8 reasons to visit Porto
Georgina Willcox | 25 November 2021
Portugal’s second largest city is filled with undiscovered beauty, culinary delights and world famous wines. It’s also one of Europe’s oldest cities, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Porto is a perfect city break destination, a port of call on a river cruise or as part of an overall Portugal holiday, as it’s compact and easy to explore. Here are some of the more unique experiences that Porto offers visitors.
1. Port wine cellars
Portugal’s national drink and most famous export is Port. Typically a sweet red wine served after a meal, Port is also produced as a dry or a white wine. The city of Porto is built along hills of the River Douro estuary. Since the 13th century, wine produced in the Douro valley has been shipped from the city, along the river in flat sailing boats known as barcos rebelos. The Port wine cellars are mainly located in the Villa Nova de Gaia district and are open to visitors to come and enjoy a tasting of the local fortified Port Wines.
2. The Douro river
We suggest taking a relaxing boat trip down the Douro River under Porto’s six bridges, on board a Rabelo Barco – a boat originally used to transport Port wine. Usually, many of the cruise companies will include a wine tasting as you sail. The Dom Luis I Bridge is an icon of Porto. It’s a double decker bridge that spans the River Douro and it’s a feat of 19th century engineering, the first concept was put forward by Gustave Eiffel, who designed the Eiffel Tower. It’s also a perfect spot to get incredible views of the city.
3. Ribeira quarter
The location of some of the city’s most beautiful monuments including Sao Benito station, which is often ranked in the top ten list for the world's most beautiful train stations. With 20,000 titles that intricately depict scenes of Portuguese history, it took 11 years for the artist Jorde Colaço to complete. It’s decorated with blue and white tiles which is known as ‘azulejos’ a form of Portuguese tile work which is often seen throughout the country on various buildings. In the Ribeira quarter, you will also find the Church of Sao Francisco and the Clerigos Church (Torre dos Clerigos). The medieval cobbled streets are the perfect location for wandering and getting lost on one of your free days. At night, Ribeira is lively and buzzing with countless bars and restaurants to enjoy.
4. Alternative art
There are numerous galleries and museums to choose from in Porto but if you are looking for something more modern then head to the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum is now the most visited in Portugal and regularly holds music and theatre events. The surrounding gardens are truly magical and it’s worth a visit just to experience them alone. Make sure to visit the colourful art installation ‘Half Rabbit’ by renowned urban artist Bordallo II, which is located on a side street in Vila Nova Gaia.
5. Lello bookshop
Livraria Lello & Irmão is a bookstore located in the centre of Porto. It’s no surprise it’s often voted the most beautiful book store in the world, Lello is equally worth visiting for its unique and quirky architecture. The building’s façade is decorated in Art Nouveau with some features of the Gothic Revival. As you enter the shop, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stepped straight into a Lewis Caroll book - the psychedelic staircase is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Book shopping will take twice as long here as there are so many wonderful distractions including the intricate wood carved walls and the colourful stained glass ceiling.
6. Clerigos Church
Clerigos Church is a Baroque church in the centre of Porto decorated with garlands and shells. The church is easily located as the tall bell tower dominates the city skyline. If you’re feeling fit, climb the 240 steps to the top for an unrivalled view of the city.
7. Vila Nova de Gaia District
The romantic district of Vila Nova de Gaia is the departure point for Douro river cruises and it’s a wonderful photo opportunity to capture the traditional ‘barcos rabelos’. Enjoy a short trip on the cable car or Teleférico de Gaia to get incredible views of Porto and the Douro river. If the sun is shining, this is also the location of the best beaches in the city.
8. Porto Food
Porto’s proximity to the sea means that the seafood is fresh, plentiful and delicious. On sunny days you can choose from countless outdoor restaurants, cafés and tapas bars to enjoy some delicious bites and watch the world go by. Porto’s signature dish is the filling ‘Francesinha’ sandwich, stuffed with different meats and smothered in spicy sauce – it’s perfect for refuelling after a day of sightseeing or wine tasting! The city’s bakeries will definitely tempt those with a sweet tooth.
A trip to Porto gives visitors a unique and authentic Portuguese experience with much of the traditions, culture of the city and the magnificent architecture remaining untouched from modern influences. The slight crumble of the pretty colourful buildings adds to the charm of the city. Porto’s delicious Port wine and friendly atmosphere have made it a favourite of holiday makers for years; this charming UNESCO World Heritage city is a perfect escape. Uncover the highlights of Porto with us and if you would like to explore beyond Porto, then check out our recommendations for the Top 10 attractions to visit in Portugal.