It’s also a top city for culinary adventures amid northern Portugal’s finest restaurants and wine bars. You’ll find maze-like neighborhoods that are a delight (mostly) to get lost within and vertiginous viewpoints teetering high above the terracotta rooftops. Some of Porto’s best experiences simply have no analog in Portugal (or anywhere else for that matter) – whether walking Porto’s famed cast-iron bridge above the river as the sun sets beyond the seaside, or hunting down the latest street art carved into the walls in the lanes of Miragaia.
Whether you come for a weekend or stay for a week, don’t miss these top things to do in Porto.
1. Take in the river views from the bustling Ribeira district
Porto began its life as a sleepy fishing village on the bank of the Douro River on the site of the modern-day neighborhood of Ribeira. Today, the district buzzes with activity day and night. Although it's very tourist-centric, travelers flock to Ribeira for a reason – notably its knockout views of the river. You’ll also find back-to-back restaurants and bars, craft markets, and street performances. Just back from the river, visit Casa do Infante, where Prince Henry the Navigator was born in 1394. As the sponsor of many Portuguese expeditions, Henry is also honored by a statue outside the opulent Palácio da Bolsa (which is worth a gander on its own merits).
2. Soak up the seaside atmosphere in Foz do Douro
When the sun is shining, it seems as though all of Porto descends on Foz do Douro for a bit of beach time followed by drinks at terrace cafes overlooking the ocean. On steamy summer days, you can cool off in the chilly water. At other times of the year, you can join locals on runs, bike rides or saunters along the seaside promenade, which runs for 2.5km (1.6 miles) up to Matosinhos, Porto’s biggest city beach. For a shorter walk, you can stroll out along a jetty to the 19th-century Felgueiras Lighthouse, which has dramatic views over the wave-battered shore. Bike it from Porto or hop on vintage tram 1 to arrive in old-fashioned style.
Planning tip: For fresh-off-the-boat seafood, factor in lunch in Matosinhos, where an entire street (Rua Heróis de França) is enshrouded in the smoke from sizzling outdoor grills.
3. Climb the Clérigos Tower
The 76m-high (249ft) Torre dos Clérigos, designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni in the 1700s, is Porto’s signature landmark. The baroque tower soars above the city rooftops and visitors can climb 225 steps to reach far-reaching city views from the top. It's not an experience for the claustrophobic – the structure definitely wasn’t built with big crowds in mind!
Planning tip: After making the climb, drop into the adjoining church – a baroque beauty from 1750 – or simply kick back on the manicured lawn of the adjacent Jardim das Oliveiras. The chilled open-air bar Base is also conveniently located near the tower, making it the perfect spot for a post-climb drink.
4. Admire the splendor of Igreja de São Francisco
Unprepossessing on the outside but as intricate as a Fabergé egg on the inside, Porto’s Igreja de São Francisco is an indulgent feast of baroque splendor. The staggeringly intricate interior glows with gold-leaf finery and lustrous woodwork. Look out for the polychrome Tree of Jesse altarpiece and the masterful handiwork of craftsmen Filipe da Silva and António Gomes, and drop into the museum to see sacred art and portraits of long-departed bishops.
Local tip: Make time to visit the eerie yet fascinating catacombs, which are silent when the crowds depart. This is where the great and the good of Porto were once interred.
5. Immerse yourself in cutting-edge art in Serralves
A hike from the heart of Porto, but well worth the detour, Serralves brings together avant-garde architecture, contemporary art, a sculpture-strewn park, and a bijou art deco mansion in one harmonious whole. Inside, the arrestingly minimalist design of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea was the brainchild of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Álvaro Siza, bearing his trademark clean lines, playful heights, and natural materials. Porto’s answer to the Guggenheim, it draws on an impressive permanent collection, featuring works from the late 1960s to the present in rotating exhibitions.
Planning tip: After taking in the art, explore Serralves’ wild side and take a stroll amid floral gardens, forested paths and open meadows. You can see cows and other barnyard animals in the southeast end of the park, or head skyward into the park’s lush canopy on a treetop walk.
6. See the sights of Sé cathedral
Gazing defiantly over Porto from its hilltop perch, the fortress-like Sé evokes the city’s imperial past. This handsome cathedral wields serious historical clout as the spot where Prince Henry the Navigator was baptized in 1394 and where King John I married in 1387. Of Romanesque origins, the 12th-century cathedral was given a baroque facelift in the 18th century. A barley-twist pillar crowns the cathedral courtyard, which commands sweeping views over the sagging houses, terracotta rooftops, and crocheted alleyways of Ribeira.
