If I had a time machine I would use it to go back to 2015. Besides being the year I committed to travelling full time, it was also the year where I chose to live in different places along the way. After spending three days in Porto it became clear that I overlooked this great city on the Douro River. With its easy-going pace, scenic location, affordability, and great food it makes for the perfect place to drop your bags and live like a local.
That said, as I recently discovered it is also a perfect weekend escape. Armed with a Porto Card I set off to explore as much of this city as possible. Here is what you can cover with three days in Porto including what to see, do, and eat.
What Is There to See in Porto?
With roots dating back to 300 BC, Porto has no shortage of historic and significant sights to see. Here are a few of my favourite while spending three days in Porto:
Dom Luís I Bridge
Without a doubt, Porto’s iconic Dom Luís I Bridge is its most recognizable landmark, and for good reason. Designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes that Eiffel), this iron bridge spans the Douro River in two levels. The lower level is for vehicles and pedestrians while the upper carries the city streetcar and foot traffic. Crossing the Dom Luís I Bridge while in Porto is a must for its spectacular views. It’s best to visit at sunset or, you want fewer tourists in your pictures, early AM.
If you have been to Europe, you know that there’re no shortage of old and older churches. Porto is no exception. If you’re like me, once you have seen a dozen churches, they all start to blend together. So why do Porto Churches land on my list of things to see with 3 days in Porto? Well, this:
Although these unique Azulejo blue tiles are found on many buildings and structures around town, they are most prominent on the façades and interiors of Porto’s churches. Here are some of my favourites:
Another reason to visit the churches is in Porto is the views that they offer. For the best views at sunset head to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar just across the Dom Luís I Bridge. For views overlooking Porto’s old town and get close to one of its many seagulls, head to the steps of the Porto Cathedral.
São Bento Railway Station
Speaking of Porto’s Azulejo blue tiles, some of the best-preserved ones are in the historic São Bento railway station. Inside you will find 20,000+ tiles depicting Portugal’s history.
Created by Jorge Colaço between 1905 1916, his work easily lands this train station as one of the most beautiful in Europe, if not the world.
Three Days in Porto Tip: Consider an early morning or evening visit if you want to have a selfie stick-less and uninterrupted views of the tiles.
Stroll the Old Town
From the São Bento Railway Station stroll past the massive city hall building and into Porto’s historic old town. As noted above, head up to to the Cathedral for a great view of the Douro River and Ribeira below before making your way down to it.
As recently as five years ago, this area was run down. It would not have been recommended to stroll through it but thanks to some social assistance, the area is being rejuvenated and is a great time for tourist as well. Wander winding alleyways so tight that if you stretch out your arms you can touch each side.
From the Old Town, it is an easy stroll down to Ribeira, Portos’ most famous area. Once vital for trade and day-to-day life, today it is a tourist gathering point with plenty of restaurants, hotels, and bars straddling the Douro River.
From Riviera Square, it is a short water taxi ride ( 2 euro) across the Douro or a 20-minute walk along the bottom level of the Dom Luís I Bridge to Gaia.
This is my favourite area of Porto as it offers the best views of the city and his home to Porto’s world-famous wine cellars.
Similar to Ribeira Square, there are many riverside restaurants and cafés to enjoy but because there are few were hotels there are fewer tourists making it a more enjoyable stay in my opinion.
READ MORE: 7g Roaster Apartments: Where to Stay in Porto
What Is There to Do in Porto?
Visit a Cellar…or Several
Strolling the back alleys of Gaia, you will find plenty of places to sample Porto’s most famous export – Port Wine.
After sampling a few spots, walk/stumble to Ferreira Cellars for a fascinating peek behind the scenes of this sweet wine. There you will also learn about a company that has been making Port for over 250 years!
Cruise the Douro River
The Douro River played a vital role in transporting barrels of wine from the Douro Valley to the cellars in Gaia. This is evident by the traditional Rabelo boats dotting the shorelines.
Although no longer used to transport wine, you can take a river cruise on the Douro to get a sense of what life was like shipping barrels downstream. I took a short one hour cruise with Roto do Douro and highly recommend them!
Those spending more than three days in Porto should consider a longer tour up the Douro River to the vineyards of the Douro valley. There are several companies offering river cruises such as Roto do Douro and Viking River Cruises.
READ MORE: Down the Danube with Viking River Cruises
Take a train ride to the Douro Valley
If river cruising up the Douro isn’t an option for you, consider taking the train. Leaving from the beautiful São Bento railway station, you have two options, on the cheap or high class.
Douro Valley Train: On The Cheap
For a few euros, you can take a very scenic train ride into Portugal’s most famous wine region. The return trip takes the better part of a day (~7 hours) but is one of the most beautiful train rides I have ever done and is worth it in my opinion. The scenery goes next level after Régua, however, there is not much to get out and do so I suggest stopping in Pinhão on the way back to see a bit of small-town Portugal.
Three Days in Porto Tip: Be sure to pack a lunch as food is not available onboard!
Douro Valley Train: High Roller
Alternatively, and if you have the means, Porto is home to the world’s most amazing gastronomical experience, The Presidential Train.
The Presidential Train, in short, is unlike any other foodie experience out there. Enjoy a five-course meal crafted and prepared by Michelin Star chef’s as you make your way through the scenic Douro Valley, sampling the region’s wine along the way.
