Things to do in Porto

Porto's best sights

Lisbon might be the country’s capital, but Portugal’s second city, Porto, is certainly not second best. Dramatically situated at the mouth of the Rio Douro, it’s a hugely atmospheric place with fine architecture, a Harry Potter bookshop and more port wine cellars than you can shake a bottle at. You’ll never run dry for things to do in Porto.

  1. Climb the Torre dos Clérigos
  2. Tour the port wine cellars
  3. Visit the Sé
  4. Marvel at the Igreja de São Francisco
  5. Discover the Palácio da Bolsa
  6. Explore the Jadim do Palácio de Cristal
  7. Feast the eyes at Estação de São Bento
  8. Peek inside the Harry Potter bookshop
  9. Make for Serralves art museum
  10. Take to the water 

1. Climb the Torre dos Clérigos

The best vantage point in the city centre is from the top of the Baroque Clérigos Tower, which towers 75m above the streets. The slender finger was the tallest building in Portugal when it was completed in 1763. Having puffed up the two hundred-odd stairs, you’re rewarded with sweeping views - well worth the effort.

Where?: Rua São Filipe Nery.

Top tip: You can rent binoculars at the ticket desk.

2. Tour the port wine cellars

Swigging port across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia is simply one of the best things to do in Porto. The area is completely synonymous with the port wine trade: you can’t miss the dozens of company lodges and warehouses - some in business for more than three centuries - that splash their brand names across every rooftop, façade and advertising hoarding. They almost all offer tastings and tours, conducted in English, with a view to enticing you to buy. After a couple of inclusive drinks, they usually succeed.

Looking to stay in Vila Nova de Gaia? Check out Porto holiday packages.

Where?: Vila Nova de Gaia.

Top tip: Tours of the smaller, lesser-known companies tend to be more personal.  

3. Visit the Sé

Porto’s cathedral, the , commands the eastern heights above the river. There’s a case for making this your first stop in the city, because the view from the terrace - of the old-town streets tumbling down towards the Douro - puts everything in perspective. The cloisters are likewise fabulous - their arched walls filled with magnificent Baroque azulejos - while even Midas would be impressed by the treasury’s boggling array of silver and gold.

Where?: Terreiro da Sé.

Top tip: On the bell tower, look for the very worn bas-relief depicting a fourteenth-century ship - a reminder of Porto’s maritime past.

4. Marvel at the Igreja de São Francisco

The city’s only truly Gothic church, the fourteenth-century Igreja de São Francisco (now deconsecrated), is even more remarkable for what lies within. Not only did it get an opulent Rococo makeover in the eighteenth century - the gilded interior has to be seen to be believed - but it also retains its catacombs, containing thousands of scrubbed human bones. It’s an eerie sight for modern sensibilities.

Where?: Rua do Infante Dom Henrique.

Top tip: Don’t miss the gilded and painted altarpiece - the Tree of Jesse (1718–21) - depicting Christ’s genealogy. 

5. Discover the Palácio da Bolsa

For an indication of the wealth pouring into Porto from the nineteenth century, join a tour of the Old Stock Exchange. The interior walls display an almost obscene level of richness. Arrive peckish and dine in the on-site restaurant to really soak up the atmosphere.  

Where?: Rua Ferreira Borges, at Praça do Infante Dom Henrique.

Top tip: You don’t need to buy a ticket to see the dramatic iron, glass-and-tile Patio das Nações courtyard.

6. Explore the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal

The Jardim do Palácio de Cristal, whose centrepiece pavilion - a kind of concrete tea cosy - replaced a far more elegant 1860s iron-and-glass ‘Crystal Palace’, hosts various concerts and events. It’s the surrounding gardens that are the real draw, though, with an avenue of lime trees and river views from high vantage points. 

Where?: Rua Dom Manual II.

Top tip: The municipal library is sited near the main entrance, while other buildings and galleries put on exhibitions, workshops, summer concerts and children’s activities.  

7. Feast the eyes at Estação de São Bento

São Bento train station is far too handsome to be a railway hub. Its entrance hall is decorated with wonderful blue and white azulejo panels - its tiles number around 20,000 and depict key historical events in Portugal’s history. For anyone arriving by train, it’s a wonderful welcome to the city.

Where?: Praça de Almeida Garrett.


Top tip: Try to spot theazulejos with scenes of traditional life in northern Portugal, too.


8. Peek inside the Harry Potter bookshop

Have you ever seen a bookshop with an admission fee before? Neither have we. It’s not just the Art Nouveau interior with its staircase just begging for a grand entrance - nor the wonderful collection of books - that draw the long queues of punters. It’s also the fact that the Livraria Lello was frequented by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling when she lived in Porto - the bookshop may well have been the inspiration for scenes in Hogwarts!

Where?: Rua das Carmelitas, 144.

Top tip: Remember to book online before you visit or purchase a voucher at the corner shop up the road.  

9. Make for Serralves art museum

A visit to Serralves - a contemporary art museum and Art Deco mansion in beautiful park surrounds - is a must for art lovers. It's the work of Porto architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, and is a minimalist triumph of white facades and terraces. There’s no permanent collection; instead, several changing exhibitions a year draw on the works of Portuguese and international artists - mainly from the 1960s to the present day.

Where?: Rua Dom João de Castro 210.

Top tip: July and August see a sequence of ‘Jazz no Parque’ concerts held in the gardens - easily one of the most atmospheric things to do in Porto. 

10. Take to the water

Wondering what to do in Porto to get away from it all? Simply choose a sunny day, jump on one of the boats along the quayside and enjoy a delightful hour’s cruise admiring the remarkable engineering and elegance of the six city bridges.

If the beach is more your scene, take the vintage tram to the local sands at Foz do Douro.

Where?: Boat tour companies have kiosks on both sides of the river. 

Top tip: Some companies offer tours with a voucher included for port tasting at Vila Nova de Gaia.

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