Porto, Portugal is worth visiting

Is Porto Worth Visiting in 2024?

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Wondering if Porto is worth visiting on your Portugal trip?

The captivating city of Porto is one of Portugal’s best cities, nestled along the breathtaking Douro River in the northern part of the country. Unlike most city trip destinations, Porto is worth visiting because this city is not merely a collection of notable landmarks and tourist hotspots.

Instead, its essence lies in the delightful urban vibe and the remarkable beauty of its historic center. Porto has also won numerous ‘best city’ and ‘city of the year’ awards from established travel institutions over the years. 

Is Porto Worth Visiting?

Porto beckons travelers from around the world seeking an unforgettable travel experience. Let’s dive into this lovely city and why you should add Porto to your European itinerary.

5 Reasons to Visit Porto

Visiting Porto is not about world-famous highlights or attractions. So what are the main reasons you should visit Porto?

1. The Best Azulejos in Portugal

Portugal, and especially Porto, are known for the white and blue tiles that cover entire buildings. These tiles are called ‘azulejos’ and spotting them around the historic center is one of the best things to do in Porto

The historic center of Porto, the Old Town known as Ribeira, is a treasure trove of azulejos. While wandering through the narrow streets, you’ll be surrounded by buildings adorned with these famous tiles. 

Churches, chapels, monuments, and even regular houses showcase their intricate designs. Geometric or floral motifs are commonly found on standard houses, while narrative azulejos depicting historical or religious stories can be seen on churches and grand monuments. 

You’ll see these eye catching azulejos all over Porto. Here are some of the best sites across the city for spotting the tiles:

São Bento Station

Sao Bento Station in Porto, Portugal

If you’re looking for an iconic location, São Bento Station is a must-visit. While the facade itself may not be adorned with azulejos, inside the central hall awaits a breathtaking sight.

Enormous artworks depicting the history of Portugal cover the walls, transporting you to another time. The station’s name pays homage to the monastery that once stood on the same site, and its grandeur will leave you in awe.

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar

For another must-do experience, head to the monastery next to the Sé Cathedral. The entrance fee of less than €5 grants you access to both the monastery and the cathedral. 

As you explore the cloister surrounding a Gothic courtyard, your eyes will be drawn to the enormous blue and white azulejos panels. Designed by Valentim de Almeida, these panels depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. 

Don’t forget to admire the beautiful panels on the side of the cathedral from the outside, where they are used to decorate a portico.

A Pérola do Bolhão

Venture beyond the usual tourist spots and discover hidden gems like the grocery store A Pérola do Bolhão. This Art Nouveau-style building stands out with its unique combination of ancient tile tradition and early 1900s Art Nouveau.

The azulejos here deviate from the norm, showcasing Art Nouveau typography and female figures in the distinct style of the 1900s. 

Igreja do Carmo and Igreja das Carmelitas

Don’t miss the Igreja do Carmo and Igreja das Carmelitas, two monumental churches intriguingly separated by a very small house. Walk to the side of the church and you’ll discover relatively new azulejos from 1912.

Designed by Silvestre Silvestri, painted by Carlos Branco, and executed in local factories, these tiles depict biblical scenes related to the history of the Order of Carmelites.

Santo Ildefonso

To experience a combination of architectural beauty and historical significance, visit the baroque church of Santo Ildefonso. Its elevated location offers a photogenic view of the tall, narrow church covered in blue and white azulejos.

With approximately 11,000 tiles added about a century ago, this masterpiece was created by the same artist responsible for the tiles in São Bento Station.

Banco de Materiais

If you’re fascinated by the history and preservation of azulejos, make a stop at Banco de Materiais. This small museum houses various types of tiles, including glazed blue and white roof tiles, cornices and other facade elements salvaged from renovated or demolished buildings. 

The depot serves as a resource for building owners in Porto to find matching tiles for their facades. It’s an opportunity to appreciate the diverse shapes and forms of azulejos while gaining insight into their conservation.

As you explore this northern city, immerse yourself in the beauty of the azulejos in Porto, discover the hidden treasures, and appreciate the rich history and artistry that these exquisite tiles offer. 

2. Home of Port Wine

Porto holds a special place in the hearts of wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs. The city is renowned as the birthplace of one of the world’s most beloved wines – Port. 

The story of Porto’s deep-rooted association with port wine begins centuries ago, when British merchants discovered the exceptional quality of the region’s wines. 

They established strong trade links with Porto, leading to the birth of a thriving export industry. The creation of port wine involved a unique process that was developed to ensure its preservation during long sea voyages. 

At that time, the wines produced in the region surrounding Porto, were highly regarded for their quality, but had a relatively short shelf life. 

As the wines would often spoil during the sea journey to England, the merchants began fortifying the wines with the addition of a neutral grape spirit to overcome this challenge and preserve the wine’s integrity.

The fortification process not only ensured the wine’s survival during long sea voyages but also enhanced its flavor profile, creating a distinctive and internationally renowned wine. 

