will you recognize them? By the huge blue and white tiled facade on the side of Carmo, of course!
Carmelitas is the smaller of the two churches, part of a 17th-century convent with a bell tower. The larger church, Carmo is a 19th century Baroque masterpiece. And sandwiched just between these two churches is a very narrow house designed to keep the monks and nuns from having any contact with each other.
You can tour inside if you like, but you’re mainly here to admire the tilework. Keep walking!
Praça do Lisboa
Whether you’ve climbed the tower or braved Lello—either way—you’ve earned a rest! Praça do Lisboa, a lovely urban park is the perfect spot to do it.
The park is an innovative three-level affair, with the uppermost level planted as a grassy rooftop with olive trees, in a nod to the “Porto do Olival,” the former gateway to the city.
The middle level is for commercial use while the ground level is for parking. It’s a creative public space that works. In fact, on summer evenings, you’re likely to find lots of locals sharing a drink and a conversation on the inviting green here so join the party!
Church of São Francisco
Along with the earlier mentioned Clérigos Church, the Church of São Francisco is worth time to explore the interior. Think intricate wood carvings and gold leaf everywhere. This Gothic church was established by the Franciscans in 1244 and expanded into the 14th century.
Don’t miss the incredible Tree of Jessee altarpiece, an intricate wood carving. The rich decorative gilt woodwork here is considered among the best in all of Portugal.
Take the #1 Tram
Ready for a break from walking? Consider a scenic 20-minute ride on one of Porto’s antique cable cars along the Douro River.
If you skipped the cable cars in Lisbon due to the sheer crowds of people waiting to catch one, now’s your chance to rattle along in this quaint car. You can conveniently catch the #1 tram just outside the Church of São Francisco.
It can be a little confusing if you’re new to this experience so here’s what you need to know. Tram “Linha 1” extends to the Passeio Alegre Park in the Foz District. It can be busy, which could mean being sandwiched among other tourists standing.
You’ll want to avoid that so that you can see out the windows. (Sit on the left side for a river view.) This route is not available as a “loop.” So you’ll need to buy two tram tickets for €6 total from the conductor as you board. Then, he will ask everyone to disembark at the end of the line before you re-board for the trip back. Bring cash.
If there’s a line when you arrive, just wait for the next tram for better seating as they run frequently. Better yet, plan to catch the tram early or late in the day for fewer crowds.
Fado is Portugal’s answer to Spain’s flamenco music. While flamenco can be impassioned and staccato, fado music is mournful and yearning. It’s the soul of Portugal.
Fado hails from Lisbon, but when we were there, we found it difficult during our limited time there to locate a venue that didn’t involve committing to an entire evening that included an expensive dinner as well.
If you have more time, consider fado in Lisbon. Otherwise, plan on seeing an hour-long acoustic performance here in Porto at Casa ds Guitarra as we did. It’s an intimate space conveniently located near the riverfront. It features a female singer and includes a glass of port.
You can reserve a fado performance here. (Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the performance.)
Where to eat on Day 1
Each of the recommendations below is conveniently located along the Day 1 walking tour above.
While in Porto, carnivores need to try the specialty “hot dog” here. Ask for a “cachorro” or just point at what everyone else is having at Gazela, the snack spot that locals love best.
In fact, there’s a new trend in Porto where locals move from bar to bar sampling snacks…much like the Spanish do for tapas. This is delicious (and heavy) street food…essentially a gourmet hot dog with cheese.
Try the ice cream at Santini Gelato or consider a drink in the garden at Hostel Selma. Comme Ça offers a great deal on a prix fixe Portuguese meal. A Sandeira is a great hole in the wall spot for a sandwich.
You can enjoy a snack, drink or meal any time of day at beautiful Majestic Café, rated one of the ten most beautiful cafés in the world. Just be aware that there are no reservations and lines out the door at every time of day.
Day 2: Vila Nova da Gaia
Yesterday you saw the Best of Porto’s Old Town and famous Ribeira neighborhood. Today, you’ll head across the Douro River to Gaia, home to all the best Port houses for tasting. Welcome to Day 2 on the best Porto itinerary!
