Looking for a complete guide to beautiful Porto? We recently spent a week and a half exploring the postcard-worthy country of Portugal. These are my tips from that trip to help you plan your Portuguese adventure!
An older gentleman with a cap just like my Grandpa used to wear walking past a blue tiled church. That was a random photo that I stumbled across while mindlessly scrolling on Instagram about four years ago. And just like that – I knew I had to learn more about this country.
(The photo above is actually my own photo that I eventually took myself FYI – notice no cap on the older gentleman 😂).
I did a little more Instagram hashtag searching and realized these blue tiles (or azulejo as they are called in Portuguese) are EVERYWHERE in this northern Portugal city.
And then I knew I needed to see this for myself. So I immediately added the country to my bucket list.
Then the Covid pandemic hit. And all I was able to do was search and look at photos of places on my bucket list for two and a half years.
But my husband and I eventually made it to this stunning country in April 2022.
And it 100% did not disappoint!!
Porto is a place to stroll around lazily, get lost on cobblestone streets and discover little treasures where you least expect them. Pockets of beauty are on around every corner in this authentic Portuguese city worth visiting.
We spent four nights in this charming, colorful, and beautifully authentic city with two full days sightseeing which was plenty of time to see all the must sees at a relaxed pace. Our third full day was spent going on a day trip to the coast (more on that below!).
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Guide to Beautiful Porto
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- What to Do
- Livraria Lello
- Go Azulejo Hunting
- Tour Bolsa Palace
- Walk Across the Ponte de Luis I
- Climb Clérigos Tower
- Tour Porto Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace
- Get Lost in the Cobblestoned Neighborhoods
- Taste Some Port Wine
- People Watch on Cais da Ribeira Waterfront
- Day Trip to Coimbra
- Day Trip to Aveiro and Costa Nova
- Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
Where to Stay
Upon arrival at the Sao Bento train station in Porto – we took a taxi straight to the Pestana Vintage Porto to drop off our luggage.
I cannot lie – I was quite nervous to find out this hotel WAS RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BUSIEST PART OF PORTO on the riverfront.
I figured – oh crap – this hotel is not going to be quiet!
I was 100% wrong about that first judgement. The rooms are super quiet. And quite frankly, the hubbub on the riverfront does not last until the wee hours of the night. There was definitely live music every night (which my husband LOVED) – but even those buskers stopped at a reasonable hour.
So when they (I) say location, location. location? Well – this is #1 for that in Porto!
And the views from the lobby and our room were unbeatable…
While we did not stay here – we did have lunch one afternoon at this beautiful property up on a hill with a view that is to die for.
It is most certainly in a less touristy area but right next to WOW of Porto (World of Wine) – so if you are going to Porto for wine tasting – this location, property, and view CANNOT be beat!
Other Options with Excellent Locations
Can you tell I am all about location with my lodgings? While the above two would be my top two choices for where to stay in Porto, we did come across three other hotels in our exploring that I know I would have been quite content staying at as well.
Where to Eat
Located below Pestana Vintage Porto on the riverfront, our meal here was probably one of the best we had in Portugal. As you may or may not know – I am ridiculously picky and do not eat fish so obviously a delicious steak restaurant was exactly what I was looking for by the second half of our vacation.
Be sure to make a reservation as this place books up pretty fast!
The front desk clerk at our hotel told us this little diner has the best francesinha in Porto. So of course, we set out the very next day to go try this signature sandwich of Porto. In case you are wondering, a francesinha is a ham, sausage, beef, and cheese sandwich served with a cheesy sauce on top!
By the time we found our way (via walking about five miles of course) to this cafe, we learned it was closed due to the national holiday of Red Carnation Day.
Needless to say – we were quite bummed and starving at this point. And this was our last day exploring Porto so we knew we were not going to get another attempt at this place.
But hey – the reviews are GREAT on this place – so be sure to go while it’s open!
And then come back here and tell me how good it was please ;).
