12 things to do when arriving in Porto

Porto, a coastal gem in northern Portugal, offers a rich tapestry of experiences that perfectly blend history, culture, and culinary delights, making it an ideal starting point for the Camino de Portuguese de Santiago. Wander through the narrow, cobblestone streets of the Ribeira district, savor the world-renowned port wine in one of the many riverside cellars, and marvel at the stunning azulejo-clad São Bento Railway Station. These enchanting experiences set the tone for the journey ahead on the Camino Portuguese de Santiago.

Soon you’ll be off on your Way to Santiago, but it’s important to remember that you may be tired from your day of travel and need a few rest days to relax and beat jet lag before you begin walking. Luckily for you, Porto is full of cultural and historic sites to explore. Here are 10 things to do when arriving in Porto.

1. Wander the Streets

It’s always nice to begin your exploration by just wandering the streets of a city. There are so many corners and places to go to, so if you’re more of a free spirit versus wanting a guided tour these are a few spots to go to: 

  • Santa Catarina: As one of the most famous streets in Porto, you’ll see a lot of activity going on at all times of the day. It is a bigger shopping area, but there’s still some beautiful tile facades on the way. Be sure to visit the Café Majestic as it’s one of the most beautiful and famous art nouveau cafés in the city!
  • Praça da Ribeira: Located in the Ribeira District, this square is in the city center with views of the Dom Luis I Bridge and the Douro river. There are some excellent bars, restaurants, and outdoor artist performances to enjoy. The only caveat is that the prices are higher due to it being a touristy area. 
  • Rua da Picaria: part of the Cedofeita neighborhood with good restaurants to get a bite to eat. There are a ton of options for food to eat with Portuguese tapas, Petiscos too!

2. Try a Pastel de Nata

Go to Nata Lisboa on Rua das Flores to get yourself one of these famous Portuguese pastries. This bakery is on an old shopping street that connects São Bento with Ribeira and has nice places with balconies and flowers for a scenic walk. Lots of restaurants and other cafes to visit as well. 

3. Eat some traditional Portuguese Food

Porto has an incredible food scene, particularly renowned for its traditional Portuguese cuisine. Besides trying the famous Francesinha sandwich, indulge in the fresh seafood and the other local fare Porto has to offer. Here are some restaurants in various areas of the city to try:

  • Casa Expresso: ($) In the Clerigos area, you’ll find this traditional Portuguese restaurant that serves lunch and dinner, providing an authentic atmosphere, fair prices, and excellent wine. Enjoy large rojões sandwiches and savor the local flavors with a glass of fine wine.
  • Porto À Noite: ($$) Situated in the Cathedral area, this restaurant offers the perfect setting for enjoying a delicious meal while listening to Fado music. With reasonable prices, you can savor dishes like sardines and other hearty, flavorful options.
  • Restaurante Costume Bistrô: ($$$) Head to Rua das Tascas and discover this hidden gem for a delightful meal. The intimate atmosphere of the restaurant complements the diverse menu, featuring both fish and meat dishes. Enjoy the great quality food, including their delicious croquettes.
  • Postigo do Carvão: ($$-$$$) In Porto’s Ribeira District, you’ll find this restaurant serving traditional Portuguese food in a cozy setting. This welcoming, family-run restaurant is renowned for their delicious Arroz de Marisco and tasty desserts.

4. Walk across the Dom Luis I Bridge 

This double-deck arch bridge is one of the six bridges in Porto. Taking only around 5 minutes, you can walk across the bridge and see the stunning panoramic views of the city and Douro River. On the other side lies Vila Nova de Gaia, which contains all the famous port cellars. 

5. Drink Port Wine

Once you’ve walked across the bridge, book a tour of the one of the Porto wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. Most tours include Port Wine tasting, and some even allow you to enjoy a live Fado show too! There are 17 port houses to choose from so here are a few:

  • Cálem Caves: tour can have a combination of a fado show. Get two-three tastings depending on Basic or Premium option
  • Cockburn: largest port cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia and offers a variety of tours including vintage tours or port cask demonstrations. Can start trip with a visit to the Cellars museum too marking Cockburn’s 200-year history
  • Burmester: known for its Port wines and Douro DOC; included in the Porto City Card; right at the foot of the Dom Luis I Bridge

6. Visit Livaria Lello

This is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world with the inspiration for the moving staircases in the Harry Potter series. There’s a mix of art nouveau, art deco, and neo-gothic paintings around the bookstore. While you need to purchase a ticket through their website to enter, it comes with a discount to purchase a book. 

