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The Emerald Experience > River and city guides > City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Porto

City Guide: 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.

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.

As one of the oldest cities in Europe, the settlement of Porto is thought to date back to the 4th century BC. It wasn’t until the age of great geographic discoveries between 15th – 17th centuries, however, that Porto really came into its own, becoming one of the largest shipyards in the country. And it was during this time that the city’s wine trading exploits really took off, and their port wine was exported to the rest of Europe and beyond.

Today, the city is steeped in history and tradition with its narrow, cobbled streets, beautiful plazas, historic churches, colourful houses, and delicious cuisine. Full of laid back, medieval cobbles, and a striking set of bridges, this relatively compact city boasts world-class museums, traditional port wine cellars, and architectural marvels.

Built along the hills overlooking the Douro river estuary, the city’s historical centre was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996. Located in the Riberia district of the city, the centre remains true to its traditional aesthetic and authentic atmosphere.

Must-See Sights

porto city guide

Here are just a handful of the best things to see, do, and experience whilst you’re visiting Porto:

Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art

The most important modern art museum in Portugal, this world-class museum is not only home to cutting-edge, international contemporary art, but is also set within a stunning, minimalist building by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Alvaro Siza Viera. 

Opened in 1999, the museum has fast become one of the most important cultural destinations in this ancient city. In addition to the museum itself, there’s a cinema, a performance space, and a vast, elegant park to explore.

Livraria Lello

Whilst a bookshop might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of must-see sights, Livraria Lello is definitely worth a visit. With its neo-gothic façade and stunning interior, it’s easy to see why Livraria Lello was voted the third most beautiful library in the world.

Opened in 1906, this historic bookshop features hand-carved wooden shelves, a central staircase, and a captivating stained-glass ceiling – making it just as popular with tourists as it is with book lovers.

Sé do Porto

porto cathedral

Every great city in Portugal has a stunning cathedral, and Porto is no exception. Located in the heart of the city, the 12th century Sé do Porto is one of the city’s oldest monuments and one of the most important Romanesque style buildings in Portugal.

Known for its intriguing mixture of architectural styles and ornate interior, this magnificent cathedral offers a glimpse into the city’s rich past.

Casa da Musica

In addition to its abundance of historic architecture, Porto is also home to a number of contemporary highlights. Visitors travel from all over the world to visit Casa da Musica and enjoy the varied and innovative musical programme it offers.

Opened in 2005, the 12 storey, irregular-shaped building is constructed from white concrete, making it truly striking. And it is just as captivating from the inside, blurring the boundaries between contemporary minimalism and traditional touches.

There are daily guided tours of the buildings and we’d highly recommend paying a visit to its rooftop restaurant for a breath taking view of the city.

casa da musica

Parque da Cidade

One of the largest parks in Northern Portugal, Porto’s Parque da 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 and the Atlantic Ocean. Home to over 74 species of trees and an abundance of wildlife, including swans, frogs, and reptiles, the park offers the ideal spot to experience a quieter side of the city.

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