Behind Lisbon, Porto is the second most populous city in Portugal with a population of about 300,000 inhabitants. With a history dating back to the Romans in the 4th century, the city concentrates along tall hills overlooking the Douro River.
One of Porto’s main attractions - besides its busy historical center - is its Port wine producers and their adegas. These large wine cellars are located in high numbers, on the other side of the river, in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Where to Start in Porto
The best place to start your visit in Porto is in Praça da Liberdade, an open square inside what normally is a clustered city.
South of the square, passing the blue tiled façade of Igreja dos Congregados, is Porto’s main central station: Estação de São Bento. Head inside and enjoy its main hall, decorated with several blue tiles panels - around 20 thousand of them - depicting the history of Portugal.
One of the city’s oldest historical monuments is Sé do Porto, located along the busy Dom Afonso Henriques and nearby the central station. The cathedral sits on a broad terrace called Terreiro da Sé and offers panoramic views of the city and the Douro River.
Tip: If you have time, make sure to visit one of our favorite churches in Porto, not too far from Sé do Porto, called Santa Clara. This church has a deceiving dull façade, but once inside it, you will experience an intricately designed interior, full of gold. It also has such striking woodwork that it stopped us in our tracks as soon as we entered!
As you leave Santa Clara, take an immediate right, pass under an arch and walk until you reach part of the city’s remaining fortifications. You can walk along the historical wall and catch stunning views of the city and its immense bridge, Ponte de D. Luís I.
The Best Views in Town
Ponte de D. Luís I crosses the Douro River, connecting the city of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia. Its upper part is used by the Metro and the bottom by vehicles - tourists also across the lower part of the bridge to reach the wine cellars located on the Gaia side of the river.
As we explored the area further, we found the upper part of the bridge to be wonderful for a stroll and also for taking amazing pictures. Just be careful when crossing the tracks as the trams are constantly traveling back and forth.
Tip: If you are staying in Porto overnight, head to the top of Ponte Luís in the evening to catch the sunset. It is a sight that can only be described if you are there: During our trip in September, the sun was as deep yellow and it faded in the horizon with an orange hue.
Heading to the Riverfront
We reached Porto's riverfront through Praça do Infante D. Henrique, so we could step into one of the most impressive churches in town.
Igreja de São Francisco is magnificent! Believe me, I am from Brazil and we are the church country! But as we walked inside, I could not believe the amount of gold used to decorate this entire church - an estimated 600 pounds.
Below the church’s chapel, you can also visit its catacombs, stretching through several different rooms.
An alleyway called Rua da Alfândega, lead us to the riverfront locally known as Cais da Ribeira. We walked along the shore until we arrived at its center square - Praça da Ribeira - where we enjoyed views of the port-wine lodges across the river and the impressive Ponte Luís.
Tip: There is a wonderful maze of streets that connect Cais da Ribeira with Sé do Porto and to get there is quite simple once you figure it out. If you are in Praça da Ribeira, walk past the rows of chairs that line this part of the plaza until you reach a small opening between the buildings that face the square. From here, you will notice a maze of narrow, colorful streets that go up a hill. Go in and explore: You will find hidden churches, historical homes and stairs upon stairs, along slim pathways.
The Church, the Bookstore and the Modern Mall
Rua dos Clérigos is a long, hilly street that will lead you to a church that bear its same name: Igreja dos Clérigos. This baroque church is connected to a tower that has become the symbol of Porto and offers visitors - which are willing to climb it - great views of the city.
Once you leave the church, head towards Rua das Carmelitas and check out Livraria Lello & Irmão. This bookstore is thought to be one Europe’s most stunning and is worth a stop just for a quick glance of its wooden, woven staircase.
In front of the bookstore, there is a small, yet fascinating open-air-mall built under a green park. We walked through it and enjoyed its modern architecture which contrasted with the historical city surrounding it.
Tip: If you still want to see more of this part of town, there is a square close to Livraria Lello & Irmão called Praça de Gomes Teixeira. As you explore this area, you will encounter a few interesting sights such as Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas as well as the University of Porto, the largest in Portugal.
The City’s Commercial Heart
The pedestrian street of Santa Catarina is one of the major commercial hubs of the city. It offers not only great retail selections but a good feel for the everyday commercial life in Porto.
This street was one of our favorite spots in the city since its busy walking traffic made the atmosphere extremely enjoyable.
Tip: Make a quick stop at Café Majestic - a city landmark - and if it is not too late in the day, go check out the produce vendors at Mercado do Bolhão, located on Rua de Fernandes Tomás.
The Wine Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia
The Funicular dos Guindais is perhaps one of the most notable modes of transportation in Porto. This small elevator is used to make a three minute journey from the upper part of town (Batalha) to the lower part (Ribeira). We took the quick trip to Ribeira and then walked under Ponte Luís to reach Vila Nova de Gaia.
Vila Nova de Gaia or most typically called, Cais de Gaia, is where visitors head to tour Porto’s adegas and explore the Port warehouses that are symbolic to this side of the Douro.
Cais de Gaia actually offers the best views of Porto’s skyline, since it faces the city directly.
What to Expect from Gaia’s Port Lodges:
There are over 50 wine lodges operating in Vila Nova de Gaia and many are opened to visitors. They offer tastings and guided tours that go over their storage methods, winemaking process and wine sources.
I would suggest getting a small map of the area and finding which winery is most accessible to you - many of them are easily reached by foot.
Some Producers We Encountered: Sandman, Graham, Taylor, Cockburn, Croft and Ramos Pinto.
Adegas We Vsited:
Ramos Pinto was the only guided tour we took. The tour takes approximately 35 minutes and ends with a complementary tasting of their Port selections.
We made a quick stop at Ferreira and sampled their Completion Selection. It offers an assortment of 3 types of Ports: Tawny, 10 year and 20 year vintage.
- Our last quick sample-stop was at Taylor where we tried their 10 year old selection and enjoyed amazing views of the city from their hillside lodge.
KEEP IN MIND
The Wrap-Up: We spent four nights in Porto - Visited the city in two and used our remaining days to explore the Minho Region and the gorgeous Vale do Douro. We arrived in town after a wonderful drive from Coimbra, located only 70 miles from the port city.
The Hotel: Driving inside of Porto can be a hassle because of its heavy traffic and narrow streets. Therefore, we chose a hotel just outside of town and took Porto’s inexpensive and reliable taxis into the city. Pousada do Porto - Palácio do Freixo is a luxury hotel and one of the best stays we had in our whole trip. The hotel faces the calm waters of the Douro and it is housed in two different buildings: a historical palace and a renovated mill factory.
The Wine Bar: Casta Winehouse is located just above Praça da Ribeira. This is a great place to enjoy small plates paired with Port wines sourced from the adegas across the river. The area itself - in and around Praça da Ribeira - is where we found the most options for eating and wine tasting in Porto.
- Want to see the full trip and plan your next? Check out our Portugal Two Week Itinerary!