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The Best 2 Days in Porto Itinerary

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Though the capital city of Lisbon is the most touristed area of Portugal, the city of Porto in the north has captured the hearts of many tourists as well. It sure captured mine! There are a lot of incredible places to visit in Portugal and it’s hard to figure out how to spend your time there to see as much as possible. Here is an itinerary for the best 2 days in Porto. You won’t get to see everything, but you’ll see the highlights and enough to make you want to go back for more!

Portugal is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. It offers beautiful sandy coastlines with areas of dramatic rocky cliffs and cities boasting hundreds and even thousands of years rich with history. Pair that with a lively culture, people who are incredibly friendly, and low costs and you have a perfect tourist destination.

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How to Spend 2 Days in Porto

There is a lot to see and do in Porto so it’s not easy to create an itinerary for only 2 days in Porto. The city is compact though you will do a good amount of walking. Both days offer some of the true gems of Porto.

Day 1:

  • Walking tour
  • Get a Francesinha
  • Carmo and Carmelitas Churches and the Hidden House
  • São Bento Train Station
  • Clérigos Tower and Church
  • Cordoaria’s Garden
  • Ribeira District

Day 2:

  • Lello Bookstore
  • McDonald’s Imperial
  • Porto Cathedral
  • Bolsa Palace and the Arab Room
  • Dom Luis I Bridge
  • Cálem Cellars
  • Gaia

2 Days in Porto: Day 1

Portugal is known for its pastries and it’s a great way to start your day. In the United States, there is a Starbucks on most corners and in Portugal, you’ll see pastry shops everywhere. Savory or sweet, it doesn’t matter. It’s all good! Grab a drink of your choice and watch the world go by.

Free Walking Tour of Porto

One of the best ways to get to know a city and to get your orientation is to take a free walking tour. There are a number of options to choose from that all look good. I don’t see the group I chose, but I have always had a great time on the Sandemans New Europe Tours.

When you go on a free walking tour, you get the advantage of learning about the city from a local. They walk you around to the important sites of the city and tell some great stories from a local’s perspective. You don’t generally go inside many places, though. The tours are generally 2-3 hours, so even on a weekend trip, that leaves ample time to go back to the places you’re most interested in.

neighborhood

Get a Francesinha

You may have worked up an appetite after your walking tour, so it’s time to try THE sandwich of Porto, the Francesinha. There are a number of great places to try it and I recommend Cafe Santiago.

A Francesinha, or “little Frenchie” in Portuguese is unlike anything you have ever had. Most sandwiches in western Europe usually feature a crusty bread with a thin piece of meat a cheese. Not this one! It is thick and rich, made with several kinds of meat including wet-cured ham, steak or roast beef, and a Portugues sausage called linguiça. Then, it’s covered in thick melted cheese with a beer sauce poured over it. Traditionally, it’s served with a fried egg on top and a side of french fries.

I’ll admit it didn’t sound very appealing to me, but when my host and others that I met along the way raved about this sandwich, how could I not try it? Wow. Make sure you are hungry and ideally, bring a friend or make a friend to share it with as it’s a gut-buster!

What’s fun at Cafe Santiago is to sit near the back where they are making them. You can actually sit on a stool like you can at a sushi place and watch them put these together. It’s quite an impressive process to see them feed a large restaurant full of hungry diners. They have a lot of variations on the traditional sandwich as well.

Cafe Santiago is located at Rua de Passos Manuel 226, 4000-382 Porto, Portugal. It’s open from 11 to 10:30 from Monday to Saturday. Cafe Santiago is closed on Sunday.

francesinha, cafe santiago, cafe santiageo francesinha
Cafe Santiago Francesinha

Carmo and Carmelitas Church and the Hidden House (Igreja dos Carmelitos)

There are so many interesting aspects about these churches that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, the sides are covered with azulejos tiles. These tiles are typically a bright cobalt blue design on a white background, though some do have other colors. Though they were designed to be ornamental, they also do serve to reduce the temperature in buildings. They are still made today, though not in the traditional way as it was found to be toxic!

