The Best Reasons To Visit Porto on Your Next Holiday
From celebrating lively festivals to discovering windswept beaches, Portugal’s second city is full of wonderful experiences
Seeking an alternative to Lisbon? Porto is a fantastic choice for a city break. Located in the north of the country, Porto sits on the shores of the Douro River. The historic centre became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, and is brimming with history and culture – it’s also the place to try its famous port wine. Our travel experts at Plum Guide know a thing or two about this splendid city, and we’re here to help you plan an unforgettable trip. Take a look at our top reasons to visit Porto below and get ready to start planning your next getaway.
Its charming historic centre
Traditional boats docked along the Douro River in the historic Ribeira neighbourhood, Porto
The Ribeira district is Porto’s historic heart. Set along the waterfront, it’s a labyrinth of crooked alleyways flanked by tall, colourful buildings. Spend your time discovering the various old churches, the azulejo (traditional ceramic tiles often with intricate patterns) adorned buildings, artisan stores, and tapas bars. For a bird’s eye view of the neighbourhood, walk along the iconic Ponte de D. Luís bridge. It’s one of the most impressive examples of 19th-century engineering, and not for those with a fear of heights.
Ribeira is also a great place to hang out if you’re looking for a bit of nightlife. After dark, the neighbourhood comes alive with bars and restaurants, where you can sit on terraces and enjoy views of the river across to Vila Nova de Gaia. Before you return to your accommodation, stop by Ideal Clube de Fado for a beautiful performance of Portuguese fado music.
The delicious local cuisine
One of our favourite reasons to visit Porto is for the food. Portuguese cuisine is full of flavour, making the most of the fresh seafood, meat and vegetables grown in the fertile valleys. If you’re visiting in the cooler months – or just fancy something a little healthy to balance out those pastel de natas – be sure to order caldo verde (green broth). Made with potatoes, kale, garlic and onion, and often finished with sliced chorizo, this is a hearty and comforting dish. Another must-try is tripas à moda do Porto, a stew made with tripe, beans, sausages, smoked ham and vegetables.
Don’t feel adventurous enough to eat tripe? How about bolinhos de bacalhau, instead? This moreish appetiser is made from salt cod, mashed potatoes, onions, eggs and parsley – it's then deep fried until crispy and golden brown. You’ll also want to leave room for francesinha, one of Porto’s most iconic dishes. This sandwich is a twist on the French croque monsieur, and is filled with four or five types of meat, covered with melted cheese and served with a spicy sauce.
The city’s famous port wine
Woman's hands holding a glass of red port wine and a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart), with the cityscape and bridge in the background, Porto
Porto is the birthplace of port, a sweet and fortified wine grown in the nearby Douro Valley. It’s made with a unique blend of Portuguese grapes such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca, before being aged in cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. There are various styles of port, but the two most common include a red with notes of berries and chocolate, as well as a tawny-coloured port with hints of caramel and nuttiness.
Oenophiles keen to sample the range of ports should head to Graham’s Port Lodge, where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at how the wines are made. There are also plenty of wine bars in the city, and we highly recommend Prova and Wine Quay Bar. While you’re here, be sure to visit the World Of Wine, a sprawling museum with various exhibitions, a wine school with classes and workshops, and numerous bars and restaurants serving up the goods.
The array of architectural marvels
Man walking in front of the traditional blue-tiled Igreja do Carmo church, Porto
You’ve probably guessed by now that Porto is full of stunning architecture – in fact, the buildings themselves are a good enough reason to visit Porto. Admire the blend of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and neoclassical styles dotted across the city. Many of the buildings are decorated with azulejos, which originated from the Moors, who brought the art form over in the 13th century. One of the best places to see them is in São Bento Railway Station. The building itself is pretty impressive, but its interior is made even more special with its blue and white tiles portraying various scenes from the country’s history.
As you walk around the city, you’ll see many churches and palaces built in the Baroque and Rococo styles. The Clérigos Church and Tower is a charming example, and you can even climb up the tower for some breathtaking views of Porto. If Art Nouveau is more your style, be sure to swing by the famous Livraria Lello bookstore, which is possibly one of the most beautiful bookstores we’ve ever stepped foot in.
Fantastic shopping opportunities
Speaking of stores, keen shoppers will be in heaven here in Porto. Whether you’re in the market for handmade crafts, designer fashions or delicious food items, you’re bound to find something to take home. Your first stop should be Rua de Santa Catarina. This is Porto’s main shopping street, where you’ll find high-street stores and a couple of shopping malls. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes for when you need a little break – we recommend Confeitaria Aquarela for its mouthwatering croissants. Another shopping street is Rua das Flores, which has many hip boutiques selling everything from bespoke fragrances to antiques. Meanwhile, artsy folk should make a beeline for Rua Miguel Bombarda with its many art galleries and design stores.
Don’t miss Porto’s markets, either. The area of Bolhão is home to the city’s largest urban market (Mercado do Bolhão), where you’ll find an incredible array of fresh produce and local delicacies like salt cod, olives and wine. There are also a couple of eateries specialising in homestyle cooking. Each Saturday, the Porto Belo market (inspired by London’s Portobello Market) takes place in Carlos Alberto Square. A whole range of goods is on offer, from clothing and vinyl records to vintage accessories and handmade crafts.
The stunning beaches
The oceanfront Capela do Senhor da Pedra Church, surrounded by sandy beach and sea views, near Porto
While most visitors flock to the sun-kissed shores of the Algarve, Porto has its fair share of beaches. They may be wilder and windier, but they're no less stunning than their southern counterparts. Running south of Porto is the Silver Coast, where you’ll find sandy beaches like São Martinho do Porto, Foz do Arelho, and Praia do Norte with its record-breaking, humongous waves. The Silver Coast is dotted with charming little coastal towns like Alcobaça, Óbidos and Peniche, where you can enjoy historical sights and delicious fresh seafood.
To the north of Porto is the Green Coast, a lush and verdant area near the hills of the Douro Valley. Some of our favourite stretches of sand along the coast include Praia de Moledo, Praia de Caminha, and Azurara. While you’re here, be sure to pop by Viana do Castelo. This is one the main towns along the Green Coast, and is known for its medieval centre, 19th-century boulevards, and glorious Santa Luzia church perched on a hilltop above the town.
Festivals and events
Last but not least, one of the best reasons to visit Porto is the range of exciting festivals and events throughout the year. It’s a vibrant city, so there’s always something going on – be it a celebration of music and art or food and culture. One of the best-known events is the São João Festival in June. Held in honour of St John, this lively event is filled with street parties, fireworks, traditional dances, and music.
There’s plenty for music lovers to add to their calendars, too. In the summer, you have the Primavera Sound music festival, which sees a mix of local and international artists take to the stage. There’s also the Porto Blues Fest in July, as well as the Porto International Jazz Festival in the autumn, held in various venues and bars across the city.
Meanwhile, film buffs won’t want to miss the Fantasporto - Oporto International Film Festival. It's where you can catch a range of independent and cult films – if you’re a fantasy, science fiction and horror film fan, you shouldn’t miss this one. For something a little different, the Festival Internacional de Marionetas do Porto is a puppetry festival. There are a wide range of performances, such as shadow theatre and marionette theatre, as well as workshops and activities for all ages.