7. Browse for one-of-a-kind gift ideas at the Mercado do Porto Belo
On Saturdays, the Praça Carlos Alberto forms the backdrop to Porto’s best market. Join a wide cross-section of Porto society while digging for treasures amid stalls of records, vintage clothing, elegant stationery, antiques, crafts, handmade jewelry, old-fashioned toys, beautifully wrapped soaps and artwork. There’s also a small food component, featuring seasonal fruits and jams. While it’s small compared to its namesake in London, the market is a great place to support local designers and artisans.
8. Seek out Porto's Insta-worthy tiles (azulejos)
Portuguese design is epitomized by the walls of colorful tiles known as azulejos, traditionally adorned with repetitive, intricate patterns or mural scenes executed in blue and white. Some of the most impressive tile art can be found inside São Bento train station, where stories of Portugal’s past stretch from floor to ceiling. Also check out the sides of Capela das Almas on Porto’s main commercial strip, the walls of Rua de Santa Catarina, and the handsome Igreja do Carmo, a church that drips with gold on the inside.
Planning tip: Don’t feel limited to these popular drawcards. Keep a lookout as you wander the city as azulejos are scattered all over, and discovery is part of the fun.
9. Follow Porto's street art trail
If you want to explore an alternative side of Porto, leave the main sights behind and hit the pavement. As you wander the backstreets and nip down alleyways, keep your eyes peeled for Porto’s ancillary population of vividly colorful murals, painted by the city’s talented street artists.
Planning tip: Start the street art trail by seeking out some of the heavy hitters like Daniel Eime’s massive photo-realistic mural entitled Mira on the Largo de Artur Arcos, or Vhils’ powerful tribute to healthcare workers featuring his trademark carving style at the Hospital São João. Other good places to hunt for street art are around Travessa de Cedofeita, along graffiti-emblazoned Rua da Madeira, and on Rua das Flores in Ribeira. Top detours include Mirigaia's Rua São Pedro de Miragaia, gallery-lined Rua Miguel Bombarda and the car lot at Trindade, with works by street art demigods MrDheo and Hazul Luzah.
10. Find the perfect spot to watch the sunset
Porto’s west coast location, at the intersection of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Douro River, makes for some epic sunsets. When the daylight starts to fade, Porto hipsters grab a beatbox and some cold beers and head to the narrow park along Passeio das Virtudes, which slips down the hillside in a series of terraces. When you see how busy this place gets, you’ll realize that Porto sunsets are serious business. The beachfront at Foz do Douro is another top spot to catch the sun's last rays, as is the Jardim do Morro in Vila Nova de Gaia.
11. Experience world-class acoustics inside the Casa da Música
Porto’s top concert hall is the Casa da Música, which has stellar acoustics inside a futuristic Rem Koolhaas-designed polygon. You’ll find a wide mix of programming, featuring both grand symphony orchestras as well as jazz groups and the occasional rock icon.
Planning tip: During the summer, the terrace of the cafe transforms into an open-air stage for free live concerts and DJ sessions from Wednesdays to Friday nights.
12. Have a Porto picnic
Porto's warm days are tailor-made for picnics. Assemble a portable feast of Portuguese cheese and northern Portugal’s refreshing vinho verde (a light wine from the Minho) and roll out a blanket at one of Porto’s many inviting green spaces. You can watch the ducks and geese on the ponds at the Parque da Cidade, Portugal’s biggest urban park, or sit beneath an olive tree and admire the view over the Douro from the elegant grounds of the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal.
Planning tip: For pure romance, time your visit for the late afternoon, and you can enjoy yet another fine spot to watch the sunset.
13. Enjoy a port tasting
Portugal’s famous port lodges are located in Porto’s cross-river sister city Vila Nova de Gaia. Gaia, as it’s more commonly called, is easily reached via a stroll or metro ride across the iconic Ponte de Dom Luís I, which was built by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). Tour and taste Porto’s eponymous tipple at vintage cellars such as Ramos Pinto, Graham’s or Taylor’s, with the latter offering stellar views of the Douro River from its rooftop terrace.
Planning tip: You can delve deeper into the port experience at the World of Wine, a vast cultural complex that contains various museums, a wine school and a dozen restaurants and bars – plus a huge terrace with views over the Ponte Dom Luís I, the Douro and the city across the water.
14. Cross the Ponte de Dom Luís I
Completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, Porto's most eye-catching bridge is a city icon. It was built to replace a precarious crossing between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia made from old port boats lashed together – most would agree that its curving arch adds a definite something to the cityscape. From the upper deck, the views over the river and old town are stunning. Keep an eye out for daredevils who leap from the lower level into the river.
15. Join the party people in Baixa
If you’re seeking out the heart of Porto’s nightlife, head to the cobblestone lanes just west of Avenida dos Aliados. There you’ll find some of the city’s most atmospheric bars like the Casa do Livro, a former bookshop turned into a stylish drinking den, or Bonaparte Downtown, with its rustic charm. On weekends, the alleys (especially Rua Galeria de Paris) fill with revelers during an impromptu street party that rages late into the night.