The Perfect 2 to 3 Days in Porto Itinerary

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by Adrian Fisk

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Planning a 2 or 3 days in Porto itinerary isn’t a tough task when you consider all of the wonderful things to do in the Portuguese city. Rising from the banks of the Douro River, Porto stands as a myriad of snaking streets and alleyways, beautiful bridges and rusty-orange rooftops.

It’s difficult to describe just how truly picturesque the place is. There are times when it seems every few metres brings one to a point that offers a better camera angle or provides the opportunity for a better photograph. Although it may be possible to capture Porto in image form, its riverside atmosphere and vibe must be experienced first-hand.

Second cities can often get overlooked by the traveller, which in the case of Porto would be a real shame because spending time in Porto is undeniably worth it.

How Many Days in Porto?

Many would-be travellers to Portugal’s second city wonder how many days to spend in Porto in order to do the city justice. Fortunately, with it being on the smaller side and therefore more walkable, it shouldn’t take long to get acquainted with your surroundings.

Generally speaking, if you want to see the highlights of the city and get a good feel for its culture, then consider spending 2 days in Porto. If you allot enough time to see Porto in 2 days, you will definitely be able to stop by the main sites and really enjoy what this small city has to offer.

On the other hand, spending 3 days in Porto is ideal if you want to venture a bit outside of the city and explore some of the surrounding area in Northern Portugal.

There are numerous day trips you could take if seeing Porto in 3 days such as visiting Coimbra and it can be a great opportunity to dig deeper and enjoy yourself just a bit more.

Porto at Dusk
Porto at Dusk

Getting To & Around Porto

Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport lies around 11km from the city centre and they are linked by the metro system, which is probably the most efficient way of transferring between the two. Buses are also quite frequent, but one can always opt for a shuttle or taxi from the Porto airport for destinations outside the city centre or as a more direct form of transport.

Porto is best enjoyed on foot or by boat, but if the weather’s not particularly good or if you ‘just want to get back’ after a stint of port tasting, then of course, some public transport will come in handy.

As far as metro systems go, Porto’s is relatively small, consisting of only 6 lines, therefore making it simple to navigate. You may even find getting to and from the airport is the only time you’ll use it, especially during shorter stays.

There is also an extensive bus network that can take you all over the city, including to areas where the metro does not reach.

Campanhã train station, Porto’s largest, is where one will likely disembark if coming from Lisbon or further afield – certainly if arriving from neighbouring Spain. Fewer trains run from São Bento station but it more than makes up for this with some stunning tile-based murals. And yes, both are stops on the metro. You can view train schedules here.

Only 3 routes remain of what was Porto’s tram network and although they are technically a form of public transport, they are considered more of a tourist attraction these days.

That’s in part due to the novelty factor of seeing and travelling on old rickety trams and the fact the routes double up as a means of enjoying yet more views of the city, particularly Linha 1, which runs along the riverbank.

The Funicular dos Guindais, will take you from a spot opposite the Dom Luís I Bridge in the Ribeira district, to near Porto Cathedral. The journey lasts around 3 minutes and saves on having to trudge uphill instead.

If you think you’re likely to be a frequent user of public transport during your time in Porto then it may be wise to invest in one of the Andante Cards which can be used on the metro system, buses, some regional trains and the funicular.

Card types vary, with a couple geared towards tourists- the Andante Tour 1 and the Andante Tour 3. These last for 24 and 72 hours respectively allowing unlimited use of the public transport methods on which it is accepted, without worrying about zones or having to top-up. Remember to validate your trip by swiping it past a validation machine – it is easy to forget…

If you’re planning to visit a number of museums during your trip to Porto then the Porto Card is also worth considering which includes a public transport card as well as discounts to a number of Porto’s attractions.

Porto Tram
One of Porto’s remaining trams

When to Visit Porto

City breaks are palatable at any time of year really – it just depends on whether one has a climate, cost or preference in terms of the number of fellow tourists. Porto’s pattern for these things follows the common one for most of Europe in that summers are hotter, pricier and busier.

Tourist numbers coincide with the rise and fall of temperatures which begin to climb in May and trail off in October. The winter months are quiet but expect, or at least prepare for, rainier, windier conditions.

Porto plays host to a variety of festival types across the year. The summer months are naturally where they cluster with June being the peak time, so book things early.

