Porto lies in the northern half of Portugal and is the second largest city in the country, after Lisbon. Located on the Douro River, Porto is an important Atlantic port and is renowned for its port wine as well as its six bridges. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Porto’s city center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 for its historic buildings and stunning monuments. This past weekend, I flew from Barcelona to Porto and roamed the streets of this compact city on foot. Out of all the things I did while I was visiting Portugal’s port wine city, these are my top nine that I suggest.
1. Explore the Bairro do Barredo.
A maze of narrow streets and dark alleys, the Barredo neighborhood is a residential area with a friendly atmosphere and an authentic feel. It’s a place where the locals all know one another and create a sense of community, where the old buildings come to life with pastel colors and character, and where the delicious smells of cooking fill the air at dinnertime. Take a walk down the cobbled streets and pass between the houses to get a feel for how the locals live.
2. Enjoy the views from the Miradouro da Vitória.
There are several viewpoints within Porto, the city is built on a hill after all, but the Vitória Viewpoint is special in that it offers views of the city, the bridges, and the river. As an added bonus, this viewpoint is less known among tourists so you can enjoy the views in peace and even catch the sunset if you time it right. I arrived just as a woman was opening her skylight to feed the pigeons, which was fun to watch for a few minutes.
3. Discover the azulejos around town.
If you have never heard of azulejos, they are the beautiful ceramic tiles that are found on the insides and outsides of buildings in Portugal. My two favorite places to admire these tiles in Porto are the São Bento Railway Station and the Capela das Almas, Chapel of Souls. The interior walls of the railway station are decorated with twenty-thousand tiles illustrating scenes from Portugal’s history, while the exterior walls of the chapel depict religious scenes from the lives of saints.
4. Browse the Mercado do Bolhão.
One street over from Rua Santa Catarina, Porto’s main shopping street, the Bolhão Market is where vendors gather to sell their fresh produce and merchandise. If you have a place to cook while in Porto, consider doing your grocery shopping here while practicing your Portuguese with the farmers. Or if you plan to eat at restaurants during your stay, come here to scout out the souvenirs and other treasures. And while we’re on the topic of food, Vegana By Tentúgal is located just down the street from the market and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a vegan restaurant.
5. Relax at the Cais da Ribeira.
This promenade runs along the Douro River and is the riverside portion of the Ribeira Quarter, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Porto and perhaps the most touristy area. Have a seat at one of the many restaurants and cafés to enjoy a drink or a meal while soaking up the sun and atmosphere. Make yourself comfortable and observe the boats passing by on the river and the people strolling by on foot, there’s no better place for people watching.
6. Scope out the city’s street art.
You may be surprised to learn that the street art you see throughout Porto is legal, for the most part. The first legal mural was put up in 2014 and artists have been submitting projects ever since, transforming the city into a colorful display of artwork. Wander through the city and appreciate the creative expression of many artists, allowing your eyes to rest on the various figures and phrases.
7. Walk across the Ponte de Dom Luís I.
Porto is sometimes referred to as the City of Bridges, with the most iconic of its six bridges being the Dom Luís I Bridge. This two-level bridge is named after King Luis I and was completed by one of Gustave Eiffel’s students in 1886. Pedestrians can walk on the upper level while the lower level is reserved for vehicles, connecting Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, the city on the other side of the Douro River. Stop at the halfway mark and gaze down the river, these are some of the best views of the water.
8. Appreciate the architecture of Sé do Porto
Among Porto’s historic buildings and monuments, the Porto Cathedral is one of the oldest and one of the most important sites in the city. The construction of this Romanesque church began in the 12th century and displays a variety of architectural styles. For a less touristy experience, head down the street to the Igreja de Santa Clara, Church of Santa Clara. This smaller church was built in the 15th century and is currently undergoing restoration, but it’s worth taking a peek inside to admire the stunning architecture.
9. Visit Vila Nova de Gaia.
On the opposite side of the Douro River, the city of Vila Nova de Gaia is home to Porto’s port wine cellars. And did you know that Gaia has the highest concentration of alcohol per square meter… in the world? Visit one or two wine cellars and learn how to taste wine like a professional, then walk up the hill to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, Monastery of Serra do Pilar, for breathtaking views of Porto from across the river.