Porto, or Oporto, is a coastal city located in the north of Portugal known for its chief export, port wine, still stored and matured along the banks of the River Douro. This small, easy-to-navigate city is gaining traction as an affordable European destination, offering lots from the narrow streets of Cais da Ribeira to the grand plaza of the Trindade district. Read our guide for the top things to see in Porto.
Airline: Wizz Air from London Luton (LTN) to Porto (OPO). From £45, return.
To the city: Line E metro (purple line) from the ground floor at the airport.
Cost: €2.60 (Adult single trip Zone 4 €2.60 including the Blue Andante card – valid 60 minutes).
Journey time to centre: 25 minutes.
Need to know
Visa: From 1st January 2021, UK residents can Portugal visit for a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period.
Travel: Detailed information on the FCDO website.
Currency: Euro (1 GBP = € 1.11 approximately)
Language: Portuguese and Spanish. English is spoken and understood.
Best time to visit: March-April or September-October.
Time: GMT (same as London)
First Impressions of Porto
- It is cheap, even by Portuguese standards.
- Less touristy and less hilly than Lisbon.
- A laid back and relaxed vibe with colourful neighbourhoods.
Top things to do in Porto
- Ponte de Dom Luís I – Free.
- Vila Nova de Gaia – Free.
- Cais da Ribeira – Free.
- São Bento Railway Station – Free.
- The Livraria Lello bookstore- €5 (Adult single redeemable against the cost of books).
- Historic tram ride – From €5.
- Admire the Azulejos – Free.
- Porto Cathedral – Free.
- Street art – Free.
1. Ponte de Dom Luís I
The 172 metre, double-deck metal arch Ponte de Dom Luís I Bridge links the Ribeira side of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia’s port houses. Built just after 1880, the original metal pillars are still in place. The architect was a partner of Gustave Eiffel, who built the Eiffel Tower. On the top deck are metro tracks and a pedestrian walkway, while the lower deck carries traffic. The view from the top deck, especially at sunset over the River Douro, is impressive.
2. Vila Nova da Gaia
The liveliest neighbourhood of Porto, on the banks of the Douro, really lights up the city at night. Street entertainers, fire-up grills and old taverns with a backdrop of the Ponte de Dom Luís I Bridge and Vila Nova da Gaia make this riverfront promenade very popular. A boat trip along the Douro takes in Cais da Ribeira and the bridges along the river. This is probably the top thing to see in Porto for free.
3. Cais da Ribeira
Cais da Ribeira has the best view of the city of Porto. This is where Porto really comes to life, particularly during those long, balmy summer nights. The narrow alleyways and coloured-building façades stand out along the banks of the River Douro. The Wine Quay Bar is a prime spot for people-watching in addition to serving excellent Portuguese wines and appetisers.
4. São Bento Railway Station
Perhaps one of the most dramatic interiors of any railway station in Europe. Taking 14 years to complete, the 20,000 azulejo tiles cover the main hall, which portrays a history of transport. With thermal properties, they keep the main hall cool in hot weather.
The walls are split into different compositions. Each one tells a different story. The architect, Jose Silva, worked at Windsor Castle in the UK. The station is near the vintage tram line 22 and connects to São Bento Metro Station on metro line D.
5. The Livraria Lello bookstore
Opened in 1906, the building with its chalky-white façade was the first architectural structure built with reinforced concrete in Porto.
Aside from the strong Potter link, drawing hordes of tourists en masse, this bookshop often features the world’s top 10 bookstores. At one time, entry was free, but commercialism and 4,000 visitors per day now incur a €5 entry charge, although this is redeemable against the cost of a book. Purchase tickets online or at the Armazéns do Castelo store a few doors along the street. Entry to Livaria Lello can take up to 30 minutes.
There are several stained glass windows through which the sunshine rays shine upon the books. At the back of the store, upstairs, is a room called Sala Gemma, housing rare and more exquisite books, often sent to private collectors from all over the world.
Things to know before you go:
- No flash photography
- Purchase tickets in advance to save time.
- No bags or rucksacks inside. Use the lockers at the Armazéns do Castelo.
- Avoid weekend visits.
6. Historic Tram rides
Discovering Porto on the old, rickety tram tracks is an alternative way to see the city. Three remaining lines retain their heritage status. These lines are functional and well maintained.
Line 1 (Riverside line) runs from Passeio Alegre, in the Foz district, along the River Douro bank to Porto’s centre in both directions. Take a walk to see the less famous Ponte da Arrábida bridge and then get the tram back into Porto. As the most scenic tram ride gets busy, so take it early in the morning or at sunset.
Line 18 (Restore line) – runs from the parish of Massarelos to the Carmo, departing the Museu do Carro Elétrico and climbing uphill to Porto’s centre, looping around the Hospital Santo Antonio. As the least scenic of the lines, it is the quietest. It intersects with Line 22 at the Carmo stop and with Line 1 at the Museu do Carro Elétrico.
Line 22 (Low line) – runs in a loop around Porto’s streets between Casey and Battle/Guindais. The tram provides a nice introduction to the city, passing the Church of Saint Ildefonso without climbing the steep hill from São Bento Railway Station.
More information about the 3 main historical lines and current ticket prices is here.
7. Admire the Azulejos
The Azulejos are tiles found all over the city. These tiles cover most of the historic buildings in Porto, often showing scenes from Portuguese history.
8. Porto Cathedral
The most important religious building in Porto is a national monument and the highest point in the city. Located in the Batalha area, close to the walls that once protected the city, it gives it a fortress-like appearance. There is a 14th-century cloister inside the cathedral.
The cathedral square was a place to hang criminals. There are decent views across the River Douro and the wine cellars on the waterfront.
9. Street art
Porto’s street art scene has picked up in the last few years, with shop fronts and old, disused buildings used as a canvas for designs. The vibrant street art scene is supported by the local government to change and enhance the city’s image. Best of all, this street art is free to admire.
Porto is a great weekend destination. Sample culinary delights, such as the franscesinha, washed down with local port matured on the banks of the River Douro. Further afield is the Douro Valley – the train journey is one of the best in Europe. Return to Porto in the evening to watch the sunset from the Dom Luís I Bridge and spend the night at the bar-hopping in Ribeira. Be sure to visit this city as there are plenty of top things to see in Porto, many of which are free.
Read about our other Portuguese trips and European weekend breaks.