The second largest city in Portugal, Porto is a beautiful area full of colourful houses, incredible architecture, stunning views and a whole lot of port and pastries!
As I’m fairly new to travel, Portugal was yet to cross my radar as somewhere to visit. However, when my travel buddy, Calle, suggested a trip to Porto before she headed home to America, I jumped at the opportunity.
We overlapped our trips with a few days together and a few solo, so I spent Saturday – Tuesday morning in Porto following a 6am flight out from Bristol. We were lucky enough to get a few brief moments of sunshine, but the grey weather didn’t stop us from having a great time either!
Porto, although fairly small, has a lot of character and is perfect for a long weekend or a few days. Even just wandering through the old, cobbled streets and staring up at the fascinating buildings is worth the journey alone – but there’s plenty more to do too! The people we met were warm and welcoming, the food was inexpensive and delicious, and the port wine is plentiful.
If you’re planning to spend a few days in Porto, here’s some of my favourite things that I recommend you see, do, eat and drink!
Things to do and see
There’s plenty of free or low-cost things to do around Porto that are simple to get to by foot or by short bus trip (which is also cheap and easy to navigate!). Here’s some of my favourite things that I got up to over three days in the city.
Walk along the river and bridges
One of the most iconic scenes of Porto is the beautiful Duoro river, lined with a rainbow effect of mismatched buildings and houses along each side.
A stroll along the river’s side really is a must do. Not only will you be greeted by a picturesque view, but there’s plenty of market stalls, live musicians and numerous opportunities to stop for a bite to eat or a glass of wine along the way. It’s a lively, buzzing area full of locals and tourists going about their day.
Once you’ve seen the river from that view, it’s time to take it up a level!
There’s a couple of different routes you can take, but make your way up onto to the Dom Luis Bridge. It’s a sweaty walk, especially in the sun, but you will be rewarded with some incredible views of the river and Porto below.
Port Wine Tour
Now, there’s loads (and I mean loads) of port wine tours to pick from, so depending on whichever brand you’re interested in or the drinks you try during your time in Porto, you might choose from: Sandeman, Ferreira, Offley and Porto Cruz, to name but a few.
I went for the Ferreira tour because of the leading role of female entrepreneur, Antonia Ferreira, who was instrumental in the cultivation of port wine in Portugal. As I learned during the tour, she also invested back into the local community through hospitals, libraries and more.
It was a fun tour with a lovely guide who was happy to answer questions from the group. In general the tour guide will lead you through the cold, dark cellars to see the gigantic oak barrels that the port is stored in, whilst telling you about the history and specific way in which the brand’s port is created. You’ll then be treated to a tasting session with a mixture of white, red and ruby port wines. Yum!
It only takes about an hour or so altogether (and costs about €14) so it you’ve got some spare time then I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to learn about some of the history and culture of Porto whilst enjoying some sweet, delicious sipping drinks.
Visit the lighthouse
The area around Praia Do Ourigo is a great place for lunch and a leisurely walk. There’s a sandy beach, a long pier leading to a lighthouse and some expansive views over where the River Douro leads into the Atlantic Ocean.
The journey to the beach is simple, with a 20 minute ride from the centre of Porto that costs just €2 on the hop on and off bus. The ride itself is also worth the journey as you snake along the River Douro and get to see more of the classic buildings that make Porto what it is.
Despite the stormy weather (and the resulting wild hair), it was great to see another side of Porto. Once we jumped off the bus, there was a lovely market in a small garden square next to the beach and some crazy waves looming over the lighthouse. In sunny weather, this would be the perfect spot for some lunch and a lazy afternoon.
Get spooked at the Marionette Museum
Whilst searching for something to do on a wet and windy Monday, I stumbled upon the Museu das Marionetas. The quirky museum showcases some of the creative and kooky creations that have taken to the stage at the Teatro Marionetas do Porto.
At just €2, the exhibition doesn’t take too long to walk through (say, about 20 minutes) but it’s a great little addition to the day, especially if you’re in the area.
The two floors will take you through a variety of displays showing puppets ranging from animals, to people, to strange creatures. The designs were amazing, if a little spooky (although that may something to do with the fact that I was there alone!).
If you’ve been looking up what to do in Porto then you’ll likely have heard of Livraria Lello, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world (which, apparently, inspired J.K. Rowling to write Harry Potter).
Despite being a bit of tourist trap, I would recommend trying to head here when it’s a bit quieter because it’s definitely worth it just to admire the incredible design and artistry of the interior. There’s beautifully intricate woodwork on the ceilings and stained glass windows, and it’s just an altogether stunning space to see (if you can block out the panicked tourist trying desperately to get their photo on the iconic red steps).
