The best things to see and do in Porto

Porto is Portugal’s second city and anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting it will tell you that it is truly exceptional, in more ways than one.

History and culture interweave in the ancient and beloved city of Porto. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, it has a lot of stories to tell, most of which are connected to the waterways we will take you down. This has created a unique setting, where the charms of the cityscape are as subtle as the nuances of one of the fine Port wines that come from the Douro Valley’s sun-drenched vineyards.

The heritage of this wonderful city can be seen on both banks of the Douro River, which is surrounded by seafaring folklore and immersive maritime traditions. The ancient centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, where the people who call it home are known for their easy-going natures of generosity, making it the perfect site for some of our onshore excursions.

We’ve compiled this guide to inspire you before you travel to Porto with Emerald Waterways, highlighting some of our favourite places in the city.

Must-see sights

Palácio da Bolsa

Palacio da Bolsa Porto

Proudly overlooking the city below Palácio de Bolsa, or Stock Exchange Palace, features an arguably modest neoclassical exterior and houses a fine example of striking Moorish revivalist interior. Enjoy a guided tour of this picturesque UNESCO World Heritage-listed building, where the works of famous sculptors António Soares des Reis and António Teixeira Lopes can be found.

Caves Ferreira

porto luxury tours

Beneath the cobblestone streets of the city, a network of quaint passageways house all of Porto’s best secrets. Port wine that has been shipped from the sun-drenched Douro Valley is aged in these magnificent wine cellars, with Caves Ferreira having been in operation for more than two centuries. You can learn about the history of Porto on a tour of this magical winery, while indulging in some of the best Port to be found there.

Serralves Museum 

porto luxury river cruises

Regarded as one of the most important modern art museums in Portugal, this world-class exhibition space is not only home to cutting-edge, international contemporary art, but is also set within a stunning, minimalist building that was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Alvaro Siza Vieira. Opened in 1999, this museum quickly became one of the most important cultural destinations in the ancient city, boasting works from contemporary artists, including Franz West, Richard Hamilton and Roni Horn.

Sé do Porto

porto luxury river cruises

As with most of the best cities in Europe, Porto houses a magnificent cathedral. Located in the heart of the old city, the 12th-century Sé do Porto is one of the oldest monuments in Porto and one of the most important Romanesque buildings on the continent, even though small elements of Baroque can be seen throughout the building. Known for its intriguing mix of architectural styles and ornate interiors, this magnificent cathedral offers a glimpse into the city’s rich past.

Casa da Musica

porto luxury river cruises

Step away from the historical side of Porto and into the contemporary. Visitors from all over the world visit Casa de Musica to enjoy the varied and innovative music programme. This quirky building is a striking addition to the skyline, and the interior successfully blends both modern and traditional design. We would recommend that you head up to the rooftop restaurant if you would like to see breath-taking views of the city.

Parque da Cidade

porto luxury river cruises

One of the largest parks in Northern Portugal, Porto’s Parque de Cidade is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a moment of calm. Covering more than 80 hectares, this spectacular natural space links the centre of Porto to the Atlantic Ocean. Home to over 74 species of trees and an abundance of wildlife, the park offers an ideal location to those who wish to experience the quieter side of the city.

Hidden gems

The best of Porto's food and drink

It’s impossible to overstate the rich depth of culinary tradition in Porto. With an endless larder of fresh seafood to the west and the fertile banks of the Douro to the east, Porto boasts some of the finest local produce and artisanal eats in Europe. This is where you can find some of the most iconic meals and drinks that you should try during your time in the country.

Caldo verde

Soup may not seem like the ideal dish to eat in the throes of sun-drenched Porto, but caldo verde is widely considered to be one of the region’s most popular eats. Made from kale, potatoes, olive oil, garlic and occasionally Portuguese chouriço, caldo verde is typically eaten with a side of broa cornbread for dipping.

porto luxury river cruise

Where to find it: You will find caldo verde as an appetiser on many menus throughout Porto, but a local favourite has to be Café Santiago, which is famous for its big flavours and casual atmospheres.

Cozido à portuguesa

porto luxury river cruise

For a true taste of Porto and of Portugal, you must sample cozido à portuguesa, a hearty stew that is as close to a national dish as any in the country. Comprising of various cuts of meat paired with seasonal vegetables, cozido à portuguesa has many regional variations, and it is possible to find some with seafood in Porto.

Where to find it: As with caldo verde, cozido à portuguesa is a mainstay of many traditional Portuguese restaurants in Porto, so you won’t have trouble finding it. For an authentic take, try A Cozinha do Manel, whose blue and white décor provides a classic backdrop with which to try this iconic dish.

 

Bacalhau com natas

If you want to gain a thorough understanding of Porto’s fresh and rustic seafood, bacalhau com natas is the perfect introduction. Atlantic cod is the most popular fish in Portuguese seafood, and the fish markets of Porto teem with it. Though bacalhau is often grilled or boiled, the best way to enjoy it is ‘com natas’ – meaning baked with cream.

porto luxury river cruises

Where to find it: The best place to try bacalhau com natas is Adega Típica de São João, a charming restaurant serving up some of Porto’s best cod. Famed for its hospitality and traditional cooking methods, this is food done right.

Francesinha

An iconic part of Porto’s street food scene, francesinha is a calorific local favourite introduced in the 1960s. Essentially a twist on a classic French sandwich, francesinha comprises of a sandwich filled with four or five different meats, layered with cheese and covered in a beer-based sauce.

porto luxury river cruises

Where to find it: Every eatery that serves francesinha claims that theirs is the best, so it’s all down to preference and following where the locals go. For the most authentic take on the dish, try the aptly-named Francesinha Café on the Rua de Alegria.

Port

Owing to its indelible influence on Porto’s growth and prosperity over the centuries, Port wine is without question the city’s most popular and enduring export. Whether you sample it in a bar, with a meal or at the cellar door, no aperitif captures the flavour of a region quite like Port wine.

porto luxury river cruises

Where to find it: One of the best places to sample Port wine is in the cellars themselves, particularly within the historic Caves Ferreira. But, if you don’t have time for a full tour and tasting, try Portologia La Maison des Port, which is regularly voted the best wine bar in Porto.

Fast facts

Here are our favourite facts about the fascinating city of Porto:

  • Let’s start with the most well-known fact about this city: it is the birthplace of the alcoholic drink port
  • The Latin name for Porto is Portus Cale, from which the country takes its name
  • The people of Porto are known as Triperios as it is said that, during the 15th century, they gave their meat to the military and kept only the tripe (tripas) for themselves
  • J.K Rowling was working as an English teacher in Porto when she first started writing Harry Potter, so you could say that the world-famous wizard was born here
  • One of the bridges over the Douro was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who went on to design the Eiffel Tower
Porto lining the banks of the Douro
The magnificent Douro stretching through Porto