Porto City Guide: The Highlights

Porto City Guide

Explore on foot and in the air: Walk in the footsteps of Prince Henry the Navigator and explore the historic Ribeira waterfront district stopping to enjoy lunch and a glass of the region’s famous port before crossing the Dom Luis I bridge toward the uphill station of the Teleferico de Gaia cable cars that offer an elevated view of Porto and the Vila Nova de Gaia waterfront as you make your way down to the riverside port wine lodges. 

Have a drink or two (or three!): Book a cellar tour and tasting at Graham’s renovated 1890 port wine lodge. Still a working cellar, the building houses over 2000 oak casks and 40 large oak vats of aging port wine along with an extensive cellar of bottle-aging vintage port. The cellar is one of the only producers in the region to still employ coopers to build and maintain the old oak casks.

Visit a UNESCO World Heritage site: Check out Mosteiro da Serra de Pilar, a 17th-century hilltop monastery overlooking the Douro River across the Dom Luis I bridge from the Ribeira waterfront. The unique circular church and cloisters can only be visited on the 40-minute guided tours leaving hourly between 10.30am and 12.30pm and 2.30pm and 5.30pm as the site still belongs to the Portuguese military after being requisitioned by the future Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War (1807–14). The stellar river views from the terrace surrounding the church are open to anyone though from 930-630pm.

Get a birds eye view: If you didn’t get enough of the lay of the land from the terrace at Mosteiro da Serra de Pilar, make you way over to Torre dos Clerigos, a city landmark bell tower attached to the Baroque church of the same name, and climb the 230 steps to the top to get a bird’s eye view of Porto, the port wine lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia, and out west to where the Douro River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Tickets to climb the tower cost €3, open from 9-12 and 2-7pm in the summer and closed all day on Wednesdays.

Take a cappuccino break: Wind your way along Rua das Carmelitas toward the famous Livraria Lello bookshop, boasting a Neo-Gothic revival interior with a dramatic central staircase and beautiful stained glass roof. It’s as much of a tourist attraction as the Ribeira or the Torre dos Clerigos, with controlled entry and dozens of tourists snapping pictures of themselves on the staircase. Its a delightfully, cozy bookshop to enjoy a hot cappuccino and reading break.

Hit the beach: Ride west to Porto’s beach suburbs on a 1920’s vintage tram. As you trundle down to Foz admire the passing views along the Douro River and explore the shops and park space that line the beach along the Atlantic Ocean.

Admire some artStop by the São Bento Railway Station to see the striking blue and white painted tiles (called azulejos in Portuguese) that line the walls of the entrance hall in several large murals depicting Portugal’s rich history. If you are keen to photograph them try to visit mid-day to avoid glare reflecting off the tiles from the front facing windows!

Get a lift: Porto is quite a hilly city with many steep streets. Shorten your uphill ascent a bit after your riverside port nightcap in the Ribeira district by taking the Funicular dos Guindais back up to Batalha along the 281 meter track. After the approximately 3 minute ride you’ll be treated with panoramic views of the Douro River, Ribeira, and the Dom Luis I bridge. A one way ticket costs €2.50 and the funicular runs from 8am-10pm weekdays during the summer and until midnight on weekends, holidays and the entire month of August. 

*All hours and prices current as of February 2016