The churches are both over-the-top ornate inside. Carmelitas was built in the 17th century for Carmelite nuns. In the 18th century, Carmo Church was built for Carmelite monks. They are both stunning and worth visiting.

Hidden House

This looks like one building but it’s actually two separate churches connected by a ridiculously narrow house. You might not even notice if it wasn’t pointed out to you (or you didn’t notice the sign). The house in the middle is only three-feet wide! You can actually tour this building and it’s quite interesting to read about those who lived there. It was actually inhabited until the 1980s.

Stories vary as to how this unique structure came about, with two separate churches and a house in the middle. There are tales of arguing Archbishops and other stories about laws that two churches were not allowed to share a wall. Regardless of why it came about, it’s a really interesting place to see.

The Carmo and Carmelitas Churches are located at Rua do Carmo 1, 4050-064 Porto, Portugal. You can visit from 9 to 6 during the week and 10 to 6 on the weekend when there are no services. The Hidden House costs 3.50 EUR to visit ($4.15 USD) and tickets are sold at the entrance of the house. Visiting hours are 12 to 6 on Monday and 10 to 6 from Tuesday to Sunday.

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Carmo and Carmelitas Churches

São Bento Train Station 

It may seem unusual to see a train station on a list of the top things to do in a city, but here it is! This train station is actively used today and it’s also a famous tourist stop. You’ll visit it on any walking tour but you may want to go back to visit as it’s a stunner!

The São Bento Train Station is one of the most elaborate train stations in the entire world. It’s adorned with 20,000 azulejos tiles in the main entryway of the station. The lower levels feature the traditional blue and white colors. However, the tiles on the upper parts of the walls do have other colors.

These tiles aren’t only for beauty, but these also tell stories. On the lower walls, the tiles tell the story of Portuguese history. They go in order and you can follow them around this large room. Then, at the top of the walls, you can learn the history of transportation.

When you walk into the main entryway, you’ll see two things: people slowly circling the room to “read” the history depicted in the tiles. You’ll also see commuters rushing to make their trains. It’s such an interesting place to visit.

The São Bento Train Station is located at Av. Dom Afonso Henriques, 4000-069 Porto, Portugal.

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São Bento Train Station

Clérigos Tower (Torre dos Clérigos)

Clérigos Tower is the iconic building of Porto that you’ll see in the city skyline. It’s a distinctive Baroque tower rising almost 250 feet (75 meters) with a clock tower adorning the top.

You can climb to the top of the tower to get the most incredible panoramic views of this city. The queue can get very long but it moves surprisingly quickly. You can also choose a time to start and you can combine your visit with the attached church and the museum.

Clérigos Tower is located at Rua de São Filipe de Nery, 4050-546 Porto, Portugal. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. You can book tickets to climb the tower and tour the museum during the day or night (for the tower only) for 5 EUR (around $5.50 USD) on the Clérigos Tower website. You can also add on a tour of the church for a little more.

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Clérigos Tower

Cordoaria’s Garden (Jardim da Cordoaria)

If you have some time and energy and want to walk off the Francesinha, head over to Cordoaria’s Garden for a quirky slice of Porto. Though this is more of a park than a garden, it’s a nice place to wander around to get out of the city for a bit.

The fun part of this park is the sculptures. The “13 Laughing Men” sculptures, created by Spanish artist Juan Muñoz, are a whimsical and fun display. They are all on the main path and look like Asian men sitting on bleachers in various poses while laughing together. You can’t help but smile when you look at them.

Cordoaria’s Garden is located at Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, 4050-366 Porto, Portugal.

