Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Portugal and had a truly wonderful vacation. The weather, food, sights, stays, experiences and people made it a trip to remember. Since I had such a fantastic visit, I wanted to share why you should visit Porto in 2023, in case you’re considering visiting or need some itinerary ideas for your upcoming trip.
We started our vacation off in Porto, made our way up to Braga, down to Aveiro, over to Coimbra, and spent the final days in Lisbon, so we’ll talk about what made the trip so memorable, the best bits along the way, and why we love the mainland of Portugal so much, starting with Porto.
Porto, or Oporto, is the second-largest city in Portugal, the capital of the Oporto District, and one of the Iberian Peninsula’s major urban areas. With over 240,000 residents living in the city centre and over a million visitors each year, it’s one of Portugal’s most sought-after spots to visit, and it’s no surprise why.
Porto is a stunning city with medieval architecture, bustling streets, delicious food, and friendly (English-speaking) locals. Because the Duoro River runs right through it, leading out to the Atlantic Ocean, it’s perfect to stroll down by the waterside, take boat rides, and experience the astonishing bridges and an exciting and lengthy history.
What to see:
- São Bento Railway Station is one of the most beautiful stations in the world. It was built in the early 1900s on the site of a 16th-century Benedictine monastery, ‘Sao Bento do Ave Maria,’ which also lent its name to the station. This is a must-visit spot for all tourists and, to this day, is used by travellers and locals to get around.
- General Humberto Delgado Square is a square in Porto, Douro Litoral. General Humberto Delgado’s Square is near the memorial Monumento a Almeida Garrett and the fountain Fonte dos Aliados. It is the perfect spot to sit, have a coffee and plan where you’ll head next while taking in the stunning surrounding architecture.
- Igreja dos Clérigos or Church of the Clerics is one of Portugal’s most striking architectural landmarks and is truly magnificent. Built on high ground just north of Porto’s historic centre, this unique oval-shaped dark granite church has an elaborate façade which looks especially enchanting in the early morning light. Flanked by the iconic Torre (Tower) dos Clérigos, the church was built between 1732 and 1749 by the renowned Florentine architect Nicolau Nasoni.
- Wander the Cedofeita, Vitoria, and Baixa neighbourhoods in Porto to see incredible architecture, beautiful storefronts and beautiful doors, as well as find endless places to get fantastic food and delicious desserts.
- Take a stroll or a boat ride down The Douro and visit the Luiz I Bridge. With many restaurants, shops, and vendors, just taking a stroll down the Douro is lovely, but you can also take a boat ride and tour, visit the stunning Luiz I Bridge, or, if you’re so inclined, visit one of the many Port houses that line the river.
- Church of Saint Ildefonso was built between 1709 and 1739 and displays a beautiful facade lined with Jorge Colaço tiles in classic blue and white, depicting scenes from the life of Saint Ildefonso and Eucharist allegories. Inside the church is a baroque and rococo wood altarpiece carved from the first half of the eighteenth century, made by Nicolau Nasoni.
- 6 Bridges River Cruise. Hop aboard a typical Douro boat and discover the only European city with six bridges. Navigate past the historic center of Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia, and the mouth of the Douro River, which opens up into the Atlantic Ocean
- Ribeira Square (UNESCO Heritage Site) The square is located in the historic district of Ribeira (riverside in Portuguese), part of the São Nicolau parish. The Ribeira district spreads alongside the Douro River and used to be a centre of intense commercial and manufacturing activity since the Middle Ages. Today it is colourful, boasts beautiful architecture, lovely spots to grab a coffee or soda, and usually an excellent performance from a street performer.
- Livraria Lello is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world with its intricate neo-gothic and art nouveau design. Inaugurated in 1906, it is one of Portugal’s oldest bookstores. It’s most well known for its iconic central wooden staircase, elegant curves, and large stained glass windows. Be warned, it had massive line-ups to get tickets but also for ticket holders, and it could be several hours wait to get in.
- Palácio da Bolsa, or the Stock Exchange Palace, is a historical building in Porto. The palace was built in the 19th century in the city’s Commercial Association in a Neoclassical style. It is located in the Infante D. Henrique Square in the city’s historical centre and has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
- The Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas are two churches that stand almost side by side. The Igreja do Carmo was built between 1756 and 1768 in the rococo or late Baroque style by a disciple of Nicolau Nasoni, Jose de Figueiredo Seixas. The Igreja do Carmo has an outstanding azulejo-covered exterior, with the azulejos added in 1912. Stop around the side for the perfect background for your insta photos.
- Capela das Almas (meaning Soul’s Chapel), also called Saint Catherine Chapel, is a building from the 18th century known for its beautiful tile-covered façade.
- Igreja de São Francisco, aka The Church of Saint Francis, is the most prominent Gothic monument in Porto, Portugal, being also noted for its outstanding Baroque inner decoration. It is located in the city’s historic centre, declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
- The Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) is a Roman Catholic church located in the historical centre of the city. It is one of the city’s oldest monuments and one of the most important local Romanesque monuments.
- Museu de Serralves is a modern art museum. On the property is also a 1950 bright pink house and a green park full of little corners to explore, which makes it one of the most visited spaces in Porto. While you’re there, make sure to experience the Serralves Treetop Walk and check out the beautiful views. (pictured above)
Where to stay:
Looking somewhere in the heart of the city to stay that offers well-appointed suites, beautiful garden terraces, and a stunning plant-fill spot to have breakfast each day? Then we suggest the InterContinental Porto.
We stayed there last month and found the location to be so handy, as the city surrounds it with so much to do. The staff was extraordinary, the hotel was spotless, and we really loved our room, which was spacious, super clean, and the perfect place to lay your head during a beautiful stay in a truly fantastic city.
Where to eat (and find great food):
Let’s start with dessert. While there are so many places that make amazing desserts, sweets and treats, for amazing pastel da nata, we suggest Manteigaria Bakery Porto (there’s also one in Lisbon). If you are looking for a great lunch overlooking the Douro, you should check out Muro do Bacalhau.
We suggest Taberna Folias De Baco, which offers family-style feasts, InDiferente or top-rated MUU Steakhouse for dinner. Also, make sure to visit Bolhão Market and Bom Sucesso Market if you’d like to experience the amazing market and offerings of Porto.
So, if you are looking to visit Porto, or don’t know how much it has to offer, then we suggest paying a visit in the coming future as it is truly a beautiful city, full of great food, amazing views, wonderful people and so much to see and do.