There are lots of things to do in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the city featuring elements from a melting pot of architectural styles and time periods ranging from the Middle Ages to the present day. Awesome Atlantic Coast beaches can be found not far from the Douro Estuary – from the trendy Foz do Douro to the popular Espinho south of the city. Moreover, Porto is a paradise of musems, art, azulejos, baroque churches, and many other magnificent things that are part of Porto’s cultural heritage – so where to start and what to do in Porto with just one day in the city?
Porto is an enticing European city featuring grand architecture: the 19th-century neoclassical Bolsa Palace – also the old stock exchange, a modern and high-tech music venue and concert hall Casa da Música, the beautifully tile-decorated Santo Ildefonso Church, the Igreja do Carmo, and the 76 m high baroque Clerigos Church that rises majestically on the Porto skyline. There is a lot more – these are just examples.
No doubt there is enough to explore in Porto for several days, but if you have just one day in Portugal’s famous port wine city, you will still be able to cover the most significant historic and cultural sights, including gaining insight into Porto’s traditional port wine culture.
As a curiosity and landmark in Porto, the São Bento Station is, besides being a train station, also a 20th-century architectural masterpiece covered with thousands of hand-painted tiles. Start your day and sightseeing in Porto with entering the spectacular station building and exploring its uniqueness.
It is one of the numerous buildings in Porto (as in the rest of Portugal) that have been decorated with traditional Portuguese tiles, azulejos, depicting scenes from major events in Portugal.
You will now continue down to the Sé do Porto, Porto Cathedral. It is another magnificent building that is also adorned with the white-blue tiles.
Porto Cathedral was originally a 12th-century construction and is therefore one of the oldest structures still standing in Porto. Over the years it has been interiorly redesigned with a Romanesque nave and choir, as well as a baroque 17th-century apse.
The Cathedral, built by Bishop Hugh, is also known for its impressive cloisters, as well as outstanding stained-glass window.
From here you will continue down towards the river to explore the Ribeira neighbourhood.
Porto’s riverside, Cais da Ribera is the scenic and colourful waterfront filled with quaint bars and authentic restaurants, popular with locals and visitors alike. It is a vibrant part of Porto where people gather, particularly in the evening and for special occasions. Maybe it is here that you will try Porto’s famous dish: Francesinha, a sandwich delicacy consisting of sausage, ham, and steak, topped with egg, melted cheese and a spicy tomato sauce.
The vivid houses climb up the hillside, only disrupted by narrow cobblestone alleys. It does not come as a surprise that the medieval area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – it seethes with ambience and history. If the steep streets and alleyways are too demanding, you can use the Elevador da Ribeira for a small fee, an amazing steel lift, to ascend or descend. The locals use it for transport up and down in Ribeira.
From Ribeira lower level, you can also take the funicular up to the historic defensive wall Muralha Fernandina, which dates from the 1300s.
To arrive at the other riverbank, cross the 45 m high Luís I Bridge at the lower, pedestrian level. The arched metal bridge spanning the Douro River is a landmark in Porto that was erected in 1886 as a contribution to the industrial age in Portugal. At the time it was the longest bridge of its kind in the world. It was designed by the architect Théophile Seyrig who was also associated with the Eiffel Company and there is some similarity to the Eiffel Tower construction.
On the southern riverbank you can now take a stroll round to the traditional wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, simply known as Gaia.
The history behind the wineries being located along the Vila Nova de Gaia riverbank is linked to the Douro Valley. The grapes have for centuries been grown on the sloping hillsides of the valley reaching across Portugal and far into Spain. Although the grapes were grown all along the valley, they were brought by boat (the special Rabelo boats) downstream to Porto where the wineries were established in the Vila Nova de Gaia district – due to lower taxes here than in Porto on the other riverbank.
Now it is time for some port wine tasting in one (or more) of the renowned port wine cellars on the Douro south bank. In some of the historic wineries in Vila Nova de Gaia you can, besides viewing the impressive rows of oak barrels filled with port, also visit a museum telling the fascinating century-old story of the port wine and the winemaking process in Portugal.
Pick your preferred cellar and go tasting the port – both the red and the white – that is really one of the best things to do in Porto! You will find all the famous ports here: Sandeman, Taylor’s Port, Cálem, Ferreira etc. A fee is probably charged to enter the cellars, but then you can also go on a tour, maybe even a combined fado tour, and have samples of their famous port wines. Sometimes you can even book the tours in advance – highly recommended during the peak season.
In case you are eager to take a river cruise there are lots of options. The Douro River offers various tour options – from short harbour trips in Porto to longer multi-day excursions on the 900 km long river having its source well inside Spain.
A river trip can be the perfect way to complete your one-day sightseeing in Porto (maybe even a dinner cruise?) – or perhaps you want to plan a longer trip into the Douro Valley. Read more about how to explore the Douro Valley.
Things to Do in Porto in One Day: Historic Ribeira & Vila Nova de Gaia
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Things to Do in Porto in One Day: Historic Ribeira & Vila Nova de Gaia:
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