7. Tour the Estádio do Dragão – FC Porto Stadium

If you’re a football fan this is the spot for you! You can book a stadium tour to view the stadium as well as visit the attached museum with the history of FC Porto. 

8. Admire the Street Art

While you’re walking through the streets, you’ll notice the vibrant art scene with murals on older, vacant buildings. Take a street art tour around the city to learn more about urban art. A few must-see stops are the “Half Rabbit” in Vila Nova da Gaia by Bordalo II, “Mural da Trindade” in the Trindade car park, and “Look at Porto” in the Rua Nova da Alfândega square. 

9. View the tiles in the Sao Bento Railway Station

Located in the center of Porto, this station is covered in thousands of beautiful blue azulejos by Jorge Colaço. The tiles depict some of the most important periods in Portuguese history. Whether you arrived here by train or not, take a bit of time to admire the tile work.

10. Stroll through a Park

When arriving in Porto, take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life to relax and connect with nature before beginning your Way. There are a few parks and picturesque lookout spots to enjoy the city from a calmer standpoint: 

  • Jardins do Palácio de Cristal: This garden is a little further from Porto but is perfect to spend the day admiring the flowers and seeing the pretty views over the Douro River and of Porto. It’s also home to the Super Bock arena. When lounging in the sun, you may also come across some peacocks!
  • Serralves Foundation: Located in the center of Porto is this beautiful park. You’ll find the Museum of Contemporary Art here and view some of the art sculptures in the park. This is the type of area you can spend around a half a day exploring too!
  • Jardim do Morro: Here in Santa Marinha, in Vila Nova de Gaita, is the perfect viewpoint of the Douro River and city. One can read a book, have a picnic, and watch the sunset here. 

11. Walk through beautiful Churches

Porto is home to a bunch of historic churches and cathedrals for you to visit. With lavish architecture each one has their own unique atmosphere to it. Here are a few must-see sites to explore in Porto:

  • Igreja da São Francisco: This is  a stunning church with gold, gilded carvings. It was built during the 14th and 15th centuries and has later been renovated and decorated with all the gold. The Jesse Tree, a piece made entirely of wood, has the entire family lineage of Jesus on it. You can visit this church, the catacombs, and the museum for 8 euros. 
  • Torre dos Clerigos: With towers for sightseeing of the Porto skyline, visit this 18th century church. You can view the inside’s marble and granite carvings for free, but to go high up into the tower, you need to book a ticket in advance. 
  • Carmo & Carmelitas: Located on the Praca Gomes Teixeira are these two churches right next to each other. The left is the 17th Century Carmelitas while the right is the Igreja do Carmo with a meter-wide house in between. Make sure to see the right-hand side of Igeja do Carmo’s large tile painting too. 

12. Get your Pilgrim’s Passport

Sé do Porto is the spot where you can pick up your official Pilgrim’s Passport as it is the official starting point for the Portuguese Way from Porto to Santiago. You can also purchase a ticket to view the Cathedral and monastery as there’s incredible viewpoints of the city and magnificent blue and white azulejos here.

Where to Stay in Porto

With all of these must-see spots, it’s also important to have a home base before beginning your Way. There are a variety of hostels and hotels to stay in, in Porto such as the Passenger Hostel, Porto Wine Hostel, Onefam Ribeira, Supernova Hostel, Lost Inn Porto, etc. All of which offer private or dorm stays; however the privates tend to be a bit more pricey. 

An advantage to being a pilgrim on the Camino Portugues de Santiago is that you have access to staying in albergues. An Albergues is a type of hostel specifically designed for pilgrims walking the Way and offers affordable, basic communal lodging along the Camino routes. In order to access them, you need to show your credential (pilgrim’s passport) to stay. You also get this document stamped at each one along the way as proof of your journey. In Porto one option is the Albergue Peregrinos Porto (Porto’s Pilgrim Hostel). Here, a pilgrim can stay for a night or more for between 16-96 euros, depending on if you want a shared room, dormitory, or private room. This Albergue is also open year-round, and make sure to make a reservation first.

Now that you’ve got 12 things to do when arriving in Porto…

go off and enjoy the trip! Make the most of exploring this beautiful city before starting your way. From the stunning architecture and historic sites to the vibrant local culture and delicious cuisine, Porto promises an unforgettable experience. Don’t forget to capture the moments and immerse yourself in local festivities. Safe travels and buen camino!

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