The second city of Portugal, Porto is set into the slopes above the Douro River. Porto is known for its famous Port wine but it’s also steeped in history, culture, and heritage. The fusion of the Old World and the New make Porto charming, eclectic, and ever-changing. Whether you’re people watching on the Ribeira’s riverfront promenade, sipping on Port wine, or cruising down the Douro, Porto offers a perfect taste of authentic Portuguese culture. If you only have one day to spend in this beautiful city, don’t miss these must-sees:
How to spend 1 day in Porto
The first stop on your tour of Porto should be the Livraria Lello. Try to arrive 15 minutes before the store opens for a less crowded experience and reserve tickets online before arrival. Stepping into the bookshop is like stepping into a fairytale. You can’t miss the gorgeous, curvaceous, and bright red art nouveau staircase that leads to even more books and an incredible stained-glass ceiling.
Not only is it one of the most beautiful bookshops you will likely ever visit, it was also supposedly the inspiration for Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novel series. The shop was opened in 1906 by the Lello brothers and has been a popular hangout for writers and readers alike ever since. It costs 5 euros to enter, but the fee will be applied to your book purchase should you choose to bring home a keepsake.
Clérigos Church + Clérigos Tower
Next, we’re heading to the Clérigos Church and Clérigos Tower. This beautiful Baroque church boasts a 75.6-meter-high tower that is one of the most iconic structures in Porto. The tower was built in the 18th century and was inspired by the campaniles of Tuscany. It can be seen from just about anywhere in the city and if you choose to climb the 240 steps to the top, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of Porto and the Douro Valley.
At the top of Porto’s central Avenida dos Aliados you’ll find the Town Hall, or Câmara Municipal. The building is relatively new and was constructed between 1920-1956 in the neoclassical style. The hall’s tower is 7 meters high, and you can climb the 180 stairs to the top for panoramic views of the city.
Liberdade Square McDonald’s
You’re probably wondering, “why in the world would I visit a McDonald’s in Porto?” Just do it, because this is no ordinary McDonald’s. It’s the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world. The fast food giant opened at this location in 1995 in what used to house Café Imperial, a renowned coffee shop that had been open since the 1930s.
When McDonald’s took over the location, it preserved the Art Deco architecture and the giant bronze eagle still adorns the entrance. The interior is equally impressive with crystal chandeliers and massive stained-glass windows by Portuguese artist, Ricardo Leone. If you’re not in the mood for a Big Mac or McNuggets, treat yourself to the more uniquely Portuguese sweet treat of a coffee and custard tart.
Porto São Bento Train Station
You don’t need to take the train anywhere to enjoy the beauty of São Bento Train Station. The outside is a sight to see in and of itself, but it’s the inside that will really take your breath away. Once you step inside you won’t be able to ignore the 20,000 brilliant azulejo tin-glazed ceramic tiles covering the walls—and these walls have a story to tell!
The blue and white tiles were installed over a series of 11 years, starting in 1905, by artist Jorge Colaço. The tilework depicts Portugal’s history including wars, transportation, royalty, and culture.
Constructed on the highest point in the city, Porto Cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries is a national monument and the city’s most important church. At first glance, you might think the structure resembles a fortress more than a church. An architectural mash-up, Porto Cathedral is an amalgamation of Baroque, Romanesque, and Gothic styles.
Walk Rua das Flores
If you’re looking to shop where the locals do, look no further than Rua das Flores. This newly renovated area is the city’s main artery and is lined with shops that sell everything from traditional handcrafted products, gourmet food, to jewelry, and cork products.
If you’re looking for a unique souvenir from your time in Porto, step inside Claus Porto. The fragrance company’s flagship location in Porto has been open for more than 130 years. The shelves are lined with soaps, candles, and creams that capture the essence of Porto and will remind you of your time spent in this magical city.
Church of the Convent of Saint Francis
The Church of the Convent of Saint Francis was the last Gothic monument to be built in Porto in 1425. The most stunning feature is the magnificent Baroque interior, which seems as though it is covered in gold thanks to the massive number of intricate woodcarvings that are finished in a layer of gold-leaf. The stark contrast between the excess of the golden Baroque carvings and austere Gothic structure make the Church of St. Francis well worth the visit.
