Text and photos by Guest Contributor Samantha Glauser
Portugal’s popularity with tourists is only increasing. The capital city of Portugal is the most heavily touristed city in the country, and there’s a lot to do in Lisbon. However, as much as I loved Lisbon, it was Porto that truly captured my heart. It’s not just a smaller version of Lisbon but it’s a fun and lively city in its own right with a quirkiness and sense of whimsy that makes it so much fun. Porto may be lesser-known but it’s a great place to visit.
Porto is a wonderful city for travel, as the historic downtown area is quite compact. You can walk it easily to see and do a lot in a short time. Though, I’ll warn you — Porto is incredibly charming and after two days in Porto, you may not want to leave. But if two days is what you have, here’s a two-day itinerary for Porto to help you make the most of it.
How to Spend Two Days in Porto
Map of Best Places to Visit During Two Days in Porto
2 Days in Porto: Day 1
Start your day with an amazing breakfast of Portuguese pastries. The Portuguese love their pastries and they are nothing short of magical, throughout the country. Sweet or savory- it doesn’t matter. Pair one with your breakfast drink of choice to start your day off right.
There are pastry shops almost on every corner so there are plenty of places to choose from. I enjoyed Padaria Ribeiro so much that I returned on my second day as well. It’s a bustling place, filled with locals and tourists alike, with a large outside dining area where you can see life happen in the city.
Visit the Lello Bookstore
Lello Bookstore or Livraria Lello, also known as Chadron Bookstore named after the first owner, is one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal. It was founded in 1869 and is believed to have inspired the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling, the author, lived in Porto in the early 1990s when she was an English teacher there.
When you walk around, it’s easy to feel like you’re at the Hogwarts library with the sweeping round staircase, rich dark wood with ornate carvings, and dimly-lit interior. Even the facade is interesting and lends to the mystique of this unique bookshop. Soak it up, quirky Porto at its best!
Given the rise in popularity, the line to visit is quite long. Buy a ticket in advance and make sure you are there a little early to queue up, as you may not get in if you are late.
Location: R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto
Admire the details at São Bento Train Station
This train station isn’t only for transportation but it’s also a tourist stop in its own right. It is adorned with 20,000 impressive azulejos tiles in the entryway, making it one of the most elaborate train stations in the world. Azulejos are painted tin-glazed ceramic tiles found in Portugal and Spain. They typically are blue and white, however they sometimes have other colors as you will see towards the top of the walls by the ceiling of the São Bento Train Station.
These tiles aren’t just beautiful, they also tell a story depicting Portuguese history as well as the history of transportation. It’s funny as you’ll walk in and see people just staring up at the walls to get a sense of the story in the beautiful images before them. Before long, you’ll be doing it right along with them while commuters rush past to catch their trains.
Location: Praça de Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto
Enjoy the views from Clérigos Tower (Torre dos Clérigos)
If there is one iconic building that Porto is known for, it’s the famed Clérigos Tower. It is the most distinctive structure in the city, rising 75 meters high, with a clock tower adorning the top. It’s a unique and stunning Baroque structure.
You can climb to the top of the Clerigos Tower to get some of the most incredible panoramic views of the city. There are timed tours offered daily or you can combine your visit with a visit to the museum and church. The queue can get very long but moves quickly. Even so it’s a good idea to reserve a ticket to limit your wait- get your ticket here.
Location: R. de São Filipe de Nery, 4050-546 Porto
Try a Francesinha at Cafe Santiago
By now, you have probably worked up an appetite so it’s time to try THE sandwich of Porto, the Francesinha. Hopefully, you didn’t fill up too much on pastries as this sandwich is a gut-buster! Unlike most sandwiches that you get in western Europe that are usually a crusty bread with a thin piece of meat and cheese, this one is thick and very rich.
