Portugal was one of the first countries I visited in Europe and my trip to Porto instantly took my breath away. Porto has the feel and charm of a small city while in reality, it’s a large and diverse one with the culture and activities to match. There are so many things to do in Porto that a trip here is essential if you’re in Portugal.
Why You Need to Visit Porto
While many people skip over Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city, in favor of its first, Lisbon, that would be a mistake. While I was based in Lisbon and highly recommend visiting, choosing one over the other is not necessary. There are so many things to do in Portugal that make narrowing down your bucket list difficult, but Porto deserves to be at the top.
Filled with historic and architectural gems, set along the picturesque Douro River, home to Port wine and one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, Porto is magical, cultural and will take you back in time.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, Porto inspired many parts of the story as J.K. Rowling lived here. Visiting these locations is one of my favorite things to do in Porto.
While Porto is no stranger to tourism, it hasn’t experienced the full effects of overtourism that Lisbon has, making it an ideal choice for sustainable travelers who want to experience Portugal’s city life.
The 14 Best Things to do in Porto, Portugal
Take a Free Walking Tour with the “Worst Tour Company”
This walking tour is led by locals that are so passionate about their city, they are willing to lead tourists around for free. When deciding what to see in Porto, this is the best place to start. Here you’ll get the chance to experience a fully customisable tour, learn a local perspective on Porto and see more off the beaten path destinations.
Check out our full review here. We recommend tipping your guide at the end to show your support.
Explore the Historic City Center via an E-Bike Tour
The Ribeira district, the historic center, is extremely popular with tourists. While you should absolutely spend some time in this area, it’s especially important to explore responsibly.
A great way to sustainably visit the city center is to take a local tour, like this e-bike tour. This way you’re using eco-friendly transportation instead of the tourist buses or river cruises and you’re directly supporting the local economy. You can admire the popular Cais de Ribeira or the beautiful historic churches while still learning, respecting and supporting the local culture and businesses.
Admire the Street Art and Tiles of Porto
Walking around Porto is a feast for the eyes. This is one of my favorite things to do in Porto. With tiled buildings, and street art covering the city, something beautiful is around every corner. Take a street art tour to find the best spots or visit the famous tiled buildings like the Sao Bento Station on your own.
Sip all the Local Port
Drinking Port is one of the top Porto, Portugal points of interest. It originates from here! This syrupy, sweet, heavily concentrated wine can be found in just about any cafe, restaurant or winery in Porto. While you have many choices, a great way to try the best ones, and learn the history, is to take a local porto walking tour, like this one.
Take a Cooking Class
While eating traditional Portuguese food is made easy thanks to the wonderful culinary scene, learning to create them from scratch is an entirely different experience. Taking a cooking class from a local chef is the best way to learn about Portuguese cuisine and one of the more delicious things to do in Porto. Check out this one from Context, where you learn to make the famous pastel de nada (custard tarts) in a local chef's home.
Explore or Stay Outside of the Ribeira District
If you want to be close to the action, stay in Cedofeita, Santo Ildefonso or Miragaia. If you’re interested in seeing a different side of Porto, head on down to Foz or Vila Nova de Gaia. These neighborhoods will introduce you to more local, lesser known things to do in Porto such as the numerous beaches of Vila Nova de Gaia or the Jardim do Passeio Alegre in Foz.
Shop and Eat at the Mercado's
Visiting local mercado's is a great way to sustainably shop and eat locally. My top suggestions are Mercado do Bolhao, which has wonderful goodies and eats or Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos for the best fresh seafood in town.
Explore Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
Otherwise known as the Crystal Palace, this should be at the top of your sightseeing list. I’ve never been to a park that has left me speechless as this one did. Built in the 19th century, the palace gardens are stunning. Located outside the city center, the sprawling gardens are surprisingly uncrowded.
Pack a picnic and spend the day, or simply just wander around the gardens. Admire the historic palace and enjoy some of the best views of Porto, the Douro River and the Dom Luis Bridge. You’ll even see peacocks wandering the property.
If you have more time, check out these additional activities in the area for more wonderful things to do in Porto:
Museum Hop Through the Arts District
The Crystal Palace has two museums onsight, the Romantic Museum and the Port Wine museum. It’s also located at the start of Porto’s “Arts District.” Head over to Rua de Miguel Bombarda and spend the day exploring local art galleries, watching street entertainment, eating at hip cafes and shopping at vintage and independent stores.
Here you’ll see a more local, albeit very trendy, side of Porto. Thanks to its convenient location, just 15-20 minutes outside of the Ribeira district, this is a great area to stay in to discover less touristy things to do in Porto.
See an Authentic Fado Show
Fado is a classic Portuguese style of music. It’s rather melancholic and involves a solo singer, often a woman, accompanied by a guitar. When deciding what to do in Porto, a fado show needs to be on the list. These performances are very intimate, usually in a small room, and talking (or leaving) is not permitted.
You can find fado performances at many local bars or restaurants but a great way to get the most out of the experience, especially with a language barrier, is to go with a local guide. Get Your Guide has numerous experiences that allow you to learn fado’s history, discover the best musicians and sometimes even meet them.
Walk Along the Douro River at Sunrise
Steer clear of the touristy river cruises or hanging out at Cais de Ribeira during peak hours. Instead, soak up the Douro River's beauty on foot, away from the crowds. The best way to do this is by going at sunrise. You will get picturesque lighting without the crowds and chaos. Wander down the river as far as you want to explore other neighborhoods or climb the Dom Luis Bridge to enjoy the views.
Bike or walk through Parque da Cidade do Porto
A trip to Parque da Cidade is a perfect respite from city life. Conveniently located, you’ll have a hard time believing the city is so close when you’re surrounded by the river, trees and wilderness. A popular local hangout, it’s the perfect place to soak up some nature on your trip.
Go Wine Tasting at a Sustainable Vineyard in the Douro
Visiting the Douro Valley is a Portugal must see. Just outside of Porto city, it’s one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world. Here you can try the famous vinho verde (green wine) and learn about the history of a wine region so special it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
The most responsible way to enjoy wine tourism is to visit sustainable vineyards and take a local tour. Check out this one by Context, or these ones by Tours by Locals. For sustainable vineyards, check out Symington Family Estates.
Soak up the Sunset at Jardim de Morro
One of the best things to do in Portugal is to head to a beautiful miradore (viewpoint) with friends and a bottle of vinho verde to watch the sunset. Porto has several fantastic places to do this, but the popular local spot is Jardim de Morro. You’ll find incredible, romantic views here and hopefully, you’ll make some local friends.
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