Last Updated on September 16, 2021 by Maggie McKneely
Only get to spend one day in Porto? This is the itinerary you need to make sure you make the most of your time in Portugal’s charming blue-tiled city!
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One Day in Porto
Between doing work for my real job or working on this blog, I spend *a lot* of time in coffee shops. And as every coffee shop connoisseur knows, they aren’t all created equal. Some are sleek and modern and ultra-gourmet, with a barista who scoffs when you say “can I just have a regular latte?” and avocado toast that costs $30 because it’s topped with some unpronounceable, unnecessarily expensive ingredient. Then there’s Starbucks; familiar, comfortable, overpriced but nothing special. It’s where you go when you don’t feel like being adventurous or there aren’t any other options around.
But then there are those coffee shops filled with mismatched couches and random paintings and posters hung on the wall – odd, but oddly intriguing and inviting. A coffee shop flavor exists for everyone, and my favorite tends to be that last one. Which explains why I loved Porto – if Porto were a coffee shop, it’d be the one where none of the furniture matches. It’s a city filled with secret corners, odds and ends, buildings that don’t belong together, streets that make no sense, but a charm and personality that’ll leave you wanting more.
Ideally, you’ll want to spend 2 days in Porto or more, because one day in Porto will only give you a small taste of what the city has to offer (after all, it is one of the best European cities to visit!). But we can’t always get what we want! Sometimes one day is all the time we can squeeze in (like when my mom and I decided to see the entire country of Portugal in a week). Fortunately, one day is plenty of time to see all of Porto’s highlights, as long as you have a plan.
But before we dive into the itinerary, I want to share some tips and need-to-know info for visiting Porto.
Tips for visiting Porto
Porto is not very large, so it’s definitely possible to do everything on foot (that’s what we did). But, it’s also VERY hilly. As my mom said, “everything is uphill, there is no down.” So if you opt for walking, like we did, you’ll be able to justify all the pastries and port that you’ll consume in Portugal! But if you’re not interested in getting THAT much exercise, you have other options.
Metro: The metro is probably the best alternative to walking. Porto has a pretty nice metro system with 6 lines that’ll get you anywhere you want to go. One ticket is €1.20 (unless you get a Porto card; more on that below).
Bus: Like most cities, Porto does have public buses. They’re most useful if you’re headed to the wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, since they drop off much closer than the metro does. They cost €1.85 per ride without a Porto card.
Taxis: Porto also has official city taxis, which charge between €4-6 per ride. However, there’s also an abundance of Uber drivers if you prefer that.
The Porto Card is a great option if you’re planning on using public transport, or visiting several qualifying museums and attractions. For one base price, the Porto Card lets you ride the metro and buses for free, gives free admissions to a number of museums, discounts on various other admission prices, and a 15% discount in participating restaurants.
Where to Stay
Porto is littered with wonderful places to stay, no matter what your budget is. There are luxury hotels, hostels, Airbnbs – there’s definitely something for everyone. But I highly recommend Douro Riverside Apartments. It’s conveniently located near the base of the Dom Luis I bridge, a 5-minute walk to the heart of Porto. It’s extremely clean and modern, with an amazing view overlooking the Douro River. And, as the name suggests, it’s a full apartment with a kitchen included, for a very reasonable price.
Other places to stay:
One Day in Porto Itinerary
Livraria Lello, a.k.a the Harry Potter bookstore, is absolutely worth visiting. Many people say that it’s a tourist trap and, while it is definitely crowded and touristy, this is one of those places that is worth the hype. The inside is absolutely stunning and unlike any bookstore in the world. Rumor has it that the curving carved central staircase was the inspiration for Hogwarts’ moving staircases (J.K. Rowling lived in Porto once upon a time).
But, you must get here early (I put it first on the itinerary for a reason!), especially if you only have one day to spend in Porto. The line starts forming at least an hour before the bookstore opens at 9:30.
Another tip: buy the voucher online ahead of time. It’s €5 to get into the bookstore (but you’ll get that back if you buy a book). If you don’t buy the voucher online, you’ll have to stand in line to buy a voucher in person, and then stand in line again to get into the bookstore itself. Or, if you have a smartphone, you can do what I did: buy the voucher online while you’re standing in line to enter Livraria Lello.
Carmo and Carmolitas Churches
Just a couple blocks from Livraria Lello are the Carmo and Carmelitas churches. They actually look like one very large church, but they are separated by the tiniest house in Porto. One was originally a convent and the other a monastery, so the tiny house kept the two from sharing a common wall (because any contact between the nuns and the monks would have been oh so scandalous!)