A Francesinha, or “little Frenchie” in Portuguese, is made with thick-cut bread, several kinds of meats including linguiça (a Portuguese sausage), wet-cured ham, steak or roast beef covered in thick melted cheese with a beer sauce poured over it. Traditionally it’s served with french fries and a fried egg on top as well. Sit in the back at the lovely Cafe Santiago to watch them make these sandwiches- it’s an impressive process to see them feed an entire large restaurant full of hungry diners seeking a Francesinha. If you like wine, try it with a vinho verde, a local green wine from the Douro Valley wine region.
Location: R. de Passos Manuel 226, 4000-382 Porto
See the 13 Laughing Men at Cordoaria’s Garden
You are going to need to walk after eating a Francesinha. Head over to Cordoaria’s Garden for another quirky slice of Porto. Though this is more of a park than a garden, it includes two interesting things to see. First, you’ll see sculptures on the main path in the park that look like laughing men sitting in various poses. These 13 Laughing Men sculptures are a fun and whimsical display created by Juan Muñoz, a Spanish artist.
You may also notice the strange shape of the base of many of the trees that line the main path in the park. They are fat on the bottom with an almost bulbous shape instead of being around the same width all the way around the trunk of the tree. It is believed this was caused by a fungal infection and the trees survived with this new shape. They are interesting to see and lend to the quirkiness of the park.
Location: Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, 4050-366 Porto
Wander around the Ribeira District
Next, take a walk down to the riverfront along the Douro River, the life-blood of Porto. This area is where Porto began and there are many medieval buildings and windy, narrow streets. Explore this neighborhood of the Ribeira District, as you wander your way to the Douro River where you’ll see the Luis I Bridge. You can cross the bridge now, or I’d recommend you wait until day two as you will cross over the river to the Gaia district.
Right next to the river you’ll see a number of musicians and entertainers as well as people selling souvenirs and other goods. It’s a fun scene, often packed full of locals and tourists enjoying time along the river and the beautiful scenic views.
Find a restaurant here for dinner if you’re hungry after your Francesinha, or at least grab a snack along with a glass of Portuguese wine. Portugal makes some great wines, including some bold reds, “green” vinho verde wines, or port wines.
2 Days in Porto: Day 2
Visit the Carmo and Carmelitas Churches and the Hidden House
Start your day like a local with a Portuguese pastry then head over to the Carmo and Carmelitas Churches or Igreja dos Carmelitas. What makes these churches so interesting, in addition to the azulejos tiles that adorn the outside and the over-the-top ornate interiors is that they are, in fact, one building. And not just that — one building with a three-foot-wide hidden house in between that you might not notice unless it was pointed out to you. Because of this, the churches are considered to be in two buildings as they are not touching.
Stories vary as to how this unique structure came about including tales of arguing archbishops, but regardless of the reason why, it makes for an interesting place to visit. You can actually tour the house for a small fee.
Location: R. do Carmo 1, 4050-456 Porto, Portugal
See the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world
Next stop: McDonald’s. But not just any McDonald’s, the most ornate and beautiful McDonald’s in all of the world- i.e. McDonald’s Imperial. This building was formerly the Imperial Cafe, a historic art deco building from the 1930s. When McDonald’s wanted to buy the building, there was an uproar. After extensive negotiation, approval was granted with the agreement that the remodel would pay homage to the beautiful building.
The interior of this McDonald’s features stained glass windows, beautiful chandeliers, and ornate ceilings. A massive eagle adorns the front in homage to the Imperial. If you’re lucky, you may get to see a collective of students playing music outside donning what looks to be Harry Potteresque garb.
Location: Praça da Liberdade 126, 4000-322 Porto, Portugal
Visit Porto Cathedral
If you’re into architecture, you’re in for a real treat: the Porto Cathedral is stunning and picture-worthy. And if you’re familiar with the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the Santiago Cathedral de Compostela in Spain, the Porto Cathedral is the starting point of the Portuguese Way for the Camino. I had the pleasure of meeting two women doing this trek and they said it’s an incredible experience.
Take some time and wander through the neighborhoods around the cathedral. They are meandering and maze-like and so beautiful. Find a small local place for lunch here before heading on. Taberna da Fernandinha is an option or try one of the small and quaint places in the area.