But before you cross the river, see:
São Bento Train Station
I think that the incredible São Bento Train Station was my favorite—and most surprising— sight in Porto. Do not miss this stunning sight while you’re here. This is one of the best things to see in Porto!
Located in the heart of Porto, this incredible Baux-Art building is literally wall-to-wall tile…20,000 glazed ajuelo ceramic tiles in fact. The train station was built in the 26th century, destroyed by fire in the 18th century, and then rebuilt.
In addition to the traditional blue and white tile you’ve admired elsewhere, a large swath of tile that circles the ceiling tells the history of transportation in Portugal in all its full-color gory. You’ll also find a full wall devoted to the 12th century Battle of Valdavez and the 15th century Conquest of Ceuta.
You may have mistaken this beautiful cathedral for a castle and it’s easy to understand why. Yet, there are no castles at all in Porto!
Located at the highest point in the city, just before you cross the Dom Luis Bridge into Gaia, Porto Cathedral was originally built in the 12th century, with numerous later renovations. It’s mostly Baroque but a bit of an amalgamation—with a Romanesque nave and Gothic chapels, for example—due to all of the renovations.
This is a great spot for photos and sweeping views of the city. Entrance to the cathedral is free, although entrance to the cloister is 3€.
Also, consider taking 30 minutes to wander the beautiful (and steep!) cobbled streets towards the river here. Years ago—before Portugal decriminalized drug use—this area was full of addicts looking for their next fix.
Today, it’s full of proud homeowners of new apartment with plants spilling from their windows and lovely secret cafés around every bend.
(Sidenote: Portugal’s radical new drug policy is working and countries around the world could learn from it. Homelessness, incarceration rates, overdoses, and HIV infections are all dramatically improved. Read more here from the Guardian.)
A warning: If you wander down the steep alleys past the Porto Cathedral, you’ll, unfortunately, have to climb back up to cross the bridge to Gaia unless you take the handy Funicular dos Guindais.
You can catch the funicular at the base of the Dom Luís Bridge for a quick ride to the top of the hill there. It’s not a “must-do” in Porto but it will save your feet for just a few euro!
Dom Luís I Bridge
There are six bridges in Porto that span the Douro River! The double-decker Dom Luís I Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located just past the Porto Cathedral, was the longest bridge of its kind anywhere when it was constructed by Gustave Eiffel—of Eiffel Tower fame—back in the late 19th century.
That’s why the iron arches of this bridge and its sister bridge, Dona Maria Pia bridge, are so reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower.
Walking from Old Town, you’ll cross by foot on the upper level; it’s designed for pedestrian and train traffic while the lower level is reserved for cars.
Teleferico de Gaia Gondola
Once you’ve crossed the Luis I Bridge, you can either walk down to the riverfront, or catch the Teleferico de Gaia. It’s just a five-minute ride to zip down and it’s not cheap at 6 € one way (or 9 € to include a return trip), but it does cut down on all the walking!
Stroll the Riverfront
Once you’ve crossed over the bridge into Vila Nova de Gaia, spend 10 or 15 minutes looking back across the river into Ribeira and admiring the beautiful Rabelo boats docked here. These traditional Portugues boats—adapted from Viking boats—have been used as cargo boats for hundreds of years to carry barrels of Port from the Douro Valley to the wine cellars in Gaia here in Porto.
Today, you can book a day cruise along the river. If you’re planning to head into the Douro Valley for wine tasting (see Day 3 below), I recommend you wait for your river cruise there.
If not, book a 50-minute river cruise to sail under the six bridges of the River Douro for Day 2. You can check prices and availability here.
Taste Some Port
What would a visit to Porto be without tasting some of the most beautiful dessert wine on the planet? Port cannot be called Port legally unless the grapes have been grown in the nearby Douro Valley here. You’ll find tawny Port, white Port, and ruby Port for sampling here.
Famous port houses line the riverfront here so you’ll have your choice of tastings. Be sure to book a reservation for a tour and tasting. (But don’t wait until evening for this activity. They’ll all be closed then!)
Traveler favorites for port tasting in Porto include Grahams, Sandeman, and Taylor’s Port. We had no problem booking a same-day tour and tasting at Taylor’s and loved sipping our Port with a cheese plate in the beautiful garden there. You can get tasting and tour tickets at Taylor here.
