I was recently asked what were my favorite things to do in Porto. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world and if you’re a foodie or history buff, there’s definitely a few key places you want to add to your itinerary. From gilded coffee houses, to intriguing vintage bookshops, and countless wine cellars tucked away into the terraced hillside, the city of Porto has a very mystical feel to it.
You might see university students walking around wearing traditional long black cloaks like the legendary label on Sandeman Port or be mesmerized by the stories depicted on the vintage tiles in the São Bento railway station. It’s said that JK Rowling lived here for a while, and if she did, you can definitely see how she’d be inspired to write such a celebrated tale of a young wizard.
Walking through the streets of Porto is like taking steps through an ancient story, and each bend in the winding cobblestone streets reveals a another intriguing chapter. It’s no wonder that it’s a World Heritage Site. If you plan to visit, here are a few things you shouldn’t miss.
Top 7 Things To Do In Porto
1 – The Majestic Cafe
Named as one of the top 10 most beautiful cafes in the world by several notable publications, The Majestic sits on a bustling street that’s great for sitting down with an espresso and getting a real feel for life and history in Porto. Built in the 1920s, the art nouveau style cafe is gilded with mirrors where socialites at the time would come to see and be seen. And while the interior is magnificent and worthy of photos, I think relaxing outside on their terrace with a cappuccino is the perfect place to be.
Location: Rua Santa Catarina
2 – Lello Bookstore
Lonely Planet named Livraria Lello the third best bookstore in the world, and once you visit, you might wonder why it’s not at the top of their list. The ornate embellishments on the exterior might lead you to believe you’re entering a pastry shop, but once inside, you’ll believe you’ve walked into a bookstore on the set of a movie. Front and center is a curvy hand-carved wood staircase painted a dramatic shade of red. Surrounding it, from floor-to-celing are intricate hand carved shelves filled with books. There’s rail tracks guiding wheel barrows full of even more books across the floor. It’s a book lover’s dream. Since no photos are allowed, grab a coffee and slice of cake in the cafe on the second floor and soak in all the visual splendor.
Location: Rua das Carmelitas
3 – The Yeatman
Located in Gaia, on the other side of the Duoro River, The Yeatman has the best views of the city of Porto and is a perfect spot for sipping port tonics while watching the sunset. I haven’t stayed here, but their Bacchus Suite, with it’s copper bath tub and rustic fireplace, is definitely on my list for the next time I visit this city. Even if you’re not a guest at the hotel, I recommend treating yourself to dinner and a port tasting at The Yeatman overlooking the best view in Porto.
Location: Rua do Choupelo 88, Vila Nova de Gaia
4 – Freixo Palace Hotel & National Monument
This palace-turned-hotel is nothing short of dreamy. I had the opportunity to attend an event here while visiting Porto. We arrived by boat, walked up their dock to a well landscaped courtyard worthy of royalty, and were welcomed by an exotic tune being amplified throughout the gardens. It felt like I had stepped into a Madonna music video. This is another grand hotel I’d recommend for a luxurious rest or for their exquisite cuisine at their Restaurant Palatium. The views of the river are breathtaking and dinner here will certainly be a memorable experience.
Location: Estrada Nacional 108, 206
5 – Mercado Bolhao Food Market
If you’re a foodie, then this market is a must-visit. Go early in the morning to get a taste of local life and see the fishermen, bakers, and farmers selling fresh fruit and legumes. Most will let you sample a few things, and I have to say, the grapes here were the most flavorful I’ve tasted in my life — like little pops of juicy wine. There’s also a few vendors selling handmade crafts, and one that you should pick up as a souvenir is a Portuguese Rooster, or Galo de Barcelos. These hand-painted figurines have a fascinating tale. Be sure to ask the merchant when you purchase it.
Location: Mercado bolhao Loja 1
6 – São Bento Train Station
Even if you arrive to the city by plane, a visit to the century-old São BentoTrain Station is a must. The hand-painted Portuguese tiles inside tell the history of Porto through pictures and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
Location: Praça Almeida Garrett
7 – Tour The Duoro River By Boat
Wine barrels used to be transported down the Duoro River to Porto on flatbed boats called a rabelo, and today, you can cruise along the river on one of these vintage wine vessels. You can go out for a whole day, or just do a short cruise to view the city and hear the history about Porto’s famous bridges, one of which, the Maria Pia Bridge, was designed by Gustave Eiffel. (Yes, THAT same Eiffel.)
