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Porto’s top 10 attractions

Planning a trip to Porto? Here are the places you have to see

Written by
Danielle Goldstein
&
Time Out Porto editors
Contributor
Rosemary Waugh
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When it comes to Portugal, capital city Lisbon gets arguably more than its fair share of attention. But the savvy traveller has long known that little sister city Porto is crammed with its own must-see charms.

Porto’s modest size makes it easy to navigate which, in turn, means you can easily visit more than one of our top ten attractions in one day. Take a dip in a stunning swimming pool, photograph a train station that’s worth visiting in its own right (yes, really) or simply get your fill of the gorgeous Duoro River and the megalithic Dom Luis I iron bridge stretching across to Gaia. And, finally, don’t forget you’re literally in the home of port - a trip to the Vila Nova de Gaia wine cellars to learn more about Porto’s most famous export is basically non-negotiable. Cheers!

Recommended: The best places to enjoy brunch in Porto

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  • Attractions
  • Monuments and memorials
  • Baixa

This ornate, 75-metre bell tower, which watches lovingly over the city of Porto, is arguably the city’s most iconic silhouette. It was opened in 1763 and is blessed with a beautiful barrage of Baroque motifs thanks to its Italian designer Nicolau Nasoni. Given its prominent position, you can get some amazing 360° views of the city from the top, but you’ll have to climb 225 steps to get there.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Massarelos

When Googling this park, if you’re faced with a bunch of fiberglass dinosaurs, then you’re in the wrong Crystal Palace. Despite the lack of prehistoric models, these gardens are somewhat more exotic than what London has to offer. Not only does this verdant paradise have a maze of walkways, tree-lined waterways, sculptured topiary and a huge domed pavilion (all thanks to German landscape architect Emile David), but it overlooks the Douro River too. Well worth the hike up there.

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  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Vila Nova de Gaia

The Serra do Pilar is a jagged hill above the Douro river on the Gaia side. Needless to say, the view is spectacular, especially at sunset. Visit the thirteenth-century monastery to find out more about the four World Heritage sites in Portugal’s northern region: the historic centres of Porto and Guimarães, the Douro wine region and the Côa Archaeological Park.

Porto’s sister city Gaia has beaches and those famous Port wine cellars. They’re gorgeous, with guided tours to teach you the history of the stuff and the distinguishing features of each variety (there are many varieties of port). Every tour has a happy ending: a Port tasting. We recommend the Sandeman Cellars (Largo Miguel Bombarda, 3; the ones with the chap in the black cape), which include a museum; Taylor’s (Rua do Choupelo, 250), featuring the highly rated O Barão de Fladgate restaurant; and Cockburn’s (Rua Serpa Pinto, 346), where you can enjoy a picnic with some lipsmacking Portuguese delicacies.

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  • Shopping
  • Bookshops
  • Galerias

The Guardian and travel website Lonely Planet picked this as the world’s third most beautiful bookstore. Are they having a laugh? It’s gorgeous! More than a century old, Lello is an art nouveau pearl with gothic details, stained glass and a fabulous red staircase, said to have inspired the one in Hogwarts (JK Rowling once lived in Porto). Harry Potter fans: make a beeline here immediately. There are so many visitors these days that you are now charged to enter, but this is discounted from any purchase. Plenty of tours go to the Lello Bookstore.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites

Porto’s Cathedral (‘Sé’) is the city’s most important church. Built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it’s a national monument. Look out for the gothic cloister, the chapel frescoes, the Teixeira Lopes sculpture in the baptistery and the medieval portrait of Our Lady of Vandoma, the city’s patron saint. When locals talk about the ‘Sé’, they don’t just mean the cathedral: the name also applies to the historic district at Porto’s heart. Wander its streets, keep Google Maps turned off and you’ll thank us for it.  

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  • Attractions
  • Railways
  • São Bento

The classic train station is a means to an end: it’s where you go as way of getting somewhere else. And let’s face it, most train stations are not exactly great places to pass the time (although they do beat airport departure lounges). Estação de São Bento is a different beast. This former convent combines a Belle Epoque facade with an iconic interior decorated with 20,000 painted tiles. Artist Jorge Colaço adorned the walls with images from the country’s history, including - fittingly - scenes of everyday life and modes of transport. Just don’t get so caught up in gawping you trip over a commuter. This busy station is also functions as a link to Miramar, Braga, Guimarães and other popular destinations.

Foz is almost a mini-city within Porto. In the nineteenth century it was a seaside resort where Brits and well-heeled Porto residents went on holiday. Nowadays, visit it for its beaches (several of them have a blue flag), seaside-y outdoor cafés (try the ones at the Praia da Luz and iBar’s, located among the rocks), or a stroll in the sun along the Avenida do Brasil with its view of the Atlantic. Nearby is the Queijo Fort, the Passeio Alegre Fountain, the Felgueiras lighthouse, the Molhe Breakwater and Old Foz (a quainter part of the district). You can eat very well around here: try chef Pedro Lemos’s eponymous restaurant (for a splurge), Casa Vasco, Cafeína or a burger at Peebz.

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If you’re in Porto you absolutely, positively must visit Ribeira. This old city district located by the Douro is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Yes, it’s swarming with tourists, but don’t let that put you off. Cross the river in a rabelo boat; go wobbly looking at the Luíz I, D. Maria II and Arrábida bridges (great backgrounds for dramatic photos); visit the Bacalhoeiros Wall, the Casa do Infante museum, the Rua da Reboleira, Cubo square, São Nicolau Church and the ‘Alminhas da Ponte’, a sculpture by artist Teixeira da Lopes. Eat at the Adega de S. Nicolau (they sometimes have fado nights), have a drink at the Pestana Vintage Hotel’s amazing RIB bar, then head up to the heights on the Guindais Funicular Railway. Phew!

  • Things to do
  • Leça da Palmeira

The benefits of a salt water swim are legion, but as even the most dedicated wild swimmer will know, actually covering a decent distance in the open ocean can be tricky (not to mention, potentially dangerous). At Marés Pool, you get all the health-boosting pluses that an open air salty swim brings with the luxury and calmness of a delicious lido. Stretch out tired muscles with a few good lengths of the pool, then retire to the surrounding rocks to admire the epic sea views that surround Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira’s excellent creation.

Get to know Porto

  • Things to do

Doing any city in a weekend is a challenge, so allow us to give you a hand. Here’s where to eat and drink in Porto, what to do and see, and the places you shouldn’t miss. Hey, you can always come back!

  • Things to do

The smell of the sea, the sound of the waves and its endless gardens are what makes Foz one of the most beautiful areas in Porto. Promenades that go for miles and good food by the seaside – we give you ten reasons to fall in love with Foz. 

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