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Portugal’s second city Porto is full of charm, dazzling visitors with its collection of cultural attractions, traditional cuisines and tempting port wine. Adorned with blue “azulejos” tiles, Porto’s historic streets open up to a spectacular riverfront, where you can cross the bridge to soak up sunset views, tour the city with a local or take a self-guided tour of the architectural treasures that dot the city. From art galleries and wine cellars to picturesque landscapes, discover the best things to do in Porto, Portugal.
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A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cais da Ribeira is a waterfront promenade lined with restaurants and bars. Facing the River Douro, look up and you’ll see a kaleidoscope of colorful buildings that range from bright yellow to tangerine. Walk through the maze of pastel-painted houses and pick a cafe to sip on wine as you catch stunning sunset views and watch the world go by.
The Luís I Bridge is an iconic landmark in Porto as it straddles the Douro River and connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, the mastermind behind the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it offers spectacular views of Porto’s cityscape. Visit this bridge at sunset to see the city light up in an array of colorful hues, then board the funicular to travel down to the waterside.
Perched on a picturesque hilltop that overlooks the city, the Porto Cathedral dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Admire its unique array of architectural styles, from Romanesque to Baroque and Gothic features, then head inside to see beautiful stained-glass windows and a collection of centuries-old sculptures. Make sure take a walk along the terrace outside the church that overlooks the terra cotta-colored rooftops below.
Perfect for a sunny day in Portugal, meander down the Praça da Liberdade to see imposing civic buildings, designer boutique shops and the famous Belle Epoque Majestic Cafe on Rua Santa Catarina. Its distinctive Art Nouveau facade is simply stunning, and as you enter you can appreciate its 1920s ambiance and original carved wood chairs as you indulge in cakes and pastries.
The Church of São Francisco is the last Gothic monument in Porto, dating all the way back to 1425. The interior is its crown jewel, as it was decorated in the 1500s and 1700s and has some of the most lavish gilded woodwork in all of Portugal with almost 800 pounds of gold. Covered by intricately carved panels adorned with birds, cherubs and foliage, make sure to explore the old Gothic vaults, walls and pillars.
If you’re looking for an authentic place to explore in Porto, visit the Mercado do Bolhão. Capture the unique sights, smells and sounds of the city, as you’ll find sweet fruits, freshly baked bread and aromatic cheeses on display at this market that dates back to 1850. Housed in a neoclassical facade in the heart of the city, you’ll be captivated by the buzzing atmosphere of this local hotspot.
One of the most beautiful bookshops in the entire world, Livraria Lello is more than a century old and showcases Art Nouveau and Gothic details with stained glass windows and a regal red staircase. It is said to be one of J.K. Rowling’s favorite haunts when she lived in Porto, where you can peruse a collection of Portuguese fiction and non-fiction works in addition to books in English and French.
The city is home to an array of world-renown cellars, including Real Companhia Velha, Caves Sandeman, Graham’s Port Lodge and Taylor’s Port. These cellars date back hundreds of years and feature on-site museums documenting their story. Learn about the history of Port wine and sample a few from the oak barrels, then take a few bottles home with you.
Catch a show at Casa da Música, as this venue offers a cultural program of international concerts. Celebrated for its unique design, where two walls are composed entirely of glass. Attend one of the many world-class acts performed here, from classical and fado to jazz and hip-hop. One the top floor is a Mediterranean influenced restaurant with panoramic views of Porto.
The site of Porto’s Crystal Palace that stood from 1865 to 1961, Jardins do Palácio de Cristal is a picturesque garden with fountains and allegorical sculptures. Covered in camellias, rhododendrons and beech trees, you might spot a peacock on a peaceful afternoon stroll towards the river. You’ll also find excellent views of the city and plenty of fresh air in the 19 acres of lush greenery.
It may seem strange that a railway station is a must-see destination, but São Bento Railway Station is something special. Voted one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations, you’ll find its lobby walls covered with 20,000 decorative tiles, which took painter Jorge Colaço 11 years to complete. The paintings depict scenes in Portuguese history, daily life and transportation.
While Portugal is known for its delectable seafood cuisine, you simply cannot visit Porto and not try its famed, gluttonous “Francesinha” sandwich. The sandwich is stuffed with different types of meats, then covered with melted cheese and spicy sauce that consists of tomato and beer sauce. It’s a great meal to share with friends, and one of the most popular spots to try this adventurous dish is at the O Golfinho restaurant in Porto’s downtown.
Modern art enthusiasts should put Serralves Modern Art Museum on their list of things to do in Porto. With a collection of rotating exhibitions instead of permanent displays, this contemporary art museum showcases art in various media. Major exhibitions in the past have included “Andy Warhol: A Factory,” “Francis Bacon: Caged – Uncaged,” and “Paula Rego.” Outside you’ll find a verdant space with landscaped displays and 44 acres of greenery that include lakes, wooded areas and herb gardens.