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3 Night Stays / Europe / Portugal

Discover Porto in 3-Nights: The Best Porto Travel Itinerary

Porto is only a short 2-hour flight from the UK and is a fun place to escape for a weekend. So with my trusted travel companion (and wine aficionado!) Clare, we set off with our Porto Itinerary to discover how to spend 3 nights in Porto and what it could offer us as a weekend escape, apart from Port wine of course.

Porto is in Portugal and sits alongside the Douro River. It is the second-largest city after Lisbon and is the hub for the famous Port wine cellars of the region. It is also known as Oporto.

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Pinterest Graphic Porto

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Day One 

Livraria Lello – Porto’s famous book shop

JK Rowling may have gained inspiration after living in the city and spending time in Porto’s beautiful bookstore, Livraria Lello, and so Harry Potter fans will be delighted to find this gem in Porto. Not only is it a magnet to Harry Potter Fans but it is one of the most photographed places in Porto.

You must buy a ticket from the shop on the corner to gain admittance. The queues during the day can be lengthy. However, the best time to visit Livraria Lello is 30 minutes before closing time. We arrived and walked straight in. The entrance ticket is redeemable against any purchase you make in the store. You can also exchange it for a small pamphlet about the bookstore and its connection with Harry Potter. Staff are available to help you if you can’t find it.

The first thing you notice is 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 which states “No Entry – Rare Books” I wonder what priceless items lie behind the facade.

The store is smaller than one may expect. Still, there is no time limit to how long you can spend in there, so after the obligatory photos have been taken spend a moment or two to browse the bookshelves and admire the small details of the interior.

 
Interior of a book store with central red stairs

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Day Two 

Avenue de Aliados

After a stop for coffee and pastel de nata, the Portuguese local custard tart, we wandered to Porto’s central boulevard “Avenue de Aliados”. It is flanked by ornate buildings in a range of styles housing mainly hotels and banks and 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 Cafe Imperial, once an iconic Portuguese coffee shop back in the 1930s is now a branch of McDonald’s and bears the title of “the most beautiful in the world”.

It features decadent period chandeliers and art deco stained glass alongside the usual McDonalds styling. It feels entirely out of place in its surroundings but worth a look if you are feeling curious.

Statue of Portuguese Warrior in the main square in Porto

How to Get Around Porto

From the central square of Avenue de Aliados, we jumped aboard the Hop On Hop Off Porto bus. In my experience, this may have been one of the worst I have been on around the world. There was hardly any informative commentary to tell us about the stops the bus was making but instead we had to endure repetitive music through our earpieces. My advice is to give it a miss and just go for a wander yourself or try a different tour bus operator.

 

Igreja de São Francisco

Heading towards the Port, we visited the Igreja de São Francisco, the Church of St Francis, one of Porto’s most prominent monuments and a Unesco world heritage site. In 1245, it was established by the Franciscan Order as a small convent church but in later years extensively developed. 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 are a fan of the macabre, take a look through the glass floor. Thousands of human bones lie beneath it which were originally from the surrounding overcrowded cemeteries.

In the adjoining main church, the prediction is that over 300 kilos of gold dust decorate the interior. The opulence was too extravagant for many, considering the poverty that surrounded the area, resulting in closure for several years. Photos are prohibited from being taken inside, so a visit is a must to experience the grandeur on offer.

 
The facade of Igreja de São Francisco in Porto

Porto’s Trendy Ribeira District

The Ribeira district is the oldest part of the city, where pastel-coloured buildings share the best spot in Porto with narrow cobbled streets, gradually making their way down to the banks of the Douro.

It 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. Ribeira is the best place in Porto to people-watch, enjoy a Portuguese traditional dish and a glass of port.

 
Traditional Porto houses in Ribeiro lining the port side

Dom Luis l Bridge Porto

Dom Luis I bridge, built by a student of Gustave Eiffel, is an imposing view spanning the River Douro. It is sometimes referred to as the Gustave Eiffel Porto. The bridge links Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the side of the river where the best port wine cellars are based.

Dom Luis 1 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 either side for pedestrians. You can hop aboard a boat which 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 some scenic photos as you sail along.

