Porto, a city shaped by the mighty Douro River. Credit: Unsplash

Top Things To Do in Porto

Forget about Lisbon and head over to this hidden gem of a city instead

by Shandana A. Durrani

Porto sits where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and its small size and abundance of points of interest makes for the perfect quick visit. Located in the North of Portugal, the city has an air of decadence comparable to that of cities with an interesting past, such as Berlin. Indeed, Porto was a prime location for both Roman settlers and later, English wine traders. Today, its low prices and an array of cultural activities make for an affordable and delightful weekend getaway spot.

The long Douro river crosses the city, dividing it from Vilanova de Gaia, the neighbouring town packed with Sherry wine cellars. Porto, whose old town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, is the second-largest city in Portugal, and is easily reachable by train from Lisbon or flying from almost any European city. The locals are friendly and welcoming, the food rich and the wine abundant.

Top Things To Do in Porto
Having a glass of vinho verde by the picturesque harbor is highly recommended. Credit: Unsplash


The Portuguese are proud of their traditions and cuisine, so it’s odd to find international restaurants just as in any other European capital. But you won’t miss it! Portuguese food is varied and tasty and includes plenty of fish and seafood.

Start the day right with a café pingado, the Portuguese answer to the famous Italian cortado. Café Majestic, an Art Deco fantasy located in the Bolhão district is said to have the best coffee in town.


One of the defining dishes of the area is the infamous Francesinha. This monster sandwich is based on the French croque madame, with a Porto twist. It contains pork, smoked sausage, bacon, a medium-rare beefsteak, then finished with a fried egg and covered in a thick coat of cheesy sauce. All with a side of fries the size of a hill! Cafe Santiago, also in Bolhão, is where locals flock for their cholesterol-packed francesinhas every week.

Portuguese people are crazy about cod. They cook it in every imaginable way—there have even been reports of a cod lasagna! You can’t visit Porto without having a taste of this beloved fish dish, and the best place to try it is in O Mal Cozinhado, in the Ribeira district. This traditional restaurant, which opened in 1976, is located inside a 14th-century building and doubles as a Casa de Fados (a Fado House). Renowned Portuguese singers perform this melancholic music daily, from Monday to Saturday.


You’ll find plenty of tourist attractions in Porto. If you’re in the mood for some history, head over to the iconic Capela das Almas, a small church from the 18th century covered in the emblematic Portuguese blue tiles. Despite following the style of the 18th century, the tiles were only added in 1929, when the church became a local favourite.

Continue with some slightly more contemporary architecture: Walk down to the Douro river and cross Porto’s most iconic bridge, the Dom Luís I. Built in the 19th century to unite Porto with Vilanova de Gaia and to encourage trade between the two cities, it was designed by Téophile Seyrig, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel himself. Once in Vilanova de Gaia, you’ll see a row of wineries facing the river—this is where all that Tawny Port is made. Most offer hourly guided tours in several languages that include a wine tasting at the end. Our favourite, because it’s comprehensive as well as fun, is the Ramos Pinto cellar tour. Saude!

Need the perfect backdrop for a selfie? Walk up to the Miradouro da Vitória, a lookout located in the Rua de São Bento da Vitória. You’ll see the whole of Porto and Vilanova de Gaia in one fell swoop. From there you can head over to the Hard Club for a glass of wine. Formerly a market built in the 19th century, it is now a cultural centre with a bar, restaurant and club that doubles as a concert venue.

On your way down, stop by the Torre dos Clérigos, designed by Nicolau Nasoni, a stunning example of 18th-century Baroque architecture. A bit further down, you’ll find Lello & Irmão, one of the most enchanting bookshops in the world—said to have inspired J.K. Rowling when she was creating Hogwarts!


Pao de Acucar

Located at the União de Freguesias do Centro district and only 100 metres away from the Avenida dos Aliados metro station, this Art Deco boutique hotel is ideal for a weekend stay in Porto. Its eccentric character comes from its spiral staircase and the vintage bumper cars spread all over the common spaces of the hotel. These came from the now-defunct Feira do Palácio de Cristal funfair and were operative until the mid-1980s. This inter-generational reference will delight guests of all ages, both the nostalgic older ones and younger children. The building dates back to 1939 and was initially a nursing home and the headquarters of the textile union. The hotel has 60 rooms equipped with double-glazed windows, air conditioners, private bathrooms, free Wi-Fi and complimentary breakfast.


Grande Hotel de Paris

The oldest hotel in Porto dating back to 1877, this Belle Époque–style building is located next to the Porto Cathedral and only 400 metres away from the Sao Bento train station. The Grande Hotel de Paris makes for the ideal accommodation for your city break in Porto. All rooms have a TV, central heating, a private bathroom and free Wi-Fi. Start your day at the expansive salon, where guests can enjoy an abundant complimentary breakfast buffet. Explore the library with books in several languages or try to up your handicap at the golf course. The hotel, which has maintained its original 19th-century decor with restored turn-of-the-century furniture, also affords a garden where breakfast is served during the summer.