Location: Terreiro da Sé, 4050-573 Porto, Portugal
Be awestruck at Bolsa Palace
Next, head to Bolsa Palace, formerly the Porto Stock Exchange. This is a popular place to visit, so definitely get tickets in advance or expect a long wait. If you do find yourself waiting, the park in front of the building is beautiful, and there is also some interesting architecture around as well as the Old Flower Market.
This 19th-century building is an impressive piece of architecture with a grand main entryway that extends two stories and intricate mosaics on the floor. You can tour the building to see many impressive and ornate rooms with stunning wood-carved furniture and interesting art displays.
Though the building is pretty amazing, the masterpiece is the Arab Room. This “secret” room is breathtaking and incredibly ornate, designed in the Moorish Revivalist style. Every inch of this room is decorated and it literally takes your break away. It’s used to receive dignitaries and heads of state.
Location: R. de Ferreira Borges, 4050-253 Porto, Portugal
Walk on the Luis I Bridge
Next, head to the Ribeira District and the Luis I Bridge. You’ll wander through Ribeira, where you had dinner last night, and then cross the Luis I Bridge to Gaia. There are two levels you can walk across to get there.
Take in the views of the Douro River and the Ribeira District as you go, and this walk is especially pretty as the sun is setting. You may even see people offering to jump from the bridge for a tip.
Taste port wine at Cálem Cellars
Porto is known for its largest export, port wine. Gaia, the city directly across the Douro River from Porto, is where these port-wine cellars and caves are located. Cálem Cellars or Porto Calem is the first one that you will see and I recommend visiting it as it was started by a local Portuguese man. You can also visit on this tour of the Calem Cellars.
Port wine is made exclusively in the Douro Valley wine region near Porto. It’s a fortified wine that is sweeter and thicker than most other wines. Cálem has a great little museum that teaches you about the vineyard and port wines and you can take a short tour to learn more. Then, you get a tasting. Even if you think you don’t like port wines (I’ll confess that I would have said that before going!) give it a try.
Once you’re done with the tour, head along the river to find a great restaurant. Places in Gaia tend to be less expensive than the Ribeira District. I recommend Taberninha do Manel right next to Cálem Cellars. Sit outside and enjoy the beautiful views of Porto and the Ribeira District along the river as the sun sets.
Location: Av. de Diogo Leite 344, 4400-111 Vila Nova de Gaia,
Porto Day Trips
If you are lucky enough to have more than two days in Porto, consider taking a day trip to explore the area. A visit to the Douro Valley wine region is a must if you like wine, and the area offers a nice range of different varietals. Or, take a trip to explore some other quaint, medieval, smaller cities in the area. A popular Porto day trip is to visit Guimarães, the birthplace of Portugal and UNESCO World Heritage site. Braga, home to the Bom Jesus Sanctuary, another Portugal UNESCO site, is another great trip.
Porto is a truly magical city filled with charm, beauty, and fun. It’s a must-see on any Portugal trip and though it may not yet have the popularity of sister city, Lisbon, it is every bit as worthy. You could easily spend a week there but two days is enough to see the highlights. And two days in Porto is all you will need to fall in love with this amazing city.
Plan Your Trip
Looking to book your next trip? Check out the following services to help plan your trip:
- Skyscanner to find a cheap flight.
- iVisa for online visa.
- Lonely Planet travel guides to plan my trip.
- Hotels.com to find affordable hotels.
- RentalCars.com to pick up a car rental.
- Taxi2Airport for airport pick-ups and drop-offs.
- World Nomads or SafetyWing to insure your trip.
- GetYourGuide for affordable day tours and city sightseeing.
- G Adventures or Intrepid Travel for a multi-day guided tour.
Author Bio: Samantha Glauser is a travel-obsessed animal lover with big plans to travel the world with her dog. When she’s not blogging about her travel adventures at My Flying Leap, you can find her volunteering with her pet-therapy cat and dog, on the top of a mountain, or enjoying a glass of bold red wine planning for her next trip. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.