Before we started our first ever Camino de Santiago (we chose the Camino Portuguese), we spent a few days in and around Portugal’s capital Lisbon, followed by a few days in Porto (Portus Cale in Roman times), the city that lent the country its name.
If you are in Porto for a conference, or similar to us, plan to start your Camino from here, you may only have a day to get to know this beautiful city. We have therefore created a one-day itinerary of experiences that pack as much in as sensible while giving you an insider’s view of the city that will make you want to come back for more.
Porto is a city that is easy to fall in love with. We really like Lisbon, but with its deeper and narrower Douro river valley, its striking bridges and historic (sometimes a bit scruffy) architecture, Porto is even more picturesque than Lisbon (in our opinion anyway).
If you love churches, you’re in heaven here (pun intended). It seems the number of churches, especially those with blue azulejo tiles (inside/outside or both), is only topped by the number of places where you can enjoy a drink and/or meal. People from Porto are not called Tripeiros (Tripe-Eaters) for no reason: they love their food (and tripe is just one, albeit unusual, a delicacy you can taste here).
Porto is a very walkable city. We had first planned to get the Andante card (which works in the same way as Lisbon‘s Viva Viagem card) but ended up walking pretty much everywhere… another good training opportunity if you’re starting your Camino from here.
So, let’s get right into it…
For a day of exploring, you need a good base. Our tip is the Traveller Caffe. There are actually two: one is around the corner from Porto’s famous Majestic Cafe, a Belle Époque gem (but a bit on the expensive side); the other one is opposite stunning São Bento Railway Station.
After breakfast, head to Praça da Liberdade (Freedom Square) to start your exploration with a free walking tour by Take Porto. Their tours start from the Fonte da Juventud sculpture (look for the blue umbrellas) and take around 2 1/2 hours.
Knowledgeable and enthusiastic, your morning tour guide will give you a great overview of the history of the city as you walk past some of the main sights. No wonder Porto’s historic centre was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Don’t forget to tip your guide if you’ve enjoyed the tour.
By the time the tour is finished, you’ll have worked up an appetite, for sure. Why not try some local cuisine? Tripe may not be on everyone’s culinary bucket list but if it is, by all means, try Tripas à Moda do Porto.
Other local delicacies include
- Bifana: a pork sandwich. Try it at Conga.
- Francesinha (the Frenchy): a layered roast beef/ham/sausage sandwich covered in cheese, bathed in tomato sauce and (often) accompanied by fries. You may want to share one because it really is as filling as it sounds. Our recommendations are Francesinha Café or Bufete Fase.
Why not explore the area you’ve walked through in the morning a bit more?
For a bit of old-world charm with a Harry Potter touch, pop inside Livraria Lello. We’re still not sure if having to pay to access a bookshop is the biggest scam or just a clever income and crowd management strategy (to be fair, your entry is being deducted if you buy a book). We let you decide.
Alternatively, climb up the Torre dos Clérigos (Clerics’ Tower) for (yet more) gorgeous views over the city or stroll a bit more around the Sé / Barredo / Ribeira neighbourhoods for your Instagram fix. If you find yourself at the Ribeira waterfront and are too lazy to walk back up, take the Funicular dos Guindais (just to the east of the Dom Luís I Bridge).
Given you only have a day (and the tours really are that good), we recommend joining Take Porto‘s free afternoon walking tour. Giving you an insight into the cultural side (or soul) of Porto, it covers a different area (and a different, though no less enthusiastic guide, will provide their own twist to the tour).
Your tour will be finished just in time to make it to Casa da Guitarra for another cultural experience: Fado as 6h (Fado at 6). Ana Margarida and her two musicians will introduce you to this melancholic and uniquely Portuguese style of music. The show takes 60 minutes in all (including a 15-minute break during which some port wine is being served).
You may want to make a reservation to not miss out: we turned up at the door about 15 minutes before the show, and there were only about 5 seats left.
After the show, head across the river along the top of the Dom Luís I Bridge. The Miradouro da Serra do Pilar just outside the monastery of the same name is one of the best places (if not THE best) to watch the sunset.
Your tour guide/s, for sure, will share some recommendations for dinner with you (if not ask). So either before or after sunset, dip into some more authentic Porto cuisine.
Finish off the day with a stroll along the Vila Nova de Gaia waterfront, and maybe some more port wine for dessert.