If you’re looking for a charming destination for a short break in Europe, you should consider spending 2 days in Porto, one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal. From the colorful houses of La Ribeira to the magnificent azulejos decorating many buildings, find out about the best places to visit in Porto.
I started my 10-day trip in Portugal in Porto, and I couldn’t have imagined a better beginning to explore this fascinating country. I didn’t know that at the time, but exploring the country from Porto, the capital city of northern Portugal, down to Lisbon, and further south to the Algarve proved to be an excellent decision.
It was pouring rain the night I arrived. Still, luckily, the weather was better in the morning, and I promptly headed out to start visiting the city. But first thing… Breakfast. Espresso coffee (I’m Italian, after all) and a piece of Pastel de Nata, the small custard tart typical from Portugal.
Like always, I did preliminary research of the things to do in Porto and highlighted the ones that seemed most appealing to me. Then, I combined all this with the right amount of spontaneous wandering, since I love the unexpected. However, I know that many travelers have limited time and prefer following a schedule and an itinerary. Porto is a small city. Still, it has an incredible historical heritage that owed the city to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therefore, here are some of the coolest things to do in Porto.
2 days in Porto: what do to and see
Although it’s not a big city, there’s quite a lot to do and see, and you’ll soon find out that 2 days in Porto are barely enough. This is especially true if you want to take your time and enjoy the slower Mediterranean pace.
Take a guided tour of Porto for an overview of the city
I confess that I snubbed guided tours for a long time. Until I had my first one, a few years ago, in Capetown. Unexpectedly, I enjoyed it way more than I anticipated. The main reason I liked it is that it’s the best way to get an introduction to a city. Since then, during the tour, map in hand, I highlight the places that most interest me, knowing that I’ll go back. That helps me planning the rest of the time, deciding where to go and how much time to spend at the locations I want to explore more closely.
There are many options. One is the classic hop-on-hop-off bus (loved it when I visited Bath, one of the most charming cities in Great Britain) which lets you have a quick overview of a city’s main attractions. Then there are walking and biking tours with a local guide. And if you want something different or don’t feel fit enough to climb up and down the hills, you can discover Porto by Segway, Vespa, or tuk-tuk. There’s something for everyone.
Here’s a selection of guided tours in Porto:
- 3-Hour Guided Tour of Porto with a local guide
- Private Walking Tour: Discover the best of Porto in 3 hours
- Half-Day Tour of Porto, including Wine Tasting at Caves Croft
- Porto Full-Day City Tour with River Cruise and Wine Tasting
- Best of Porto: 3-Hour Tour by Segway
- Discover Porto Highlights with an E-Bike Tour
- Discover the Best of Porto: 3-Hour Vespa Tour
- Porto: Guided Historical Center Tuk Tuk Tour
Explore Porto Old Town
The inscription of Porto historic center (together with the Luiz I bridge and the Monastery of Serra do Pilar) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to 1996. As you walk up and down the hills and discover the many landmarks, it soon gets apparent why Porto is so unique. Over the centuries, as the city grew bigger and new monuments were built, the urban landscape maintained a harmony, which is still palpable.
Porto historical center encompasses the city’s main attractions and a good portion of the loveliest sites.
If you haven’t booked your accommodation in Porto yet, I suggest you stay in the historic center. If you only have 2 days in Porto, it’ll make it easier for you to walk and visit Porto’s main attractions.
- The stylish PortoBay Flores is one of the top-rated hotels in Porto and an excellent choice for a romantic weekend.
- If you’re looking for budget accommodation in Porto, have a look at the lovely Porto Old Town – Tourism Apartments.
- In case you’re traveling with kids, Hotel Spot Family Suites might be the right solution.
Check out more accommodations in Porto.
The Ribeira district, with its charming, colorful houses overlooking the Douro river, is undoubtedly the most famous area in Porto. As a consequence, it’s also extremely crowded and very touristy.
Likely one of the most photographed Porto’s neighborhood, it is undoubtedly beautiful. However charming, I found it a little too touristy for my tastes. It is without a doubt a must-see in Porto, but there are other districts that I found more appealing and authentic.
While strolling along the Ribeira, you’ll see plenty of charming cafes and restaurants. They’re indeed pretty, and several websites recommend to stop there for a drink or a bite. The truth is that there are good chances to fall into tourist traps, where you pay much more just because of the location. If the view is your priority, then go for it. Personally, I prefer having a stroll and then heading to the places where locals go.
Walking a little further from the Ribeira towards Foz do Douro and the ocean, you’ll reach Miragaia. In the past, Miragaia stood outside Porto’s city walls and, therefore, was considered a suburb. It’s also the area once inhabited by the Jews and Armenians.
