Like a glass of fine port wine, just one sip of Porto’s carefree coastal vibes and contemporary metropolitan lifestyle will leave you craving for more. From its enchanting cobblestone hills and colourful tiled buildings, to its historical riverfront and scenic views over the Douro River, Porto’s once undiscovered treasures are no longer a secret – and for good reason.
You could spend days, weeks or even months trying to uncover all of Porto’s hidden secrets, but if you’ve only got three days to explore, there are some things you simply cannot miss.
Day 1 Port wine, seafood and the main sights
Before heading out to explore the city on foot, grab a quick coffee and pastry downtown at Leitaria da Quinta do Paco. A traditional bakery known for its artisanal eclairs, its famous treats range in flavour from the classics such as lemon, caramel or Nutella to the more adventurous chocolate and port wine or blue cheese and apple. If sweets aren’t your thing, they also serve up a variety of sandwiches and savoury snacks.
After you’ve fueled your body, head south to the main plaza, Praca da Liberdade. From here you can easily walk to many of the city’s main sights. Alternatively, take a guided tour with the friendly team at Porto Walkers.
Make your way to the São Bento Train Station, considered to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. Inside, hand-painted azulejo ceramic tiles depict scenes of some of Portugal’s most famous battles throughout history, as well as the evolution of transportation across the country.
Designed by artist Jorge Colaço, the station was originally built in 1900 on top of what was previously the convent of the Benedictine nuns of Ave Maria. Rumour has it that the station is haunted by the ghost of the last surviving nun, and if you listen quietly, you can still hear her prayers echoing throughout the halls.
Continue on to the Porto Cathedral, one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in the area. After, head south and make a quick stop at the Palácio da Bolsa, the former stock exchange where heads of state and other important figures often meet up in Porto.
Make your way to the historical riverfront of the Ribeira, the perfect spot to soak up some sun and have a quick bite to eat in one of the charming waterfront cafes. Sample some regional specialties at Esta-se Bem, like the ‘tripas a moda da Porto,’ a traditional tripe and white bean stew – you’ll gain major points with the locals and you might even find that you have a new favourite dish. If tripe isn’t your thing, Esta-se Bem also offers plenty of other ‘pesticos’ (Portuguese tapas) and plenty of wine to choose from.
And now the moment you’ve been waiting for – port wine. Situated directly across the Douro River from Porto, Gaia is famous for being home of the port wine cellars. You’ll find all the big-name port cellars here as well as the smaller boutique options. Most will offer guided tastings and educational tours, but you can also simply stop by any of the cellars to enjoy a drink at the bar.
Freshen up at your hotel and catch a 20-minute cab ride up north to Matosinhos, a small seaside town known for having some of the best seafood in the country. Along Rua Heróis de França you’ll find huge outdoor barbeques lining the entire street, filling the air with the salty-smoky scent of fresh grilled seafood.
Esplanada Marisqueira and A Marisqueira de Matosinhos are known for serving up some of the best seafood from both Portugal and abroad. Don’t leave until you’ve had your fill of garlicky jumbo prawns, juicy sardines and melt-in-your-mouth ‘bacalhau’ – Portuguese for salted cod. Walk off your dinner under the starry skies with a stroll along the beach before catching a cab back to your hotel.
Day 2 Bolhão Market, art galleries and nightlife
Start off the day with a trip to the Bolhão Market, a historical food market selling everything from fresh fruit and floral arrangements to catch-of-the-day fish and home goods. Have a wander around and observe the local vendors chatting and going about their daily lives before heading back out to Rua Santa Catarina, Porto’s famous shopping street.
You’ll find everything from major fashion brands to local souvenir shops. After you’ve had your fill of shopping, continue along the street where you’ll find yourself in front of one of Porto’s most touristy sights, the one and only, Café Majestic. Often frequented by J.K. Rowling during her time living in Porto, Café Majestic is a beautiful, albeit expensive, renaissance cafe. Snap a quick picture to prove you were there and carry onward to lunch.
It’s time to fill your belly with Porto’s infamous francesinha sandwich. Picture this – a thick slice of beef, a layer of sausage, a cut of ham, layers of cheese, an egg on top – all covered in a rich, spicy sauce piled high on a bed of golden French fries. If this sounds like a heart attack on a plate, you could be right – but how often are you going to have the chance to try one? Locals swear by the francesinha at Café Santiago, which just so happens to be right down the street.
Walk off those calories and head towards the Torre dos Clérigos, the bell tower of the Clérigos Church. For around £4 you can buy a ticket to both the museum and the top of the tower, which has some nice views overlooking Porto’s colourful rooftops and the surrounding areas.
A short walk will bring you to Livraria Lello, one of the most ornate bookstores in the world. Its carved wood ceilings, stained-glass roof and opulent red staircase are so stunning in fact that it’s rumoured J.K. Rowling was inspired to create the legendary Hogwarts based off its extravagant interior.
Continue along to Rua de Miguel Bombarda where you will find dozens of local art galleries, cafes and eclectic shops. At the beginning of the street is Ó! Galleria, home to creative illustrations from around the world including everything from drawings and postcards to books and zines. Further down you’ll come across Ap’arte Gallery, a place for young emerging artists to showcase their contemporary paintings, sculptures, photography and multimedia.
Treat yourself to a five-star meal at Euskalduna Studio, a fairly new restaurant from world-renowned Chef Vasco Coelho Santos. Meaning “Basque” in the Basque language, Euskalduna was created by Chef Vasco as a tribute to the time he spent in Northern Spain, including his time working at the famous elBulli restaurant.
Chef Vasco’s philosophy is that there should be no separation between kitchen and dining room, so for around £60 per person, you can enjoy an amazing 10-course tasting menu right at the kitchen counter – where you’ll be up front and centre to all the inner workings of the culinary creativity happening behind the scenes.
After dinner, hop in a cab and grab a drink at Casa do Livro, an old-timey bookstore turned swanky bar with tasty cocktails, live DJs and regular jazz sessions. Or, if the weather is nice enough, grab some reasonably priced drinks at Base, an open air bar on the top of a shopping mall.
Day 3 Brunch, gardens and music
On the last day, treat yourself to brunch at Zenith Brunch and Cocktails Bar. This modern cafe (or bar depending on what you order with your breakfast) serves classic eggs benedict, avocado toasts, homemade granola and fresh-pressed juices.
After breakfast, walk about 15 minutes to the Crystal Palace Gardens. Have a walk around the landscaped grounds and colourful rose gardens where you might even encounter a few peacocks roaming around. The Crystal Palace Gardens are free to enter and worth exploring if only for the (surprise!) panoramic views over Porto.
Walk another 15 minutes up to Casa da Musica, an asymmetrical concert hall designed by contemporary architect Rem Koolhaas and one of Porto’s most easily recognized buildings.
Grab a late, and generously portioned, lunch close by at Capa Negra II before jetting off to the airport. Once you’re all checked in, start planning your trip back immediately!