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Essential Porto: Top 10 authentic things to do

Porto, what a city! We don’t usually write these types of posts, for us it’s mostly about the journey rather than the destination. Especially when it comes to hitchhiking, driving and camping in foreign countries. Most of our stories come from the detours, disasters and downright crazy situations we always seem to end up in. Porto is different though. It’s a place where we truly relaxed, splashed out a little and had a lot of fun. It’s undoubtedly beautiful and truly romantic. Your smile will never fade while strolling the magical streets and alleyways. Delicious food and pastries can be found around every corner and cheap beer and wine are hard to miss.

Porto feels like an untouched city to us. Maybe it’s the time of year, but it doesn’t feel like it’s overwhelmed. The city still feels like it belongs to the locals.

Anyway, so here we are. We figured it’s not really that interesting to follow us around Porto as tourists so we’re going to skip the running commentary, show you some photos and list our top things to do in Porto. Let’s go!

Here’s a list of our essential top 10 in Porto. Let us know in the comments if you agree or have any other top tips!

1. Porto Ribeira

Ribeira. It’s on everyone’s list, and that okay. Some things are just really good and that’s why they are touristy. Get over yourself, we’re all tourists, whether you hitchhiked 25,000KM to get here or flew in via helicopter.

The Ribeira is a famous neighbourhood situated on the banks of the river Douro and is an UNESCO world heritage site, so it must be good right?

Down by the river you will find a promenade and most likely also kids blowing bubbles, traditional live Portuguese music and maybe even someone playing the piano!

Grab a pastry or an ice cream and sit on the edge of the promenade. Watch the fish and seagulls do their business. Admire the boats and the bridges and the views up and down the river.

Behind you, lining the promenade, the tall, colourful, wonky buildings stand impossibly high. Seemingly stacked onto one another they rise up the hilly landscapes carved out by the river Douro. There are plenty of restaurants around here, but for us they are a bit too expensive and not nearly hip enough!

Getting there

Just head down hill to the river! Get off at Sao Bento on metro line D, then walk downhill.

Nearby

  • Take a cruise on the river – A well known good option is the 6 bridge tour. €15 per person for around an hour. Get your tickets here.
  • Meander up the medieval streets – Check the stunning views behind you. Get lost. Pick the tiny alleyways.
  • Fernandine Wall of Sé – The ancient walls of Porto with more incredible views.

2. The other side of the Douro (Morro Garden)

From Ribeira cross the colossal iron bridge and grab some beers or a bottle of wine from the shop. Head for Morro Garden (or Jardim do Morro) and watch that big beautiful sun set over the magical city.

It can get busy but there was still plenty of space when we were there (albeit off season in November). If you’re into photography there’s plenty of space to set up a tripod but if you want a bit more space, you’ll probably want to head there for sunrise instead. There are multiple shots here, Dom Luís I Bridge, Ribeira and up the river towards the sea maybe including Ribeira.

If you’re not bothered about photography, snap a few shots on your phone, enjoy the views, your company, your drink and the hustle and bustle of the city. For us, these famous viewing points in city are just a great place to feel good. They might be busy, but everyone is happy and full of life. It’s hard not be empowered by that energy. It’s always a great way to end a day.

Getting there

If you’re nearby then just walk. Porto’s a beautiful city, no need to be stuck in a tube, taxi or bus. If you’re not nearby or not as able bodied, take the metro line D, there is a stop named Jardim do Morro.

Nearby

  • Monastery of Serra do Pilar – Just opposite the park this monastery costs 1 euro to visit and 3 euros to climb the tower, which is definitely worth it for even more incredible views. Double check the prices and opening times here.
  • Dom Luís I Bridge – Walk across the pedestrianised bridge. Stop along the way and savour the views and dizzying heights. It’s super romantic up here, especially in the evening.
  • Antiga Fábrica Cerâmica do Senhor de Além – A beautiful abandoned church around the corner which magnificent views of Ribeira through the Dom Luís I Bridge bridge.
  • Riverside – Head down to the river through the twisting streets lined with port wineries. Grab an ice cream and stroll along the promenade once again enjoying the views of Ribeira and even more wonderful buildings on this side.

3. Ramble around the old streets of Porto

Although we love a good museum and an art gallery, nothing quite beats strolling around cobbled old streets, courtyards and narrow side streets. Avoid high streets at all costs and head for the area of delicious independent bakeries and boutique shops, this is where you’ll find the charm and character in a new city.

Porto is the perfect location for exploring so head for the districts of Baixa/Sé or Cedofeita, anywhere will do. Put your maps away and have fun.

Here a few nice streets to explore:

  • Rua dos Caldeireiros
  • Rua das Taipas
  • Rua Escura
  • Rua de São João

Where to next

After all that walking you’re probably going to be a bit peckish so you might want to grab a famous Portuguese tart, Pastel de nata from the nearest bakery, along with a coffee no doubt!

