When people plan a city getaway, the most recurrent question becomes, “How much time is enough for this or that city?” And it is difficult to tell when you haven’t been before. Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, is doable in one day if you are on your way from or to a nearby destination (also if you are driving). However, I prefer to enjoy cities differently, especially when I go by bus which takes between 3.5 hours and 4 hours from Lisbon to Porto.
There are three major must-dos in Porto: Wine tasting, eating loads, and walking around the city (not only to burn all those calories, but because it is just lovely to walk around Porto).
Porto is Located along the Douro River in the north of Portugal. The historic center of this old European city is a UNESCO heritage site. Many of its buildings and urban core areas have been kept as they were for hundreds of years. The city is known for exporting Port wine to every corner of the world.
Without spending so much time on unnecessary visits here and there, my recommendations below cut to the chase of what you can’t miss out on in Porto.
Start with a walk around the historic city center
Porto is known for its many churches which have quite a distinct architectural style. Most of them have facades made of blue tiles (Portuguese azulejos) such as the Church of Santo Ildefonos and the Chapel of Santa Catarina. It will also be easy to spot one of Porto’s most famous visual icons which is the Tower of the Church of Clergymen. The tower is 75-meter-tall bell tower, and it can be seen from different points in the city.
Stop for lunch
Many typical Portuguese dishes originally come from Porto. The Francesinha is the most famous of them all. It is a dish which is a sandwich in theory, but it is also not. It is made of several types of meat, but the cheese and the rich sauce cover the outside of the sandwich. The sauce is usually the best thing about it as it is made with beer among other flavorful ingredients. Even though the Francesinha could be easily found in Lisbon, it is way more special in its native city. The most famous place for this dish is Café Santiago.
Chocolate and Truffle Shopping
You should consider shopping for chocolate, bonbons, and truffles in Porto. For a reason I don’t know, Porto really stands out when it comes to artisanal chocolate shops compared to Lisbon. The real chocolate gem is Chocolateria das flores. Their lemon mousse-filled chocolate is to die for and their hot chocolate is one of the best I have ever had.
Dinner at Cana Verde
We rested a bit before getting all dressed up for dinner. Dinner in Portugal can start as late as 9 p.m., so you will have plenty of time to rest. This small, cozy restaurant is known for its fresh fish plates. I would say get plates to share if you are still too full from the Francesinha. However, don’t skip dinner altogether as you won’t be having dinner in Porto every day.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to make reservations the day before as it is almost impossible to find a table at this place without reservations.
Explore the river area
The Port area is really beautiful. The buildings around there are quite old and less bright compared to those in Lisbon. The Douro River separates the main town of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side. However, they are both connected by the bridge Dom Luis I. The construction of the bridge ended in 1886 and it was the longest of its type in the world back then. It allows pedestrians, cars, and trams to cross from one side of the river to another. It is great for pictures.
Probably the whole point of crossing over to Vila Nova is the wine tasting. Most Port wine cellars are located on that side of the river. We did a wine tour in Calem, one of the oldest brands of Portuguese Port. We were accompanied by a wine expert who showed us around the caves and answered our questions. The tour along with the tasting of three different wines (including a fancy vintage one) costs 20 eur per person.
I recommend having lunch by the riverside on that day to enjoy more of the city’s beautiful architecture as well as fresh seafood and fish. The restaurants by the riverside tend to be a bit more expensive, but the view is totally worth it. One of the really good ones is Muro do Bacalhau. If you had fish the evening before and prefer to go back to the city center, then any local café would do for delicious huge-sized pastries.
At the city center you will find Lello Bookstore, or Livraria Lello, which is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. The bookstore is commonly referred to as the “most beautiful bookstore in the world”. I don’t know the origin of this statement, but Livraria Lello sells their own tote bag with that quote on it. The statement is not exaggerated though. This bookstore is exceptionally beautiful in terms of architecture, interior design, and overall ambience. Entrance tickets cost 5 eur per person and they have to be bought online.
I would have spent one more day in Porto if I’d had the time, just for the chill vibe, rich food, and amazing wine. Nevertheless, I enjoyed those two days immensely. As a resident of Lisbon myself, I sometimes forget that Portugal also has other beautiful cities to offer apart from its capital.
Sarah Nagaty has a PhD in cultural studies, She’s lived in Portugal for six years.
As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.