Explore Porto with Laura!
Hi there! I’m Laura McCarthy. I live in the Kaiserslautern area of Germany and moved there in August 2019. Since then, my husband and I have been eating, drinking, and traveling our way through Europe. This past February, we went to Porto, Portugal and had such an amazing time. There are some really gorgeous sites to see, and I can’t imagine how crazy it would have been to visit in the peak tourist months. We were able to see the churches without other visitors, enjoy a private port tasting across the river, and savor the view from the top of the cathedral tower to ourselves. Plus, compared to Germany, we had lovely weather. I am forever going to recommend others to visit Porto, Portugal in the winter.
This post originally appeared on Tried & Trouvailles.
Portugal has always been on our list of countries to visit, so going to Porto for my husband’s birthday weekend was perfect. We were able to try Portuguese wine, Porto port (of course), and the decadent Portuguese pastries. I received a few recommendations from new friends and read my friend Malisha’s blog post about Porto. She takes some great pictures, so check out her post here. For now though, here are my top nine things to do on your trip to Porto, Portugal.
1. Admire the Azulejos Tiles
The one iconic architectural feature of Porto is their azulejos tiles. These are the beautiful blue and white tiles that can be found all over the city – on churches, houses, restaurants, everywhere. It’s important to recognize that a lot of these tiled walls are more than just geometric shapes, but they are works of art, depicting a religious or historic story.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso – This church was right around the corner from our hotel. We passed by it first thing in the morning, so it was easy for us to get a picture. Make sure to check out the inside as well. It is so beautiful inside!
Igreja do Carmo – This church is on the corner of Praça de Carlos Alberto and Rua do Carmo. It’s the church with the tiles on one exterior wall and is one of the most Instagrammed spots in Portugal. However, fun fact: this building is actually two churches that stand almost side by side. The Igreja dos Carmelitas is next door, separated by a 1 meter wide house (no longer inhabited), and was a church for the convent in the 17th century.
Capela das Almas – This chapel is located on a busy street in Porto, diagonally across from the entrance to the subway station. The front and side walls are covered in azulejos tiles, portraying the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Francis of Assisi.
São Bento Station – Usually, travel guides don’t tell you to go into a train station unless you need to catch a train. Porto is an exception. The entrance to the São Bento Station is covered in over 20,000 tiles, depicting the history of Portugal.
2. Wander Around the Ribeira
Porto is filled with bright and colorful buildings and narrow winding streets. The riverside area is called the Ribeira and has tons of small bars, boutiques, and restaurants with outdoor seating. Spend a few hours wandering through the hilly streets and sip a glass of wine looking out over the river. It’s so peaceful and the prime spot for people watching.
One of my favorite spots in Porto is located in the Ribeira and is called the Wine Box. We actually went there twice: once with our food and wine tour (keep reading below) and then again to buy wine. They have a huge menu of delicious tapas and over 450 bottles of wine. When we went to buy wine to ship back, they opened up four bottles of wine for us to try. They were so nice, very professional and helpful, had great recommendations, and I can’t recommend them enough.
3. Go on a Food & Wine Tour
As I said in my Bahamas post, food (and wine) tours are the best ways to get to know a new city. Not only do you get to try authentic cuisine and learn about new wines, but you also get a bit of history thrown in there. We found Uncorked Vines and are so glad we did. Amauri brought us to the perfect mix of mom and pop shops, new hip places, and of course the Wine Box. He taught us way more about Portuguese wines than I ever would have learned on my own. At the end of the night he also sent us a list of additional recommendations for us to try, and when the time came for us to say goodbye, I felt like we were saying bye to an old friend.
4. Visit the Porto Cathedral
I honestly was blown away by how big and beautiful Sé do Porto, the Porto Cathedral, is. The cathedral is directly on the right if you’re walking towards the upper level of the Dom Luis I Bridge. It costs 3 Euro to get in, but it’s well worth the visit! You’ll get access to the stunning cloister, the cathedral, the tower, a chapel and the treasury. The cloisture is lined with azulejos tiles painted with scenes from the Bible. The cathedral and chapels are ornately decorated and the treasury is filled with old religious artifacts. The tower is a steep climb but has amazing views of Porto, the Douro river, and Gaia. The square that that the cathedral sits on also boasts beautiful views of Porto.