In February and March look out for the Essência do Vinho, a huge wine tasting event held at the Palácio da Bolsa and the two-week Fantasporto film festival, a celebration of the fantasy, science-fiction and horror genre.

June sees the arrival of the first music festivals, the International Theatre Festival of Iberian Expressions and the Festa de São João, during which there’s a regatta along the river. More music-related festivals fill the schedule for July and August, the busiest times.

2 to 3-Day Porto Itinerary

The following brief itinerary should ensure one’s trip is balanced with things to do and see on one side, and time to relax and enjoy the riparian ambience on the other.

Day 1 – Explore the City Centre

The first day of your trip to Porto is where you’ll cover the most ground and get a real sense of what the city is about. If you want to see the city with the help of a knowledgeable guide, consider booking a walking tour to give you more historical context of your time in Porto.

And if you’re looking for something a bit more specialised, consider this alternative walking tour, this street art tour or even this Jewish heritage tour.

Cais da Ribeira

Cais de Ribeira is a postcard manufacturer’s dream and is likely to imprint itself as the long-lasting mental image of Porto one takes home, although I’m sure there will be plenty of photographs to refresh the memory should that image begin to fade.

By day, descend through the streets lined with awkwardly stacked buildings brushed with a palette of colours from a painter who refuses to use anything that doesn’t fall into the category of ‘bright’. These hit the riverbank and spread out to the base of the Dom Luis I Bridge with courtyards and tucked-away arcades leading off from the main promenade.

The atmosphere and people coming and going against a backdrop of river traffic and street entertainers can only be experienced from within, but the picture that it paints is fully appreciated from afar.

In this area, you will find a number of the top landmarks in the city. Take the time, perhaps, to tour the Palacio da Bolsa and learn about some of Porto’s history. Or, if you want an incredible view of Porto, make sure you climb the Torre dos Clérgios where you can get a panoramic view of the rooftops of Porto.

Iconic Buildings of Porto
Iconic Buildings of Porto

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar

Looking across the river from Ribeira, sat perched above the Dom Luis I Bridge, one should easily spot the white rotunda of the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, unless it’s dark, in which case, look a little harder.

This 16th-century monastery, which is included in the region designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, once belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine monks before being requisitioned for military purposes. The circular cloister and carved, gilded altars are considered highlights.

The main draw, however, has to be the views this vantage point offers. After all, it’s not often one gets to look down on a double-decked metal arch bridge. A short cable car journey will take you from the Gaia riverside to a spot near the monastery (and back again) but it costs considerably more than using the metro.

Port Tasting at a Port Lodge

Portugal must be the only country in the world to contain an alcoholic beverage in its name (if you find another, do let me know). I’m not sure if that rule applies to Porto itself, but the drink can certainly be found there by the barrel load.

The city is home to a number of port lodges which source their produce from Douro Valley. This is the only region in the world that can legally produce and use the name ‘port wine’. There are several lodges, the majority of which lodge are on the south side of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. Some offer a variety of port tasting packages.

For basic tasting at Graham’s Port Lodge, €23 buys an introductory video (with history and background etc.) a brief tour of the cellar and three glasses of port to try. If visiting as a group, it might be a good idea to order a different tasting set each, so you can all swap and have a sip of each other’s.

Once the glasses have been drained, there’s a chance to purchase your favourite, although bottles are easy to come by throughout the city.

Pre-booking a timeslot online is essential for Graham’s Lodge. It is also possible to book tours that take you to multiple tasting rooms if you can’t decide on just one!

Two Port wine glasses on cork coasters
Port wine tasting

Day 2 – Dig deeper in Porto

The second day of this itinerary allows you to explore Porto at a more relaxed pace and leaves time for a bit of spontaneity and perhaps more of Cais da Ribeira if you didn’t have your fill on day one.

São Bento Train Station and Capela das Almas

Imagine a cross between a main transport hub, an art gallery and a tiled bathroom. Now make it a little more spectacular.

Then you’ve just imagined São Bento train station. The 20,000 or so blue and white tiles that don the entrance hall walls depict historic Portuguese battles, conquests and more battles. It just begs the question as to exactly how long the artist’s train was delayed.

If São Bento was somehow turned inside-out, then it wouldn’t look too dissimilar to the exterior of the 18th-century chapel, Capela das Almas. The mere 16,000 tiles were added in the 1920s with the artist having taken a slightly different approach by opting to portray events in the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine.

