Porto is one of Portugal’s most popular destinations, and by spending three days in Porto, you will have plenty of time to see all the best attractions this Unesco World Heritage Site offers.
Being able to visit Porto in three days easily makes it one of Europe’s best city break destinations. It’s a quick 2-hour flight from the UK, meaning a short mid-week break or weekend in Porto is perfectly doable.
Built on the Douro River banks in Northern Portugal, Porto is the second largest city after Lisbon and is the world’s leading centre for Port wine production. The historic Port wine cellars of the region line the banks of Vila Nova de Gaia and are possibly one of Porto’s most visited tourist attractions.
In this 3-day Porto itinerary, I will show what you can expect to experience during a three day Porto visit, including historic landmarks, river cruising, and of course, the famous Port wine tours.
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How to Get Around Porto
Porto is a walkable city; every turn will show you something new and exciting. That said, one of the main ways of getting around Porto is by tram.
The familiar yellow trams that also run in Lisbon will make walking up some of Porto’s hills a little easier. Yes, Porto is a hilly city, so make sure you have comfortable footwear to navigate the steep inclines and cobbled streets.
There is also a city sightseeing Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus, perfect for navigating the city and planning where you might want to revisit during your 3 days in Porto. Using the bus, a tuk-tuk (yes, you read correctly) or joining a Porto walking tour on day one is an excellent way to familiarise yourself with the city.
Best City Tours In Porto
Day One Porto Itinerary
Visit the historic Avenue de Aliados
After stopping in Porto’s main shopping street, Rua Santa Catarina, for coffee and pastel de nata, one of the best Portuguese pastries you could wish to taste, stroll to Porto’s central boulevard, “Avenue de Aliados”.
Flanked by ornate buildings housing mainly hotels and banks, it translates as “Avenue of the Allies”, referring to the 14th-century treaty between Portugal and the United Kingdom.
The oldest alliance in the world is the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty which is still in force.
The Avenue is also home to an unusual claim to fame. The ex-Cafe Imperial, once an iconic Portuguese coffee shop in the 1930s, is now a branch of McDonald’s bearing the title of “the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world”.
It features decadent period chandeliers and art deco-stained glass and feels entirely out of place for its current occupier. Regardless of that fact, it is worth visiting if you are curious.
Step inside the beautiful Livraria Lello – Porto’s famous book shop
Every perfect Porto itinerary has to include a visit to Livraria Lello, Porto’s famous bookstore.
JK Rowling is said to have gained inspiration for the Harry Potter novels after living in the city and spending long hours in this beautiful bookstore. Once you’ve been here, it’s not hard to see why!
It is a magnet to Harry Potter Fans and one of the most photographed places in Porto due to its elaborate interior and spellbinding red staircase.
You must buy a ticket from the shop close to the entrance (on the corner of the road) to gain admittance, and the queues during the day can be lengthy. The best time to visit Livraria Lello is 30 minutes before closing. We arrived at that time and walked straight in.
The entrance ticket is redeemable against any purchase you make in the store.
On entering the bookstore, you first notice the ornate sweeping stairway, albeit traffic-clogged with people trying to get that perfect photograph on the stairs (me included!).
The stained ceiling glass and lamps are breathtaking, as is the private room at the back stating “No Entry – Rare Books” I wonder what priceless items lie behind the facade.
The store is smaller than expected; still, there is no time limit to how long you can spend there. After the obligatory photos have been taken, browse the bookshelves and admire the interior’s small, beautiful details.
Head to a wine bar in a historic chapel
That evening we ate the best tapas in Porto at Tapas and Friends; it was so good we returned on our third evening in Porto.
We also discovered an extraordinary wine bar in Porto tucked down one of its cobbled streets. It was called Cappella Incomum and was housed in a tiny converted chapel complete with an altar. It was an unusual place to drink wine in Porto but a charming setting.