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the church. A visit is totally worthy it as it as of the most beautiful churches you have seen.
Palácio da Bolsa
Formerly Porto’s stock exchange, the Bolsa Palace was built next to the Church of the Convent of Saint Francis after its original cloister burned down in 1832 during the Siege of Porto. Today the building house Porto’s Commercial Association.
Highlights include the massive granite staircase, the Golden Room which is covered in gold-leaf, and General Assembly Room. The cherry on top, and most impressive room, is the Arab Room which was inspired by the Alhambra and is where official receptions are held.
A visit to the palace is only possible with one of their guided tours. Tours are offered every half hour, but make a reservation before you arrive if you don’t have time to wait for a tour to start in your language.
Cais da Ribeira and Ribeira Square
Porto’s riverfront is filled with stacked pastel houses and old flat-bottomed boats makes it look like a scene from a postcard. The area is a labyrinth of narrow medieval lanes and alleys. Stop for a coffee or beer at one of the many lively cafes and bars that call the area home and enjoy the breeze off the water and the spectacular views of the Dom Luís I bridge.
Cruise Down the Douro
Take advantage of Porto’s position on the banks of the Douro River and enjoy a river cruise. Cruises like this 50-mintue “Six Bridges” tour follow the route of the old rabello boats that used to transport the wine from the Douro Valley. As the name suggests, you’ll also get to see Porto’s six historic bridges that connect Porto to the Portowine in Vila Nova de Gaia. You’ll also get to see the mouth of the river where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Dom Luís I Bridge
This commanding, iron double-decker bridge was built between 1881 and 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel. The Ponte Dom Luís I has two decks. The upper deck carries the Porto Metro trains, has a pedestrian walkway, and offers picture-perfect views at 60 meters above the Douro River. Cross the bottom of the bridge, which has a narrower walkway alongside lanes for vehicle traffic, to get to the south bank neighborhood of Vila Nova de Gaia to visit the Porto cellars for a taste of Porto’s namesake, Portowine.
Porto Tasting at Calem
On the south side of the Douro River, Vila Nova de Gaia is loaded with Port wine cellars. If you’re looking for a unique experience that includes wine tasting, Porto Calem is calling your name. Book one of their tours which are offered in xx languages, to learn about this history and process of making and aging port wine. You’ll also get to sample some of their delicious Port during the tour.
As you make your way through the curious streets of Porto, keep your eyes up! While the city is most known for its Port wine and beautiful blue tiles, you don’t want to miss the striking street art. From whimsical and surreal to realistic and sobering, the art adorning the city’s walls is impressive.
Where to Eat in Porto
Take a step back in time when you step into Café Guarany. The café is reminiscent of 1930s Porto. Waiters in military-esque uniforms of white starched jackets and gold braid serve some of Porto’s classic dishes. Of course, you have to have port with your dessert while you enjoy the traditional Fado music show.
You can’t go to Porto and not stop in the Majestic Café for a cup of coffee. The Majestic Café is the most beautiful café in the city and is often included on top 10 lists of most beautiful cafes in the world. Opened in 1921, it used to be a popular hangout for the city’s intellectuals to exchange ideas over a cup of coffee.
Where to Stay in Porto
Holiday Inn Porto
Located un Vila Nova Gaia, the Holiday Inn Porto is a perfect place from which to explore the city and the Douro Valley. This 4-star deluxe hotel has spacious rooms with beautiful views of the city and the sea, pleasant staff, and is just a 20-minute walk to the city’s main sights.
Porto is a lively and interesting city with plenty to explore. This often-underrated coastal gem will wow with its stately bridges, delicious port wine, and wide array of beautiful architecture. Though less refined than its rival, Lisbon, Porto is no less intriguing and is one Europe’s most colorful and fascinating cities.
You might also be interested in:
- Things to do in Amarante, Portugal
- How to spend 2 days in Porto by a local.
- How to spend 4 days in Lisbon
- The best day trips from Lisbon.
I was a guest of Transromanica and Porto and Northern Portugal tourism authority but as always opinions are my own.