7 Things to Do in Porto That Don’t Involve Port Wine

March 21, 2017

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

There’s more than Port in Porto, Portugal! I’m sorry (not sorry) but I can’t help trying to use “port” as many times as possible in a sentence!

But actually, I fell in love with Porto, and no, not just because of the Port wine. Perched on the Douro river, this colourful and compact city had a vibe that I find hard to explain. People talk about how cool Lisbon is, and yet no one had told me how soulful this smaller version to the north could be. There may be plenty of things to do in Lisbon, but Porto won’t disappoint in that regard either!

Porto doesn’t even really try, in fact, there are areas of the city that are definitely on the run down side, but they just add to its charm. It’s romantic, bohemian, historic and trendy all in one. But this humble city doesn’t force it on you, it’s just there waiting for you to walk it’s winding streets (and hills!) and find it.

It’s is known for being the home of Port wine, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that port wine tasting is the only thing to do in Porto. I was expecting to visit a few Port wine cellars and then relax the rest of the time, but a quick search of the must see things and it became apparent that although Porto is overshadowed by the much bigger Lisbon, it’s brimming with its own history, street art, and appetising food scene.

It was no surprise to me to find out the Porto has been voted as the Best European Destination of 2017.

So what is there is do in Porto (besides Port wine tours and tastings)? Well, I hope you have at least a couple of days because they’ll be packed!

Read More: Exploring the Port Wine Cellars & Tasting Tours of Porto

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Visit Livraria Lello Bookstore

Livraria Lello is said to be the most beautiful bookstore in the world, which is quite a reputation to live up to! The bookstore was opened by the Lello brothers in 1906, and it’s one of the oldest in Portugal. Upon entering you’ll be immediately struck by the wooden panelling and floor to ceiling bookshelves, and of course, the large curving staircase. The whole bookstore is lit by a stained glass skylight above. It’s at the very least the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever been in!

And did you know the J K Rowling lived in Porto for 2 years, and rumour has it she to frequent Lello’s Bookstore? Some would even say it may have been the original inspiration behind aspects of Harry Potter, in addition to places in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Due to its popularity, it’ll now cost you €5.50 to enter Livraria Lello, and definitely book in advance if you can because the ticket line is often longer than the line into the bookstore. The entry voucher does offer you a discount if you purchase anything instore.

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

 

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Walk Across Dom Luís I Bridge

Porto is the only city in Europe that has six bridges. Although technically, Vila Nova de Gaia, which is the city across from Porto and where all the Port wine cellars are, has six bridges too! The Maria Pia Bridge in Porto was the last project that Gustav Eiffel worked on before the Eiffel Tower, and his signature style was then also used on the Dom Luís Bridge before he pulled out of the project.

This bridge is pretty unique, int hat trains pass across the straight top of the bridge, and cars across the bottom under the archway. Pedestrians can walk across both levels, and I’d highly recommend the views from the top! Unless you’re a little worried about heights…

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Explore Old Town Porto

Ribeira, the old town area of Porto, runs along the Douro river and up the steep hills behind it. It holds World Heritage status and yet it’s full of abandoned and dilapidated buildings. However, this just seems to add the charm of a maze of streets, lined with colourful tiled buildings, wrought iron balconies and washing fluttering in the breeze. You’ll find churches covered in tiles painted with blue and white murals, pop-up stores and plenty of cafes and bakeries.

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Sample Portuguese Bakeries

Speaking of bakeries, I thought the ones in Porto outside even those in Lisbon, especially on that side of the river. Trying Portuguese tarts, or Pastel de Nata as they’re known locally is a must, but the bakeries here will full of other delicious treats that I don’t even know the name of! Soft chocolate cookies, cakes, pastries, and savoury options like the famed Portuguese cod fish cakes. Writing this is actually making me sad that I can’t just pop into one of these bakeries right now!

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Shop at Bolhão Market

Traditionally a place for farmers to sell their fruit and vegetables, you can now find everything from fishmongers and butchers, to sweet shops and bakeries, plus cafes and tourist wares. It’s located right in the centre of the city, so it’s a perfect place to pop into for a snack and a taste of Port or Douro wine, or to grab some gifts or souvenir. It’s open Monday to Friday from 7am until 5pm, and 7am until 1pm on Saturdays.

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Eat a Francesinha Sandwich

The “Little Frenchie” is a not so little sandwich originally made in Porto. It’s made with bread, ham, sausage, and beef covered cheese and drowned in a hot tomato and beer sauce. I think the phrase “heart attack on a plate” may have been invented for this sandwich! It’s said that in the 1960s the croque-monsieur and Portugal had a baby, and called it Francesinha. Now you can even get egg topped Francesinha’s and ones served with a whole plate of chips.

