Porto itinerary: 3 days in Portugal’s stunning second city

3 days in Porto itinerary, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

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Here’s a quick Porto itinerary for 3 days in Porto: Portugal’s second-largest city and an absolute underrated gem. Porto is a stunning city and its riverbanks are overflowing with independent shops and hip bars and restaurants. You’re never too far from a sneaky peek of the dazzling Douro River from any of the bunting-strewn streets that lead down to the water. And Porto is near the sea, so you can get a historic tram down to one of the city beaches and enjoy views of the Atlantic. 

Despite all of Porto’s charms, it’s still one of the most affordable city breaks I’ve done in Southern Europe. And I’ve done a lot. I really rate it. It’s so good, to be honest, that I’d recommend spending a bit more than 3 days in Porto if you really want to get to know it. But if you’re on a time limit, it’s a nicely compact destination and there’s plenty you can cram into a weekend or a short break there.

So settle down with a glass of port wine (obviously) and get planning your 3-day Porto itinerary…

3 days in Porto itinerary, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

3 days in Porto itinerary: introduction

Interestingly, Porto used to be called ‘Cidade Invicta’ (unbeaten city). Other than just being a very badass name, this was because it was never conquered by the Moors or any of the other invaders that got the better of both Portugal and Spain in the past. Because of this achievement, Porto has a long tradition of independence. And its residents see themselves as a bit edgier and more authentic than the softies over in Lisbon. I also found the Porto locals to be really friendly and more than happy to have a natter. Portuguese people are always lovely though (I know from spending so much time in my favourite Madeira).

When Porto became a major commercial trading port later on in its history, people began calling it ‘Oporto’. This stemmed from dozy foreigners misunderstanding the ‘o’ (‘the’) that locals would say in front of ‘Porto’. The name is still sometimes used and is apparently still a source of annoyance to some locals. That’s the kind of thing that would do my head in, too.

Anyway, despite being the smaller of Portugal’s two biggest cities, Porto can really claim one up on Lisbon. The whole country of Portugal pinched its name from Porto, didn’t it? So there.

3 days in Porto itinerary: day 1

Morning: do a walking tour to get a feel of the city

Over the years, I’ve found that one of the best ways to kick off a city break is to do a free walking tour. You can then revisit places you liked the look of in your own time.

I really recommend the free walking tour of Porto (so do lots of other people on TripAdvisor reviews too, if you don’t believe me). The only downside to it is that it begins at 9.20am, which is terrifyingly early when you’re on holiday. But in the spirit of cracking as much of beautiful Porto as you can into 3 days, it’s worth braving the early alarm for.

The tour takes about 3 hours 30 minutes. Your guide takes you on a wander through the main sites: the station, churches, Livraria Lello bookshop (which has some rather loose Harry Potter connections, if you’re a fan), the Maria Pia and Dom Luis I bridges, the cathedral, and Ruelas Medievais (ancient cobbled streets).

Enjoy the tiles and the world’s most beautiful railway station – one of the highlights of this 3 days in Porto itinerary

Walking through the city, taking in all the amazing blue-and-white tiled buildings, is one of my favourite memories of my time in Porto. The tiles are called azulejo and are my favourite thing about Portugal in general, but Porto has a shedload of them and it’s a feast for the eyes.

São Bento Railway Station is the best place in Porto for admiring azulejo. It really is out of this world. Flooded with light from the imposing windows, and tiled floor to ceiling with the most stunning artwork, it’s no wonder that it is always nominated as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. I really liked that it was fully functioning and modern, as well as being pretty and historic. Imagine commuting in/out of that bad boy every day! Manchester Piccadilly Station suddenly seems even more traumatic for me.

3 days in Porto itinerary, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

Linger in beautiful Ribeira

The tour ends up in Praca da Ribeira, the gorgeous square and world heritage site overlooking the River Douro. I really rated the tour, and the fact it takes up a whole morning and covers most of the city makes it well worth it for free. Obviously, you should be nice and give a good tip when it ends. I think we gave a 10€ each, but you can give more.

Ribeira is the most enchanting area of Porto. It’s packed with colourful buildings, cobbled streets and people coming and going. Praca da Ribeira is the heart of it all. Despite the bustle, you can still imagine it back in the days when the rabelos (cargo boats) would be bringing wine from the vineyards in the Douro valley to the wine cellars here. I loved exploring the cobbled side streets, meandering underneath dilapidated but colourful buildings with laundry flapping overhead. It’s idyllic.