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Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet says
We still haven’t made it to Portugal let alone Porto. The city looks amazing! Love that bookstore and the Palace Hotel looks incredible! Would definitely include this on our itinerary, thanks for sharing!
Rachelle Lucas says
Definitely! If I lived there, the bookstore or the cafe would be where I’d hang out and write all the time. 🙂
Portugal is on my bucket list of places to visit and it looks like I’ll have to stop by Porto when I make it there!
Katie @ Domestiphobia says
Portugal is one of the top 5 countries on my list right now… this post made me want to go even more! Only I’d love to take a road trip to see Lisbon and the countryside as well.
Rachelle Lucas says
It’s one of my top 5 favorite counties I’ve visited. Definitely can’t wait to go back and spend more time there! I haven’t been to Lisbon yet … it’s on my list!
Wow! Looks like you had a fabulous time! I have never been to Portugal but am pretty sure I see a trip here in my near future! I want to move into that bookstore!
I was in Porto for a conference and I never seem to get to explore the city as much as I’d like to. I missed so much during my visit and would love to go back to properly experience the city.
What an amazing place!! I would put the market and bookstore on the top of my list, but I want to see them all!!
Congratolations for your Blog…and my friends please Don’t forget, Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra, Aveiro, Evora, Algarve, one boat trip in Douro and of course Porto the best heritage city in Europe!! Portugal is an Amazing place for tourism…, very cheap, very atractive because your history, and very very tasty, the best gastronomy in the world!!!Enjoy Portugal!!
Vera Dantas says
Hi Rachelle! Nice text on Porto! If you’d like to know more about Porto and the northern Portuguese region, I’m sure you will enjoy my website portoenvolto.com
I’m now starting to edit in bilingual version, but you can find an English article I wrote here: http://portoenvolto.com/2015/06/26/porto-top-gastronomy-destination-in-europe/
Also, let me know if you need travel ideas and advices to come to Portugal.
Kind regards from Portugal
Rachelle Lucas says
Will definitely get in touch next time we’re in Porto! It’s one of our favorite cities.
Patricia Arenas says
Hi Rachelle!, congratulations for your blog, very useful!. We are planning our first visit to Portugal, we will be going from Lisbon to Porto by car, staying 3 days in each city. I’d love to receive any advice to take the bes advantage of such a reduced time in each location, of course I’ll include the CMajestic afe and the Lello Bookstore in our plans, I loved the tips. Also if you can comment about places we could see in our way from Lisbon to Porto, it would be ideal.
Many thanks in advance!!!!, Regards from Santiago de Chile.
Rachelle Lucas says
Sounds like such a fun trip! We actually flew from Lisbon to Porto, so I don’t know of any stops along the way. One site you might want to check out is http://mrsoaroundtheworld.com as Ana is from Portugal and might have some great tips for Lisbon. Enjoy your trip! Thank you for reading. 🙂
Sergio Veludo says
Hi Rachelle, the picture you used to the São Bento Railway Station is NOT from the station. I have a few pictures from the station and I will be happy to send them to you. It’s not Duoro river but Douro river. Congratulations for your choices for the article. I would include Casa da Musica, the Bolsa Palace and Saint Ildefonso Church. Regards.
Visited Lisboa last year and had an amazing time. Hope Porto is also that great.
David Foster Calgary AB Canada says
Good list of things to do in Porto, but there is also a great place to stay in the old part of Porto ant that is the
Grande Hotel D’Paris, Great rates and includes awesome Breakfast, Look it up on there website lots of pics
That’s a great list with the top things to do. Thanks so much, really love the train station!!
I live in Porto and J. K. Rowling have lived here for a while – this is well documented. She wrote Harry Potter mainly in Majestic. And the cloaks that university students wear were the inspiration for Harry Potter and friends’ cloaks. Besides this, the Lello bookshop also inspired Rowling for the bookshop where Harry Potter bought his magic wand. And there are other things that served as inspiration.
Rachelle Lucas says
I could definitely see her inspiration while I was there! Porto has it’s own magic to it. 🙂