Kendra P. Morrison
10 Best Things to do in Porto in 2 Days
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
I was expecting Porto to be Lisbon’s little sister, sort of a mini-me version of Portugal’s lively, shabby chic capital. But this unofficial capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site is in fact a little gem perched up there in the north, and very much holds its own as a truly authentic, colourful city with a rustic elegance that left me charmed.
See more of my black & white photography from Portugal
Known internationally for its Port wine production, Portugal’s second largest city has a lot more to offer than a glass of the sweet dessert delight. Granted, stopping for a few glasses along the way added greatly to the entire experience.
We spent two nights in Porto with our seven year old son, and while there are many many more things to see and do, these are our ten highlights . . .
1) The Bridge - Pont Luís I
The Pont Luís I bridge is the icon of Porto. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel himself and was his last project before that slightly more famous one in Paris. It’s interesting double-decker design crosses the Douro River connecting the busy Ribeira District to the Port wine houses of Vila Nova de Gaia. The top level carries trains as well as a pedestrian walkway. The lower level is reserved for pedestrians and cars.
Walking all the way up the hill to access the 60 meter high top level is made far less painful (especially with a whining child) when taking the funicular from the base of the bridge on the Porto side.
There are simply amazing views along the walkway, and don’t miss the large famous street art portrait by Frederico Draw on the way.
If you opted for the easy way up, there’s an easy, fun, if not slightly strange way down on the other side. A gondola/cable car will descend you, for a fee, right into the middle of the Gaia district, thus keeping little people engaged and little legs happy!
2) The Port Houses - Vila Nova de Gaia
While the Port wine is actually produced in the Douro River valley, all of the Port Houses and cellars are located on this side of the river. You could literally spend the entire day tasting Port at countless lovely spots.
We headed for Taylors at the top of the hill which is probably one of the most famous ones and -fun fact- is a supplier to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and if it’s good enough for HRH, it can’t be too shabby!
You can take a tour and then enjoy a tasting in a rather lovely formal garden complete with free range peacocks roaming around. While we sipped on, and became ‘connoisseurs’ in all things Port related, our seven year old amused himself chasing one of the poor peacocks - and remarkably didn’t get told off (by anyone other than us that is).
3) The Bookstore - Livraria Lello
Hailed as the coolest, most beautiful bookstore in the world, it does not disappoint. Waiting in the long queue outside is totally worth it when you get to spend as much time as you need browsing amid the incredibly ornate architecture and decor.
Granted they charge you €5 entry fee, which seemed a bit scandalous, until I learned that you get €5 off any purchase. You can also (at the time of writing this) pay €15 per entry to skip the line and receive €15 off your purchase as well. Note: You can only purchase tickets online.
Whether or not J.K. Rowling was inspired by the majestic Art Nouveau interior or not, there’s a definite Harry Potter / Hogwarts vibe to the place that will delight the imagination. Potter fans flock there, but are more likely to fight for the best Instagram photo than actually buy a book.
Note: The Torre dos Clérigos, the clock tower of the Clérigos Church, is very close to the bookstore. There, you can climb up the highest church tower in Portugal for lovely views of the city.
4) The Church with the Blue Tiled Facade - Igreja do Carmo
The Baroque-Rococo style church is famed for it’s amazing exterior wall covered in the quintessential Portuguese blue tile (azulejos). It’s a hot spot for photography and just so unique.
5) The Train Station - São Bento Station
While the exterior looks like a Beaux-Arts Parisian import, it’s the interior that will blow your mind. It’s a veritable art museum that makes up the gorgeous walls, tiled with 20,000 individual tiles.
Then you remember; it’s a train station - one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, that is.
6) The Tiles - Azujelos
Azujelos are the beautiful tiles that are visible pretty much everywhere in Porto. Perfectly Portuguese, they decorate the city not just in blue and white, but in a myriad of colors.
An astounding amount of building facades are covered in colour which gives the city a joyful canvas, making it a tough place to take a boring photo.
7) The Street Art
Street art, graffiti’s older more civilized cousin, is everywhere as well. There are some gems though, that make for a great scavenger hunt (which helped keep my son interested and forward moving!).
Half Rabbit by Bordalo II can be found in Vila Nova da Gaia. It’s actually 3D and even more impressive in person.
Perspéntico by Liqen’s huge giant blue cat peeks out from a side street of the Rua das Flores. The Rua das Flores is a lovely street to wander as well with its cute shops and restaurants.
The many electrical boxes of the city are fun to look out for as every single one of them seems to have been colorfully adorned by street artists, making a fab game to spot your favourite.
8) The Ribeira and Drinks by the Douro
The Ribeira is the picturesque waterfront district that makes up the heart of the old town. The small narrow medieval streets are alive with cafés, restaurants and bars - simply wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere is an absolute joy to the senses.
Having a drink (or two) at one of the cool spots along the raised walkway along the harbour wall gives you one of the best views of the Douro and bridge, although you can’t really go wrong in Ribeira.
9) The Food
We love to research restaurants before we go somewhere as food is such an important part of a place, and with only a couple of nights in a city, you don’t want to be disappointed.
Porto’s food is wonderful, from octopus on every menu, to the Pasteís de Nata (custard tarts) which have their own section below.
The prego sandwich is the famous steak sandwich, which makes a hearty lunch and the Francesinha, know as the queen of sandwiches, is a gooey delectable mess.
10) The Pasteís de Nata
This little unassuming Portuguese egg custard tart pastry dusted with cinnamon is maybe the greatest dessert (or breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon treat, late night feast) ever. I think I could probably survive on them alone - and coffee of course.
Many thanks to the monks of Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, near Lisbon, for creating the recipe over 300 years ago - and for the extra few lbs from my time in Portugal.
These amazingly tasty treats are available everywhere in the city, and all over Portugal. I tried to find my favorite one, but after tasting so many, I called a tie. They are all magical.
Porto is the perfect city break with its laid back charm, relaxed vibrancy and authentic friendliness. While slightly tatty around the edges, it has a delightful heart as warm and gooey as the pasteís de nata.
We stayed a the Hotel Descobertas - a cool boutique hotel that has everything you need, with a bit of edge. It was surprisingly reasonable too considering it’s bang in the middle of the Ribeira one street back from the river.
Lareira - delish prego sandwiches in a lovely square and super duper reasonable!
Cantina 32 - the whole octopus is the speciality and needs to be shared! The food is local, and tasty with a twist. (pictures from Cantina 32 above in 'Food' Section)
Muro do Bacalhau - we stopped for a Port aperitif with a perfect view of the river in the afternoon, and ended up going back for dinner. The plates designed for sharing are varied, chic and creative - plus the service is wonderfully friendly.
Other restaurants we'll have to try next time:
Boa Bao, Chama, Mood, Puro 4050, Lado B, Cantinho do Avillez, Pregar, Mercado Beira-Rio