Things to do in the Evenings in Porto
Day Two Porto Itinerary
Check out the catacombs in Igreja de São Francisco
Heading towards the Port, you will come to Igreja de São Francisco, the Church of St Francis, one of Porto’s most prominent monuments and a Unesco world heritage site.
Established in 1245 by the Franciscan Order as a small convent church, it was extensively developed over later years. A ticket gives you entry to the Church and a museum housing the Monument church, catacombs and artworks.
Go down to the Catacombs, and you will find the resting places of the Franciscan monks and members of Porto’s wealthiest families. If you like the macabre, look through the glass floor; thousands of human bones lie beneath it, originally from overcrowded nearby cemeteries.
In the adjoining main church, the prediction is that over 300 kilos of gold dust was used to decorate the interior. The luxury was too extravagant for many, considering the area’s poverty, resulting in the church’s closure for several years.
You can’t take photos inside, so a visit is necessary to see the grandeur on offer for yourself.
If you are interested in catacombs and ossuaries, you might like to read about my trip to Kutna Hora Bone Church in the Czech Republic.
Hang out in the Ribeira District of Porto’s old town
The Ribeira district is the oldest part of the city, where pastel-coloured buildings and narrow cobbled streets share the best spot in Porto, gradually leading down to the banks of the Douro.
Ribeira is a vibrant neighbourhood with busy bars, cafes, restaurants, and shops jostling for space along the portside.
Street entertainers are everywhere, competing for your attention and your tips! Ribeira is the best place in Porto to people-watch, enjoy a traditional Portuguese meal and a glass of the local port wine.
Walk across Dom Luis l Bridge Porto or sail under it
Dom Luis I Bridge dominates the historic centre of Porto. A student of Gustave Eiffel built it, and it is an imposing image as it spans the River Douro.
Sometimes referred to as the Gustave Eiffel Porto Bridge, it is one of the most famous bridges in Europe. The bridge links Ribeira to Vila Nova de Gaia, where the best port wine cellars are based.
Dom Luis l double-decked bridge allows pedestrians to cross on the upper deck and regular traffic to pass on the bottom. The bottom floor also has narrow footpaths on either side for pedestrians. You can hop aboard a boat that will take you on a 45-minute cruise of the six Porto bridges giving a brief insight into each one.
Have your camera ready to capture scenic images as you sail along the Douro Valley.
Best Porto River Cruise Tours
Marvel at the architecture in Porto Cathedral
After wandering along the river, head up the steep cobbled streets to the highest point in Porto and visit Porto Cathedral.
Also known as Sé do Porto Catedral, it is the most famous and oldest landmark in Porto’s cultural city and has far-reaching views over the city and the Duoro River.
Outside the Cathedral is a column where criminals of Porto were hung. At least their last view was a good one.
The interior of the Cathedral is very commanding, with a predominantly Baroque interior.
The cloister entrance is inside the Cathedral and decorated with the stunning blue and white tiles Porto is famous for. They
The blue and white tiles represent Porto culture and heritage and depict biblical scenes dating back to the 14th century.
The Cathedral is one of the best places to spot azulejo tiles in Porto. I enjoyed the serenity and beauty of its architecture, which is unique to the city.
From November to March, the Porto Cathedral’s opening hours are from 9 am until 12:30 pm (The cloister closes at 12:15), and in the afternoon, it opens at 2:30 pm and closes at 6 pm (The cloister closes at 5:30).
From April to October, it opens from 9 am to 12:30 pm and again from 2:30 but until 7 pm this time (The cloister until 6:30 pm)
The Porto cathedral mass times are:
- Mass at Porto Cathedral during the weekdays is at 11:00
- Mass on Sunday is at 11:00
Day Three Porto Itinerary
Go on a day trip to Aveiro and see the colourful boats
I had read that you could visit Aveiro on a day trip from Porto as it was only an hour away by train and was dubbed the “Venice of Portugal”. This was good enough for me, so we journeyed by train from Porto to Aveiro.
