Just as captivating as the capital Lisbon, the city of Porto in northern Portugal is home to sights and culture galore. Another rising star as a tourist destination, those that visit Porto immediately feel the city’s pull. No wonder then that these days it’s considered one of Europe’s best places to visit.
While you could easily have a great time simply eating and drinking port wine, you’re going to want to see Porto’s sights. After all, the historic city centre is recognized by UNESCO for its immense cultural heritage and is a firm favorite of photographers. Following this Porto itinerary, you’ll find out what to do in Porto in 2 days to make sure you don’t miss any of the highlights and feel like you’ve earned that port wine at the end of the day.
Recommendation: See the sights of Porto and save money with a Porto Card valid for 1-4 days. Use the public transport system to get around, and get over 170 discounts and benefits, including free access to 11 museums and a free visit to a port wine cellar.
Best Time to Visit Porto
As Porto continues to grow in popularity, the question of when to visit becomes a harder one to answer. Tourism in Porto has really taken off in the last decade, and with more and more people visiting, it’s important to carefully pick your time to come.
In Portugal, summer has traditionally been seen as the best time to travel to places like the Algarve. But the warm weather brings troves of tourists with it and Porto continues to get busier and busier each summer. This means accommodation availability becomes more limited and prices tend to go up.
Instead consider visiting Porto during the shoulder season as the city is just as great to visit between April and May and also later in September and October. These months offer comfortable sightseeing weather and fewer crowds at Porto’s most sought after attractions. For those reasons, it’s the absolute best time to visit Porto.
How to Get Around Porto
In order to cover the best places to visit in Porto, you’re going to have to move around the city a bit. Even though Porto is a hilly city, quite a lot of the attractions revolve around the historic city centre and can be walked between.
But over a weekend in Porto this can be quite a lot of walking, so it will help if you take advantage of the city’s public transport. Depending on where you’re staying and where you’re going, it may be the only way.
Much like with Lisbon, trams are a popular way to get around the city. Porto only has a few tram lines and they require special tickets, but as a novelty they’re a fun way to get around. More practical are the city’s bus and metro system that connect the whole city. Rechargeable tickets can be bought for individual trips, 24 hours or 72 hours, with fares based on the zones you travel through.
Recommendation: Another great way to explore the historic city of Porto is on a hop-on hop-off combo ticket. The combo ticket provides 48 hour access to two hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tours, one Douro river cruise and one tour of the Calém Port Wine cellars. You can buy your combo ticket here.
Accommodation in Porto
Since the city sprawls quite a bit, the best places to stay in Porto are the ones as close to the historic centre as possible. That being said, Porto’s public transport makes it fairly easy to get around, meaning the centre doesn’t necessarily have to be within walking distance. The one big consideration is that Porto is a hilly city and having to walk up a big hill at the end of the day is never fun.
While the city’s riverfront may seem like the obvious choice of where to stay in Porto, you’ll certainly pay dearly the for the privilege. For more affordable areas, don’t discount quieter areas like Fontaínhas out to the east or Santo Ildefonso to the north. Whether you choose to walk or take the metro, they’re not far from the city centre. The same goes for Vila Nova de Gaia across the river, which is closer than it may seem.
If you want your room to have the best view in the city, then the Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel is the way to go. This five-star hotel sits right on the Ribeira riverfront boulevard inside a carefully refitted 16th century building, so you room can look right out onto the Douro River below.
For somewhere very central that offers amenities without the price tag, consider the Stay Hotel Porto Centro Trindade. Only a short walk to the nearest metro station and restaurants, this hotel offers clean and modern rooms, as well as welcoming staff.
Porto can be a great city for budget travelers, thanks to places like Oporto City Hostel. With friendly staff and a colorful and open layout, both dorms and private offer somewhere clean and comfortable to sleep.
For more accommodation options in Porto check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Porto Itinerary
With so much to see and do in the city, it only makes sense to start with the best places to visit in Porto. This itinerary will take you from the historic and cultural landmarks at the core of Porto to the far side of the Douro River and its port wineries. On both sides of the river, you’ll get to see some exceptional views and get a feel for just how layered Portuguese culture is.
However, before we get to our Porto itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t wanna get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $40 a month, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick quote below:
Now that you can travel with confidence and peace of mind, let’s get into this Porto travel itinerary and maximize how much you can fit into 48 hours in Porto.
Day 1 in Porto
The best way to start your Porto visit is by walking straight to the heart of the city and down to the Douro riverfront. After some time by the water, you’ll take in a few cultural landmarks and get a feel for the city. Along the way, you’ll stop at several viewpoints to marvel at the superb cityscape, which is without question one of the best things to do in Porto.
Recommendation: Fall in love with the historic city of Porto on a 3-hour guided tour of all the main monuments. Discover secret corners and hidden gems amongst the maze of winding streets packed with cafés and art galleries.