While the inside is worth checking out (and it’s free to do so), the exterior is the star (and one of the best Instagram spots in Porto, if you’re into that sort of thing!). The Carmo church was built between 1756 and 1768, and the characteristic blue tiles (azulejos) were added in 1912. (If, while in Portugal, you fall in love with the azulejos as much as I did, check out the Tile Museum in Lisbon!)
Hours: Both churches are open Monday-Friday 7:15 AM – 7 PM, Saturday-Sunday 9:45 AM – 6 PM
Clerigos Church and Tower
Next, head back down the street a few blocks to Clerigos Church and its recognizable bell tower. The bell tower can be seen from almost any point in Porto and for a small fee, you can climb to the top of it. There’s usually a line though, so it’ll depend on how much time you have and your desire to climb up 240 steps. But whether or not you opt to do the tower climb, be sure to check out the church itself. Built in 1750, the chapel is a small but elegant example of Baroque Portuguese architecture.
Hours: Open every day from 9 AM – 7 PM
Admission: The church is free. The tower is €3 (or 50% with the Porto card)
Built on the highest point in the city, Porto Cathedral dominates the landscape. Of all the churches within Porto, this one is considered the most important. Unfortunately, the one we spent in Porto happened to be a federal holiday and the church was closed. But if it’s open during your trip to the city, definitely take a peek inside! (And show me your pictures, so that I can see!)
Hours: April – October: 9 am – 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm to 7pm
Admission: Cathedral is free, the cloister is €3 (or €2 with the Porto card)
Cais de Ribeira is Porto’s touristy river strip. It’s packed with restaurants and gift shops and, well, tourists. I don’t actually recommend spending a ton of time here because it is SO packed and there’s not that much to do. But it is beautiful and worth walking along once just so you know what the hubbub is about.
What IS worth spending time doing is wandering around in the Ribeira neighborhood. Just go up the hill from the riverwalk and allow yourself to get lost (well, just kind of lost 😉 ) in the alleyways. Porto’s charm is best discovered by exploring off-the-beaten-path, and Ribeira is one of the best neighborhoods for that! Every door, tiled house number, window shutter, and facade oozes personality.
Dom Luis I Bridge
Once you’re finished wandering around Ribeira, make your way to Porto’s iconic bridge, Ponte Dom Luis I. It’s the famous double-decker bridge that appears in almost every photograph of Porto. Though both levels were originally meant for cars, today cars only use the lower level while the metro uses the top. But there are pedestrian walkways on both.
My suggestion: walk on one level going one way, and the other going back! That way you get the full experience. If you only have one day in Porto, you definitely don’t want to miss out on the amazing view that you get from the top of the bridge.
Fun fact: there are actually no port wine cellars in the city of Porto. They’re all located across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. Which is why it was so necessary to walk across the bridge! Another fun fact: my mom and I both thought we didn’t like port before we went to Portugal. But between our Douro Valley tour and visiting the port caves, we are now members of Team Port.
A port cellar tour is one of the absolute best things to do if you have one day in Porto and will give you a much deeper understanding and appreciation for Portugal’s iconic drink. The port “caves” have been in use for centuries, and are filled with rows upon rows of barrels of every size. Some cellars require tickets in advance, others take walk-ups. We toured both Croft and Sandeman. Croft is the oldest cellar, while Sandeman is arguably the most famous and commercialized. But both tours were equally well-done and I recommend either one! *As of 2020, Croft is no longer offering tours of its Porto cellar.*
Located near a majority of the port caves is Mercado Beiro-Rio. It’s a food hall lined with a variety of local restaurants and vendors. Most of the restaurants along the river are touristy, but the food at Mercado is authentic and fantastic. It’s not a typical sit-down restaurant, but you will definitely get a good Portuguese meal here. There are vegan options, fish markets, burgers, beer counters, cheese and wine stalls – basically, anything you’re craving, you can find here. And if you’re not done tasting port, you can get a chocolate flight paired with port from Brigadão!
Porto is hands-down one of the best places to visit in Portugal. Spending only one day in Porto is quite the whirlwind, but doable (and much better than spending no time there at all!), even if it only makes you want to come back and explore more of the city in the future! This itinerary will help you maximize your time and make sure you don’t miss any of the “must-sees” in Porto.
Related: If you have more than one day, check out this guide for 2 days in Porto!
Questions about Porto? Thoughts on the itinerary? Let me know in the comments!
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