Local art and culture in Porto, Portugal

Porto is a beautiful place with its own special charm and is gradually becoming a trendy tourist destination.

There’s plenty to do in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city after Lisbon.

Many tourists only stay in Porto for 2-3 days, but if you have time I suggest you visit for longer and discover a bit more about this wonderful city.

Despite the growing number of tourists, it still retains its authentic feel.

You’ll notice it in the narrow, cobbled streets, the old buildings and the general pace of life in Porto. It’s so easy to fall in love with.

Read this guide to learn about some of the most famous places in the city and to discover cultural activities and the local art and architecture.

Porto free walking tours

Porto Mirador
Porto from above! We stopped at this lovely viewpoint during the walking tour

On my first day in the city, when I knew very little about it, I took a free walking tour in Porto to get to know the city.

The tour had a nice blend of history and important monuments with stories about the city’s lifestyle.

The tour lasts about 2.5 hours. Thanks to a charismatic guide with brilliant storytelling skills, you’ll find yourself fascinated and curious to know more.

There are several other free tours in Porto that you can take:

If you need more personalised tour, you can book a private tour of Porto here.

The most popular activities in Porto

See the views from Dom Luís I Bridge

Luís I Bridge
Luís I Bridge

The Luís I Bridge over the Douro river is one of Porto’s most famous symbols.

It’s also a great place to take pictures from. The bridge has two levels, both open to pedestrians.

To reach the top level and get the most marvellous views, just walk straight towards the bridge from São Bento station. The view is gorgeous.

This is probably the place to mention that if you have a fear of heights, you’d better skip this experience or maybe try the lower level.

Cross the bridge to the other side for more wonderful views of the city.

You can take a guided walking tour of the Ribera in Porto to learn more about the history of the city while taking in these beautiful views.

Take a cruise to see the 6 bridges of porto

Ponte Dom Luís I is one of Porto’s famous bridges on the Duoro River, but there are more bridges to see, each with its own style.

The six bridges of Porto are:

  • Dom Luís I.
  • Ponte de Infante.
  • Dona Maria Pia Bridge.
  • Ponte de São João.
  • Freixo Bridge.
  • Ponte da Arrábida.

If you like river cruises, then taking a cruise in Porto is a lovely experience to have when you visit the city.

There are plenty of options for cruises in Porto at different times of the day or evening, with or without food and entertainment:

See the magical livraria lello

A 360° view of the bookshop

You’ll find this on any list of top 10 things to do in Porto, as it’s one of Porto’s most popular attractions.

Who would have thought that a bookshop would be so fashionable?

Livraria Lello is the famous bookshop that inspired J. K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series.

It is one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal and it is indeed stunning.

As a major tourist attraction, the bookshop charges an entry fee and also provides a skip-the-line ticket option. You can find all the details on the official website.

Admire those portuguese tiles!

Porto Tiles by TalBright
My Porto tile collage. Get a print >>

Porto’s buildings are covered with colourful glazed ceramic tiles. They are everywhere you look and they are just marvellous to look at!

They are painted and create gorgeous patterns. Some with simple geometric shapes, some with impressive floral decorations. The dominant colour is blue, followed by yellow.

In some places they also have entire stories painted on them. Sao Bento railway station and Igreja Capela Das Almas are famous examples: 

Porto tiles
Porto tiles – Igreja Capela Das Almas

The Portuguese name for these tiles is azulejos. They’re used on all sorts of buildings, from churches to restaurants to regular houses.

They’re not just there for aesthetic reasons; they help in isolating the walls, especially in wet weather.

As you might expect, Porto’s souvenir shops are full of items with tile prints on them, from t-shirts to notebooks. You can also buy some tiles and take them home with you.

Get a tile collage print!

Go to a fado concert for traditional portuguese music

Fado is a deep and soulful musical style that Portugal is famous for. It is so significant to the local culture that it has made the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Attending a fado concert is one of the best cultural activities you can find in Porto and a great way to spend the evening with a captivating live performance.

Here are some options to choose from:

The portuguese centre of photography

Portuguese Photography Center, Porto, Portugal
Photo by Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I felt a bit uneasy when I walked into the photography museum.

There was something austere about it which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I saw some massive metal bars right in front of me. A bit strange…

I wondered if these were put there to accompany the temporary exhibition that was on display at the time, which was about life in prison.

It turned out that the museum is actually inside a prison. To be precise, this huge, impressive building used to be a prison up until the mid 1970s.

Nice to see they put it to good use!

Alongside the temporary exhibition showing life in prison by two photographers with very different styles, which was fascinating and disturbing at the same time, there is also a permanent exhibition. This one is the museum’s collection of cameras from different time periods.