So as we were making our way back to the riverfront from the above miss – we stumbled upon the Yeatman Hotel and by this point we were HUNGRY!
But holy cow – talk about the saying everything happens for a reason – because the food here was INSANE! My husband got to try a francesinha here after all and said it might be the best sandwich he has ever had in his life :).
And as I mentioned above regarding this hotel – the views here are INSANE! We had lunch on the patio overlooking the Dom Luis I Bridge over the River Douro with bright blue skies.
While all we did was try Taylor’s Port wine with some chocolate at this winery restaurant, we can attest that the ambience and the wine are worth the stop.
We went here after having our incredible meal at the Yeatman so obviously were not hungry. However, we saw the food that plenty of diners were ordering and it all looked quite tasty! Even with our full bellies ;).
And of course – the view from here is on point.
Okay – this isn’t really a restaurant. In fact, the only thing you can get here is pastéis de nata.
However, this was pretty much a mainstay for us on our Portugal trip. It’s kind of like eating gelato every 30 minutes while in Italy. And yes – we ate our share of this egg tart pastry in the 9 days we were in Portugal!
And Manteigaria is notorious for having some of the best of this tasty treat…
Other Dining Options
I almost always use the Timeout website for my research on what to do and where to eat for my travels. Actually I use them for hometown research as well (besides using Pinterest and Instagram of course!).
You can find all their articles on where to eat in Porto here.
What to Do
Top tip for getting in to this bookstore that allegedly inspired J.K. Rowling to write the Harry Potter books?
BUY YOUR TICKET IN ADVANCE!! And buy the ticket voucher WITH the book purchase option. The line to get in will be much shorter with this priority entrance with the prepurchase of a book from the store.
The ticket is a timed and dated voucher so clearly planning ahead is necessary. I purchased two tickets about a month in advance for a Sunday morning in April 2022 visit.
I honestly do not think there is ever a time that this famous bookstore is not packed. It is one of those main attractions in this famous city that you are just going to have to accept there will be a crowd.
This will be the line you wait in if you didn’t buy that Priority Ticket Voucher fyi:
We walked here from our hotel on the riverfront about .5 miles away.
Everything in Porto is within walking distance by the way. We did not get into an Uber once for our two full sightseeing days in this city ;).
I was standing in this spot for a looooonnnggg time to catch the famous red stairs without anyone walking down them. This is as good as I could get. Yes it is probably the #1 Instagram photo spot in Porto so I knew my chances were slim to none but at least I gave it a go!
And then I looked up.
And was in awe.
Underneath the red stairs is even prettier than the actual red stairs in my personal opinion!
SO BE SURE TO LOOK UP AND ENJOY!!
Go Azulejo Hunting
Remember when I said Portugal ended up on my bucket list because I saw a stunning photo of a blue tiled church on Instagram?
Well of course, I prioritized finding (and photographing of course) as many blue tiled buildings as I could.
Here are my favorites:
Igreja do Carmo
Praça de Gomes Teixeira, 10
Capela das Almas
Rua de Santa Catarina, 428
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
Rua de Santo Ildefonso, 11
Igreja de Santo Antonio dos Congregados
Rua de Sá da Bandeira
Sao Bento Train Station
Praça Almeida Garrett
Cabido da Sé Cathedral of Porto Terreiro da Sé
Tour Bolsa Palace
Bolsa Palace was previously the Stock Exchange Palace but is now used for major events. On our tour we were told that many wealthy and prestigious Portuguese leaders have gotten married in the ballroom in this palace.
During our visit, an orchestra was getting ready for a performance that very night.
We were able to walk up to the ticket booth at 11am and buy tickets for an English tour that same day at 4pm. However there is a button on their website to buy tickets in advance.
The guided tour is a short 30 minutes and takes you throughout the main rooms.
Walk Across the Ponte de Luis I
While this is sometimes labeled the #1 thing to do in Porto, Portugal, my husband and I were a tad underwhelmed with walking across this bridge.