5. Walk Across the Dom Luis I Bridge
The Dom Luis I Bridge is the most famous bridge of Porto. It is a two story bridge, and all of my Paris lovers will see that it resembles another iconic landmark in Europe. Dom Luis I was designed by a student/business partner of Gustave Eiffel (who created the Eiffel Tower). The upper level is for a metro line and for pedestrians, and has an awesome view over the river, the Riberia area of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
6. Port Tasting in the Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia, is the city on the other side of the Douro River facing Porto. It is known for its Port wine cellars and tasting rooms. Port was invented by the British, who didn’t want to import French wines into their country. However, in order to ship wine from Portugal to England without it spoiling, they added brandy thus accidentally creating port wine.
Taylor’s -Taylor’s is probably the most touristy port wine cellar to visit, but it does such a good job of explaining the history of port and how port is made. The tour is 15 Euro and includes an audio tour and two tastings. The restaurant onsite has huge windows overlooking the river and the city.
Kopke – This was one of my favorite stops during this trip, but it might have been because we had the tasting room all to ourselves. Kopke is directly on the waterfront of Gaia and we sat by the windows, people-watching the market goers on the street below. The have a bunch of different tasting options, and it comes with a plate of crackers and chocolate. Anytime chocolate is placed in front of me I am happy, but definitely with port. It was fun to taste how the port changed with a bite of chocolate.
The Yeatman – This five star luxury hotel also boasts a two Michelin Star restaurant, but it’s bar is located on the 9th floor and has beautiful views of the city. We came for a drink but stayed for their afternoon tea, which was the perfect way to spend the afternoon.
Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau – I admit, we were lured in by the flashing bulb lights, lively music and the promise of a show starting within ten minutes. We stayed because the cod and cheese pastry was mouth-watering-ly delicious. I’d go back and eat more because it was SO good.
7. Explore the Markets
I am a sucker for markets, and lucky for us there were so many markets in Porto. Unfortunately the main market in Porto, Bolhao Mercado, is closed for construction, but they have a temporary location in the La Vie Porto Baixa Shopping Center. The temporary location is not as impressive, but the future Bolhao Mercado is going to be amazing.
On the other side of the Douro River in Gaia is the Mercado Beira-Rio. It’s a food market filled with tons of different food vendor stalls with a craft beer bar in the middle. We had some fresh crostinis and grilled octopus cooked to perfection. Along the riverfront in Gaia there was also an artisinal market going on, with tons of artists and vendors.
8. Visit the Sites that Inspired Harry Potter
Fun fact about Porto: JK Rowling was living in Porto when she began writing Harry Potter, and there are many places in Porto that inspired her ideas.
Livraria Lello – Rumor has it this bookstore inspired the staircases and other depictions of Hogwarts. It also allegedly inspired Flourish and Blotts, Diagon Alley’s bookstore. Regardless, in order to get in to Livraria Lello, you have to go three stores down and buy a 5 Euro ticket to get in. The $5 can go towards any book purchase inside. There wasn’t a line to get in, but apparently the line will wrap around the corner during the peak months. Just another reason to visit Porto, Portugal in the winter!
Majestic Cafe – JK Rowling either began writing Harry Potter, or wrote some of Harry Potter, or simply thought about Harry Potter while at the Majestic Cafe. Either way, JKR was here, and now this cafe is flocked with HP lovers. Locals admit the prices to this cafe have skyrocketed since, but I’m still glad we went. It’s a gorgeous spot to sip coffee and it feels a bit magical inside. We went at around 10am and there were no lines, but when we passed by later on in the day there were lines forming outside.
9. Find the Porto sign
One last fun recommendation is to find the Porto sign. I love city signs and they make for great photos. We went on an early morning run one day and had the letters to ourselves! However, when we passed by it later on in the day there was a big crowd.
Overall, we had an awesome time in Porto. I highly recommend visiting the city, especially in the winter to beat the tourists. Explore Europe has an amazing four day trip to Portugal in January. Check out more details for that trip here!