Not so long ago, Joe and I decided it was finally time to visit Portugal. We’ve visited many countries in Europe but never this one. After being spoilt with photos of tiles, Pastel de Nata and incredible architecture for years, we couldn’t avoid it for much longer – especially as avid foodies and street art photographers. So, we booked a 48 hour cheap weekend trip, packed a long list of Porto attractions to visit and off we went.
My recommended Porto attractions
Church and Catacombs of São Francisco
This church is one of the most prominent remaining pieces of Gothic architecture in Porto. Quite rightly, it’s within the UNESCO heritage site based in the centre of the city itself having been a church and convent for many centuries. We decided to venture in to witness its glorious Baroque interior – almost everything you see is covered in gold. An amazing 300 kilos of gold dust was used to transform the church interior! The other reason we visited was to see the catacombs beneath. The catacombs are where the Franciscan monks have been buried over time, along with some members of Porto’s wealthiest families. There are also glass panels where you can look down to reveal thousands of human remains, a bit like the Catacombs of Paris.
Dom Luís I Bridge
You can’t visit Porto without taking a walk over the world-renowned bridge. Spanning the width of the River Duoro between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. On a sunny day, you can see for miles across both – getting a beautiful view of the Cais de Ribeira (the historic centre of Porto) and the Monastery of Serra do Pilar. It’s definitely worth taking a camera for the 15 minute walk across the bridge, it’ll provide some of the best photos you’ll get of the city – just watch out for the trams! It’s also a brilliant place to spot where the popular lunch spots are… just look for the queues of locals along the riverfront.
Speaking of food, if you have an hour spare in your schedule – visit Majestic. Yes, it’s pricey, yes, there’s often a queue but the service and experience make up for it. This heritage cafe is often voted one of the most beautiful in the world, for one reason – it hasn’t changed from its glamorous 1920s interior. You can imagine the richest people in Porto meeting here for coffee, whilst the piano plays in the background – it felt like taking a step back in time. The waiters are friendly, courteous and very professional, making you feel like royalty even if you just pop in for a drink. If you’re a fan of afternoon teas, then this will need to be top of your Porto attractions list.
Clérigos Church and Clocktower
Another icon of Porto is this stunning Baroque church and its adjacent clocktower. The clocktower the most iconic symbol of the city, making it a must-visit Porto attraction. Before your visit, it’s best to have a good breakfast – possibly one of the city’s delicious Pastel de Natas or a Francesinha (if you’re brave enough) – before attempting the 240 steps to make it to the top of the tower. Be warned, the steps are historic and by that, I mean windy, arguably non-existent and very narrow in places. It can be tricky passing people (and there are a fair few), so if you’re concerned about small spaces, this may not be for you BUT the views at the top are the best in the city.
São Bento railway station
If you’ve visited Porto partially to find blue and white tiles, like I did, then you need to visit this particular railway station. Just a 10 minute walk from Clérigos Church and Clocktower, venture inside and prepare to be amazed. This popular hub station has over 200 tiles adorning its walls all depicting different scenes; the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez, the Conquest of Ceuta and the siege of Guimarães. This is why it’s worthy of being one of the more popular Porto attractions – that, and it’s free! I’ve only ever been more struck by one other station and that was Grand Central in NYC, because of its architecture too.
This is the one place in Porto where you’ll queue to see an attraction. Get there early/late in the day or face hours of queuing with tourists from around the world. The Lello Bookstore is one of the oldest in Portugal and is one of the most highly rated in the world, according to the Lonely Planet. The interior is a blend of art deco, art nouveau and neo-gothic art, with a unique central staircase that winds its way to the store’s second floor. For me, the aspects that really stuck out were the busts that depicts where each author sat in the library, as well as the beautiful stained glass windows depicting the store’s owners and family motto. There’s a reason why J.K. Rowling sought inspiration here when she was writing the Harry Potter series.
Praia de Matosinhos beach
If you’ve spent your first day hitting up Porto attractions, it’s a good idea to spend at least part of your second on Matosinhos beach. Get the tram for ease – it takes roughly 25 minutes – and look forward to one of the most sprawling, unspoilt beaches in Europe. As it’s so vast, you feel like you have your own section of sand, genuinely. We spent a good couple of hours here walking up and down in the morning sun before settling into one of the beach bars dotted along the front for an iced latte, pastry and a read. After walking for most of our first day, it was just what we needed to recoup. We spent lunchtime here too. As Matosinhos is known for its fishing, we couldn’t not visit and sample a few local delicacies.
Saving the best for last. You’ll need to eat during your time in Porto, and seafood and pastries are a great combination but sometimes you just can’t beat a decent burger. BOP was undeniably my favourite spot in Porto. Not only was the food high-value and the most tasty, the atmosphere was addictive. You could sit, while away a number of hours staring at their wall of vinyl – hello High Fidelity. The cafe is unique in that it only plays their vinyl collection on their beautiful record player, the focal point of this cafe. There’s a complementary selection of beer and lager on tap for you to enjoy too whilst listening. It may seem hipster at first but once you get past that, you’re in for a wonderful, friendly evening – just save room for the brownie dessert.
These are just my recommended Porto attractions for a 48 hour trip but feel free to share your own in the comments. I could always be persuaded to go back or visit Lisbon next time…
Take a look at our Portgual posts for more inspiration.