It’s just €5 to get in (which I would have paid anyway) but you also get that €5 back off the price of a book inside. Using my friend’s ticket too, I picked up two of their stunning books. Printed specifically for the bookshop, the selected series of books is a masterclass in design, with bright red covers, gold lined pages and beautiful dust jackets. It was about €20 for the two books, including our entry to the bookshop, so it’s a bit of a treat but not as extortionate as I anticipated.
As a note, you can book your tickets from the street behind the actual bookshop and then enter through the doors at the front once you have your ticket. You can also buy your tickets in advance, like we did.
Things to Eat
I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable, but delicious the food was in Porto. It might take a little bit of searching to find exactly what you want to eat (particularly if you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t just want to eat cheese, like me!) but it’s well worth it when you stumble upon gems like these.
Bao’s – Taiwanese Burger
This is a great little spot for lunch or dinner, depending on how many bao buns you decide to try!
If you’ve never had a bao bun then I highly recommend. They’re little steamed buns that are light, fluffy and with a delicate sweetness. They usually come filled with something delicious and they’re slightly smaller than an average burger.
At Bao’s, there’s a decent menu of veggie, vegan and meat options plus a selection of sides, rice dishes and drinks to choose from. It’s a quick, easy and street-food styled meal that’s pretty affordable. For a tofu bao bun, topped fries and an apple juice, I paid just €10 (and was pretty full after).
Folias de Baco
After deciding to try tapas for dinner one night, we settled on heading to Folias de Baco and, considering it was a random choice, I was so impressed.
Set inside a small restaurant with a simple kitchen, the space has a cosy and comfortable feel to it. Our waiter was very friendly and knowledgeable, explaining the menu and wines to us and helping us to make decisions on what to eat and drink.
As the restaurant centres around their own wines, there’s a great selection to try and some excellent food to match! We choose the vegetarian set menu which, for an amazing €15 each, gave us a cheese board, bread and oils, olives, a fruity salad, a black bean tart, topped toasts, a glass of wine, bottle of water and a peppermint tea to round off the meal.
We sat in the warm atmosphere of the restaurant chatting, sipping our wine and slowly working our way through the menu for about 2 hours as the rained fell outside – the perfect way to end a Sunday.
If you enjoy wine and tapas style food then I urge you to head here for an evening meal.
Lazy – Breakfast Club
I immediately decided to head to Lazy for breakfast the following day when I caught sight of the building. It’s millennial heaven with pink and white interiors, neon lights and an all day breakfast menu!
However, it’s not only worth a visit for the cute design but the great, affordable food and drink too. As it was conveniently located over the road from the hostel, I ended up here twice for breakfast – once opting for a poached egg and mushroom toast dish with an almond latte (€8.50) and then trying out the veggie breakfast with free americano (€9).
The food was delicious and the coffee was strong so it’s a great way to start the day! Or, if you’re a breakfast lover like me, then head here whenever you want your breakfast fix (they serve everything from pancakes and bagels to topped toast and porridge).
What to Drink
Whether you’re a fan of coffee, cocktails, wine, beer or anything in-between, there’s a wide selection of bars, pubs and coffee spots to choose from all over Porto. Here’s some of my favourites!
C’alma Specialty Coffee Room
If you’re a fan of decadent buildings and equally decadent coffee then C’alma should be top of your hit list.
Situated inside a huge, grand building, the specialty coffee house offers your typical coffees alongside flights of coffee to try the different roasts and styles of coffee. It’s a perfect visit for a coffee lover!
I grabbed my go-to oat latte and sat there soaking in the beautiful interiors with large windows, dark wood and colourful tiled walls. I was so relaxed that I lost track of time and had to run all the way to my port wine tour (luckily the coffee gave me a much needed boost of energy to help!).
I would have loved this French-themed cocktail bar anyway, but that fact that as soon as we stepped into Golden Oldie we were met by the biggest, most fluffy dog ever just sealed the deal for me.
Golden Oldie is a small, but perfectly-sized cocktail bar that has been carefully designed with an elegant French touch. Everything revolves around dusty pinks, worn golds and luxurious velvets and it feels incredibly feminine and beautiful. It was a relaxing space to sit and sip on a cocktail, and it’s a great place to end the night with friends. Especially if there’s a huge dog to cuddle.
Fabrica da Nata
You have to try a nata if you’re in Portugal!
Pasteis de Nata are the portugese egg custard tarts filled with warm, gooey egg custard sat in a crisp, flaky pastry. They’re typically €1 wherever you go and are easy to grab and take with you as you walk around Porto.
However, if you fancy a real treat, I recommend stopping at Fabrica da Nata and taking advantage of their €2.50 offer pairing a nata with a glass of Port.
It’s a sweet, syrupy treat and a great excuse for a pit-stop.
What’s on your Porto to-do list?
If you’re heading to Porto soon, I hope I have given you some ideas of places to add to your list! Although Porto is a small city, there’s plenty to do. Let me know if you’re interested to visit any of these, or what you thought of them if you’ve already been.