Although the views themselves made it 100% worth it! It is a Porto icon and designed by the former business partner of Alexandre Gustaf Eiffel.
Climb Clérigos Tower
Not like you won’t be doing a ton of walking in Porto and need an additional workout HOWEVER the 200 steps up the tower will most certainly give you some amazing views of the city!
We purchased a ticket in person in the ticket office for a 9am timed arrival the next morning.
And were sooo happy we did! The stairs are super narrow and there were only 4 other people going up with us at that time. So we did not have to play the “yield to the person coming down” game.
Tour Porto Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace
You can just walk around the plaza outside the Cathedral but for a nominal fee you can go inside both extraordinary buildings. The azulejos in the Cathedral’s cloister make it 100% worth it! And I am not just saying that because I am a blue obsessed person 😂.
Check here for opening and closing times though. We actually got to the Cathedral right at closing and were not allowed in to the church BUT the ticket booth guy let us zip around the Cloister all by ourselves and I was able to get a few photos with no one in them!
Of course, we went back the next day to get inside the church and the Bishop’s Palace :).
Get Lost in the Cobblestoned Neighborhoods
This is seriously THE BEST part about empty nester traveling!!!!
We spend most of our days on our adventures now just wandering and getting lost!
Now don’t get me wrong – we make sure to see the main attractions (and also get plenty of sleep – we are getting older you know…). But for the last few years, our pace has slowed and we have found wandering is what we enjoy the most.
I have always loved photography and find the quaint cobblestone streets and old homes in Europe to be some of my favorite things to photograph.
Taste Some Port Wine
100% not a wine drinker.
100% loved the taste of the fancy “old” Port wine we had at the Taylor Fladgate port cellar.
Sidenote here, I was born in 1970. And the label on the Port bottle literally says “very old” for 1970. Not to put a swear word in here but seriously – wtf??
Vila Nova de Gaia is right on the other side of the Ponte de Lois I from Porto and is the epicenter of all things Port in the area.
If you are visiting Porto because of their Port wine culture – be sure to read this blog post with all the details on the port houses in town.
People Watch on Cais da Ribeira Waterfront
I think people watching goes hand in hand with my above mentioned wandering and getting lost activity.
Obviously when you “get lost” in the streets of a city, eventually you will need to sit down and get a refreshment or snack.
That is when the people watching is the best! My husband likes to guess what people’s lives are like and embellish a story for them (obviously without them hearing ;)). It’s entertaining to say the least ;).
You can also do this activity on both sides of the Ponte de Lois (which we did!). The bridge has two levels so you can walk the bottom level easily to get to both sides of the waterfront walkways.
Day Trip to Coimbra
We actually stopped in Coimbra for an afternoon on our way from Lisbon to Porto via train.
This university town is absolutely worth getting off the train for! It is only 1 hour and 22 minutes via train from Porto or 2 hours from Lisbon so it really was the perfect place to hop off for a lunch break and some adventuring ;).
We found a locker at the Coimbra-B train station to leave our luggage in for about five hours and set out on foot (of course) to explore this cute Portuguese town.
You can read my Coimbra day trip post here for what to do with an afternoon here.
Another perfect day trip from Porto was to Aveiro and Costa Nova.
Again, I had seen a photo of the striped houses in Costa Nova on Instagram and saved the photo with the hope that someday I would see them in person.
I cannot tell you how big the smile was on my face when we got out of our Uber and there they were!!
Aveiro is less than one hour from Porto by train and from there we took an Uber to the coast to walk the other side of the Atlantic Ocean (and see those super cool houses!).
Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
I hope you found this complete guide to beautiful Porto, Portugal helpful in planning your adventures to this magical place.
When I say it met and even exceeded all of my expectations, I am not at all exaggerating.
From the Portuguese people we met to the low cost of everything AND the minimal crowds – we had an incredible adventure and cannot wait for another opportunity to arise for us to return to Portugal ;).
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).