Even from a short distance, the rich blue façade is striking, particularly if the first glimpse is an unexpected one and comes whilst emerging from the Bolhão metro stop.

Porto Cathedral

Fans of art, architecture and history may well wish to head towards Porto Cathedral. Built on the highest point in the city and on a square where criminals were once hanged, it’s a mixture of three main architectural styles – Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic.

The main building is free to enter, with a small fee to visit the cloister. It’s important to take note of the exit/entry points as one may end up spending a significant amount of time merely circumnavigating the courtyard.

Porto Cathedral
Porto Cathedral

River Cruise

With a city as picturesque as Porto, it’ll be hard to resist the temptation of jumping aboard a boat and seeing it from the river.

Yes, it is a very tourist thing to do, with the usual cons of queuing and scrambling for a seat, but there’s still a novelty factor involved for those of us who are more landlocked and don’t get to see or go on the water much.

The tours do provide a commentary, so one can get to learn a little more about Porto and its famed bridges (whilst passing under them). The boats travel a little further along the river than one may cover if walking on the banks, so there’s the added bonus of seeing areas that may have remained hidden.

A typical cruise lasts approximately 50 minutes and can be booked online here.

Café Majestic

One doesn’t expect to come across a 1920s style café on a shopping street lined with modern shops in a busy city centre, let alone one as unique as Café Majestic.

Do at least look into Café Majestic’s glamorous, semi-opulent interior as this was a place where Porto’s leading societal figures used to once meet.

Buy a coffee and cake if you want to stay a bit longer, or a port if it’s evening, which may actually be a better idea if you want to avoid the crowds.

Day 3 – Douro Valley Day Trip or Dig Deeper in Porto

If you planning to spend 3 days exploring Porto, consider the following, with a focus on the areas beyond the city limits. A day trip from Porto is an excellent way to see some highlights of Northern Portugal within easy reach.

The Douro Valley

The area famed for producing port wine, the Douro Valley is listed as a World Heritage Site, made up of terraced vineyards, hillsides and villages that overlook the Douro River.

Go on walks, taste wine, cruise along the river or just admire the scenery. If you have the time, a day trip to the Douro Valley is one of the best things to do in Porto.

It’s possible to book day trips to the Douro Valley here including this small-group tour that includes tastings, lunch and transfers.

Douro Valley in Portugal
Douro Valley

Livraria Lello

Fans of the Harry Potter children’s books and the subsequent screenplays may be interested in Livraria Lello (which sounds like one of those two-word phrases that gets impossible to say at high speed).

This is because it is said to have provided the inspiration for the library at Hogwarts (JK Rowling lived in Porto for a while).

It functions as a bookshop in everyday life and for a small entry fee, you can walk up, the staircase and peruse the books. If you happen to stumble across a title you like, which you might literally do as it can get busy in there, then the cost of the ticket will be taken off the price at the till.

Beach Day

If visiting during the warmer parts of the year, (or if you prefer an empty, sodden beach in winter), then fortunately Porto lies within reach of numerous fine beaches for a half-day trip or more.

Praia de Matosinhos is a large, sandy beach popular with locals and is close to the city.  More traditional Portuguese resorts can be found if willing to travel a little further afield.

Where to Stay in Porto

Though it is often overlooked in lieu of the capital of Lisbon or the sun-soaked coast of the Algarve, Porto is becoming more and more popular for tourists and there are numerous accommodation options to choose from.

House of Artists – This boutique hotel is a great option if you are looking for a comfortable and stylish place to stay in Porto. Centrally located within walking distance of all of Porto’s main sites, each room is equipped with a kitchenette and a great breakfast is also included.

In Porto Gallery Guesthouse – A chic hotel located in the centre of Portugal, this is a great place to stay if you’re after a bit of luxury in the city. They have a range of plush and comfortable rooms available, breakfast included each morning, and balconies or great views from every room.

Hostel One Ribeira – If you’re travelling solo or in Portugal on a budget, then this hostel is a great choice for you. They have a handful of dorm and private rooms available, a central location, great common areas for meeting other travellers, and a helpful staff to make your stay a great one.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other Porto hotels!

Boats along Porto Harbour
Boats along Porto Harbour

Planning out the perfect Porto itinerary is an easy task, with the compact city having much to offer the short city-breaker.

Are you planning to visit Porto? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Adrian is a writer for The World Was Here First. He is a passionate world traveller and spends most of his free time travelling around his native England, jetting off to Europe and planning excursions further afield.

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