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I spent 48 hours in Porto and am already making plans to return for more. A little bit moodier and grittier than Lisbon, the city is beautiful – full of scenic walks, delicious eats, and glossy blue and white azulejo facades. Its streets are as steep and romantic as those in the capital, its vistas as captivating, its ceramic tiles as shimmering. Its charms, however, are more down to earth, and the food and wine culture more deeply rooted and tangible than anything you’ll find in Lisbon.
Time has passed extremely quickly, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s there to explore, but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
My recommended two-day itinerary in Porto unfolds from coffee to cocktails and includes just what you need to start planning your trip – an artsy stay, an epic sunset, lots of delicious food stops, and one too many glasses of wine.
Where to Stay in Porto
If you only have 48 hours in Porto, basing yourself in the city center is not negotiable. Luckily, there are plenty of nice hotels and apartments to choose from, and the price-quality ratio is really good compared to other European cities.
For this trip, we chose to stay at Viterbo8 The Artists House, an elegant historical building with 8 individually styled apartments in Ribeira. We booked the Architecture Apartment, a bright, minimalist high-ceiling studio adorned with decorative moulding and warm blonde wood that pays tribute to Portuguese Pritzker Prize winners Álvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto de Moura.
From the location to the design to the surprise breakfast basket each morning, everything was perfect, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay in Porto.
Coffee With a View
Start your first day in Porto with coffee with a view at Fabrica, before getting the lay of the land in the central Bolhão area. They roast the beans in Lisbon and have various locations throughout both cities. We ended up in the one on Rua do Souto in the heart of historic Porto and pulled up a nice spot at the open window looking out over the colorful buildings below.
Tiled Train Station
A short stroll from Fabrica Coffee Roasters will lead you to the beautiful São Bento railway station, a top Porto attraction in its own right. The interior is covered in 20,000 hand-painted white and blue azulejos depicting some of the most relevant episodes in the history of Portugal.
Next to it is the famous McDonald’s Imperial. Housed in a historic coffeehouse decorated with sumptuous chandeliers and Art Deco stained glass windows, it’s totally worth it to step inside and have a look around.
Mercado do Bolhão
From the train station, continue further up Rua Formosa until you reach Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s historic central market. Though recently renovated, the structure remains faithful to the original design, with Beaux Arts style columns and spectacular curved railings standing out against a contemporary, minimalist backdrop of grey concrete and steel. It’s a great place to get a taste of the local culture and have a fast, fresh, and delicious lunch (accompanied by a glass of wine, of course) at a reasonable price.
Francesinha, Pasteis de Nata, and …More Tiles
While in the area, it’s mandatory to make the pilgrimage to Rua de Santa Catarina, Porto’s main shopping street. Feel free to engage in some retail therapy; take a peek inside the Art Nouveau Café Majestic, where J. K. Rowling used to hang out; stop by the famous Capela das Almas for the obligatory Insta snap of its striking azulejo-clad facade, and if you dare, feast on some of the best Francesinha in Porto at Bufete Fase. I haven’t tried it, but the city’s signature sandwich is said to be cooked to perfection at this small, unassuming family-run restaurant.
Alternatively, I preferred to eat my weight in fresh-from-the-oven custard tarts at the nearby Fábrica da Nata.
At the southern end of Santa Catarina street, the baroque Igreja de Santo Ildefonso puts on another show-stopping blue and white tile display.
Founded in 2011, MUD is a very special family-run brand that became famous for its stylish and decidedly unique wooden bicycles. It has since expanded its offerings to include a range of home decor, bags, and accessories, all handmade in Portugal using sustainable materials such as timber, cork, and leather. Their exquisite products make great gifts (I couldn’t resist the temptation of buying two of their unique, design-driven leather and wood bags) and are showcased in a minimalist, industrial-style store and workshop on Rua de Sousa Viterbo 99, in the city center.
Another sweet local affair, Claus Porto has been producing artisanal soaps, perfumes, lotions, and scented candles for the city’s royalty since 1887. Step into their flagship store on Rua das Flores, which looks and smells beautiful, and grab a pastel de nata-flavored lip balm so you can always have a taste of it on hand whenever the craving strikes.
Pre-Dinner Glass of Wine
If you’ve done things right, it’s probably late afternoon by now, so it might be time to venture back to your hotel to shower and change for a night out in Porto.
We began our first evening (and all that followed) with a pre-dinner glass of wine and a snack at Prova, and would highly recommend anyone to do the same. Nestled just around the corner from our apartment at Viterbo8, we happened to come across this amazing place by chance, but we found out later it’s one of the best wine bars in Porto.
They not only have a spectacular selection of wines, but the staff is extremely knowledgeable and willing to share their expertise. We’ve been recommended a very local, extremely delicious red produced in small quantities in the area and absolutely fell in love with it, so much so that we bought a bottle to take home.
Food is one of Porto’s greatest draws, so finding a great meal here is easier than you think. From hearty home-style cooking in small family-owned tascas to contemporary fine dining establishments with young, creative chefs at the helm, the city’s emerging foodie scene is very much focused on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and begs to be explored.
For our first dinner in town, we made a reservation at Mistu, a contemporary restaurant in the city center (conveniently close to Prova wine bar). They serve an interesting fusion of traditional Portuguese cuisine and international flavors – mostly Asian and South American – in a classy, modern setting with a bubbly atmosphere. Divided between hot and cold, the dishes were artfully presented and designed to be shared. We feasted on magnificent tuna tartare made with kimchi; nobashi prawns in kataifi pastry; shrimp and pancetta mini burgers with smoked tofu and jalapeños, as well as a delicious Japanese cheesecake – all accompanied, of course, by great local wine and surprisingly creative cocktails.