Avenida dos Aliados
As far as starting points go, the great sloping Avenida dos Aliados is a good one. Close to several metro stops and the centre of the city, this series of sloping squares are authentically Porto. Covered in small Portuguese tiles and lined by trees and small elegant buildings, the City Hall of Porto takes pride of place at its top.
Miradouro da Vitoria Viewpoint
With such a beautiful cityscape, let’s waste no time finding one of Porto’s iconic viewpoints. Rather than heading for one of the more obvious and popular ones, we’ll start with the Miradouro da Vitoria. Hidden in an empty lot behind a church above a rather concealed staircase, it’s hardly somewhere you’re likely to wander upon.
Although the viewing area isn’t much to look at, that was never the point. No, what you should be looking at is the sterling view over the orange rooftops of Porto out to the Luis I Bridge, Porto Cathedral and the Douro. This should give you a great taste of what’s to come for your Porto trip
Continuing down hill through the streets of Porto, you’ll soon find your way blocked by a great big river. This is the Douro River, a vital part of the city’s history and economy. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also very pretty to look at either.
Running along the Douro is the Ribeira riverfront, a boulevard home to restaurants and quaint tiled townhouses. From the riverfront you can look across to the city of Vila Nova de Gaia and the giant Luis I Bridge that links it with Porto. But don’t forget to look back to the buildings of Porto, with their beautiful tiles and balconies, that sit along this side of the river too.
6 Bridges River Cruise
While strolling the Ribeira riverfront, you’re sure to see boats and people lining up to board them. These are river cruises that run up and down the Douro River, showing tourists the six bridges that span this mighty river, not to mention all the interesting riverfront. Lasting around 50 minutes, this gentle river cruise is best taken before the day gets too hot.
We recommend you book your tickets in advance, as ticket lines can get quite long for the boat cruises. You can buy your skip-the-line tickets here.
Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique
Admittedly, the centre of Porto isn’t one of the greener places. It’s a world of stone streets, tiled houses and bright orange roofs. So, finding a green park square like Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique can feel like a nice change of pace. Surrounded by plenty of fascinating buildings including the Mercado Ferreira Borges market above, it also has a great big statue of Prince Henry the Navigator at its centre.
Monument Church of St Francis
With many of Porto’s churches, it’s about what’s on the outside that matters. Not so for the Church of St Francis, as its plain exterior masks an absolute treasure trove inside. You see, inside this particular church you’ll find exquisite centuries old woodwork from the floor to the ceiling, much of it with gold. The gilt woodwork inside positively glows within the church’s low light and needs to be seen to be believed.
Livraria Lello Bookstore
In recent years this bookstore has become a huge deal in Porto, so much so that it often has one of the longest lines in the city. That’s because this book store is famous for its beautiful interior that inspired the likes of JK Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter. With a stained glass ceiling, delicate woodwork and majestic staircase, it’s easy to picture this incredible bookstore belonging to a wizarding world.
Praça de Gomes Teixeira
Worth a quick detour after visiting the bookstore is the Praça de Gomes Teixeira just up the road. From the big university building to the Fonte dos Leões fountain and the view over to incredible blue tiles on the side of Igreja do Carmo church, there’s plenty to take in with a brief look around.
Clerigos Church Tower
Of the many churches you’ll come across during your 2 days in Porto, one that you’ll constantly find yourself spotting is the Clerigos Church. Rather than being covered in dazzling tiles, it’s more that this church is positioned at the top of a steep road, adding to its imposing nature. Then there’s the attached Clerigos Tower that rises from its western end well over the surrounding rooftops.
Visiting the church and tower, you gradually snake your way up the levels around the church. One moment you’re at ground level and the next you’re looking from balconies into the main church hall. But the highlight are the views from the church’s 75 metre high bell-tower, granting a new perspective on Porto’s cityscape.
Skip the long lines at the ticket office and buy your tickets to the Clerigos Tower in advance here.
Foz do Douro Beach Sunset
Whereas Lisbon is quite well known for its nearby beaches, the same can’t be said for Porto. That’s a shame really, as the beaches in this coastal neighborhood are just about as easy to get to. Simply take the number 1 tram from the city centre to the end and you’re a short walk to the beaches of Foz do Douro.
Unless you’re actually keen on spending some time sunbathing and swimming, I’d recommend heading down here just before sunset. That way, you can watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean and see the sand glow with the fading light.
Day 2 in Porto
There’s still more of Porto for you to uncover during your second day, before crossing the river over to Vila Nova de Gaia to drink port wine and enjoy another sunset.