Every eatery has their own style of sauce for the Francesinha, and locals will usually have a favourite place based on that. We tried the recommended Cafe Santiago, and I had the classic Francesinha washed down with a Super Bock beer. I wasn’t sure what I would think of this meat-fest, but it was actually really good! Not an everyday thing mind you, but I wouldn’t say no every now and then! Although you might find the sandwich elsewhere across in Portugal, it’s a must try in its home town of Porto.

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Drink coffee at Porto cafes

Porto has some amazing cafes, especially those in the art deco style that make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The Majestic Cafe, full of chandeliers, ornate woodwork and mirrors, often rates as one of the most beautiful in the world. It used to be the home of writers, artists, and politicians, but it fell into disrepair (like much of Porto it seems) until it was revamped in the 1990s.

Visit the Port Wine Cellars

This is the sneaky 8th thing to do that does involve Port…

I actually highly recommend a visit to the Port Wine Cellars! So much that I wrote an entire post on Port wine tasting in Porto which should guide you through the process, and hopefully convince you to give Port a go, even if you think that’s not your thing. Even if you don’t try it, the cellars are in some amazing old buildings that are interesting to see, plus Porto Cruz have a great rooftop bar with beautiful views over Porto.

Read More: Exploring the Port Wine Cellars & Tasting Tours of Porto

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Where to stay in Porto

During my stay in Porto I had accommodation in both the old town of Porto and across the river by the Port wine cellars. Both were really great options, but I did love the quieter feel of the Vila Nova de Gaia side, the great restaurants, and the views back across the river to Porto by day and night. If I had to recommend one side I’d probably say the Vila Nova de Gaia, the Port Wine cellar side.

We stayed in Airbnb’s both times which were beautiful! (Get £30 off your first booking with Airbnb). And as always, I recommend Booking.com for good deals and private apartments.

Read More: 21 Things to Know Before You Visit Lisbon

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

So, do you want to visit the best European destination of 2017?

Sonja x

(This post contains affiliate links, as always, all opinions are my own.)

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Things to do in Porto, Portugal

Things to do in Porto, Portugal

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46 Comments

  • Reply Delaine Dcosta March 22, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    I absolutely loved Porto, and your post brought back so many memories of my trip there. I think I covered all the things above in addition to the wine LOL. Btw, when we visited 2 years ago, the entry to Lello Bookstore was free 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 22, 2017 at 8:34 pm

      I read it used to be free too! To be honest I didn’t mind paying because they get so so many visitors and I want them to be able to keep the place nice. Considering they must have such a big footfall and most of those people don’t buy books (I didn’t!). Haha I do think the wine is a must as well!

  • Reply Suzanne March 22, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    I had no idea JK Rowling lived in Porto for 10 years! I would as well, just because of its fantastic library! If I lived there, I would go to that library every day and have a pastry afterwards. Porto sounds like my kind of city.

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 22, 2017 at 8:35 pm

      Me neither until I went there! It is a really great little place though, I could definitely live there.

  • Reply Daisy March 23, 2017 at 2:49 am

    That looks beautifull! I don’t know, but I grew reading Harry Potter. JK Rowling having lived in Porto only makes me wanna go mor,e just to see what kind of magical journey I can get myself into :’) Wine will deff help with that

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 23, 2017 at 10:03 am

      Haha yes it will! I loved the feeling of Porto and it definitely has that magical vibe. It’s somewhere I could totally imagine spending more time!

  • Reply Samantha Sparrow March 23, 2017 at 7:28 am

    I’ve recently been to Lisbon and fell in love with Portugal and the culture, so Porto really has been on my list. I love this list of things to do – I had no idea that J K Rowling lived in Porto for 10 years, and so I’d absolutely love to visit that bookshop! I always like to explore an Old Town, but truly the boats bobbing in the harbour are what makes this very beautiful.

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 23, 2017 at 10:06 am

      I fell in love with Portugal too, but Porto just really surprised me with how much I liked it and I can’t wait to go back again with my fiance sometime. The boats are replicas of the old boats that used to transport Port Wine from further up the river. It’s just a stunning city overall!

  • Reply Mel March 23, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Wow! The Livraria Lello bookstore is gorgeous! And how interesting that JK Rowling lived there (in Porto, not the bookstore). The food looks so good– you are making me hungry. While I would still want to sample some port wine, there does seem to be a lot of additional interesting things to do.