Fortifying the wines with the addition of a neutral grape spirit, halted the fermentation process, leaving behind residual sugars that would give port wine its characteristic sweetness. It also allowed winemakers to retain more of the wine’s natural flavors, resulting in a rich and complex profile.

Today, the city proudly carries this legacy, offering visitors an immersive experience into the world of port wine. 

Porto Wine Tours

A visit to Porto wouldn’t be complete without exploring the historic cellars, where the magic of port wine aging takes place. These ancient cellars, nestled along the banks of the Douro River in the Vila Nova de Gaia area, showcase the craftsmanship that goes into producing this beverage. 

Visitors have the opportunity to take guided tours to learn about the intricate process of port wine production.

For wine enthusiasts, the chance to sample a wide array of port wines is undoubtedly a highlight of any trip to Porto. 

Tucked away in charming wine bars and traditional port houses along the river bank, visitors can savor the rich flavors and distinct characteristics of different types of port, ranging from the full-bodied and complex Vintage Ports to the mellow and nutty Tawny Ports. 

3. Many Free Things to Do in Porto

Though Porto has many tourist attractions that require a ticket, this charming city also offers a surprising amount of free things to do as well. 

Stroll Through the Old Town 

The city’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasts stunning architecture, cobblestone streets and breathtaking views of the Douro River. Strolling around this old part of Porto is one of the best things to do in the city and absolutely free. 

Cross the Luis I Bridge

Bridge in Porto is worth visiting

Visiting the Luis I Bridge is absolutely free as well. This architectural masterpiece spans the banks of the Douro River, showcasing a stunning design crafted by a collaborator of Gustave Eiffel, the visionary behind the iconic structure in Paris. 

The resemblance between the two landmarks is undeniable, making the Luis I Bridge a captivating sight to behold. With its imposing double decks and graceful metal arches, it has become a symbol of the city. 

As you walk across the bridge, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the river, the vibrant houses lining the hillsides and the lively activities along the quays. 

Enjoy the View from Miradouro da Vitória

If you’re looking for the best viewpoints in Porto, you’ll come across many paid options with lovely panoramas of the old town. But there is a free option as well. Miradouro da Vitória offers a similar panoramic experience with its superb view of Porto’s enchanting landscape. 

From this vantage point, you can take in the beauty of Porto’s key landmarks, including the Sé Cathedral, the Douro River, and the impressive Bishop’s Palace. 

While Miradouro da Vitória is located on private property, a welcoming sign assures tourists that they are invited to savor this remarkable view.

See the Crystal Palace Gardens

Porto’s Crystal Palace Gardens, Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, are a lovely place to wander through and reflect on the beauty around you. See the beautiful city and water vistas from this vantage point, in addition to the landscaped gardens all around. 

Here, you’ll also be near the Art District and a couple museums so you could easily spend an afternoon exploring surrounding areas.  

4. The Enchanting Harry Potter Bookstore 

One of the best things to do in Porto is visiting the Lello Bookstore. The Livraria Lello & Irmão is world-famous for its unique architecture, making it one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. 

The bookstore is housed in a magnificent building from 1906 in the Art Nouveau style. As you enter the store, your gaze will be immediately drawn to the ceiling, which appears to be made of wood at first glance but is actually a painting. 

The monumental staircase is a true eye-catcher, inviting you to explore the upper floor as well. It’s no surprise that this place is known among tourists as the Harry Potter bookstore. 

harry potter library in Porto

Author J.K. Rowling once lived in Porto, and it is said that the bookstore inspired her when writing the series.

Plan to visit early in the morning, as this bookstore is incredibly popular. There is often a long line outside to get in. You will need to pay a small fee to enter, but you can conveniently purchase your ticket online in advance through the bookstore’s website. 

There are express tickets available as well. As a bonus, if you purchase a book from the store the entry ticket price you paid will count toward your purchase.

5. Delicious Foodie Scene

In addition to its obvious wine scene, Porto also has a lot to offer foodie travelers. From more traditional and affordable cafes, to Michelin-star restaurants the city’s culinary range offers something for all palates. 

Of course, seafood is a great option in Porto. You should also try the popular francesinha sandwich and the cachorrinho, which is Porto’s version of a hot dog. 

A great way to get to know the culinary scene in Porto is by joining a food tour. Led by a local guide, you’ll get an insider’s perspective on the food culture in Porto while sampling local specialities. 

This Porto food tour includes 10 tastings of the most typical food and drink in the area. 

6. Laid Back & Easy to Get Around

Part of the allure of so many European cities is how walkable they are, and Porto is no different. Walking around Porto is comfortable, safe and a beautiful way to get to know this city. 

Porto is also a very grounded and unassuming city. Its casual vibe makes it easier to feel accepted here. You can explore at a leisurely pace, even if you only have a couple days to spare, and still feel like you’ve connected with the city.

In addition to walking, another fun way to see Porto is on a group e-bike tour which offers a great way to make new friends while exploring. 

7. Great Base for Exploring Northern Portugal

Porto is a great base from which to explore other areas of Portugal. You can either take flights from Porto’s international airport, take road trips for a few days away or join guided day trips. 