For something less fancy, but equally (if not even more) delicious, I would recommend walking right across the street at Holly Sandwich, the Portuguese branch of the trendy São Paulo burger joint, which cooks some of the juiciest and most flavorful patties in town.
A Mad Men Kind of Bar
There’s no better way to cap a night off in Porto than with a drink at Royal Cocktail Club. Housed in a former bankers’ union building in the nightlife-centric Baixa neighborhood, this place serves seriously good drinks in an intimate, dimly-lit environment with classy mid-century modern vibes. It’s the sort of bar where you expect to see Don Draper sitting at the next table enjoying an Old Fashioned or three after dinner.
Skilfully prepared by the award-winning in-house bartenders, the cocktails on offer are strong but delicately balanced, ranging from clever departures from the familiar set to wildly original ones you won’t find anywhere else. Enjoy the warm, upscale ambiance with a Moscow Mule, made with pistachio mousse, or lie low in the sultry lounge downstairs with a one-of-a-kind concoction featuring salted caramel, white chocolate, and roasted marshmallows.
A Brunch or Two
As well as crafting some of the best artisan chocolate in Porto, Chocolataria das Flores, a tiny patisserie in the city center, offers a delectable all-day brunch buffet replete with in-house baked cakes, cookies, and pastries. As a bonus, their beautifully wrapped biscuits and spreads make perfect gifts for family and friends back home.
Alternatively, head to Story Brunch & Cocktails in the hip Cedofeita area, which has three beautifully curated brunch menus to choose from, plus great specialty coffee, deliciously fluffy syrnyky (Ukrainian cheese pancakes), and a lovely terrace to take your meal outside on a fine day.
Tip: If you can, leave some space for a delightful chocolate and port wine tasting at the Dubon Chocolate Bar next door. Afterward, embark on a street art scavenger hunt along the hipster Travessa de Cedofeita and delve into the neighborhood’s numerous independent boutiques and art galleries.
Art Meets Nature at Serralves
About 5 km west of downtown Porto, Serralves serves up art and nature in equal measure. It’s home to a magnificent 18-hectare park dotted with whimsical statues and landscaped gardens, a gorgeous pink Art Deco mansion, a wooden treetop walkway, and Portugal’s top contemporary art museum. The latter, housed in a strikingly minimalist space designed by Pritzker-prize-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, boasts a series of rotating exhibitions along with an impressive permanent collection showcasing artworks from the late 1960s to the present.
The complex is neighboring Foz do Douro, Porto’s westernmost neighborhood, where you can stroll along the seaside promenade and tuck into a seafood lunch on a terrace overlooking the ocean before hopping on the vintage Tram No 1 back to the city center.
On your last afternoon in Porto, head across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia, where Portugal’s famous port cellars are located. One of the best is Taylor’s, which offers audio self-guided tours and tastings starting at 20€. You’ll learn about the history of port through the museum’s innovative installation, see how it’s produced, walk among huge barrels where the wine ages, and conclude with two samples of chip-dry and vintage port on a charming, leafy terrace with retro wrought iron patio chairs and peacocks roaming freely around.
No reservation is required for the standard audio tour and tasting.
Tip: Travelers with time to spare can (and should) pay a visit to the World of Wine (WOW) nearby. This expansive cultural complex houses several museums, a wine school, multiple restaurants and bars, plus a sprawling terrace overlooking the emblematic Ponte Dom Luís I, the Douro, and the city on the opposite bank.
By the River
If you timed this right, you’ll find yourself strolling the iconic Dom Luís I Bridge back in town at sunset. This was probably my favorite and most memorable experience in Porto. From the upper deck, the sweeping views of the Douro River and Ribeira’s colorful waterfront basked in a golden glow are absolutely magical. An architectural marvel in itself, the elegant wrought-iron bridge is free to cross and takes around 5-10 minutes to walk along, but be prepared to spend much longer contemplating the cinematic sights and snapping countless photos along the way.
Then, make your way into the Ribeira, a riverfront district teeming with life, romance, and stunning views. Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site, this is Porto’s most touristy area, but also its most scenic. Get lost in the narrow medieval streets lined with brightly painted townhouses and take a break at one of the picturesque cafés along the river. Since you’re here, it would be a shame to miss a sightseeing cruise down the Douro in a traditional rabello boat.
Tip: If you have more than 2 days in Porto, taking a day trip to the Douro Valley is mandatory. This is Portugal’s most famous wine-producing region and one of the oldest in the world, and an excursion usually includes winery tours, port tastings, a traditional lunch, a river cruise, and endless vistas of terraced vineyards cascading down the emerald river.
Head back to your hotel for a quick refresh before heading out again for dinner. As I said, there’s no shortage of restaurants offering great food in Porto. If you’re feeling fancy, DOP by chef Rui Paula is a classy fine-dining option in the historic center. With one of the founders of modern Portuguese cooking at its helm, it serves an arty, innovative spin on traditional classics in a stately former bank on Largo São Domingos square.
Whether a la carte or in the form of tasting menus, dishes here are inspired by the sea or the land and come accompanied by exquisite wines.
A Night in Baixa
After dinner, follow the hoards of locals and visitors to the Rua da Galerias de Paris area, where Porto’s nightlife spills out on the cobbled pavements. Bars, clubs, and terraces line every adjacent street, and a lively party atmosphere takes over. Soak up the bohemian vibe at artsy Cafe Candelabro, have a wine between the books at Casa do Livro, choose from more than 150 gins at The Gin Club, and dance the night away at Plano B.
Before calling it a trip, squeeze in one last round of cocktails at The Royal Cocktail Club. It really is the best!