The pastel-colored houses and the ones with the facades covered in tiles are enthralling. Miragaia was one of my favorite districts in Porto, and I felt it as much more authentic than the Ribeira. One of my favorite spots was the square along Rua Nova de Alfândega, where you can see a beautiful mural by Daniel Eime. It’s an excellent spot to stop by for a while, watching the locals sitting and chatting at one of the tables right under the mural.
Tip: If you like Street Art, check out the Porto Half-Day Street Art Tour.
The area around the gothic Se Cathedral is one of Porto’s oldest district. There’s no better way to explore one of the most charming spots of Porto than getting lost in the maze of alleys.
From the Douro riverside, the climb up the hill is quite steep, but you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view.
The origins of Porto Cathedral date back to the 12th century, although the construction was not finished until the mid-1700s. The original Romanesque style is still visible in the imposing building, together with styles from later periods. It’s worth visiting the interior and the gothic cloisters. However, if you’re short of time or if religious buildings are not your thing, don’t miss to admire the lateral baroque loggia decorated with beautiful azulejos.
Sao Bento Railway Station
Often considered one of the prettiest railway stations in Europe, Sao Bento is one of the must-sees in Porto.
The exterior of the building, dating back from the early 20th century, is impressive. Still, it’s the interior that sets Sao Bento apart. 20,000 azulejos tiles decorate the vestibule, depicting scenes of historical events and landscapes, and it took 11 years to complete the project.
Torre dos Clérigos
Sadly, on my second day in Porto, it rained all day; thus, I didn’t climb the 76m high Torre dos Clérigos.
However, if the weather is good, you should add the tower to your Porto itinerary. From atop, you get superb views of Porto and the surrounding hills. And for sure I hope to enjoy it next time I visit Porto.
Igreja do Carmo
Even if you’re not a fan of religious buildings, you can’t miss seeing the Igreja do Carmo, if only from outside. The late baroque facade is beautiful, but what really makes it worth stopping by is the magnificent azulejos decorating the side of the buildings.
Useless to say, this is one of the most photographed spots in Porto.
This beautiful Neo-gothic bookshop is one of the oldest in Portugal and one of the most famous in the world. The reason? Not only its decoration is stunning, but Livraria Lello is also said to be one of the places which inspired J.K. Rowlins – who lived in Porto from 1991 to 1993 – when she wrote her Harry Potter book series.
The bookshop has become one of Porto’s main attractions, and there’s an entry ticket to visit it. Being a bookworm, I was looking forward to visiting Livraria Lello. However, I eventually gave up when I saw the endless queue. Proof that even seasoned travelers make mistakes. Therefore, my advice is, if possible, to avoid weekends. Otherwise, if you can only have a weekend break in Porto, get there very early in the morning, at the opening.
Palácio da Bolsa
The lavish Arab Hall, inside the Palácio da Bolsa, is enough evidence of the richness of the Portuguese trade in the past. Built in the second half of the 19th century, the Stock Exchange Palace is usually one of the spots included in Porto sightseeing itineraries. I didn’t visit it, though. There’s only that much one can visit when spending 2 days in Porto, and anyone has to choose what they are more keen to see.
Dom Luís bridge and the Douro river
One of Porto’s most distinctive landmarks, the bridge connects the Ribeira to Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite side of the Douro river. This is the town where tourists head to taste Port Wine at one of the many cellars.
Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer who would later become famous for the project of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, presented a project for a single decked bridge in 1879. However, as a consequence of the sharp rise in Porto’s population, the project was rejected. Eventually, German engineer Théophile Seyrig won the competition for the construction of the Dom Luís bridge, inaugurated in 1886.
Tasting Port Wine
To many visitors, one of the top things to do in Porto is tasting Port wine. Vinho do Porto, as it’s called in Portuguese, is a fortified wine produced in the Douro region and one of the best known products from Portugal.
Right across the river Douro, in Vila Nova de Gaia, there are plenty of wine cellars that you can visit and where you’ll have a tasting session.
I’m by no means an expert in Port wine but found an interesting article recommending 5 cellars.
To discover the secrets of this delicious dessert wine, you can book a Porto Wine Tour focused on the cellars. Another possibility is to get a more comprehensive tour of the city, including a visit to a Port wine producer.
Matosinhos and Foz do Douro
A sightseeing tour of Porto wouldn’t be complete without having a stroll on the beach to breathe the Atlantic.
From the Ribeira, bord the quaint tram N. 1 and Head to Foz do Douro. Stop by the lighthouse and walk along the promenade. Further away, you can visit Matosinhos, the fishing town with the largest sandy beach, a stone-throw from Porto. You can reach Matosinhos either with the blue metro line to the bus N. 500, from Praça da Liberdade.
Wrapping things up…
If you can only spend 2 days in Porto, you can easily discover Porto’s main attractions. If not all of them, fur sure many. Follow your heart and your interests. Keep in mind that the city is busy in high season, especially during the weekends. But with a little planning, you’ll love the capital of northern Portugal.
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