To truly immerse yourself in the port wine experience, consider visiting the Douro Valley. Other great destinations in the area include Braga, the coastal town of Alveiro, Arouca 516 bridge, the Lamego church and the Paiva Walkways.

Best Day Trips from Porto 

It’s easy and fun to take day trips from Porto to see more of Portugal. Here are a few of the best-rated day trips from Porto: 

✅ Douro Valley Wine Tastings, Lunch & Boat Tour 

Douro Valley day trip from Porto, Portugal

On this small-group wine tour through the Portuguese countryside, you’ll be led by an expert wine connoisseur. This tour is family owned and operated and has been recognized as the Best Wine Tour in the area since 2015. 

Over the course of the day you’ll see some of the most beautiful viewpoints in the Douro Valley, visit the best wineries in the region and enjoy an authentic lunch alongside new friends. 

This tour also includes a boat experience in a Rabelo, which is the type of boat typically used to transport wine barrels to Porto. This is a can’t miss experience when visiting Porto. 

👉 Book this top-rated Douro Valley Wine Tour  

✅ Paiva Walkway, Aveiro & Suspension Footbridge

Aveiro Portugal canals

If you’re in for a thrill with a view, absolutely book this tour that includes a walk along the longest suspension footbridge in the world! You’ll start the day with this epic experience before enjoying a traditional lunch. 

Then, you’ll visit Aveiro. This picturesque town is known as the Venice of Portugal, and here you’ll take a dreamy boat ride on the canals. 

Next, catch idyllic views as you explore the incredible Paiva Walkway before ending your day with a visit to a local fishing village.   

👉 Explore Paiva Walkway, Aveiro and Suspension Bridge

✅ Peneda Geres National Park 

Peneda Geres National Park in Porto is worth visiting on a day trip

Nature lovers won’t want to miss exploring the only National Park in Portugal – Peneda Geres. Cascading waterfalls, sweeping mountain views and a lovely picnic await you on this highly-rated, full day experience. 

👉 Book here to explore Peneda Geres National Park

Where to Stay in Porto

As it is highly recommended to spend more than just one day in Porto, you’ll need a place to stay! If you’re wondering where to stay in Porto, consider these top recommendations: 

🏨 Budget: The Central House Porto Ribeira

On a budget, enjoy a unique stay in Porto at The Central House Porto Ribeira, a popular hostel in a prime location. Choose from a range of dormitory beds and private rooms, and enjoy the convenience of an on-site restaurant. 

👉 Check prices and availability at The Central House

🏨 Mid-Range: The Poets Inn

Set in a beautifully renovated house, The Poets Inn offers spacious rooms with an abundance of natural light and outdoor spaces to ensure a serene and inviting ambiance.

The property also offers a library and a communal kitchen, making it a great choice for travelers seeking comfort and convenience.

👉 Check prices and availability at The Poets Inn

🏨 Luxury: The Yeatman

Experience the ultimate luxury at The Yeatman, a 5-star hotel in Porto. Indulge in the hotel’s two pools, an indoor and an outdoor one that offers panoramic city views.

Each room has a private terrace set up with comfortable loungers. Don’t miss the chance to dine at the hotel’s 2-Michelin-starred restaurant, and join in on a Portuguese wine tasting (held every Thursday).

👉 Check prices and availability at The Yeatman

Is Porto Worth Visiting? FAQ

When you’re considering visiting Porto on your European adventure, you may be wondering:

How many days should I visit Porto?

Because of its compact city center you can explore most of the key highlights of Porto in one day. It is recommended to spend more days in Porto though – at least two to four – to make sure you don’t simply rush from one highlight to another. Porto is best appreciated at a more leisurely pace. 

Is it better to go to Lisbon or Porto? 

Though Lisbon may be the capital and is one of the most popular city trip destinations in Europe, Porto is a great alternative for those looking for a more compact city without the big crowds.

With its interesting history, culture and stunning architecture, Porto offers a more authentic Portuguese experience and is worth visiting in any season

What is special about Porto, Portugal? 

Porto combines rich history, stunning architecture and breathtaking landscapes. With its charming alleys, iconic bridge spanning the Douro River, and world-renowned Port wine, Porto has much to explore. Yet somehow, it doesn’t overwhelm you due to its quaint size and vibe. 

Is Porto a walkable city? 

Porto is definitely a walkable city and an ideal destination for those who love to explore a new city on foot. In fact, a large part of the historic city center is a pedestrian zone.

Final Verdict: Is Porto Worth Visiting?

Porto stands out as an enchanting city in Portugal, captivating visitors with its unique charm. What sets Porto apart is its inviting urban atmosphere and picturesque cityscape.

More than its splendid attractions, it is the relaxed ambiance balanced with liveliness that make Porto an absolute must-visit destination.

About the author: Maartje is the creator of the travel blogs TheOrangeBackpack.nl and UniekeVakantieplekjes.nl. Her blog Unieke Vakantiehuisjes revolves around her recommendations for unique holiday destinations in the Netherlands.

As a seasoned professional in the travel industry visiting unique destinations all around the world, she takes equal pleasure in exploring the extraordinary places of her own homeland.