Chapel of Souls
The first stop for the day is going to create a bit of a theme for your second day in Porto. Although a small church along one of Porto’s more lively shopping streets, the exterior of the Chapel of Souls is quite something. It is fully covered in ornate azulejos, traditional blue and white Portuguese tiles that are used to create giant and elaborate pieces of art that show various scenes and stories. It’s sights like the Chapel of Souls that set Portugal apart from anywhere else in Europe in my opinion.
Mercado do Bolhão
To experience a taste of local life in Porto, there’s no better choice than exploring Bolhão Market. Set inside an open air, two storey neoclassical building, it’s quite a grand home for something so humble. Along the outside you’ll find cafes, while inside you’ll find grocers, butchers and the inevitable souvenir stalls. Still, this historic market shows you how old-school Porto can be at times.
Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso
We’ve saved one of Porto’s most beautiful churches to last, the Church of Saint Ildefonso. Sitting on a hilltop almost opposite the Clerigos Church, this is another church decorated with azulejos. But instead of being blanketed in blue and white, the tiles have been incorporated into its Baroque design, making for an interesting sight.
São Bento Train Station
It might seem strange to visit a train station without actually needing to take a train but trust me, there really aren’t many train stations quite like this one. Inside the main hall of São Bento Station, the walls are completely covered in azulejo tiles. While many Portuguese train stations have some tilework, this may be the most famous station for it.
Porto Cathedral Views
Having seen so many of Porto’s churches, it’s time to visit the city’s cathedral. The Sé do Porto, as it’s known, honestly isn’t immediately noticeable as a cathedral. Sitting in quite a strategic position with towers and terraces around with long drops below, you could easily mistake it for some sort of fortified castle.
Even with some nice stone facades and inner cloisters, what most people come to Porto’s cathedral for is the view. From the outside terraces, you’re treated yet again to Porto’s cityscape and its fascinating features.
Among Porto’s many landmarks, ones such as the Fernandina Wall tend to get lost and overlooked. These historic walls once encircled Porto’s medieval town with the cathedral being the centre of Porto at the time. As Porto grew over the centuries, the walls got in the way and were removed. Only two stretches remain and have sort of merged into the Old Town around them. Still, at 30 feet tall these big stone walls are worth a moment of your time.
Luis I Bridge
It’s time for one of the most well-known features of Porto, the great big metal Luis I Bridge. One look at the design of this bridge and you probably won’t be surprised that it was designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel, the man behind the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Coming from the direction of the old city walls, you’ll actually be able to walk out onto the top of this iconic bridge.
From up there you can admire the view down along the Douro river and of the buildings on either bank. While there are many views that include the bridge, the views from the bridge itself are just as fantastic. Be careful while you’re up there as metro trains regularly roll past along the centre of the bridge, so look both ways before crossing.
Teleferico de Gaia
From the Luis I Bridge you have two ways of making your way down to the riverfront of Vila Nova de Gaia. Sure, you could walk down, but it’s far easier and more fun to take a ride in the city’s modern cable car, the Teleferico de Gaia. Floating over the rooftops of buildings and wineries, you get to look down at all the people wandering along the south side of the river. And with a return ticket, you save yourself the pain of having to walk back up again later.
Having walked along one bank of the Douro, it’s only fair that you give the riverfront of Vila Nova de Gaia a shot too. With green gardens and lined with traditional rabelo boats that were used to transport goods back and forth in the day, it’s quite a pleasant place to walk along. Throw in the superb view back to the buildings of Porto and the argument could be made that this is the better riverfront.
Port Wine Cellars
Of course, when you come to Porto you have to try some of the city’s famous port wine. This fortified wine made from the grapes grown along the Douro Valley is Porto’s claim to fame. In the European Union, only fortified wine from Porto is allowed to call itself port.
In Vila Nova de Gaia you’ll find both large scale wine producers, as well as smaller operations. One of the more memorable is Ferreira Cellars found inside an old convent, where you can tour the cellars and taste a few samples.
If you want, why not visit a few different cellars with a walking tour and work out for yourself which you think is the best of Porto.
Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar
At the end of the day as sunset draws near, make your way back up to the area around the top of the Teleferico and Luis I Bridge. Just above you’ll spot Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, a former monastery and the last stop of the day.
Now while the monastery looks quite nice illuminated in the evening, the real reason to come up here is for the best sunset spot in the city. I think the terrace outside the monastery here is the best simply because you can see all of Porto from up there, including both banks, the river and even Luis I Bridge.
I can’t think of a better way to end your time in Porto than watching the sunset from up here and seeing the city by twilight.
Recommendation: If you have more than 2 days in Porto, we highly recommend you book a Douro Valley tour. On this tour you get to spend a full day taking in the landscapes of the Douro Valley, taste port wines, table wines and olive oil, enjoy a traditional Portuguese lunch in a vineyard, and take a ride along the Douro River on a traditional Rabelo boat.