Porto, Portugal ©Esme Fox

What to do in Porto in 24 hours

Recently, we got the chance to visit the northern Portuguese city of Porto for just one day, before heading off to the centre of the country for work. We may have only had a short time, but we packed a lot in. Here’s what to do in Porto in 24 hours.

Walk over the Dom Luís I Bridge

This is without a doubt one of the most impressive sights in Porto. Dominating the eastern edge of the city, the bridge was designed by the partner of Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) Téophile Seyrig and measures 172 metres across. It elegantly spans the Douro River, connecting Porto’s Ribera district with neighbouring Gaia, where the city’s port houses are situated. It’s a double bridge, meaning you can cross on top or down below. Each one offers a unique viewpoint over the city. As you’re crossing from Porto to Gaia, look to your left and you’ll see another bridge, the old Dona Maria Pia bridge, which was actually designed by Gustave Eiffel himself.

Porto's Dom Luís I Bridge
Porto’s Dom Luís I Bridge ©Esme Fox

Go port tasting in the cellars of Gaia

Other than the spectacular views of Porto, the main reason for crossing the bridge is to go and visit the port wine lodges of Gaia. The city of Porto has been associated with port for hundreds of years and there are many historic port cellars to visit. The port is made in the Douro Valley and then transported to the cellars in Gaia where it ages. In the past, it was transported down river in traditional rabelo boats, but today it’s transported by road instead. If you’re wondering what to do in Porto in 24 hours, then visiting a port wine cellar is a must. There are so many port wine lodges here, that it can be difficult to choose which one to visit. We decided to visit Sandeman, one of the most historic and iconic, but other good ones include Ferreira, Offley and Taylor’s. Each visit includes a tour to learn about how the port is aged and see where it’s stored, as well as a tasting session.

Sandeman wine port lodge, Porto
Sandeman port wine lodge in Gaia ©EsmeFox

Visit the Palacio da Bolsa

This large building in the centre of the city may look pretty uninteresting from the outside, but it’s definitely worth heading inside for a look. Built in the 19th century, it’s where the city’s stock market is housed, and is still home to many official offices today. Because of this, you have to go on a guided tour. Tours last 45 minutes and cost €10 per person. Inside you’ll see stunning mosaics, grand staircases, an elegant chapel, and the highlight of the palace – the ‘Islamic Room’ inspired by the decorations of the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Because of its magnificent design, it has even been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Palacio da Bolsa, Porto
The Palacio da Bolsa in Porto ©EsmeFox

Sample the local cuisine

Porto is so full of restaurants, cafes and pastry shops, that you can’t help but feel you need to stop for snack every half an hour or so. The city’s most famous dish is the Francesinha. Essentially it’s a sandwich filled with ham, sausage and other roasted meats. It’s then smothered in melted cheese and sits in a bowl of thick tomato soup. You need to be pretty hungry to finish this one. Almost every restaurant in the city will serve them, so you don’t need to look hard to find one.

Francesinha, Porto
Porto’s famous francesinha ©EsmeFox

Explore the historic centre

Porto is a historic and picturesque city, and every view is hotchpotch mix of colourful buildings, tiled houses and charming squares. If you’re not sure what to do in Porto in 24 hours, even simply just walking around will be a rewarding experience. Some places not miss include the grand cathedral; the Lello & Irmão Bookstore, said to have inspired J.K. Rowling’s description of Hogwart’s library in Harry Potter; and the São Bento train station, decorated with Portugal’s iconic blue and white tiles.

what to do in Porto in 24 hours
Porto’s colourful architecture ©EsmeFox