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 23, 2017 at 10:08 am

      I’d definitely recommend trying to Port wine! I wrote a whole separate post about the tours and tasting you can do, but I really wanted to show that there’s more to Porto, which just makes it even better! 😀

  • Reply Gareth March 23, 2017 at 11:19 am

    I must say you’ve got a real eye for a shot and while the aerial snap of the bookstore is great, your photos of food particularly impressed me. It’s a skill I’ve tried to foster on my site but unfortunately, I just can’t capture how appetising something is on camera. Oh well! Anyway, great post and I totally agree, it’s always important to take in the culture of a place beyond that of the local liquor!

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 24, 2017 at 10:45 am

      Thank you so much, that’s really lovely of you to say! I recently got a new camera that I’m still testing out and getting used to so your comment really made my day. 🙂

  • Reply Jon Dunn March 23, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    I read your port wine tasting piece, excellent. This article has just catapulted Porto to the top of my bucket list.
    Zagreb, Budapest, Timișoara, you’ll have to wait!
    I liked what you said early on about the city having a “vibe that’s hard to explain” – I love places like that, and got the same from Zadar and Ljubljana. Not masses of photogenic monuments etc but a friendly ‘lived-in’ feel which is easy to slot in to.
    I gather Braga is an easy day trip by bus or train, too and that looks awesome.
    Great post, keep it up! 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 24, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Thanks so much! I hope you do make it to Porto, I actually want to go back again as soon as possible! I havent been to Zadar or Ljubljana but they’re both places I hope to go soon, and especially if they have that awesome feel to them as well.

  • Reply Alice March 23, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Your pictures are so beautiful, it makes me want to book a flight right now! I’ve heard that Porto was quite the underrated destination, and I’m thinking of going this summer. This bookshop looks amazing, I would definitely go in and stay for hours! Also wine tasting doesn’t sound to be to me!!

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 24, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Thanks so much! I seriously think it is underrated but it won’t stay that way, especially since Lisbon is getting more and more popular too. I’d highly recommend it!

  • Reply Rhiannon March 24, 2017 at 1:08 am

    A few weeks ago I got kind of obsessed with JK Rowling and scoured the web for all info on her so actually did know she lived in Porto for years! Ever since discovering that it’s been on my list, and the more I research the city and read awesome posts like yours, the more I want to go for reasons beyond the Harry Potter connection!
    I actually didn’t know Porto was the home of Port wine either, although now you mention it it seems kind of obvious haha.

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 24, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Haha perfect timing then! It was like an extra bonus for me, finding out about the book shop and the Harry Potter connection. And I didn’t make the connection about Port wine either! Sometimes things are so obvious they’re not if you know what I mean haha. At least that’s my excuse…

  • Reply Eva March 25, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Great post. Going in July, can’t wait to visit the bookstore.

  • Reply Gabby March 25, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    I visited Porto a few years ago but didn’t manage to see and do all of these things! I love that library, wish I had known about it!

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 26, 2017 at 11:08 am

      I was so surprised but how many cool things there were to do that I hadn’t known about before. Hopefully you might get to go back sometime!

  • Reply Jean March 25, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    Delicious custard tarts and an amazing book store? I’m in! What a fascinating city.

  • Reply Jessica March 25, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    You had me at port wine, hahaha! I actually had no idea that port wine had the Porto connection. And then everything I read afterwards made me really want to visit! The Harry Potter inspiration is an added bonus 🙂 Your photography is stunning too! Cheers,
    Jessica

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 26, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Haha I didn’t know about the Port wine either until I went there, but it makes so much sense now! I’d really recommend a visit 😀 And thanks!

  • Reply Alex March 25, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Portugal has been on my radar for awhile now. That bookstore looks AMAZING!!! I’d love to visit Porto one day if I have the chance 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 26, 2017 at 11:07 am

      It was such a cool place to visit and I didn’t even know it existed before I went to Porto! I really loved Portugal as a whole, but Porto was my favourite.

  • Reply Ha @ Expatolife March 25, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    I just booked my flight to Porto 2 days ago and now I came across this! Just a perfect timing. I would love to try the Port wine tasting <3

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 26, 2017 at 11:06 am

      That’s great I really hope you love it :). Definitely do the Port wine tasting, I have another post that’s a guide to port wine tasting if that helps 🙂

  • Reply Ivana March 26, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Oh my gossshhhhh I’m DYING to go to Porto, you have no idea!! I was in the south of Portugal two years ago but I’ve yet to see Lisbon and Porto. I’m hoping I’ll make it this summer. Thank you for the awesome guide!

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 28, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      I hope you make it this summer too! It’s such an awesome place! I actually ended up liking it even more than Lisbon, although I did have more time there too!