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4. The beaches of Porto

One of our favourite days in Porto was spent at the beach. You can’t beat beach days. Paddling in the cold autumn waters, collecting shells, climbing on rocks, looking for crabs and watching the sunset. Is there anything more romantic than that? If there is we don’t even want to know.

How to get to Porto’s beaches

The beaches are a little out of the main tourist areas in Porto but you can get to them on the tram, bus or metro. Bus 500 goes along the Douro then along the coast so get off where ever takes your fancy. If you take metro line A, get off at Matosinhos Sul and walk west towards the beaches.

Considering all that, we will offer you an alternative: walk. Wait, wait, hear us out before you do anything rash. It’s a beautiful walk and you can take it through wonderful museum gardens with peacocks, forgotten old neighbourhoods and finally down the Douro to the coast where you will pass cute lighthouses and old men playing board games in the afternoon sun.

Walking tour to the beach

You sold? OK great. From the main tourist neighbourhoods of Porto head for Jardins do Palacio, take whatever route you please. Stroll through the gardens in a general direction towards the river. If you’re lucky you’ll spot magnificent peacocks and cute ducks. There are museums, cafes, chapels, playgrounds and even an arena in the park. So take your time and enjoy yourself.

Once you’re finished in the park head for the street R. das Macieirinhas. It’s a beautiful high walled, cobbled street that winds its way through a small neighbourhood all the way down to the river. Once you’re at the river cross the main road and continue on the wide promenade along the river.

After a couple hundred metres, back across the road is the Porto tram museum which you might like to check out if you’re that way inclined. Porto trams are some of the most beautiful old fashioned trams we’ve ever seen and there’s a bunch more in the tram museum.

Stay walking along the river for the majority of the journey, there is plenty to look at so you won’t get bored. You will also pass a few supermarkets, just in case you get peckish. Once you get close to the coast, you’ve got a few options: you can head inland a little and explore the neighbourhood of Foz do Douro with its pretty houses, relaxed bars and restaurants before gently heading to the beach. Or you can walk through the beautiful gardens Jardim do Passeio Alegre and then walk out to the pretty lighthouse to admire the Atlantic ocean crashing in to the rocks and taste the crisp ocean spray. Just be careful if your camera is not waterproof, the waves can crash pretty hard!

Getting back

If you keep going north you can catch Metro A back to Porto centre. It’s around an hour’s walk but most of it is on the beach.

We would recommend to take the tram back though. That’s one of our top things to do in Porto. Jump to Number 6 to understand why!

Walking map

Nearby

5. Churches and Cathedrals of Porto

There are lots of magnificent churches in Porto and there are a lot of great reasons to visit them. Ornate display of azulejos (the stunning blue and white tiles of Portugal), impressive views of the city, river and surrounding landscapes and of course the decadently decorated interiors. Some of our favourite churches in Porto:

  • Porto Cathedral – This one has literally everything listed above. Don’t miss it.
  • Igreja do Carmo – One of the best displays of azulejos and a popular photo spot, truly impressive.
  • Capela das Almas – Another beautiful display of azulejos, depicting biblical scenes. The whole outside of the church is covered with azulejos.

6. Nostalgic tram ride from the beach to Porto Ribeira

So you’ve spent the afternoon sunning and exploring the beach and now you need to get back to Ribeira to grab some beers and some food. You don’t want to spend another hour walking back in the dark, so what do you do? Grab the tram of course. The beautiful cranky machines are charming repurposed originals which make for nostalgic journeys to the beautiful beaches and back.

The tram line is number 1 and you will want to catch it from the end station, Passeio Alegre right next to the gardens, Jardim do Passeio Alegre. Catch it any other stop and you might be disappointed because it could be full. So start at the end station and you should be fine. The last stop is outside the church Igreja de São Francisco, another decadently decorated all-in-gold wonder.

The tram is like something from a different century, it’s completely mechanical, eccentric and full of character. If I could ever fall in love with a tram it would be this one. The journey will take you all the way back to Ribeira in around 20 minutes, just as long as nothing gets in the way of the tram, which it often does. Just like in our case: Another tram broke down on the line and we got stuck behind it. We waited for a good 10 minutes but nothing moved, however, it did allow us to have a good look around since everybody else dispersed!

Watch out the window as the tram hurtles forward and people jump out of the way. The people sitting outside the bars move their chairs closer to the tiny bar tables hugging the shop fronts as the train squeezes by.

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7. One of the prettiest bookstores in the world: Livraria Lello

It’s very busy but it’s so beautiful it’s worth the hassle. There is a queue to get in and you need to buy your tickets from the store next door: Armazéns do Castelo. You have to pay around €5 to get in but it is refunded if you buy a book, which you should do if you’re going to a bookstore.

The bookstore was apparently an inspiration for Harry Potter as JK Rowling frequently visited the store when she lived in Porto.

