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3 Days in Porto Itinerary: Culture, Wine and River Cruising

3 Days in Porto Itinerary: Culture, Wine and River Cruising

Porto is one of Portugal’s most popular destinations, and this 3 day Porto itinerary will help you find all the best attractions in this Unesco World Heritage Site.

Being able to visit Porto in three days easily makes it one of Europe’s best city break destinations. If you are coming from the UK, it’s a quick 2-hour flight, meaning a short mid-week break or weekend in Porto is perfectly doable.

In this Porto itinerary, I will tell you what you can expect to experience during a three day Porto visit. I have included seeing historic landmarks, river cruising, and wine tasting in the Port wine cellars that line the Douro river bank.

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Why Visit Porto, Portugal?

Built on the banks of the Douro River 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 addition to wine, the historic centre of Porto has many beautiful buildings to explore and, of course, an agreeable climate to do it in. One of the unique things about Porto is the ornate blue and white azulejo picture tiles decorating many of the city’s walls, buildings and the railway station. It’s fun to wander around the city and find the most famous ones.

Getting 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

What To Do In Porto In 3 Days

One – Avenue de Aliados, Livraria Lello, Wine and Tapas.

Two – Igreja de São Francisco, Ribeira District, Porto Cathedral, River Cruise.

Three – Visit Aveiro, Wine Tour in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Porto Itinerary Day One 

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.

red staircase leading to an ornate upstairs level inside a bookshop in Porto.

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

 

Porto Itinerary Day Two 

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.

ornate ceiling inside a Porto church.
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 connects Porto 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. From high above the water, you will get some amazing panoramic views. 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 River. And if you want to see even more beautiful scenery, book a river cruise that will take you to the nearby 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

Porto Itinerary Day Three

A day trip to Aveiro to 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 from Porto’s São Bento Station to Aveiro by train.

The traditional blue and white “azulejo” picture tiles depicting battles and rural life adorn the walls of São Bento Railway Station. So, even if you aren’t planning to catch a train, make sure you still visit one of the world’s most beautiful train stations 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 for a first time visitor, it was pretty 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 saw 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 boat 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.

Book 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 in a professional wine 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

 

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, 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 sweet Portuguese desserts.

Best Porto Food Tours

Other Things To Do In Porto

If you are looking for something to do in Porto that is a bit different to seeing the historic sights or tasting the local wine then you may like to book one of these activities through Get Your Guide.

Is Three Days In Porto Enough?

I travelled in March, and the weather was pleasant, with a mix of sun and clouds.

I would recommend you try 3 days 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, to experience some other beautiful Portuguese cities like Lisbon and Faro.

Please PIN for future travel to Portugal.

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Elena Garcia

Wednesday 10th of January 2024

Hi!

Congrats on this amazing post!

I'm a flight attendant and it gave me the opportunity to explore the city in more in depth. In Oporto city, there are a lot of (incredible) hidden gems that a lot of people don't know about.

If you are a fan of wine - like me - and want to learn about the art of winemaking in the north of Portugal, I would recommend booking a wine tour. And if you ever consider going to the Douro Valley between September and October, this is an awesome opportunity to partake in a traditional grape stomp!

Tayler

Friday 28th of February 2020

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

Friday 28th of February 2020

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

Saturday 8th of February 2020

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

WhereAngieWanders

Saturday 8th of February 2020

Glad you found it useful.

CHELSEA MESSINA

Friday 7th of February 2020

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

WhereAngieWanders

Friday 7th of February 2020

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

Friday 7th of February 2020

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

Friday 7th of February 2020

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.