Anyway, the tour handily finishes here, just in time for lunch. And that leads me nicely onto the next thing on my Porto itinerary…

Lunchtime: head to Mercearia Das Flores for tapas

Now that you’ve been deposited into the beautiful Ribeira district and you’ve been walking for the whole morning, you’ll be ready to eat. Be warned, most of this Porto itinerary revolves around eating and drinking…

I really recommend finding the little artisan café/shop Mercearia Das Flores, which is on Rua Flores, for lunch. You’d expect it to be really overpriced tourist muck, given its central location. But it’s absolutely beautiful and very reasonably priced. Everything is local or organic and you can sample some craft beer from the surrounding areas too. Sit outside and watch the world go by while shovelling a delicious array of tapas into your face. Bliss.

Afternoon: return to the bridge for views

After lunch, I’d recommend you head back to the Dom Luis I bridge to enjoy it at your own pace. If you’re lucky enough to get good weather, it’s one of the best photo spots in Porto – if not the whole of Portugal, to be honest.

There are six bridges in Porto that cross the River Douro, linking the city of Porto with its neighbour, Gaia. But the double-decker beast, Dom Luis I, is the most interesting. Unsurprisingly, it’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bridge was designed by Théophile Seyrig, a pupil of Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). That explains why its look is so reminiscent of said tower. Its upper deck is where the metro runs and the lower deck is for cars. Humans are best off on the upper level, which is also rather handy for the view and photography opportunities. 

Spot some of Porto’s brilliant street art

Once you’ve had your fill of the bridge, have a wander around Ribeira, taking in places you didn’t get long enough in on the walking tour or that you didn’t cover.

While you’re at it, keep an eye out for the excellent street art that Porto is rapidly becoming known for. I’m not cool enough to know much about street art TBH, but these are three that stood out to me especially:

As well as the big pieces of art taking up entire sides of buildings, I noticed that Porto is also covered with small but very pleasing bits of street art too. Electrical boxes, stairs, doors, and all sorts of nooks and crannies were covered with art. This one was just on the side of a café I think – the kind of place in the UK that would have some dreadful mess on it saying ‘Jay 2019’ or something. But in Porto, you get something far nicer.

Sit outside for some early evening drinks (and people watching)

After a day of exploring, you’ve definitely earned some good food and drink.

I quite like going for an early evening drink before eating, so I’d head for that first. But you can equally eat a bit earlier and do drinks afterwards if that’s how you roll. Or do both and make your evening a drink-food-drink sandwich. You’re on holiday: there are no rules.

However you prefer to do it, I recommend having some drinks at Candelabro. This is a lovely book-café by day and a buzzing little bar at night. The area it’s in is trendy and lively, so it’s a nice place to sit outside on a warm evening. Next door is a champagne and wine bar, Champanheria da Baixa, so you could also visit there. A five-minute walk away is Porto Tónico, which specialises in a delicious concoction I’d never even heard of before: a white port and tonic. I know it sounds odd, but get it down you. It’s a good ‘un.

3 days in Porto itinerary, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

Evening meal: enjoy experimental food at Cruel Restaurante to round off day 1 of your 3 days in Porto itinerary 

I found Cruel Restaurante on the lovely street Rua da Picaria, just near the bars mentioned above, when trying to find somewhere for a more ‘fancy’ meal on our first night in Porto. I highly recommend you have your first evening meal there too. It’s amazing.

Menus change very frequently, so I’m always wary of mentioning exactly what I’ve eaten in various restaurants around the world in case they changed their menu the day after. But I can’t help recommending getting one of the starters at Cruel that comes with an ‘electric flower’. I’d never heard of this before but it’s a little herb from the Amazon (not as dodgy as that sounds…) that sort of numbs your mouth for a minute (really!) before amplifying your taste buds. I don’t know how it worked but it did. Everything you put in your mouth immediately after tastes really intense. I’d also recommend the salmon doughnuts with wasabi mayonnaise if they still do them. 

In case it wasn’t obvious from the flower anecdote, Cruel is quite an exciting and experimental restaurant. It has a ‘concept’ menu split into three pages: cruel, cautious and fearful. ‘Cruel’ is all the interesting stuff, but you can pick and mix from all three.

3 days in Porto itinerary: day 2

Morning: a leisurely start with the botanical gardens

Whenever I do a city break, I like to include a botanical garden in my itinerary. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably sick of me talking about them. But they’re always such a nice way to break up urban sightseeing.