If you don’t have time to head into the Douro Valley, consider a more immersive experience here in Gaia. For example, how about an interactive guided tour and tasting paired with chocolate and cheese? Yum! Check out prices for the Cálem Cellars guided tour here.
Where to eat on Day 2
One of my goals while in Portugal was to understand the country’s fascination with salted codfish. It’s piled high in grocery stores and on every menu! So I asked locals for recommendations on where to taste Bachalau á Brás, a famous dish of potatoes, scrambled eggs, and codfish pieces.
Served with some light and sparkly Vinho Verde (green wine) as the sun set over the River Douro was memorable indeed. Reserve ahead!
Day 3: Duoro Valley Wine Tour
Does it really make sense to devote a whole day to a wine tour in the Douro Valley when you only have a 3 day trip to Porto? Yes! It’s gorgeous. Just look at it…
In fact, the Douro Valley is such a unique and beautiful landscape that I’d even recommend non-drinkers tag along on a tour. If you are a wine lover with more than 3 days in Porto, consider overnighting with a car for an extra day or two in this beautiful valley for more time. Really think about how to plan your wine trip.
But only in spring or fall—the fall foliage is fabulous—as it can be pretty warm here mid-summer!
Our day tour to Douro Valley was one of the most memorable days of my few weeks in Portugal. We joined six other people in Porto (hotel pick-ups can be arranged) for an air-conditioned hour-long ride to the valley in a small van, stopping at incredible viewpoints en route.
About the Douro Valley
The terraced vineyards here are striking. Rows of olive trees create natural fences and boundaries between the many “quinta”—wine-producing estate—that run throughout the 60,000 acres of valley. Rose bushes nestle up against grape vines frequently here, acting as a “canary in the coal mine” to alert winemakers about when to treat for mildew.
Here, fathers pass down a grafting tradition for the grapevines to their sons. In the 19th century, an imported bug caused a blight on grapevines across Europe, killing 90 percent of the vines.
In France, winemakers ripped out their vines at the time and replaced them with imported American vines immune to the pest, only to find that the grapes were bitter and undesirable.
And then, Duoro Valley winemakers devised a technique for grafting the immune American vines onto their own vines for a stellar success…a technique adopted around Europe and still used in the Duoro Valley and elsewhere today.
From harvesting to blending, every aspect of winemaking is still lovingly done by hand in the Douro Valley. In fact, at our first stop for tasting at the tiny, family-owned Quinta da Foz Winery, I watched a woman meticulously labeling each bottle for sale.
Wine Tasting and Cruising the Douro River
After tasting three wines at Quinta da Foz, we enjoyed a lovely private lunch in the living room of a prominent local family of winemakers whose roots run deep here. Our lovely lunch was cooked by the lady of the house and served by her son. Some delicious wine and port pairings—followed by a tour—finished out the meal.
Imagine our surprise after such an expansive lunch to arrive on the boat for our Douro Valley River tour here only to find appetizers and cocktails!
It was a singular experience to gaze up at the quintas and terraced hillsides while cruising the river…imagining the deft seamen that once navigated heavy barrels of Port on rocking boats on a wild river (before there was lock) in days gone by.
All in all, I can’t recommend this Douro Valley tour highly enough. Comfortable transportation, a friendly, accommodating guide, and a truly local experience tasting, cruising, and lunching in the lesser-known spots.
There are many, many Douro Valley tours available. But if you’d like a personal, intimate experience rather than being herded with throngs of other tourists, choose this one! I can vouch for it personally.
Where to eat on Day 3
You’ll return from your Douro Valley tour to Porto in plenty of time for dinner!
If you need a break from traditional Portugues food (or even if you don’t!), I highly recommend the gorgeous, healthy fare at Tapabento (but you’ll need to reserve several days ahead to get in) or Viva Creative Kitchen.
We also enjoyed the incredible Asian fusion cuisine, unique cocktails, and ambiance at Boa Bao Asian so much that went twice during our week in Porto!
Only 2 Days in Porto?
With just two days in Porto, use my Day 1 walking tour of Old Town and Ribeira, spend your second day in Gaia as above, and save the Douro Valley for a next trip.
Read more here:
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