Porto is one of Portugal’s glowing gems. A UNESCO World Heritage Site lines one bank of the River Douro, while the other is dotted with wine cellars. Port is the major export here, and the perfect mix of conditions come together on River Douro’s southern bank to produce some of the best. Two days in Porto means that you can explore the Ribeira Old Town, with its outstanding Igreja de Sao Francisco and amazing Praça da Ribeira. Within these two days you can take a cruise along the Douro River, and still have time to sample the wines on the other bank.
Exploring the 12th century district of Ribeira means that you will come across ancient architecture, hidden squares and more. At the river’s bank, you can see the picture-postcard sight of the Luís I Bridge, designed by a protege of the Eiffel Tower architect. As well being full of artefacts, Porto boasts many museums. From religious art in the Santa Casa da Misericórdia Museum to the Quinta da Macieirinha Romantic Museum, which takes a peek into an old merchants house, Porto has an eclectic mix of choices. For food, sample the local cuisine in a traditional market or dine in a Michelin-starred establishment, the choice is yours. Walking tours, river cruises and wine tasting are all on the menu here.
What you should not miss if you spend two days in Porto
Vila Nova de Gaia wine cellars
On the southern bank of River Douro famous wine cellars are buried beneath the surface. Vila Nova de Gaia stocks the city’s liquid wealth. It can be explored on tours that take you to wineries, and teach how Port is made. Finally, you’ll get to taste the wines. The surroundings of the Douro Valley are perfect for the production of Port wine, and you can expect to sample a few bottles, before you make your journey back across the architecturally-impressive Luis I Bridge.
Ribeira UNESCO district
Wander through the ancient streets of Porto and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Pass by tile-clad houses and medieval architecture, then relax with a cool drink on a restaurant terrace. Praça da Ribeira (Ribeira Square) is lined by such patterned buildings, which look out onto the river and the emblematic Luis I Bridge. Highlights of the old town include the finely-detailed interior of the Igreja de Sao Francisco church and the impressive Palacio da Bolsa.
The spectacular River Douro brought riches to Porto in its heyday. Today, you can take to the same waters to find out what it was like to trade here in the past. Discover the route of the local rabelo boats, historically responsible for transferring Port barrels. Enjoy the special experience as you see Porto’s buildings, wine cellars and awe-inspiring bridges from a new angle.
Day one in Porto
Recommended things to do and see on your first day in Porto
Walk around the UNESCO protected Ribeira district taking in the diverse architectural style. Watch out for the traditional hand-painted tile facades in the Praça da Ribeira and down many streets. You can also spy the Luis I bridge from this square. In this area you can admire the busily decorated interior of Igreja de São Francisco. The neoclassical building of Palácio da Bolsa is also worth a look for its unique exhibition halls.
After being more or less on ground level in the morning, you’ll want to get to the higher areas of the city now. The 19th century Palácio de Cristal gardens offer extensive city and river views which will blow you away. Walk through the carefully landscaped gardens, stopping to refresh at fountains and taking in the fresh air. Two museums up here may take your fancy – the Quinta da Macieirinha Romantic Museum and Porto Municipal Gallery.
Now it’s time to find out about Portugal through its food and drink. Extensive tours will show you what and where to try traditional Portuguese fare. Try the bolinho de bacalhau or legendary pasteis do nata and wash it down with glasses of the local wine. Take a look in the local market to find the locally sourced, fresh veg, meat and fish. Eat in relaxed classic cafes and taverns, amongst the chatter of locals.
Where to stay on your first night in Porto
Recommended activities for your first day in Porto
Day two in Porto
Recommended things to do and see on your second day in Porto
The perfect way to get a wider view of Porto and its important location is to take a boat ride through the Douro Valley. You can take tours in the traditional rabelo boats, a more luxury craft, or a speedboat for the adventurous. One of the most popular is the ‘Six Bridge River Cruise’ which takes you underneath the river’s amazing bridges. Along the tour you can find out about the ways of traders in the present, and the past.
Porto’s famous Vila do Nova wine cellars lie on the other side of the river so it’s a good spot to visit next. Arrange a tour of the cellars and wine tasting with a view of either Porto’s old Ribeira or the lush wine terraces. Porto is known worldwide for its climate and location which as a result creates perfect fortified wine. Guides will tell you of the importance of Port for the city and how it gained in popularity.
Now you’ll want to put you feet up. A great opportunity is to dine at a traditional Portuguese restaurant which also puts on a Fado show in Ribeira district. Fado is a Portuguese musical style which developed in times of hardship amongst immigrants. Today you can hear the spine-tingling sounds creeping out of several bars and restaurants in Porto. Expect an intimate and moving atmosphere in soft lighting.