At the end of the line, guests are taken on a guided tour through the Quinta do Vesuvio estate and vineyards. Again, while enjoying some of the best wine the country has to offer.
The experience, although amazing and undoubtedly unique and worth every euro, does come at a cost. The trip starts at €500 per person.
Note: Due to the train having no electricity or AC/DC, it operates in the Spring and Fall only.
READ MORE: The Presidential Train Review
Conquer Torre dos Clérigos
Back in Porto, head to the hard-to-miss Torre dos Clérigos for an incredible view of the city. This Baroque styled tower from the mid-18th century stands ~250 feet tall and provides visitors a 360-degree view of the city.
Explore Porto’s Influence on Harry Potter
In the shadows of the Torre dos Clérigos you’ll find one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, or so says one JK Rowling. While living in Porto, she would often visit Livraria Lello and used it as inspiration for her Harry Potter series. Due to this simple fact, access to the bookstore is so popular that there is an admission charge just to get in. On the plus side, the ticket cost can be put towards a purchase in the store.
If you are looking for more Harry Potter tidbits from the formattable years Rowling spent in Porto, head to Majestic Cafe. It is said that Rowling often scribbled down ideas for her books on napkins while enjoying a coffee and the eclectic design.
Ride the Tram
Porto’s heritage tramcars have been shuttling locals and guests around town since the late 1800s. These moving museums are a great way to experience the city and its architecture. Best of all, you can ride these rails all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in just 30 minutes!
Three Days in Porto Tip: If these tram cars tickle you consider checking out the Tram Museum!
Sample Super Bock From the Source
Located in nearby Matosinhos you’ll find the country‘s largest brewery – Super Bock. At this site you will also find the recently completed Casa da Cervejaa – A Super Bock experience dedicated to sharing its story with the world.
On top of touring the facility and learning about how Super Bock is made, the tasting room includes food pairings that make this Super Bock brewery tour experience super unique.
For a full review with plenty more pictures stay tuned for my dedicated Super Bock Brewery tour review!
What Should I Eat & Drink in Porto?
Porto’s food and drink scene is surprisingly tasty. My first time in Portugal I lived on a steady diet of Piri-Piri chicken. Not so much this time around.
Drink Super Bock
By this point, you may have been sampling Super Bock at a riverside café already. Its popularity makes it hard to avoid, and that’s not a bad thing. What you may not have tried is Super Bock’s craft beer line. A great place to sample this is at the Mercado Beira-Rio in Gaia where they have a great display setup.
Drink (More) Port
Another obvious local drink and something you have to go out of your way to avoid on your three days in Porto is, of course, Port Wine. Although found throughout the town, as noted, Gaia offers the best tasting experiences.
There you will sample the 4 types of Port; White, Rosé, Tawny, and Ruby. You should defiantly try them in their original form but note, Port is used in a whack of creative cocktails in Porto!
What to Eat With 3 Days in Porto
When a type of wine is named after a city it should come as no surprise its food is on point. Here are some of my favourite dishes for my three days in Porto:
Tripas à Moda do Porto
Speaking of naming things after Porto, this local dish made with leftovers animal organs, beans, and broccoli has a unique history. It is said that when Henry The Navigator was preparing for an expedition, locals were so generous with supplies that the town was left with scraps. This meant they had to be creative and thus Tripas à Moda do Porto.
Although its humble ingredients, it is better than it sounds!
This local green soup can be found everywhere and is great comfort food. Made with kale, potatoes, and bits of chorizo I found it best enjoyed at a riverside cafe on a cool night.
If Francesinha looks like a hot mess it’s because it is. This heart attack-inducing dish is an open-face sandwich packed with every meat thinkable (sausage, roast beef, ham) then covered in cheese and swimming in a thick beer gravy.
If that isn’t enough to clog your arteries, head to Café Santiago where they serve their Francesinha on a pile of french fries and topped with a fried egg.
Bacalhau com Natas
Porto (and Portugal) love them some codfish and Bacalhau com Natas may just be the most portable way to enjoy it. This fried ball of goodness is packed with cod, potatoes, and cream sauce. Head to Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau next to the Clérigos Tower to sample one for yourself.
Pastel de nata
Last up on my list of dishes to try while spending three days in Porto is Pastel de nata, a sweet egg tart found it every bakeshop in the city. Although not specific to Porto itself, for a little more of a regional flair there are variations that incorporate Port Wine.
Where Should I Stay in Porto?
With my three days in Porto, I stayed at the brand new 7g Roaster Apartments and absolutely loved it. Why?
- It’s an apartment so it’s super comfortable
- 7g apartments are, as the name suggests, above a coffee roaster and hip café
- It’s located on the Gaia side which is quieter and offers the best views of Porto.
Seriously, I can’t say enough about good things about the 7g Roster Apartments. So much so that I wrote a dedicated post with plenty more reasons and more pictures!
3 Days or 3 Months in Porto?
As I said, Porto is the perfect place to spend a weekend but also a place I could stay much, much longer. I packed a lot in with my three days in Porto but also balanced that with leisure. Porto’s combo of sights, activities, and eats make for a great place to kick back and embrace European living at its best. With it being named the European Best Destination of 2017, there is no better time to explore this great city, whether it be 3 days or 3 months.
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My 3 days in Porto was made possible in part by Northern Portugal Tourism.
As always, the experience, opinions, and new discoveries are my own.