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13 Laughing Men Sculpture

Ribeira District

End day one in the Ribeira District, the life-blood of Porto. This neighborhood is along the Duoro River and it’s where the city began. There are many medieval buildings and winding, narrow streets. Though it’s prime real estate now, historically this was where the poor lived as the river had a tendency of overflowing. Today, you’ll find a lot of restaurants, bars, and some hotels. The walkway along the river is buzzing at night with vendors selling souvenirs, musicians and performers, and tourists and locals alike enjoying the evening and the beautiful views

You’ll see the Ponte Luis I Bridge and you can walk across the bridge to the other side of the river, a town called Gaia. However, you’ll do that tomorrow so you may want to just take in the nightlife in Ribeira and enjoy the people-watching.

Find a restaurant for dinner if you can find the room after your Franceshina or grab drinks and enjoy the beautiful views. Portugal makes some great wines including bold reds and “green” vinho verde wines. These young white wines are often slightly effervescent and they’re quite good. You can also find port wines locally made across the river.

The area of the Ribeira District on the water is at Cais da Ribeira 47, 4050-511 Porto, Portugal.

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Cais da Ribeira

2 Days in Porto: Day 2

We’re going to pack a lot in for your second of 2 days in Porto so enjoy a Portuguese pastry before heading out. The first stop will be a fun one that showcases the quirky side of Porto.

Lello Bookstore (Livraria Lello)

Lello Bookstore, sometimes locally known as Chandron Bookstore, for the first owner, is one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal. It was founded back in 1869. You might have noticed the impressively long line walking around on day one of your tour. This is a very popular tourist attraction and once you get inside, you’ll realize why.

Take one look at the picture and think about what it reminds you of? If you said Harry Potter, you’re correct! It is believed to have inspired the series as the author, J.K. Rowling, lived in Porto in the early 1990s, where she taught English.

It’s not much of a stretch once you’re inside as it feels like you’re in the Hogwarts library. It has a sweeping round staircase, lots of dark, rich wood with ornate carvings, and a perfectly dimly lit interior. Even the building facade lends to the mystique of this unique bookshop.

Lello Bookstore is located at R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal. You actually need to purchase a ticket to go inside. They cost 5 EUR (around $6 USD) and they are timed entry for a specific date and time. 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. 

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Lello Bookstore Photo Credit: Steven Shewach

McDonald’s Imperial

Since we’re on a roll with the quirkiness of Porto, let’s go next to McDonald’s. But, not just any McDonald’s: the most ornate and beautiful McDonald’s in the entire world.

The building used to be the Imperial Cafe, a historic Art Deco building from the 1930s. There was an uproar when McDonald’s wanted to buy the building, as you might imagine. After a lot of negotiation, they came to an agreement that McDonald’s could purchase the building providing the remodel paid homage to the beautiful design of the Imperial Cafe.

Where else would you see a McDonald’s with stained glass windows, ornate ceilings, and gorgeous chandeliers? In the front of the building, you’ll also see a massive eagle paying its respects to the Imperial.

If you get lucky, you may see a group of students playing music in front of McDonald’s Imperial wearing what I can only describe as Harry Potteresque garb.

McDonald’s Imperial is located at Praça da Liberdade 126, 4000-322 Porto, Portugal.

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McDonald’s Imperial

Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto)

The Porto Cathedral is the start of the Portuguese Way for the Camino de Santiago. It’s a pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the Santiago Cathedral de Compostela in Spain. If you’re lucky, you may meet some people preparing to leave for their pilgrimage outside the cathedral or while you’re in Porto.

If you’re into architecture, you’re in for a treat. The Porto Cathedral is a stunner and the views are beautiful as well. Take some time to also wander around the neighborhoods around the cathedral. They are maze-like, narrow, and really beautiful. This is a great place to grab lunch. Taberna da Fernandinha is highly recommended though there are many places in this area.

Porto Cathedral is located at Terreiro da Sé, 4050-573 Porto, Portugal. It’s open from 9 to 6:30 daily in the summer and from November to March from 9 to 5:30. Visitors can enter unless there are services in progress and a donation is appreciated.

