Ultimate Porto Bucket List: 15 Things To Do
Porto, also known as Oporto, is an enchanting and enchanted city at the same time. Although it’s located just 300 kilometers and around two hours and an half from Lisbon, the differences between the two cities are endless. When I think of Lisbon, I think on a sunny city covered by yellow and pastel tones where ships from all over the globe once came to trade Brazilian gold, Indian spices, African ivory and Chinese porcelain. On the other hand, when I think of Porto, I think on a mysterious and intriguing cloudy city of wine merchants whose blue and grey tones inspired J. K. Rolling to create the fantastic world of Harry Potter.
On the night before starting to explore Porto, last April, my family and I picked a small piece of paper and started writing down everything we wanted to see and do in ‘The Invicta’ on the following day. We included shops, restaurants, monuments, markets, cafes, neighborhoods: everything! On a nutshell, we included the best of the best! So here is the ultimate Porto bucket list:
– Stroll along Ribeira and take a second to appreciate D. Luíz Bridge
Ribeira is Porto’s most famous neighborhood because of its colorful picturesque historical buildings, inviting cafes and breathtaking view of the D. Luíz Bridge over the Douro, designed by Gustav Eiffel and rated as one of the most beautiful ones in the world. Going to Porto and not going to Ribeira is just like going to Rome and not seeing the pope. You simply can’t miss it!
– Visit São Bento Station
São Bento Station shares the title of the most beautiful Portuguese railway station with Rossio Station, in Lisbon; however, São Bento Station is my favorite of the two. Because of its traditional blue and white tile panels depicting moments of Portugal’s history, I would even say that it’s Portugal’s most Portuguese station. Come in, look around, appreciate them and watch the busy passengers passing by. Why not?
– Taste a Francesinha
Just like you have to taste Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, you can’t leave Porto without tasting Francesinha, its most iconic dish. It’s considered by the international press one of the most delicious sandwiches in the world and it really is! When the waiter served me, I looked at him like ‘Do you think a sandwich is enough for my lunch?’ but then I realized how wrong I was. Francesinha not only includes bread, some cheese and ham, but also a fried egg, several different types of meat and an impossibly delicious spicy sauce, not to mention the fries it often comes with. I love it so much and I’m sure you will love it too!
– Head to Aliados Avenue and order an hamburger at McDonald’s Imperial
Aliados Avenue is Porto’s busiest avenue. That’s where you can find the City Hall and some of the city’s finest buildings. One of its best hidden treasures is McDonald’s Imperial, which is among the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world. One of the best things about it is that just the locals and very few international visitors know about that. You don’t have to pay a cent to admire its stained glass panels and chandeliers but, heyy, a hamburger makes everything even better.
– Visit the Stock Exchange Palace
Remember when I told you Porto was a city of wine merchants? Well, it was but wine has not the only business going on there. Due to its exceptional location near the river and the sea, Porto has always been a city of traders and, so that, the Porto Trade Association quickly became prosperous. A proof of that wealth and glory is the palace that the association constructed not far from Ribeira, a place where the businessmen of Porto could work and celebrate new contracts. From all its splendorous spaces, two of my favorites were the Arab Great Hall and the Courtyard of the Nations.
– Admire the modern architecture of Casa da Música
Casa da Música, a renowned concert hall designed by Rem Koolhaas, is today one of the icons of Porto because of its controversial modern architecture and shape of a diamond. If you aren’t short in time, you can even enjoy a concert there. If your budget doesn’t allow you to, notice that rehearsals can be watched for free.
– Appreciate the golden interior of St. Francis Church
St. Francis Church might not be Porto’s biggest church and its façade might not be as spectacular as the ones of other churches, but I’m sure there is no church in the entire city more impressive than this one. Located right beside the Stock Exchange Palace, this site has jumped to every Porto’s guidebook because of its breathtaking golden baroque interior and spooky catacombs.
