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An itinerary to spend 24 unforgettable hours in the most colorful city of Portugal.
Which word pops up in your mind when hear the name Porto? Wine? Portugal? Soccer? For me it is: Color. Porto is one of the most colorful cities I´ve ever been. And it is not just the azure tiles on building facades and the colored houses along the Douro River. The city is filled with inspiring street art and colorful paintings. Which makes Porto a perfectly walkable city. It is easy to stroll through the cobbled streets for hours and still discover something you did not notice before.
Porto is the second largest city of Portugal, located in the northern part of the country, and it takes time to see everything. Other than for instance the Cinque Terre in Italy it is not possible to see Porto in one day, right? Actually it can be possible. Making Porto the perfect destination for a weekend escape.
But how to see everything in only one day?
Even though Porto is no well kept secret anymore, prices are low compared to other popular tourist destinations. Especially during off season. In spring and fall season the temperatures are modest and it is less busy. A perfect weekend, arriving Friday night and leaving Sunday afternoon. But how to see everything with only one full day to discover? The answer is: Walk! As much as possible.
The aim of this Walking Guide is to optimize time. To include as much of Porto into one day and to see the most popular tourist attractions at the best time of the day. The guide is highly flexible. Just add or remove some sights and you will still have a great time.
For each time of the day I have added an extract from GoogleMaps with a walking path connecting the severall sights to see. Just take a look at the maps and adjust them to your preferences.
1. Porto – In the Morning
We will start our trip at the São Bento railway station. The interior is fully covered with azulejos, making it to one of the most Beautiful train stations in the world. The murals represent moments in the Portugals history and the multicoloured panels depict rural scenes showing the people of various regions. The Railway station is a central point in the historical city center and not to far from the most common hotels, hostels and appartments.
As the station can be extremely busy with locals and tourists, it should preferably be visited early in the morning. The perfect starting point for this long, long day!
Where to stay in Porto (city center/close to Sao Bento Station):
- Shining View* – Beautiful and affordable appartment in the city center
- DOURO Apartments – S. Miguel* – Appartments in the historic city center
- São Domingos Flowers Apartments* – Appartments in the city center with beautiful interior
- RVA – Cathedral Apartments* – Appartments in Ribeira close to Sé do Porto
- PortoBay Flores* – Five-Star Hotel with great breakfast
From the Rail Station head south to Sé de Porto (Cathedral of Porto) and the Ribeira district. The Roman Catholic church is one of the city’s oldest monuments and one of the most important local Romanesque monuments. Next to the church at the Douro bank lies the Ribeira district. This is a highly touristic area, so getting there early in the morning will avoid the masses. Take some pictures in the narrow alleys with its pituresque colored buildings, but don´t get lost in the maze of streets.
You will find yourself down at the Douro River looking straight at the famous Ponte Dom Luis I. Walk to the bridge, but don´t cross it. Close to the bridge there is an escalator and next to it a steep stairway heading in the same direction. The stairway is a tough one. Large steps winding up, offering beautiful views back on the Douro River and the Ponte Dom Luis I (as the name of this street already suggests: Rue Miradouro („Douro-view“).
After conquering the first upward stairs today, you can already spot our next highlight: The Igreja de Santo Ildefenso. One of the many churches in Porto with blue tilework on its facade. The church was built in a proto-baroque style and can be visited quickly. The interior is impressive, but for me the actual highlight of the church were the azulejos on the front.
Can you spot the yellow smiley?
Heading back to the city center do not walk down the main road, but use the small alley left hand side. From the top of the stairs you will see the Sao Bento Rail Station again, closing our first of many circles of the day. The rail station is such a central point in Porto and we will walk past it for several times. The Rue da Madeira is covered with beautiful graffiti and street art. Can you spot the yellow smiley?
Now head north until you get to the Chapela das Almas (Chapel of Souls). The Chapel of the Souls is located on “Rua de Santa Catarina” close to the “Bolhão” Market. The name derives from the fact that the Brotherhood of Souls and “Chagas” of San Francisco became part of the “Santa Catarina” Chapel. The huge tile on the right side of the chapel is the most beautiful one in Porto. It is perfect to take pictures here in the morning with less tourists. Take a picture of yourself in front of the large azure wall and look at all the details on the azulejos.
Just a few minutes from the chapel of souls lies the Igreja de Santissima Trinidade and the Praça Liberdade with the Porto City Sign and the monument to King Peter IV. Make sure to get one reflection perfection shot at the water pool. Walking down the Praca Liberdade offers a lot of opportunities to do some city photography.
Stairway to Nowhere
Now it is time for our first break. The best place for a good breakfast is Café Majestic with a wonderful Belle Epoque atmosphere in its main room and attractive winter garden. After the refreshment walk back in direction of Igreja Ildefenso and the Douro River. From the hill at the Passeio das Fonteinhas you have a perfect panoramic view on the monastery and the Ponte Luis I. Are you able to spot the hidden stairway which is leading into nowhere at the Passeio das Fonteinhas?
