How to spend a perfect weekend in Porto

Despite the hills and cobblestones of Porto, its compact layout and distractingly beautiful cityscape makes it easy to cover on foot (with trams and bikes on hand to speed along the transportation process where necessary). A few days never seems enough, but with some careful planning, it’s possible to spend a perfect weekend in Porto. Sample some of the city’s best sights, food and drink in just a couple days.

A shot from above looking down across the river to the historic centre of Porto, where centuries-old multi-storey buildings are crowded together and topped by terracotta-tiled roofs.
Porto's cityscape is anything but flat, but exploring its hills and cobbled streets on foot over a weekend is full of rewards © Adrienne Pitts / Lonely Planet

Friday evening

After touching down in Porto, make your way towards the river. The Ribeira District attracts tourists like moths to a flame, but for good reason – it’s loud and lively and bags some of the best views in town. Get acquainted with the domestic wine selection (which is astonishingly extensive for such a small country) at the Wine Quay Bar and order a side of local meats and cheeses as a tide-over until dinner. Call ahead for a table at Tapabento to try modern Portuguese share plates called petiscos, then take the 15-minute uphill walk at a leisurely pace via the buzzing, pedestrian street Rua das Flores. If Tapabento is booked out, try Páteo das Flores instead. 

Three pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), with browned tops sit on a plate; next to this is a shot of espresso (atop a blue-and-white saucer), a jar of honey and a small sieve with icing sugar
A pastel de nata or three, with a shot of bitter espresso will get your Saturday started with a kick © Roman Debree / Shutterstock

Saturday morning

Do as the locals do and keep breakfast low key with a shot of bitter espresso and a pastel de nata (yes, Portuguese custard tarts are a perfectly acceptable breakfast choice). Pick any of the traditional cafes dotted around the city. If you’re hankering for a creamy latte and eggs benny, head to Zenith Brunch & Cocktails (although probably save the cocktail for later).

Walk 150m south to Igreja do Carmo for a classic holiday snap in front of the church’s tip-to-toe blue and white tiled mural. Note the sliver of a house separating Carmo from its neighbour Igreja das Carmelitas, which kept the monks separated from the nuns, then go behind either church’s intricately designed rococo facade to admire Portugal’s 18th-century opulence.

Carry on south towards the unmistakable spire of the Torre dos Clérigos. The 76m-high tower is the artistry of Nicolau Nasoni, who is oft considered the architect of Porto, and Clérigos is arguably his most famous contribution. Pay €5 to spiral up the 225 steps for a sweeping view of the city. The old staircases are narrow and often crowded, so if you’re claustrophobic or impatient, give it a miss and check out the city’s main avenue, Avenida dos Aliados, instead.

An image from river level looking up the the stone columns to the arching, light-blue steel lattices that support the roadway above (also made from light blue steel lattices).
The Ponte de Dom Luís I connects Porto with the cross-river city of Vila Nova de Gaia, where there are plenty of port wine lodges ©Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock

Saturday afternoon

Tonight will be spent on the town, so line your stomach with Porto’s famous multi-layered meat sandwich wrapped in cheese and drowned in tomato sauce – the Francesinha. Café Santiago and Capa na Baixa are tried and trusted purveyors of this artery-clogging goodness – best done all-out with a side of hot chips and a fried egg on top. 

The afternoon goal is to cross the river for a port tasting, but let your food settle with a city stroll en route. Porto has undulating cobbled terrain, so wear decent walking shoes. Pass the baroque Igreja de Santo Ildefonso and wander through the Batalha district to get to the high and mighty , where centuries’ worth of architecture are bundled into one structure. The cathedral’s elevated position sets up a walk across the top level of the Ponte de Dom Luís I to reach the cross-river city of Vila Nova de Gaia – home of the port wine lodges.

Get a personalised tour at Croft or do a self-guided audio tour at Taylor’s to learn about northern Portugal’s long fortified winemaking history, followed by a port tasting.

A brilliant golden sun - hidden behind the fronts of a towering palm tree - sinks towards the horizon and paints the lower portion of the sky a vibrant yellow; whispy clouds still the upper portion of the blue sky. People gather on benches at the bottom of a grassy slope to watch the sunset and the River Douro below.
The sunsets over Porto as seen from the grassy slopes of Jardim do Morro © bennymarty / Getty Images

Saturday evening

Make the most of being on the south side of the Douro and start your evening at Jardim do Morro to watch the sunset. Take the metro back to Porto. Start with a pre-dinner drink at the fire-engine red Hard Club before a Portuguese-Argentinian dinner at Belos Aires or a shared feast washed down with craft beer at tiny As 7 Maravilhas. Don’t be too keen to dine before 9pm if you want to get in step with the local rhythm. The party scene doesn’t kick off until around midnight, so enjoy the evening air after dinner by pulling up a beanbag on the lawn at open-air bar Base.

When the Clérigos clock strikes midnight, join the throngs of partygoers spilling out onto parallel streets Rua da Galeria de Paris and Rua de Cândido dos Reis, which are packed wall-to-wall with nightclubs and bars. Galeria de Paris is worth a stop, despite looking like a jumbled garage sale at first glance, given its shelves of toys, vintage clocks and model cars. Let the human tide funnel you into other hotspots along the streets and dance until the sun comes up. The locals dress down with comfy shoes for a reason.

Three ponds filled with lily pads sit end to end, with a fountain at the end; heavily manicured hedges and shrubs fill the remainder of the garden, with ivy climbing up the walls at the end where there are three Juliet balconies.
The verdant confines of the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal are a perfect place for a stroll following a late start © saiko3p / Shutterstock

 

Sunday morning

Saturday was probably a late one, so join the rest of the city and have a lie in. Grab breakfast and a specialty brew at Noshi Coffee (where vegan, vego and GF diets are well catered for), then wander along Rua do Rosário and Rua de Miguel Bombarda to browse concept stores and galleries. Stop for a tea in the peaceful garden of Rota do Chá, then follow Bombarda to the end and turn left into the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. Watch the peacocks parading the grounds for photos and scope out the small gardens scattered across the park’s eight hectares. Eventually zigzag your way back down to the river, pit stopping at Miradouro Ignez if you fancy a snack with a view.

Sunday afternoon

Hire a bike at Biclas & Triclas and cruise west along the Douro River to find lunch. Choose from fresh fish barbecued on the street (follow your nose and the plumes of smoke), pizza overlooking the river at Casa d’Oro, or Portuguese share plates at Casa de Pasto da Palmeira. Brave the waves thrashing the Farol de Felgueiras jetty then continue around the bend as the Douro becomes the North Atlantic. Follow the coast to the beachside suburb Matosinhos or follow the cycle paths through Portugal’s largest urban park, Parque da Cidade. Backtrack along the river to return your wheels.

A close up of a pork-filled white bun sitting on a white plate, with a glass of beer in the background.
A bifana (pork sandwhich) and beer at local institution Conga - Casas das Bifanas is a chilled way to start Sunday evening © Emily McAuliffe / Lonely Planet

Sunday evening

Keep things low key with a beer and a bifana (or two) at Conga - Casa das Bifanas. This no-frills joint specialises in Portugal’s traditional pork sandwiches and is a local institution. Alternatively try the ham hock at Antunes (just point to what everyone else is eating). Take the opportunity for a pre-departure pastel de nata at Manteigaria or Fábrica da Nata. Maybe even stash one away for later.

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