– Buy a book at Lello Bookshop
I will be direct: I love this place to the moon and back! Its neo-gothic façade is beautiful but its interior, ohh, its interior is stunning, breathtaking, magical! It’s definitely the most beautiful bookshop where I’ve ever set my feet! And this opinion is not just mine. J. K. Rowling agrees with me; Lello Bookshop was one of her favorite places in Porto when she lived there some years ago and it’s said that this place inspired her to start writing the Harry Potter adventures. It really doesn’t surprise me! That staircase inspires so much magic! For sure, there was no better place to purchase my first Harry Potter book!
– Take a picture of the Clérigos Tower
I would say that Clérigos Tower is Porto’s Big Ben. Okay, maybe this was too much, but you got it! It’s one of its icons and you simply can’t leave the city without setting eyes on it. To climb it to the top, you will have to buy a ticket but why would you waste your precious money if some of Porto’s best viewpoints are free. Read on if you want to know my favorite one.
– Drink a coffee at Majestic
Majestic is Porto’s finest café and has already been rated as one of the most beautiful in the world due to his art noveau decoration dating back to the Belle Epoque. J. K. Rowling loved it and was a very frequent costumer. So, here is a place you should add to your itinerary if you’re a Harry Potter fan! I know, I know, it’s beyond overpriced, but, hey, you don’t necessarily have to order anything.
– Visit the Sé
Sé is the name that is given to the Portuguese cathedrals. Porto’s Sé isn’t, as I already said, its most beautiful church, but it’s its biggest one. And who cares if it’s not the most beautiful? It’s free! My favorite thing about this medieval cathedral is its exceptional location, in the top of a hill from which you can have one of the best views of the entire city. That breathtaking view over the medieval roofs of Porto is a memory I’m sure no one quickly forgets.
– Go shopping in Bolhão Market
In such an authentic city, there is no place more authentic than Bolhão Market, Porto’s most traditional (and noisy) market. There, you can find a bit of everything: fish, flowers, cheese, bread, fruits, vegetables and the list goes on and on and on. But be sure to check its schedule in advance, if you don’t want to miss the opportunity of visiting it, like someone I know (not me, pfff).
Alert: It will be closed between 2017 and 2019 for restauration.
– Taste some port wine and visit at least one port lodge
Porto is not just the name of a city. It’s also the name of one of the world’s richest and sweetest wines, the port wine, which brought wealth and international recognition to the city, where the wine used to come in rabelos, little typical boats, from the Upper Douro, where it’s produced, to mature and age in the port lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia, right on the other side of the river. There are plenty to visit: Ferreirinha, Taylor’s, Croft, Offley, Calem, Sandeman, Cruz and the list goes on. You have no excuses not to! Going to Porto and not tasting some wine (which feels even better when tasted on the historic cellars of Gaia) is an unforgivable sin!
– Get out!
I think that, wherever you go, you shouldn’t only visit big cities. If you want to have a general idea of a country, you have to get out the hustle and bustle of its metropolis and explore places with less tourists and more authenticity. Portugal isn’t an exception, even though certain typical neighborhoods of Lisbon and Porto almost feel like little villages inside big cities. Among my favorite day trips from Porto are the Paiva Walkways, one of the most delightful hikes in Portugal, Braga, known as the city of archbishops, Peneda-Gerês National Park, an enchanting forest with cute villages and beautiful falls everywhere you look, Guimarães, one of my favorite medieval towns in Portugal and the birthplace of the nation, and the Douro Valley, described by Patricia Schultz on ‘1000 Places to See Before You Die’ as ‘the Golden River of Wine’ and for sure one of the most magical and breathtaking natural landscapes in the country. As you can see, there are a lot of options!
– Have fun!
You are on holidays! Relax and have fun! You don’t have to do all the things I mentioned above to have a great time in Porto. Do whatever you want, as long as it makes you smile. Not checking one or two of the topics of this check list is actually a fantastic excuse to return to Porto later and, c’mon, who doesn’t want to?
Have you ever been in Porto? What do you like the most about it? Do you agree with my list? Would you add any more things to it? Make sure I know your thoughts by leaving a comment in the comment section bellow.