Most of the best things to see or do in Porto have to do with getting to know and walking the downtown streets of this picturesque city, which is a historical relic of Romantic, Baroque and Neo-Gothic Portuguese architectural beauty. Which is a historical relic of Portuguese Romantic, Baroque and Neo-Gothic architectural beauty.
So I have highlighted some attractions and activities that can keep you busy from early morning until the end of your day if you have a short two-day visit. For it would be a real shame for you to leave for the next destination on your trip without properly getting to know some of the nooks and crannies of Porto's historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 1: Tour the Historic Center of Oporto
The beauty of Porto is very well represented among the different streets of its historic center. As I mentioned, it has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1996 and this has been very influential so that its entire extension is preserved from any modernist modification that seeks to alter its beautiful identity.
I have prioritized that you get to know the most important and striking corners of this part of the city during the first day of your short trip so that you can be guaranteed that you will not miss them in case of any unforeseen event on the second day of your visit to the largest city in the north of Portugal.
Start the day at the Don Luis I bridge
If you've ever seen photographs of Porto's urban landscape, it's almost certain that these images include the Don Luis I Bridge in their capture. This two-level bridge stretches between the north and south banks of the Douro River and is the most iconic and referential construction of this beautiful river port.
It was built in the second half of the 19th century and its design was not only revolutionary in a context in which an iron structure was totally new. It was also a functional solution for this section of the city, linking the historic center of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia. Which is the twinned community that is just opposite this city.
Both heights are passable for pedestrians, but keep in mind that the first, the upper one, is reserved for the passage of a line of the Porto subway. On the other hand, the lower one is much more interesting for those looking for an excellent photographic souvenir and will leave you right where you need to be for the next stop on your tour.
Have breakfast in the streets of the Ribeira and walk around the area for a while
The definition of Porto's Ribeira changes depending on who you ask. For many people it refers to the entire southern section of the city's historic district, but for most locals it refers exclusively to that section of the city's waterfront. The one that is right at the level of the Douro River and extends all the way to the city's cathedral, in the upper part of Porto.
This is important because of the fact that the rest of the city is actually a couple of meters higher at the same level as the cathedral. Therefore the entire riverfront and its surrounding buildings sit on a series of hills that delimit the upper and lower parts of Porto.
This whole area is worth a leisurely stroll, as the facades are very colorful and each of the buildings stands out architecturally in its own individual way. There will be many alternatives where you can sit down for breakfast with a delicious Portuguese coffee and a typical cream cake. But one thing I would like to point out is that the area is very touristic and there will be restaurants such as Ora Viva or Adega São Nicolau that are usually full of people.
So I advise you to take a walk through the Ribeira and sit in the place with the most favorable prices and with the greatest willingness to serve you with speed and kindness.
Continue the day in the square of the Cathedral of Porto
If you use the urban elevator of the city of Porto you could reach the top of the hill where the Sé Cathedral Square is located. This without the need to take a detour to Rua de São João. But you can also go up to that part of the city by the stairs of the Barredo neighborhood, where you would reach the Gate of Lies of the Primitive Wall of the city.
Either way, both alternatives will take you to your new destination in the city, which is the more than 700-year-old cathedral that combines Romanesque and Gothic styles with a large number of Baroque modifications. You can enter to tour the central nave of its structure and you can also visit the cloister which is decorated with the typical Portuguese tiles found in so many corners of the city. Although admission to the latter usually costs 3 euros per person.
Going to the city's cathedral is one of those great things to see or do in Porto in December because of the fact that its square is usually decorated under all the beauty of the Christmas season. It also offers you a panoramic view of the west of the city that will be filled with Christmas lights to get you into the festive spirit of the season.
Climb up to the Clérigos Tower for panoramic views of Porto
Just as the Don Luis I Bridge is an iconic site within Porto's architecture, the Clérigos Tower was and still is for all Portuguese. It is the bell tower of about 76 meters high that is located just in the western corner of what is known as the historic center of Porto and offers privileged panoramic views of the entire city.
If you want to reach it from the cathedral square you just have to head northwest, just towards the street of São Felipe de Nery. When you are there you can enter the church, which has its particular charm and a very peculiar beauty from the outside.
However, the real protagonist of this beautiful historic building is the tower and therefore I advise you to climb up to its viewpoint through the famous spiral staircase. It will take you up approximately 240 steps to reach the point from where you will see the 360 degrees of Porto around you. This tower is so beloved by the Portuguese that in 2013 they framed it on a 2 euro coin in local circulation.
Take advantage of the proximity and visit the Lello Bookstore
Just opposite this church, across two streets and Lisbon Square, you'll come across the Lello Bookstore. It is a narrow and old historic bookstore that stands out for the peculiarity of its internal design. This can go completely unnoticed if you look at the art nouveau style that characterizes its exterior facade.
This bookstore has a completely neo-Gothic architecture inside and the distinctive detail of this place are its winding wooden stairs. It is said that they were a point of inspiration for J.K. Rowling when writing Harry Potter during the period when she lived in the streets of Oporto.
I advise you to go immediately after being in the Clerical Tower because in the late afternoon it is usually full of fans and tourists. They are surely dying to visit it and leave this desire for that moment just before it closes at 5 or 6 pm.
Keep in mind that to enter you have to pay a fixed fee of 3 euros per person, but conveniently this amount would be reduced from your bill if you decide to buy some of the literary works that are sold there.
You will probably be hungry when you leave this place and you are lucky that between the 4 or 5 streets closest to this bookstore there are a number of approximately 20 or 25 restaurants that offer you all the best of Portuguese gastronomy or a couple of menus more oriented to an international palate. So coming to this area of the city is one of those things to do or see in Porto at Christmas if you are looking to dine in a restaurant with an authentic dinner from the region.