 

Cruise of the Duoro with view of a bridge

Porto as viewed from a boat on the Duoro.

 Porto Cathedral

After spending some time wandering along the river, we headed back up the steep cobbled streets to visit Porto Cathedral. Also known as Sé do Porto Catedral, it is the most famous and the oldest landmark in the cultural city Porto. Built at the highest point in Porto It seemed to take us forever to find, even though our google maps told us we were heading in the right direction.

We finally arrived at the Cathedral square and enjoyed far-reaching views over the city and the river. There is a column here that was the location used to hang the criminals of Porto. At least their last view was a good one. The interior of the Cathedral is very commanding with a predominantly Baroque interior.

 
The facade of Porto Cathedral

The entrance to the cloisters is through a door inside the Cathedral. The sanctuary dates back to the 14th century and decorated with blue and white tiles depicting biblical scenes.

The blue tiles are indicative of Porto and the Cathedral is one of the best places to spot azulejo tiles in Porto. I enjoyed the serenity that I felt by enjoying the beauty of its architecture.

Porto Cathedral Cloisters

From November to March the Porto cathedral 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
me sitting in the cloisters of porto cathedral

That evening we ate the best tapas in Porto at Tapas and Friends, in fact, it was so good we returned on another evening. We discovered a wine bar tucked down one of Porto’s cobbled streets called Cappella Incomum which was housed in a tiny converted chapel complete with alter, a quirky find offering an array of wines.

Interior of Cappella Incomum wine bar

Other Ideas for Eating Out in Porto

 
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Day Three 

Aveiro

We decided to head to Aveiro which I had read was the “Venice of Portugal” and jumped on a train from Sao Bento to take the hour journey from Porto to Aveiro. The traditional blue and white “azulejo” picture tiles, depicting battles and rural life, adorn Porto’s main station walls. And even if you aren’t planning on catching a train still pay a visit this beautiful train station.

sao bento train station

When we arrived we headed along the main promenade of the Aveiro district 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 were told by disembarking passengers that there was nothing picturesque to see on the journey, just industrial and urban landscapes.

After we had recharged with coffee at one of the Aveiro hotels along the canalside we opted for a 30-minute tuk-tuk ride. As we had made an effort to get here we felt we should have a look around at Aveiro’s monuments but after being shown a couple of churches, the salt flats and the local college we had seen everything.

All the research I had done sold this place as a destination that must be visited, but I would disagree, so unless you have a desire for a train journey and a canal ride, which is most definitely not like Venice, then I would say stay in Porto. It is, however, your trip and you may personally find Aveiro delightful.

 

Porto Wine Tour

One of the “must-do” 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 would take us to 3 port houses with seven tastings. Headed up by Alex, a Porto local guide, our group consisted of around 20 people from all 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 classed as port when it is produced in the Duoro Valley, around an hours drive away, therefore this is the only place in the world that produces port wine.

 

Vila Nova de Gaia

The port-wine houses are in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite banks of the river to Porto. First stop was a traditional small producer where we sampled one tasting. Our second stop was to a historical 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 there were 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 you are in this area why not check out the street art that is all around. In particular, the oversized rabbit by the wine cellars that is made from recycled trash and is a nod to saving the environment.

 
me standing in port cellars during a tour

Best Porto Wine Tours

 

Porto Restaurants

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, that had been recommended by our tour guide. We all opted for the local traditional Portuguese dish of a Francesinha sandwich made with bread, meats, melted cheese and tomato and beer sauce. Francesinha could probably induce a heart attack but still must be tried when in Porto!

 

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My honest opinion of Porto

What month did I travel? March

How was the weather? It was a mixture of sun and cloud.

Would I recommend the hotel? No. It was a disappointment. Part of the EXE Hotel group it had no in-room tea/coffee making facilities and no extra bedding for warmth. Provision of complimentary water was not in the room, and the bathroom smelt of the drains.