Porto’s lovely Jardim Botânico do Porto was the perfect place to wander around for an hour or so on a sunny morning. I wouldn’t say it was the best botanical garden I’ve been to in my life; don’t be expecting Kew Gardens here. But it was worth it. And it’s free to enter, which is always a bonus. The garden isn’t massive, so you don’t need to spend hours there. It’s about 20 minutes from the centre of Porto on the 207 bus (check on the official website for times and so on). 

When we went, we were pretty much the only people in the gardens, which made it even better. Of particular note was the wonderful blue sea of agapanthus, one of my favourite flowers. I’ve never seen so many and so big. Some were up to my shoulder. And then you turn the corner and there’s a whole hedge of hydrangeas as far as the eye can see. Really gorgeous. 

Lunch: indulge in Porto’s local dish, the francesinha – a tasty highlight of this 3 days in Porto itinerary

After the gardens, it should be an ok time to head for an early lunch. And there’s no better thing to consume when in Porto than the infamous local dish, francesinha. This is especially the case on this day in your Porto itinerary, because later in the afternoon you’re going to be drinking the local wine so it’s wise to line your stomach beforehand.

A francesinha, for those of you who don’t know, is an absolute beast of a sandwich. Think of it as a very pleasing heart attack on a plate.

It’s made with cheap white supermarket-style bread, traditionally filled with bacon, sausage and steak. It’s then covered with melted cheese. And if that wasn’t enough, the whole thing is smothered with a hot, thick tomato and beer sauce. Oh and it’s served with chips, obviously.

One of the best places to try a francesinha is Café Santiago, a local institution, popular with tourists and locals alike. I eat a mainly plant-based diet, so the traditional francesinha is not for me. But luckily plenty of places do vegan options. Francesinhas Al Forno da Baixa does a spot-on vegan francesinha, with layers of seitan smothered in excellent vegan cheese. No one needs to miss out on the calories.

Afternoon: it’s wine o’clock in Vila Nova de Gaia

Now that you’re full of francesinha, your stomach will be ready for another of Porto’s local delicacies: port wine.

Weirdly, the place to go port tasting when in Porto is actually not Porto itself. It’s Vila Nova de Gaia (or just ‘Gaia’ to the locals). Gaia is actually a whole separate city to Porto. It’s the place just over the other side of the river and you get to it by crossing the aforementioned Dom Luis I Bridge.

Much like other ‘sister’ cities separated by a river (see: Newcastle/Gateshead, Buda/Pest, San Francisco/Oakland), Gaia can be a bit overshadowed by its famous neighbour of Porto. But it’s where all the port warehouses are at, with their cellars stretching deep into the hillside. Most are open for tours and tastings. And luckily for you, I’ve already sampled far too many and can recommend which ones to go to.

Before I get into it, I should note that port tasting is 100% worth it, even if you think you’re not interested in port. I’d only ever ‘appreciated’ port as part of a Cheeky Vimto before (ahem). But I loved it. And it’s not always just the standard dark red (ruby) port, either. You can also get tawny and white, both of which I liked more than the usual one. I also found out that port can’t legally be called ‘port’ unless the grapes have been grown in the Douro Valley, just outside of Porto, so while in Porto it would be rude not to try the real deal. 

Visit these port warehouses to sample their delights

Your first port of call (pun very much intended) should be the lovely 3+ Arte. This is an artistic and cultural cooperative, specialising in lovely local handicrafts and Niepoort port. The owner is friendly and happy to share his knowledge of port, but not in an overbearing way. The warehouse is full of quirky things, like an old bath for amusing photos and a little vintage caravan decorated with azulejo tiles. 

After that, head up the hill to port-tasting stop number two: Taylor’s. This is a more traditional port lodge. While it doesn’t have the friendly, down-to-earth atmosphere of 3+ Arte, it does have a beautiful garden you can sit in the shade and enjoy another round of port. I’d recommend booking onto a tour here if you’d like to learn more about the history (and yes, it has free samples).

Your third and final port lodge, Graham’s, is well worth the arduous stagger up some more steep cobbled streets. Going further up through Gaia, you’ll find that it gets more village-like. You’ll pass some little local shops, classic Portuguese café bars, and locals going about their daily business. Just as interesting as Porto, in its own way.

Anyway, Graham’s is a real oasis on a warm day and a gorgeous way to finish your afternoon. It has a stunning interior and equally stunning views from its vine-shaded terrace, where you can look out across Porto and the river and feel like you’re on a film set. Graham’s feels a bit more upmarket but, pleasingly, doesn’t have the price tag to match. In fact, all the port in Gaia I found to be very affordable, which just means you’ll be able to drink twice as much, right? Cheers to that.