2. Porto – In the Afternoon
We will now cross the Douro River over the Ponte do Infante to visit the Mosteiroda Serra do Pilar in Gaia. The monastery is situated on an outcrop overlooking the Dom Luís I Bridge and the historic centre. The view point from the Mosteiro is probably the most scenic in Porto. Offering impressive views at the colorfulRibeira promenade and several bridges crossing the river.
From the Mosteiro there are two ways down to Marginal de Gaia. The Teleferico or the stairs. My suggestion is to take the stairs to explore some more Porto street art. Ending at one of the best known street art works in Porto: The Half Rabbit. The artwork was created using found materials and trash gathered around the city. Half of the piece is left unpainted and shows the elements’ original colors. It is a completely unique kind of art.
At the Marginal Gaia head to the Ports for some wine tasting*, a port cruise* or just enjoy the view at the harbor. Take a lunch break at one of the many Restaurant along the river bank and enjoy the delicious portuguese fish.
Finally crossing the Ponte Dom Luis I for the first time
In the afternoon we are heading back to Porto city center, finally crossing the Ponte Dom Luis I for the first time. The bridge is a double-deck metal arch Bridge connecting Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia. To get the best views cross it on the upper level.
Walking past the Sao Bento rail station once again, we will now visit the Clerigos church and the Fonte dos Leoes.The tall bell tower, Torre dos Clérigos, can be seen from various points of the city and is one of its most characteristic symbols. It can be visited to get a panoramic view on the City center.
Next to the Porto University and the Beautiful Lion fountain lies another azure-tiled church: Igreja do Carmo. This area is also well know for it´s nightlife (we will come back to this in a bit)
Depending on the time of the day it may make sense to skip the next part. However, my suggestion would be take a quick detour to visit the Jardim do Roseiral and the Garden of Feelings. A beautiful park with palmtrees and fountains. It is easy to spend the afternoon walking the many paths and enjoy the views on the Douro river encircled by the Ribeira and Gaia districts visited early today.
3. Porto – In the Evening
The evening program should be adapted to the time of the year. If you are visiting Porto in summer with late sunsets, you should now see the Livraria Lello, as the library is closing at 7 pm. This library is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling writing the Harry Potter tales.
It has gained incredible attraction since then, making it necessary to restrict visitors and charge an entrance fee. The fee of 5€ can be recharged with the purchase of a book. Due to the popularity of the library there will be a waiting line no matter which time you get there. So my suggestion is to visit it just half an hour before closing time.
They will throw you out friendly, but effectively.
At closing most people will be gone and you will have more space. Also it is way easier to take good pictures with less people distrubing them. Wait until the library closes and be the last to go. But don´t expect to stay longer than the closing hour. They will throw you out friendly, but effectively.
To catch the sunset in fall/winter, the Livraria should be visited after sunset. The sunset can be best watched from the Mosteiro view point, the Ponte Luis I or the Jardim do Roseiral.
Finishing our walk back in the city center we did cover many highlights of Porto in just one day. It definitely is a tough tour though. A few recommendations for dinner:
- A Depensa – Mediterranean restaurant close to Livraria Lello
- Muu Steakhouse – One of the best steakhouses in Portugal
- “VOLTARIA” – Petisqueira Portuguesa – Portuguese specialties, close to pedestrian street
- Gazela Cachorrinhos da Batalha – Cervejaria near the Igreja de Santo Ildefenso
- Laurear – Small restaurant with a guesthouse to stay
4. Porto – At Night
The end of the walking tour does not necessarily mean the end of the day. The Nightlife in Porto is legendary. As it is a university city there are numerous bars and night clubs. If you don´t have a clue where to go, my suggestion would be to check out the pub crawl offered by PortoWalkers*. Meeting point is at 11pm at the Fonte de Leoes (book tickets here*)
The deal is two bars and three clubs including five drinks (mainly sangria, beer and shots) for 13€. Which is one of the best deals ever! Additional drinks have to be paid for. However, if you aren´t a big drinker, five drinks should be quite enough for the night.
The pub crawl is climatic. Starting at a small outdoor bar, onto a sports bar and three night clubs, constantly increasing in location and music quality. It is an amazing tour and getting you in contact with people from all over the world. I did meet people from Canada, India, Brazil and France in one night. The tour is 4,5 hours, but the last night club is open until 6 am. So go for an all-nighter if you want to.
Huge kudos if you do and you are still standing upright at the end of the night. Experiencing Porto in one day and one night is something you should add to your bucket list. It definitely is a day you will remember.
More information on Porto
For more information take a look at these blog posts:
- Instagram Spots in Porto
- Porto Travel Guide
- Six Things to Do in Porto
- A Weekend in Portugal
- Two perfect days in Porto