  • Reply Kathi March 26, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Love this post – I’ve heard so much about Lisbon, but don’t see stuff about Porto enough. The tiled houses look amazing – I’d love for my flat to look like that on the inside 😀 Will definitely bookmark this for when I finally get to Portugal!

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 28, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks!! I didn’t really know anything about it until I went, and now I just want to go back! I think it’s definitely underrated at the moment, but it probably won’t stay that way for long 😀

  • Reply Daniela || Ipanema travels to March 26, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    You took me back in time with this post! I visited Porto 23 years ago. There were no digital cameras then, no social media. I keep a few printed photos from this trip, but I see may memories are even more vivid than yhe picture I have. The colours on your photos are as bright as on my memories of Porto… Hm… it’s time to go back there.

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Glad I could transport you back!! Thanks so much :). It’s definitely time to go back!

  • Reply Kirstin (thetinberrytravels) March 26, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    The Livraria Lello Bookstore looks amazing! I think I’ve definitely added Porto to my must visit list. I love when you find a place that just has an atmosphere you can’t place that you just feel comfortable in. Sounds like you certainly found that in Porto.

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 28, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Me too! I definitely found it there and I would go back in a heartbeat. In fact, I intend to take my fiance back as soon as possible! Hopefully you get to go too 🙂

  • Reply Kyntra Strickland March 27, 2017 at 4:24 am

    Spending a day in Porto this summer! I can’t wait to visit the bookstore and try some port wine. Your photos are lovely and tips are so helpful. Thanks for sharing this great itinerary.

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 28, 2017 at 11:56 am

      Thanks so much! I hope you love it as much as I did, I think it’s a fantastic place. Definitely try the port 🙂

  • Reply Wading Wade March 29, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    Did somebody say Port? Haha I’m kidding. THAT BOOKSTORE IS BEAUTIFUL BY THE WAY. I would love to go and will definitely keep in in mind when I visit Porto. I’m truly longing for the day I get to try a Portuguese tart from Porto.

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 29, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      Haha I don’t know I didn’t hear it? :P. I’d highly recommend it! I didn’t think I liked the tarts and turns out they’re amazing haha.

  • Reply Gail at Large April 6, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I hate to break it to you, but JK Rowling lived in Porto for less than 2 years, not 10. Overall, it was not a happy time for her — you can read the whole sordid story at the Scotsman article linked at the bottom of this post, where I’ve summarized her time in Porto from 1991-1993.

    The information is corroborated by a timeline of JK Rowling’s life on her own website. She did have her first child in Porto with a Portuguese husband, but there are even Portuguese newspaper articles that confirm she has never returned to Portugal after leaving in 1993. As you can imagine, if her time here was more positive or even neutral she would talk about Porto, but she doesn’t at all… and that should tell you more than any article linking her to the city. Whether her daughter has visited her birth city, I don’t know. Maybe she will one day.

    I live in Porto, so I see all kinds of marketing related to JK Rowling and Harry Potter. The bookstore is beautiful and worth visiting but the Harry Potter connection is overblown, and no endorsement of a connection to Livraria Lello or even Porto comes from the author.

    • Reply Migrating Miss April 6, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Hi Gail,

      Thanks for your comment and the fact correction, I’ve now changed it to say 2 years. I did think 10 years was quite long at the time! Unfortunately I couldn’t see the Scotsman article as it didn’t seem to work any more. I think the Lello bookstore is beautiful and definitely worth visiting too, even if it didn’t have any connection at all to Harry Potter. I have no comment on whether it was a happy time for JK Rowling or not, but I still think it’s interesting she lived there nonetheless :).

      • Reply Gail at Large April 6, 2017 at 6:41 pm

        Here’s the Scotsman article, by the way:

        http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/books/the-jk-rowling-story-1-652114

        I should restate the “less than 2 years” to “less than three” as apparently my math is apparently suspect! I haven’t read anything JK Rowling has written so I can’t speak of how “inspired” she may or may not have been about living in Porto, but the City Tailors article I also mention uncovers the weaknesses of the other Harry Potter rumours in more detail:

        http://thecitytailors.com/en/portos-harry-potter-urban-myths/

        As much as I love Porto, I think Rowling’s imagination deserves much more credit than the city can possibly claim. Even without reading a single one of her books (I saw only the first movie), Rowling has my utmost respect for turning her life completely around from being a single mum on welfare to the success she now enjoys.

        • Reply Migrating Miss April 17, 2017 at 11:08 am

          Thanks Gail! I don’t know how much she would have been inspired either, but it’s an amazing city in my opinion anyway, even without the connection! And I’d agree with you on that last point too.

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