Would I recommend 3 days in Porto? If you haven’t experienced much of Europe, then try it out, but it wouldn’t be at the top of my list. I enjoyed the uniqueness of the port cellars however I feel that this is the main reason you would visit. The array of magnificent churches and historic buildings are similar to those in most European cities. I just found it lacked something that I can’t quite put my finger on.

@ boats on the water in Porto
Read Next: The 10 Best Places in Europe for a Weekend Break

About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

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Tayler
1 year ago

Bookmarking this for later this year when I’m in Portugal. I already can’t wait and your post only got me more excited! I love visiting unique libraries so the Livraria Lello will be fun.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Tayler
1 year ago

You will love it. Be sure to pre-book a tour of the port cellars and try the local food especially the pastel de nata (egg custard tarts) delicious!

siennylovesdrawing
1 year ago

very informative & useful itinerary shared for Portugal, gonna be helpful for travel lovers
have saved this for my reference
cheers, siennylovesdrawing

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  siennylovesdrawing
1 year ago

Glad you found it useful.

CHELSEA MESSINA
1 year ago

I’ve never been to Europe, Portugal and Spain are where I would like to start. Thanks for the great recommendations!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  CHELSEA MESSINA
1 year ago

I hope you get to Europe one day. You will love it. Make sure you put England on your list, we have an amazing history and fantastic sights to visit.

Sue
1 year ago

I really like your honesty in your approach to Porto. It looks like a nice place to visit but I would certainly not head to the “Venice”. It’s really annoying when things get overhyped & are a “Must-do” when actually they are just disappointing when you make the effort to go. I have also had some excellent experiences on the Hop On Hop Off buses but some are not worth the time or money, Buenos Aires springs to mind – so many amazing things to do but this is not one of them! 😉

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sue
1 year ago

I’m glad you enjoyed my review. Not everywhere can be amazing and I just wanted share my opinion about that. If I ever get to Buenos Aires I will head your advice.

Fae Celine
1 year ago

I haven’t been to Porto. If I get the chance to travel to Europe, Porto will definitely be one of the places I’ll visit

Jenn | By land and sea
Jenn | By land and sea
1 year ago

We are talking of visiting Portugal in early 2021. I’m assuming the weather will be decent in the spring? If so, we will add Porto to our list with all the great information you provided!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Jenn | By land and sea
1 year ago

I travelled in early March and had sun all day. Temperatures are still moderate so evenings turn chilly. I hope you get to Porto 😃

Sharon
1 year ago

I love the honest review about your stay in Porto, it really helps with planning a trip here. Harry Potter would definitely be the first place I would tour.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sharon
1 year ago

If you get there don’t forget that your entry ticket will get you money off any book you buy in there or a free booklet all about the connection between Harry Potter and the bookstore.

Phoebe
1 year ago

Interesting to hear Porto didn’t wow you, I’ve only heard great things, so thanks for the honest opinion. The bookshop does look incredible though.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Phoebe
1 year ago

The bookstore was lovely but so small and crowded. I guess when you have travelled a lot destinations really have to offer something unique to give you that wow feeling.

Jay Artale
1 year ago

Too many global brands have homogenized areas of historical significance. When I travel it really disappoints me when I stumble across fast food chains. Hopefully the McDonalds exterior hasn’t brought done the tone or beauty of the area.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Jay Artale
1 year ago

I’m glad to say the interior is original but when we saw it our hearts fell. I like you find it upsetting when historical monuments have a fast food outlet within close proximity such as Berlin Wall, Egypt’s Pyramids etc. I loved visiting Venice where no brands had been allowed to infiltrate 😃

Alison
1 year ago

It sounds as if there was plenty to see even tho you wouldn’t put it at the top of your list. I get what you mean about the churches and historic buildings being like most European cities. Still that bookstore does look amazing! Thanks for the tip about not bothering with Aveiro.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Alison
1 year ago

Glad you found the post helpful.

Slowly Anywhere
1 year ago

I’ve been to Porto recently, and I loved it so much. That library it is insane!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Slowly Anywhere
1 year ago

Hope you tried the franceshina !

Chocoviv
1 year ago

Fun trip!!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Chocoviv
1 year ago

Yes it’s a lovely city 😃

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