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Porto Cathedral

Bolsa Palace (Palacio da Bolsa)

The former Porto Stock Exchange is a popular place to visit. You’ll see lots of people sunbathing in the park in front of the Palace on nice days and you can see the Old Flower Market across the square. There are a number of interesting-looking buildings in this area as well.

The palace was built in the 19th century. It has a grand main entryway that extends two stories and there is an intricate mosaic on the floor. The building has many ornate rooms featuring some stunning wood-carved furniture and interesting art displays.

The not-so-secret Arab Room is the true treasure of this palace. It’s incredibly ornate designed in beautiful colored and gilded tiles in the Moorish Revivalist style. Every inch of this room is ornate and it truly takes your breath away. When heads of state and dignitaries come to Porto, this is the room where they are received.

Bolsa Palace is located at Rue de Ferreira Borges, 4050-253 Porto, Portugal. It is open from 9 – 6:30 daily from April to October, and from 9 – 1 and 2 – 5:30 from November to March. The cost for a one-hour tour is 10€ ($11.11 USD). The language of the tour is the language selected by the first person who booked it, so if you don’t book early, you could have a wait depending on the language you speak.

Dom Luís I Bridge

Yesterday, you saw the bridge from the Ribeira neighborhood and today you’ll get to see it up close as you cross it to get to the other side of the bridge, Gaia. This bridge is also called the Luís I bridge. There are two decks: one for cars and one for the train. You can walk across the upper level or the lower level, depending on where you approach the bridge from.

Take in the incredible views of Porto and Gaia as you cross the Douro River. This is especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset and at night you see the sparkling of the city of Porto at a distance. You may even see people offering to jump from the bridge for a tip.

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Dom Luis I Bridge

Cálem Cellars

The grapes used in port wine is exclusively grown in the Douro Valley wine region near Porto. Port wine is fortified and sweeter and thicker than most other wines. If you are interested in trying it, there’s no better place than Porto.

Gaia, the city across the Douro River from Porto, is where the port wine cellars and caves are located. The first one you will see, Cálem Cellars, was started by a local Portuguese man. It has a really interesting small museum that teaches you about port wines and the vineyard.

Cálem also offers tours, and I recommend doing it. You can actually get a tour with a live Fado performance and a tasting of two port wines. Fado is a local Portuguese music that is something you should experience when visiting the country. It’s hauntingly beautiful.

Even if you don’t like port wines, give it a try. I would have said that I didn’t like them before going, but I surprised myself by enjoying both in the tasting.

Cálem Cellars is located at Av. de Diogo Leite 344, 4400-111 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. It is open daily from 10 to 7. Tickets for the tour and tasting can be purchased online with or without the Fado music.

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Cálem Cellars

Vila Nova de Gaia

Vila Nova de Gaia, also called simply, Gaia, is the city across the river from Porto where many port wine cellars are located. The most famous include Sandemans and Grahams.

Gaia is not only a great place to have port wine, but it’s a wonderful place for beautiful city views of Porto. Though this is a heavily touristed area, I recommend it for dinner for the view. Taberninha do Manel right next to Cálem is a great place with good food and service. Sit outside to enjoy the best views if the weather is good.

Taberninha do Manel is located at Av. de Diogo Leite 308, 4400-111 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. It is open every day except for Monday from 11 to 10:30.

Other Fun in Porto

If you have a little more time or anything in this list doesn’t appeal to you, no worries! Here are some other fun activities to consider.

Where to Stay in Porto

Porto has a compact city center. I recommend staying right in it as it’s easy to get around, and hotels are generally affordable. You can find many hotels and apartments at all price points to meet your need.

Budget: Casa Carolina—A short walk from the city center, this place offers some great features for the price. This beautifully renovated guest house has high ceilings, Juliet balconies, a great lounge area, and a nice, sunny backyard.

Mid-Range: Pestana Porto – A Brasileira—This mid-range hotel may be a little on the higher end depending on the time of year you visit, but it’s spectacular. It’s located right in the heart of Porto near many of the sites. The hotel oozes charm and is comfortable and stylish.