The traditional blue and white “azulejo” picture tiles depicting battles and rural life adorn the walls of São Bento Train Station, so even if you aren’t planning to catch a train, make sure you still visit this beautiful train station during your time in Porto.
When we arrived in Aveiro, we headed along the main promenade to reach the canals and explore things to do in Aveiro. I want to say I was excited, but the sad fact is it was underwhelming.
Traditional painted boats lining the canal were offering 45-minute trips. They looked beautiful, but we learnt from disembarking passengers that there was nothing very picturesque to see on the river journey, just industrial and urban landscapes.
After recharging with coffee at one of the Aveiro hotels along the canalside, we opted for a 30-minute tuk-tuk ride instead of the boat ride. As we had made an effort to get here, we felt we should look around at Aveiro’s monuments. Sadly after being shown a couple of churches, the salt flats and the local college, we had seen everything Aviero had to offer.
All the research I had done sold Aveiro as a destination that must be visited, but I’m afraid I must disagree.
Unless you desire a train journey and a canal ride, which is most definitely not like Venice, I would say stay in Porto. It is, however, your trip, and you may personally find Aveiro delightful.
Join a Porto Wine Tour
One of the best things to do in Porto is a port tasting tour of the cellars ranging from well-known Taylor Port to local cellars. We joined a port-tasting tour with Porto Walkers.
Our tour took us to 3 port houses with seven tastings. Headed up by Alex, a Porto local guide, our group consisted of around 20 people from different countries.
Alex was full of information on the origins of port wine and had a cheeky sense of humour. We discovered that wine could only be labelled as a port when produced in the Duoro Valley. It is around an hour’s drive away; therefore, this is the only place in the world that produces port wine.
Best Wine Tours in Porto
Vila Nova de Gaia
The port-wine houses are in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite banks of the river to Porto. Alex told us the history of this side of Porto and introduced us to some of Porto’s street art which is becoming more popular around the city.
The first port wine stop was at a traditional small producer, where we sampled one tasting. Our second stop was at a historic wine cellar, where we sampled two tastings.
The final stop was at my favourite, Porto Cruz, where we sampled four tastings at a professional tasting room. We discovered different types of port wine from a red port, pink port and even a white port – who would have guessed!
We finished off at their rooftop bar, which had fabulous views across the river to Porto. After learning so much during the tour, I now feel justified to drink port at any time of the year, not just at Christmas, which was my usual British tradition, and I have discovered a bottle of pink port which goes particularly well in a cocktail or two!
While in this area, why not check out the street art all around you? In particular, the oversized rabbit by the wine cellars made from recycled trash is a nod to saving the environment.
Best Porto Wine Tours
The beauty of travel is the people you encounter on your journey, and after meeting new acquaintances during the tastings, we decided to join together for a meal. We headed towards the restaurant, O Afonso, our tour guide recommended.
We all opted for the local traditional Portuguese dish of a Francesinha sandwich made with bread, meats, melted cheese, tomato, and beer sauce. Francesinha could probably induce a heart attack, but it is a Porto dish that must be tried.
Of course, there are many other Portuguese foods – from soups, seafood and meats to delicious Portuguese sweet desserts.
Best Porto Food Tours
My honest opinion of Porto
I travelled in March, and the weather was pleasant, with a mix of sun and clouds.
I would recommend you try 3 nights in Porto as I enjoyed the port cellars’ uniqueness, and I feel that this is the main reason you would visit Porto. It wasn’t one of my favourite European cities, but that is because I have visited amazing places like Prague, Venice, and Oslo, so I found Porto lacked something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. That said it might be somewhere you fall in love with, so give it a go!
I would, however, recommend visiting Porto as part of a 2-week perfect itinerary for travel to Portugal. This could also include beautiful Portuguese cities like Lisbon and Faro so you can pick a favourite place in Portugal.
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