It you’re into photography, or just want to experience this huge, weird building, check it out. Entrance is free.

Centro Português de Fotografia website / Facebook

Get inspired at porto’s art block

Not far from the city centre, there’s a bohemian heaven called the Art District, or the Art Block.

Rua de Miguel Bombarda and all the streets around it have an endless selection of art galleries, displaying contemporary art mostly, plus an array of design shops, indie fashion, vintage shops and craft studios.

Six times a year, all the galleries in the area unite for an event of simultaneous openings (inaugurações simultâneas), where they all launch new exhibitions at the same time. See the Facebook page for updates on the next event.

I found myself returning to the art block again and again during my visit to Porto. There’s so much to see.

The whole area has a very alternative feel, with cool cafes and hipster bars, but despite being artistic, it doesn’t feel pretentious or snobbish at all. That’s undoubtedly part of the charm of this city.

Enjoy porto’s street art scene

Street art in Porto by MrDheo
Street art in Porto by MrDheo

I loved the street art in Porto, especially the large murals.

The city has changed its policty toward urban art back in 2013, and some wonderful legal street are and been created since.

To find out more about street art in Porto, read my full guide here or take a free street art tour.

Porto architecture tour

Porto Architecture Tour Serralves Museum Porto
Porto Architecture Tour: Serralves Museum

Walking around downtown Porto, I noticed some of it’s captivating architecture.

Looking up is always a good idea. What I didn’t know though, was that some of Porto’s most impressive buildings are actually located outside the city centre.

Going on a guided architecture tour of Porto by AtWill was a way to discover the parts of the city I probably wouldn’t have discovered on my own.

This tour just reinforced what every traveller knows: always go touring with a local, it’s priceless.

The guide, a Porto-born architecture student, had a deep understanding and passion for the subject.

She shared a wealth of information and knowledge, not just about the buildings but also about the history and current state of the city.

The tour lasts four hours (with a break), but you’ll hardly feel the time pass.

In these four hours I learned about Porto’s leading architects and their personal styles and got a glimpse into the local culture from a fresh perspective. 

You get to explore different types of buildings, from public institutes to modern landmarks, from social housing to metro stations.

You’ll see an unexpected side of Porto and get a very interesting picture of the relatively recent history of the city.

The tour starts at one of Porto’s most famous museums, Serralves Museum.

It’s an impressive building that teaches you a lot about the style of its architect, Siza Vieira. Later in the tour you’ll find that you can identify his style in other buildings too. 

The tour covers some other famous sites, like Casa da Música (a modern city landmark) and Trindade Station. It will also take you to places you may not have thought to visit, like the Porto’s Architecture Faculty – an amazing architectural piece.

Porto Architecture Tour Casa da Musica
Porto Architecture Tour: Casa da Musica

AtWill – Porto Tours / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Where to stay in porto

There are three areas in Porto that are popular with tourists and I recommend you stay in one of them to make the most of your visit to the city:

Baixa is Porto’s downtown area. Staying here means you’ll be right in the centre and close to all the attractions.

Ribeira is the area near the river, that’s always lively with bars and restaurants.

Cedofeita is where the art district of the city is (Rua Miguel Bombarda) and so it’s pretty trendy. It’s also central so you’ll be close to all the main points of interest in Porto.

Here are my accommodation recommendations for each of those districts – all are very highly-rated and offer good value money:

Myo Design House  is for lovers of vintage decor.

Myo Design House - where to stay in Porto
Myo Design House – beautiful central accommodation in Porto

It offers suites and studios inside a renovated building in a super central location in Baixa, next to São Bento metro station. Click here to find out up-to-date prices.

InPatio Guest House  is in Ribeira, close to the river.

InPatio Guest House - Porto accommodation
InPatio Guest House – gorgeous rooms by the river in Porto

This is the place to book if you want to stay in beautifully decorated rooms, within walking distance from Porto’s sightseeing attractions. Check availability here.

Gallery Hostel  is a one of the best budget-friendly  accommodation options in Porto.

Porto is a very affordable city (even more than Lisbon). If you’re travelling on a budget, Porto is an excellent destination to choose.

Gallery Hostel Porto budget accommodation
Gallery Hostel – Porto affordable accommodation

The hostel is located in trendy Rua Miguel Bombarda. It has both private and shared rooms, and breakfast is included. Click here to find a bed.

More about porto & portugal

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Porto city guide - things to do and see
Porto city guide

I would like to thank AtWill for inviting me on the architecture tour. All opinions are my own.



Northern Portugal is high on my list for 2018 (along with Brazil). I’ve been planning on starting my trip in Porto and your post confirms my plans. Although I have vertigo, I think I must force myself to the top of that bridge.

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