The building is gorgeous from the outside and inside, but if you want to take pictures of the outside, better get there early otherwise there will be 1000 people queuing in your photo! Forget about taking pictures inside without other people in them. Be sure to try it though, we did and we fell in love with this accidental photo, the book open on the perfect page.

8. Admire the pristine azulejo tiles of Porto

Porto and Portugal are renowned for their beautiful tiles so why shouldn’t we dedicate a section to admiring them. Any picture you could conjure up of Portugal will no doubt feature the brilliant sparkling blue titles, depicting biblical scenes, ornate patterns and traditional life of the Portuguese.

King Manuel I of Portugal brought azulejo tiles from Seville in Spain, to Portugal, during the 15th century. The azulejos came to the peninsula in the course of the early Muslim conquests. Consequently the word azulejo comes from the Arabic word al zellige which translates into English as “the polished stone”.

Best locations for azulejos

  1. The churches – Jump up to number 5 and visit all of those churches, they are some of the best display of azulejos in all of Porto.
  2. São Bento Station – We never saw this during our time in Porto but we are damn kicking ourselves for missing it, don’t make the same mistake!
  3. In the streets – You will find many wonderful façades in and around the city, just keep your eyes peeled! Some of our favourites were seen around our hostel on Rua de Ferreira Cardoso and R. do Conde de Ferreira. Closer to the center you can find some beautiful displays around R. de Mouzinho da Silveira. Generally, you will find brilliant displays all around the city.
  4. Banco de Materiais – A place where building owners can deposit and take tiles to restore façades. The museum helps to preserve Porto’s rich history in terms of azulejos. As well as serving a practical purpose, visitors can browse the vast archives of stunning tiles. Learn more here.

Where to buy tiles

There are lots of places to buy azulejos in Porto but not all of them are authentic. For the best experiences in beautiful shops check out the following shops, they are run by professional enthusiasts and creatives, you will be spoilt for choice:

  • Prometeu Artesanato
  • Zinda Atelier
  • Azul Cobalto

Make your own tile

Instead of just observing you could also create your own tile. Brâmica is a pottery shop where you can design and create your own azulejo tile. This is quintessentially Portuguese and makes for a great break from exploring.

It’s a creative and educational experience taught by professional and friendly ceramicists. They teach you the history of azulejos as well as how to make and design tiles. Check the reviews on Google and Facebook, the place is highly recommended.

9. Eat some epic (vegan) food in Porto

When we arrived in Porto we had no idea that it was such a vegan paradise. What a surprise that was. We also no idea how the food and drink could be so cheap. Beers for less than a euro, epic lunches for just over 5 euros.

While in Porto, we completely abandoned our budget, burying it in the dark depths of our consciences. All restraint was neglected and anything went. We ate out more than we did during our whole hitchhiking trip from Vienna to Marrakesh!

And you know what? We don’t regret a thing: it was some of the best and most exciting food we’ve eaten. We’re going to write a full article about food in Porto so check back soon. For now here’s a few:

  • daTerra Baixa – 100% vegan buffets. A feast for the eyes and bellies.
  • Black Mamba – Super cool 100% vegan burger/punk record store.
  • O Burrito – Creative and delicious burritos with soup/burrito/drink lunch deals

10. Drink in the bars along the tram lines in Porto

Continuing on from the tram journey from the beach to Ribeira (No. 6) there is a street lined with a few bars and restaurants where you can spend a more authentic evening, with the locals.

A bit of background: if you read No. 6 you will remember that we got off the tram because ours got stuck behind another broken down tram. Well, as we walked back down R. Nova da Alfândega we noticed a bunch of nice looking bars, with tables outside and a nice view on to the Douro.

We stopped at Café Sao Nicolau and brought a friend with us that we met on the tram, and we sat outside enjoying a few beers and some shots brought over by the owner for free! The best part though is the fact that the walkway doubles as the tram line. So you get to witness people fleeing as the tram rings its bell at everything in its path. Not only that, a few times the tram rang its bell at us, because we sat in our chairs too far out on to the line! There is not much space at all!

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

There are lots of flights from lots of destinations all across Europe and the world direct to Porto. We’re not sure about the rest of the world but from Europe it is pretty cheap to fly direct to Porto.

Once in Porto take the metro line E from the airport direct to the city centre.

Accommodation

There are lots of super cheap hostels in Porto. You will be spoilt for choice, especially if you visit out of season like us. We stayed in O2 hostel which was something ridiculous like €7 per dorm bed.

Check the booking widget below for any decent deals on hotels.

Booking.com

Pro Tips

  • Super Bock is a cheap and delicious Portuguese beer you can get pretty much anywhere
  • Take advantage of the Porto tradition of lunch deals where you can get a soup, drink and main course, usually a sandwich for a great price
  • Eat a Francesinha (you can find vegan ones!)

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