Luxury: Maison Albar Hotels Le Monumental Palace—This hotel is worth the splurge! Beautiful and comfortable rooms with everything you can possibly need, and a Michelin-rated restaurant. It’s in the heart of Porto so everything is nearby.

Other Hotel Options

  • For something a little different, check out the Artist Porto Hotel & Bistro. It’s staffed by the students of the Porto School of hotel management and tourism. So, when you stay there, you’re helping them out! It’s a beautiful boutique hotel.
  • A luxury hotel with the best views of Porto is The Yeatman. It’s across the river in Gaia. The location on ta hill provides stunning views (and will help you work off the amazing Portuguese food). All rooms have a balcony overlooking Porto.

Airbnb is another great option, and I stayed at an adorable small apartment close to the Carmo and Carmelitas Churches. I don’t see it listed currently but there are many other great places in the area.

douro river

How to Get to Porto

There is an international airport in Porto, around 7 miles (11 km) from the city center. It’s around a twenty-minute drive and a taxi will cost around 25 EUR (around $30 USD). The metro will cost 2.45 EUR (just under $3 USD).

If you’re in Portugal, there are a number of public transportation options to get to Porto. there is a really good extensive train system. From Lisbon, there is a high-speed train that only takes 2 hours and 45 minutes. Costs start at 22 EUR (around $26 USD). There are several trains that leave the Santa Apolónia Station in Lisbon daily.

You can also take a bus which takes around three-and-a-half hours from Lisbon and costs start at around 17 EUR ($20 USD). There is also the FLIX Bus. Both the buses and trains cover cities throughout Portugal, so it’s likely you can use one of these options. Otherwise, TAP Airlines does fly from Lisbon to Porto.

How to Get Around Porto

Porto has a very compact city center so it’s very walkable. It is a bit on the steep side, but nothing like Lisbon.

You do have the option to take the Metro as well. It’s accessible and easy to navigate. Purchase an Adante card at a machine near one of the Metro stops or at the airport if you flew into Porto. The cost of each trip varies by the zone where you are traveling but it is very affordable.

Tip: Make sure to validate your ticket every time you enter the metro. They do check.

When to Visit Porto

May to September is the best timeframe to visit Porto, however, it’s also the most popular time. This drives up hotel prices and there are many more tourists in the city. The weather is beautiful in the summer and though it can be hot, it’s not nearly as humid as Lisbon.

Temperatures are moderate in Porto and they don’t tend to range very widely. Hotel prices tend to be higher in May and June and September and October, so you can easily avoid those times for more affordable prices without sacrificing much for the weather.

Summertime highs average from May to September range from 67°F to 75°F (19.6°C to 24°C) and lows are 51°F to 57°F (10.6°C to 13.9°C). It doesn’t rain much in the summer. Winter highs are around 56 to 57°F from December to February (13 to 14°C) and lows range from 41° to 43°F (5 – 6°C).

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Bicycle Made from Cork in Quirky Porto

Porto Day Trips

If you are lucky enough to have more time in Porto, check out some of the fantastic day trips you can go on. One of the most popular places to visit from Porto is the Duoro River Valley, home to some of the most incredible wineries in the region. It’s a stunning beautiful area worth seeing.

The medieval cities of Braga and Guimarães are also very popular to see. If you’re tight on time, a day trip is a great way to get to see them both. If you have the time, consider spending a day in each. You can easily spend a day or more.

Why You Should Spend 2 Days in Porto

Porto was my favorite city in Portugal for so many reasons: it’s very walkable, it’s beautiful, and has a fun-loving quirkiness to it that I really enjoyed. It has many of the appeals of Lisbon with its proximity to a river, beautiful architecture, amazingly friendly people, and great food. It’s also smaller and felt a bit more manageable while being cooler and having far less humidity than the capital city. I left my heart there and I will return. I’ll be so curious to hear if you feel the same!

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