If you’re planning a trip to Portugal, you absolutely cannot miss visiting Porto. I can’t say enough good things about this place. It was easily my favorite city in Portugal the first time I visited, and even after a second trip, this incredible city remains at the top of the list of my all time favorite places.
Even though I could spend weeks in this charming little port town, you really only need a couple days to see everything. And it will be just enough to make you want to come back for more.
One of the greatest things about Porto is how compact it is and easy to navigate. Once you’re in the city center you aren’t a far walk from anything you’d want to see. You can probably hit all the major stuff in a day or two, but I do believe you need three full days to really experience all this city has to offer.
Here’s my perfect guide to spending three days in Porto.
Walk the City
Grab a free map from your hotel and just start walking, it doesn’t matter the direction. The best thing about Porto is how easily accessible it is by foot. I can say that with the charming streets surrounding you, you’ll never turn a corner and be disappointed. The best place to start is Liberdade Square. From there you can make your way South to the River or North to Rua Santa Catarina (the cities popular shopping avenue).
Just next to Liberdade Square is Clérigos Church where I highly recommend that you climb the bell tower for the most incredible views of the city. From there wander through Cordoaria’s Garden, and the Church of São Francisco. The city really is untouched by major restaurant or shopping chains and because of that has all the appeal of an old European city.
You can’t walk far without stumbling onto another notable church or museum with minimal effort. Porto is one of the best cities to just get lost in. Keep following the hilly streets downward, and you’ll end at the river just in time for a late lunch.
Visit the Magical Bookstore
If you pay entry to go into just one thing in Porto, pay to go inside the Livraria Lello bookstore. It’s worth the lines and the crowds to get a glimpse inside this truly magical bookstore. For a side reference, it was used by J.K Rowling as inspiration for the bookstore in Harry Potter. Because of that you will find plenty of references and memorabilia for the popular series. If you aren’t a Harry Potter fan though that’s okay, because you’ll still be in awe of this place.
The first time I visited this store was back in 2014. There was no entry fee then, but also no photos allowed inside. The bookstore is now opened up to tourists for a small entry fee (just 5 Euros). You can purchase a ticket at the corner of the street (but lines can get quite long).
The best part? You can now take as many photos as you’d like inside the store.
Tip: This place can get VERY busy. Come first thing in the morning, or later in the evening when everyone else is having dinner. And if you plan to purchase a book you can use your ticket for 5 Euros off any purchase.
Spend an evening listening to Fado Music
I do believe that trying to immerse yourself in other cultures is such an important part of traveling. And what is more filled with culture than music that originated in a specific place? It’s right up there with food and language as the defining traits of a culture. I had never even heard of Fado Music until I got to my hotel in Porto and was told about the live music in the bar that evening.
This was something I missed on my first trip to Portugal. Now that I have heard live Fado music, I would tell everyone not to miss out on the opportunity to experience it. Although the music takes on a mournful tone, and often carries feelings of longing and loss, it is a truly beautiful form of art.
No dance club jams here – just beautiful music, beautiful lyrics with beautiful meanings.
I saw a live performance at the hotel I was staying at (the Palacio das Cardosas Hotel in Liberdade Square). They show live performances a few times a week and I would highly recommend seeing it there. However there are many other places to to see live Fado music while in Porto, so make sure to search around and plan it for your visit.
Enjoy an Afternoon By the River
Nothing attracts a crowd quite like a spectacular waterfront view and that’s just what the Douro River has to offer. With the Luís I Bridge connecting the picturesque scenery, there’s no better place to waste an afternoon. There are countless places along the riverside to get a glass of famous Port wine or have a bite to eat.
The best restaurant to eat at in Porto is hands down Bacalhau, which happens to be right on the river. This place fills up quickly, and it’s not easy to snag an outdoor spot once it gets later in the day. If you can’t grab a seat by the river here, just find a good place with outdoor seating and enjoy the view.
Make sure you walk up the steps of the bridge, and cross the river for what is truly the most iconic view of Porto. It has even a better view at night and it is definitely something you don’t want to miss.
Tour a Port Wine Cellar
One of the best things you can do while in Porto is take a tour of one of the many Port wine cellars that line the Southern bank of the Douro River. On my first visit back in 2014, I took a tour of Sandeman Cellars and it ended up being my favorite thing that I did in Porto. In fact, the poster I bought in the gift shop of a vintage wine label is still my favorite souvenir I’ve ever purchased.
During the tour you learn about the history of Port wine, how it’s made and the story behind the university cape being worn on the label of the Sandeman “Don.” At the end of the tour, enjoy samples of different varieties of Port wine. You can even buy a bottle to take back to your hotel. If you’re brave enough, book a couple in an afternoon and spend your day wine tasting in Porto.
At only 15 Euros for a premium tour, you won’t even break the bank. If you aren’t a little bit tipsy, is it really considered a vacation?