I think we’re all seeking some sort of magic when we travel. Yet so often, the serendipitous moments, the enchanting encounters, and the romance of a place (whether alone or with company) get lost in favor of chasing an endless must-see list or catching the next Instagram shot.
A type-A planner at heart, I’m just as guilty of planning my trips to a T. However, I’ve gotten better at spontaneity over the years and now I’m sure to build plenty of intentional whitespace into my wanderings. Traveling with the flow brings its own special kind of magic.
Before our trip to Portugal, I’d done next to nothing to plan our Porto itinerary. We booked accommodation and I’d read a handful of blogs, but that was it.
As we trundled in our rented Fiat 500 over the Ponte d’Arrábida bridge, my thoughts left the places we’d been just before—Lisbon, Aveiro, the Costa Nova beaches—and I was filled with awe as Porto came into sight. Beautiful, charming, and mysterious, thanks to my lack of research.
The closer we got to the center, the city swept me in more and more. Finally, we arrived at our accommodation, directly across the street from Igreja do Carmo and its famed tiled wall, just in time to open a bottle of wine that was left for us and watch the sunset from our french door balcony. We’d arrived, and I was ready for more magic.
This Porto itinerary will give you a great starting point to explore the city. But don’t forget to put margins in your plans. You’ll find that Porto is the perfect place to open yourself up to magic and be captivated by its charms.
Porto itinerary: What to do in Porto
See the city from Miradouro da Vitória
Start your Porto adventure with a stunning view of the city at sunset if possible. Find your way up the winding streets to Miradouro da Vitória to catch a sweeping look at the sea of terracotta rooftops below, and the Douro river and Dom Luis I Bridge just beyond.
Explore Praça da Ribeira and the riverside
Head down to the riverside to explore a buzzy part of town filled with tourists and locals alike. Stop at the popular Bacalhau restaurant for fresh cod dishes, sip wine overlooking the river or take a stroll and soak in the romance of Porto.
Walk the Dom Luis I Bridge
Perhaps the most iconic point in all of Porto, the Dom Luis I Bridge, designed by Gustave Eiffel, is worthy of its reputation. Cars and pedestrians share the lower level with folks on foot have the upper level mostly to themselves with the exception of the occasional tram.
From the bridge, the city looks like a painting. The buildings climb up the hillside from river, their vibrant reds, blues, yellows, and oranges standing out against the sky. Go at sunset if you have the chance.
Visit the Port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia
You can’t visit Porto without trying Port! Across the river from Porto lies Vila Nova de Gaia, home to a plethora of Port houses there for your tasting pleasure. You can stick to the riverside, although those places tend to be crowded, in my opinion. Go a little farther up the hill to find quieter spots.
We wandered through the steep inclines on foot, unsure of where to go when we stumbled upon Croft, which turned out to be an amazing experience. Have a tasting outside in their lovely garden in peace and quiet away from the crowds. Don’t forget to try the rosé Port. It was so good we took some home.
Back down by the river, and for a complete change of scene, head to the Porto Cruz rooftop. It’s crowded, pricey for Porto, and has somewhat of a nightclub vibe, but the drinks are interesting and the views are good. Keep your eye out for the cable car passing overhead.
Geek out on Harry Potter inspiration
Word has it that JK Rowling got much of her inspiration for Harry Potter while living in Porto for two years. It only took a few moments in the city to see why.
As soon as we stepped out of the car, we spotted a group of people adorned in black clothes from head to toe, capes, walking sticks, and sashes. Turns out there was a college graduation that weekend and the city was packed full of students in these black-caped getups (which is common in all of Portugal, apparently). The masses of students, combined with Porto’s baroque and gothic architecture, made me feel like Harry would come around the bend any moment.
Around the corner from where we first saw the college students sits the Livraria Lello, touted to be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and JK Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts. The spot is so popular now that there is a 4 euro charge for entrance and a line down the block at all times, so go early.
Another one of JK Rowling’s stunning haunts is Cafe Majestic, the Art Deco coffee shop just a few minutes walk from Livraria Lello. It was closed when we went (note: they are open Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.) but it’s certainly worth a peek as you walk by if nothing else.
Admire the azulejos at Carmo church and São Bento station
You’ll find spatterings of intricate azulejos (tiles) all over Porto. Some of the most famous spots are the Igreja do Carmo and the São Bento railway station. Remember those Harry Potter vibes we were just talking about, you’ll feel them as you look onto the tracks of São Bento as well. Platform 9 ¾ anyone?
Take a tram to the coast
Yes, there are beaches in Porto! And you can take a tram there. Hop on the Tram 1 line to Foz do Douro, soaking in the scenic views along the way. Once in Foz, take a seaside stroll to the lighthouse or have a gin and tonic at a beach bar.
Mercado do Bolhão
Once an authentic local market boasting local produce and local products, the mercado is currently under renovation (and not terribly interesting in its temporary space) so I’d say skip this one until it’s back in its full glory.
Where to eat in Porto
Rua Das Oliveiras 36 (Pin on Google Maps) | Details and Reviews
A popular spot with great wines, cheese plates, and light fare. This place seems to overflow with people at all times of the day, so go as early as possible to grab a spot on the outdoor patio.
Letraria Beer Garden
Rua da Alegria 101 (Pin on Google Maps) | Details and Reviews
Porto has a small and burgeoning craft beer scene that shouldn’t be missed if you’re into that kind of thing. Try the brews at Letraria and enjoy the beautiful sun in their big back garden.
Tapas na Boca
Rua de Cândido dos Reis 117 (Pin on Google Maps)| Details and Reviews
Hands down one of the best dining experiences we had in Portugal (and maybe anywhere!). Delicious tapas and wine, cozy ambiance, friendly staff and great value.
Lado B Cafe
Rua da Alegria 946R. de Passos Manuel 190 (Pin on Google Maps) | Details and Reviews
We didn’t have a chance to hit this spot, but if you want to try francesinha (the most famous dish in Porto) add Lado B to your Porto itinerary. The culinary specialty is made with multiple kinds of hams and sausages on a sandwich, smothered in cheese and a beer and tomato-based sauce, sometimes topped with a fried egg. They also have vegetarian francesinha!
Casa da Horta
Rua de São Francisco 12 (Pin on Google Maps) | Details and Reviews
Sadly, we didn’t get to try this place either but I had to add a true vegetarian spot to the list. Casa da Horta isn’t a typical restaurant, but a rather community center with a daily meal offered on a budget. Check the hours before you go.
Where to stay in Porto
Accommodation is quite affordable in Porto and many of the hotels and guest houses retain that grandiose, art deco feel with a modern twist. We stayed at this Airbnb which became my all-time favorite stay!
The Airbnbs in Porto still seem to have a true bed and breakfast vibe vs a more business-centered approach seen elsewhere these days. In addition to an amazing apartment with stunning views, we were greeted with a welcome basket of fresh baked goods from the owner’s bakery downstairs and a bottle of wine. Free breakfast too!
If you book an Airbnb in Porto, get $40 off your first stay with this link.
This bustling neighborhood is right on the riverside and home to Ribeira Square. Pretty touristy, but the river and bridge views are the trade-off.
The Porto baixa (downtown) has plenty of sights to see, including Livraria Lello, São Bento train station, Clérigos Tower, the main shopping street Santa Catarina, and most of the other prominent landmarks. Especially perfect for a short stay.
This is a romantic and trendy area with boutiques and art galleries along Rua Miguel Bombarda. Stay here if you want to be central but in a quieter location.