3 days in Porto itinerary, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

Evening meal: laid-back pizza on the rooftop of an art deco car park

I was struggling with what to suggest for your evening meal after a day of tasting port, to be honest. A fancy restaurant probably wouldn’t be the best idea if you’re slightly hammered… So the agenda called for more carbs.

I found Maus Habitos (which means ‘bad habits’) when doing my research before going to Porto. The Guardian Travel guide to Porto described it as ‘a hip space on the roof of an art deco car park’. I was sold. And it did not disappoint. It is indeed very hip. Jam jars and milk bottles with flowers in? Tick. Mismatched furniture? Tick. Pendant lamps? Obviously tick. But it’s not just style over substance. It’s also host to regular exhibitions and live music, as well as having a decent menu at very reasonable prices.

Maus Habitos has a great selection of pasta, wood-fired pizzas, falafel and lasagna, with plenty of vegan and veggie options. A good place to round off the day and argue about what port you should go back and buy to take home.

3 days in Porto itinerary: day 3

Morning: art deco fun at Serralves

Serralves is a ‘cultural institution’ in Porto. It encompasses an art museum, a large park, a cinema house and a fantastic art deco style pink villa all in one place. It’s sort of like Porto’s answer to a (modern) English country house with parkland, only with a Tate Modern casually popped in its grounds too. Weirdly, it doesn’t seem to be made much of a deal of in Porto guide books and stuff, but I thought it was fantastic and definitely recommend a visit. I mean, the villa is bright pink, which should be a selling point in itself.

If you’re a fan of contemporary art, you’ll like the museum. The exhibitions are ever-changing and feature Portuguese and international art, some of which is interactive. It was so different from other art museums I’ve been to.

The art theme continues outside the museum as the park is dotted with interesting sculptures. The most memorable for me was a gigantic trowel, which also provides an excellent photo opportunity. It’s profile-picture worthy if you’re a gardener. Walking around the grounds was the highlight for me, and not just because there were ponies. There’s a treetop walk you can do by going up onto a platform walkway between the trees, which feels very magical.

Oh and don’t miss the gift shop. Arty places always have excellent shops and this one is no exception. Plenty of unique things to treat yourself to or to buy for friends back home if you’re less selfish than me.

It’s 20€ to get into the whole of Serralves, or you can pay less just to do some of its aspects. Check opening times and whatnot on the official website. You can easily spend several hours there and fill your whole morning.

3 days in Porto itinerary, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

Lunch and leisurely afternoon by the sea – you’ll be needing a breather in this 3 days in Porto itinerary

Once you’ve had your fill of Serralves, get the 203 bus towards Foz. In about 10 mins, you’ll reach Praia da Luz, a lovely beach in the Foz district. Foz is a chic seaside suburb and the beach here is lined with trendy little bars. The beach itself is a bit rocky/pebbly but also has yellow sand. And of course, the beautiful turquoise waters of the Atlantic. Just be warned: it might be a windy experience as it’s quite open.

There are plenty of lunch options around here but I really recommend The Bird. It’s really cute, slightly tricky to find tucked away from the crowds in a little courtyard but well worth hunting out. They do a set lunch menu for 8.50€. Set menus are always a bargain in Portugal. Although it’s lovely to sit outside here, make sure you pop inside to peruse the cakes and desserts available. The lemon meringue pie is a winner.

After lunch, you can stroll along the beach and enjoy the sunshine. Pop into Praia da Luz Restaurant for some afternoon drinks or tea/coffee later. It’s a beach bar as well as a restaurant and it has brilliant views of the sea. An ideal spot for a rest and a bit of people-watching.

I adore the fact that a city as cool as Porto is also coastal. You get the best of both worlds: culture and urban stuff with a lovely beach afternoon thrown in. 

3 days in Porto itinerary, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

Later in the afternoon/early evening vintage shopping and drinks

A real highlight of my 3 days in Porto was the fantastic Armazém (which means ‘warehouse’). Unsurprisingly, it’s a warehouse. But it’s a very cool converted warehouse with a bar, beer garden, eatery, vintage/antique shop, art gallery and auction house. It was such a good little hipster treasure trove. There’s even an open fire burning inside if you’re there in the evening. 

