8 Things to Do in Porto, Portugal for First-Timers

Porto is a beautiful, vibrant city that stretches out along the scenic Douro River. In spite of it being Portugal’s second largest city, it still maintains a small-town charm that’s hard not to love. It’s also rich in history, packed full of parks and green spaces, and close to idyllic beaches – you won’t run out of things to do in Porto. And with a direct high-speed line from the capital city of Lisbon, a visit to Porto should definitely feature in your itinerary.

8 things to do in Porto:

1. Walk the city

A photo posted by #OPORTOCOOL (@oportocool) on

As in much of Europe, there are few better ways to explore and get to know the city you’re visiting than by exploring it on foot. Porto is no exception, and with panoramic views over the river and beautiful parks it is particularly scenic. The somewhat confusing medieval center is full of life and fascinating sights, and easy to explore on your own. If you would prefer to have a guide, there are several free walking tours that lend historical context to the sights and share useful tidbits of information for your stay.

Good to know: Take a free walking tour if you’re new to the city. If you’re familiar with your surroundings, the self-guided walking tour from Visiting EU is another good option.

2. Cruise the river

A photo posted by Lukasz (@lukasz_1984) on

The Douro river dominates the city, and the steep banks allow for dramatic views of the final stretches of this impressive body of water before it spills out into the ocean. If you want to get up close and personal with the river, take a river cruise. You’ll learn about the history of the various bridges and get to see the city from a whole new perspective.

Good to know: If you just want to get a sense of the city, opt for a short cruise of up to 50 minutes. They are generally cheaper and just as enjoyable as the longer excursions.

3. Drink Port in its birthplace

A photo posted by Ellie Warder (@ellieeeeeee1) on

Porto is the birthplace of port wine, and there are dozens of cellars in and around the city where you can sample the famous alcoholic drink in truly unique settings. Most of the cellars are on the other side of the Douro river, and offer stunning views back towards Porto.

Good to know: Prices for port tastings and cellar tours vary widely, so do your research before you arrive. If you’re looking for a traditional port tasting experience, Caves Ferreira and Caves Croft are among the most popular.

4. Climb to the best view of Porto from above

A photo posted by Niko Vujevic (@hvarcegovac) on

Porto is a fascinating city when viewed from above. The contrast of the medieval center, the glistening river and the vast bridges that span it combine to make the aerial view particularly special. Head to the Clérigos Tower for the best aerial view of Porto – it allows a 360-degree outlook over the city and also houses a handful of interesting exhibits.

Good to know: The walk up to the top is steep and narrow, so it’s not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart, but the views are totally worth braving the walk and tight spaces for.

5. Walk the Dom Luís I Bridge

The most prominent bridge in Porto, Dom Luís I, is also the most thrilling. A walk across this 44-meter high bridge offers exhilarating views of the river below, and views from the other side are particularly rewarding. It’s pedestrianized apart from the occasional tram, which only adds to its charm and appeal.

Good to know: For a unique perspective of the bridge and an equally thrilling ride, walk to the foot of the bridge on the northern side and take the often-overlooked Funicular dos Guindais back to the top.

6. Take the wooden tram to the beach

A photo posted by Sofia Souto (@sofiasouto11) on

Porto has a rich rail history, and nowhere is this more obvious than in her beautiful wooden trams that run along the river. While these are now more in favor with tourists than regular commuters, they offer an enjoyable ride for just a few Euros. Look for tram line number one, and ride it from start to finish.

Good to know: Tickets are available on-board for approximately €2.50 and are one-way only – you will need to alight from the tram at the final stop and purchase a new ticket if you want to return.

7. Relax in Porto’s largest urban park

A post shared by Mory Fs (@morvaridfs) on

The Porto City Park, or Parque da Cidade do Porto, is the largest in the city, and it is the perfect place to relax on a warm afternoon. There are 83 hectares of park that stretch out to the Atlantic and its sheer size and unique layout and design makes it one of the most celebrated in Europe.

Good to know: The park is great for a picnic, but if you neglect to bring your own supplies, there’s a great little café in the middle.

8. Explore the Serralves Museum and gardens

A photo posted by Serralves (@fundacao_serralves) on

The Serralves Museum is one of Portugal’s best art museums, and when you combine it with a walk around the vast, beautifully manicured gardens it’s the perfect way to spend a slightly overcast or even sunny day. There’s no permanent collection on display at the museum, so each visit is likely to be unique, and you can expect a vast array of contemporary artwork from around the world.

Good to know: Admission is free on the first Sunday of the month between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

While many visitors to Portugal opt only to visit Lisbon, those who’ve been to Porto know that this bustling city just a short train journey north of the capital is perhaps one of the most underrated in Europe. And with a Eurail Portugal Pass in hand, it’s quick, cheap and easy to get between the country’s most impressive cities.

If you liked “Things to do in Porto”:
The 8 best things to do in Lisbon for first-timers
Your guide to train travel in Portugal
Your Europe bucket list, part 3/3: Eurail countries P to T