The best things to see and do in Porto

Porto is Portugal’s second city and anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting it will tell you that it is truly exceptional, in more ways than one.

History and culture interweave in the ancient and beloved city of Porto. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, it has a lot of stories to tell, most of which are connected to the waterways we will take you down. This has created a unique setting, where the charms of the cityscape are as subtle as the nuances of one of the fine Port wines that come from the Douro Valley’s sun-drenched vineyards.

The heritage of this wonderful city can be seen on both banks of the Douro River, which is surrounded by seafaring folklore and immersive maritime traditions. The ancient centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, where the people who call it home are known for their easy-going natures of generosity, making it the perfect site for some of our onshore excursions.

We’ve compiled this guide to inspire you before you travel to Porto with Emerald Waterways, highlighting some of our favourite places in the city.

Must see sights
Today, the city is steeped in history and tradition with its narrow, cobbled streets, beautiful plazas, historic churches, colourful houses, and delicious cuisine. Full of laid back, medieval cobbles, and a striking set of bridges, this relatively compact city boasts world-class museums, traditional port wine cellars, and architectural marvels.

Built along the hills overlooking the Douro river estuary, the city’s historical centre was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996. Located in the Riberia district of the city, the centre remains true to its traditional aesthetic and authentic atmosphere.
Here are just a handful of the best things to see, do, and experience whilst you’re visiting Porto:
SERRALVES MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
The most important modern art museum in Portugal, this world-class museum is not only home to cutting-edge, international contemporary art, but is also set within a stunning, minimalist building by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Alvaro Siza Viera. 

Opened in 1999, the museum has fast become one of the most important cultural destinations in this ancient city. In addition to the museum itself, there’s a cinema, a performance space, and a vast, elegant park to explore.
The charming city of Porto, Portugal
LIVRARIA LELLO
Whilst a bookshop might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of must-see sights, Livraria Lello is definitely worth a visit. With its neo-gothic façade and stunning interior, it’s easy to see why Livraria Lello was voted the third most beautiful library in the world.

Opened in 1906, this historic bookshop features hand-carved wooden shelves, a central staircase, and a captivating stained-glass ceiling – making it just as popular with tourists as it is with book lovers.
SÉ DO PORTO
Every great city in Portugal has a stunning cathedral, and Porto is no exception. Located in the heart of the city, the 12th century Sé do Porto is one of the city’s oldest monuments and one of the most important Romanesque style buildings in Portugal.

Known for its intriguing mixture of architectural styles and ornate interior, this magnificent cathedral offers a glimpse into the city’s rich past.
CASA DA MUSICA
In addition to its abundance of historic architecture, Porto is also home to a number of contemporary highlights. Visitors travel from all over the world to visit Casa da Musica and enjoy the varied and innovative musical programme it offers.

Opened in 2005, the 12 storey, irregular-shaped building is constructed from white concrete, making it truly striking. And it is just as captivating from the inside, blurring the boundaries between contemporary minimalism and traditional touches.

There are daily guided tours of the buildings and we’d highly recommend paying a visit to its rooftop restaurant for a breath taking view of the city.
PARQUE DA CIDADE
One of the largest parks in Northern Portugal, Porto’s Parque da Cidade is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a moment of calm.

Covering more than 80 hectares, this spectacular natural space links the centre of Porto and the Atlantic Ocean. Home to over 74 species of trees and an abundance of wildlife, including swans, frogs, and reptiles, the park offers the ideal spot to experience a quieter side of the city.
Fast facts

Here are our favourite facts about the fascinating city of Porto:

  • Let’s start with the most well-known fact about this city: it is the birthplace of the alcoholic drink port
  • The Latin name for Porto is Portus Cale, from which the country takes its name
  • The people of Porto are known as Triperios as it is said that, during the 15th century, they gave their meat to the military and kept only the tripe (tripas) for themselves
  • J.K Rowling was working as an English teacher in Porto when she first started writing Harry Potter, so you could say that the world-famous wizard was born here
  • One of the bridges over the Douro was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who went on to design the Eiffel Tower
Porto lining the banks of the Douro
The magnificent Douro stretching through Porto