Armazem’s vintage/antique shop area sells all the kind of things I love rummaging through. There are vintage clothes, antique homewares, vinyl records, artwork, pottery and ceramics, old suitcases, and artisan local trinkets/scarves etc. Once you’ve treated yourself to a few bits that you definitely need, you can go and sit outside in the sun and reward yourself with a local craft beer. Although the drinks on this Porto itinerary have been mainly focused on port wine, Porto’s local craft beer scene is worth a try too. That leads me nicely onto my next recommendation, too…

Evening meal at Farinha for the best pizza in Porto, followed by craft beers

I can’t recommend eating at Farinha enough. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, and definitely serves the best pizza in Porto. Look it up on TripAdvisor if you need convincing because I’ve never seen such glowing reviews of somewhere (and everyone seems to agree that the goat’s cheese and honey pizza is worth shouting about!).

Although the pizza is their main thing, you can also get pasta and delicious salads. If you’re feeling a bit all-fooded-out, sharing a pizza and a salad between two is a good option. Like an idiot, I didn’t manage to get a photo, but it was quite dimly lit and nothing was coming out very well. Food bloggers must take all their photos at lunchtime because evening meals are just impossible to capture! Anyway, I highly recommend it.

After you’ve eaten, you should visit Simplex Virtus, a brilliant little bar near Farinha that brews its own beer and has a good selection of other local beers. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I’m always on the hunt for a craft beer bar. Portugal isn’t that hot on the craft scene but it’s slowly getting there (even Madeira has craft beer now!).

If that gives you a taste for the local beers, you should also try Cervejaria do Carmo, just under a 10-minute walk away, and Letraria Craft Beer Garden, which is a 5-minute Uber ride away and has a lovely hidden garden to sit in.

And if you want to stay longer than 3 days in Porto, maybe do a day trip out of the city…

If you were staying longer than 3 days in Porto, you could head out to explore further afield.

I have a whole post on how to do 10 different day trips from Porto by train (oh and one is by bus) and a really in-depth post on Guimaraes, which I especially recommend.

3 days in Porto itinerary – useful information for your trip

How to get there

It’s a smooth journey on the metro into the city from Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport (they should have called it ‘Airporto‘, right? Ha…). Buy an Andante ticket from the kiosks at the station (2.30€ single at the time of writing).

Where to stay for your 3 days in Porto

There are plenty of options for all budgets in Porto. Here are some suggestions. All prices are at the time of writing:

  • Treat yo’self: If you want to sleep in style, I recommend checking out the lovely PortoBay Flores. At 149€ a night, it’s not cheap. But it’s pretty and modern.
  • Mid-range: At 99€ a night, The House Ribeira Porto Hotel is a great middle option with very cute colourful rooms. 
  • Budget: If you’d rather spend your euros on food and exploring, you’ll enjoy the fact that Acta The Avenue is only 67€ a night yet looks just as fancy as the other options. Bargain.

How to get around

Everything is easily walkable in the centre of Porto. But there are modern trams (the metro) that cover further out, and also cute historic trams that you should try to have a ride on even if it’s just for fun and not to specifically get anywhere. Getting a train out of the beautiful São Bento station for a day trip is a fantastic experience.

When to go

Surprisingly, I visited in August and the weather was beautiful, not too hot, but warm enough to walk around in summer clothes. August is normally a time I avoid travel because of heat and also school holidays meaning children get everywhere (I’m allergic). But for various reasons, it ended up being the only time we could do and I was pleased with both the lack of children and the lovely-but-not-too-hot sun in Porto.

Portugal, in general, is always lovely in spring too. Autumn brings some late sunshine and quieter streets.

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  1. What a wonderful report on Porto! It will have to go on my list. Have you been to Beja? It’s Art Deco heaven! I will have to go back. For sure I want to visit Madeira thanks to your trip report.

    1. Thanks James, really glad you enjoyed it. Beja is actually on my list for the next Portugal trip, which is hopefully going to be my first escape from the UK when the pandemic is over. Hope you’re keeping well! 🙂

      1. Loved Porto and hope to return. This piece has increased my yen to do so – thank you.
        But no francesinha will pass my lips – the one I had stands out in my mind as one of the worst things I have ever been served on (many!) holidays.

  2. Porto looks so pretty to visit! I can’t wait until I can plan a trip here and see all of these fantastic locations in your post.

  3. I have never visited Porto, but I would love to. Thank you for sharing this itinerary, I’ll save it for when I get to plan a trip in Porto.

  4. Porto is very high on my travel list. Never been to portugal before but everytime I see someone talking about it on Social Media, I fall in love with the tiles and the architechture. I would also choose Porto as a starting point for the 200km Camino Portugese route to Santiago.

  5. Just wanted to say thank you – we used this as an outline for our trip to Porto last month and had a fantastic time!

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