Finish the tour with the Chapel of the Souls and the Church of San Ildefonso
If exhaustion consumes you and you're not interested in walking the city any further, then I advise you to just take out some of your effort and head up to the Church of Carmen for a chance to see an authentic Portuguese Baroque church up close. Just like the one in the tower of the clerics, but with the typical blue tiles that define this city.
However, if you still want to continue visiting unexplored corners of the city then I tell you to head northeast towards the Chapel of the Souls. This route is recommended by the fact that you will be leaving from the area of the University of Porto and that means that you will cross iconic areas of the city such as the Avenida Dos Aliados and the Mercado do Bolhão.
When you find yourself at the corner of the Chapel of the Souls you realize that the walk has been worth it. For its facade, full to the last detail of white and blue tiles, is a true spectacle of Portuguese aesthetics. As this area is full of tourist movement, you are also likely to come across more than one tavern with some of the best Fado shows in Porto and so I advise you to visit them if you are interested in having a night full of Portuguese folk music.
Day 2: Cross the river, but come back to say a proper goodbye to Porto
The Douro River for many Porto residents is the main reason why this city managed to have the relevance it had during the time of the Portuguese empire. This can still be seen today in the imposing urban style.
For this reason it is not a bad idea that on the second day of your short visit to the largest city in the north of Portugal you venture across the river. That's to get to know the beauty of the wine district of the nearby town of Vila Nova de Gaia. Keep reading this informative compilation if you also want to have plans of all styles and approaches for the last day of your visit to Porto.
Ride a Rabelo and sail on the Douro River
You probably have no idea what a Rabelo is and this makes the experience of sailing in one on the waters of the Douro River even more fun. These are the typical boats that were used in the past to transport the barrels of Port Wine from the vineyards of the Douro Valley to the great cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia.
There are different routes with very varied durations, but the ones that transport you in these boats are intended for quite small groups that should not exceed 4 people. In addition, they only intend to take you to see the 6 bridges that connect the city of Porto with the south bank of the Douro.
Other Porto cruises offer a trip to the shores of the vineyards west of this famous river. Although I do not advise that option, at least if you want to have the rest of your morning free to get to know other tourist secrets of this beautiful region.
Quickly visit the wineries of Vila Nova de Gaia and get to know the famous Port Wine
Once you have finished your river tour , you will have the rest of the day ahead of you to continue exploring the metropolitan region of Oporto and the truth is that a trip to this city would be incomplete if you do not propose to walk the streets of Vila Nova de Gaia.
And the fact is that this neighboring town and specifically the area that is enclosed between the banks of the river, the main avenue and the Don Luis I Bridge is full of wineries that are dedicated to the maturation of the famous Portuguese wine produced in the north of the country.
Some wineries can offer guided tours inside their facilities, but what is really recommended is that you dare to have a drink in some of them. All of them have bars that offer tourists the possibility of tasting their most special vintages. In fact, this plan is one of the best things to do in Porto during the summer, as it is a very good way to be in a beautiful neighborhood of Greater Porto, while also cooling off from the oppressive heat of the season.
On your way back to Porto, stop by the Santa Clara Batalha Church
When you get tired of touring wineries and feel it's time to return to Porto you will have two alternatives at your disposal. The first one is to take the metro from Jardim do Morro station and it will take you to Sao Bento station. This is a good option if you are tired of seeing churches and are not looking to be impressed by the architectural beauty of any of them.
However, you also have the alternative of crossing the bridge on the lower level, reach the north bank of the river and climb the Codeçal Stairs that will take you to the Church of Santa Clara Batalha.
Its exterior is quite sober and at first glance may seem uninteresting and unworthy of being visited. However, when you enter it you will marvel at the beauty of its central nave. It has a completely gold-plated design that meets all the aesthetic standards of the overloaded Portuguese baroque. For many specialists in religious architecture this is the most interesting church in the whole city.
Visit Sao Bento station if you did not see it the day before
If you arrived at Sao Bento Station from the time you were in Vila Nova de Gaia then you won't have to worry about walking from the Church of Santa Clara to this point of the city. Instead, if you were at this religious monument you can continue walking along Av. Dom Alfonso Henriques and in less than 10 minutes you will be outside this very famous building.
It stands out for the more than 20 thousand tiles that tell important passages of Portuguese history and for its excellent location within the historic center of the city. It is also one of those things to see and do in Oporto with children because it can be very entertaining to try to decipher what is told in the image of these tiles with the little ones of the house.
The area is full of restaurants, so it is a good idea to have lunch there before heading to the last destination on your itinerary. In fact, many of the best gastronomic tours in Porto take place in the area and if you want to complete your trip by doing an activity like this it would be great.
End the day at the Douro Gorge
If the sunset of the last day of your visit is coming, but your desire to continue touring Porto is not over, then you have to take a cab to take you to the Foz do Douro. This is the western corner of the city where the mouth of the Douro River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
The neighborhood has its charm and is an excellent residential area, but what is really interesting is to walk along the promenade where the Farolim da Barra do Douro is located. And that is because you will receive at that time a spectacle of nature that is characterized by a strong swell that crashes with all its power on the breakwaters that seek to protect Praia Das Pastoras.
This is one of those excellent things to do in Porto in January due to the fact that winter has more aggressive tides that will give you a better perspective of this typical scene of the Portuguese Atlantic coast. Keep in mind that the Paseo Alegre Garden is also very close by and can be another site to tour on the evening of your Porto farewell.