As millennials, we like to explore off the beaten path. We want to visit places not flocked to the brim with tourists and the places we visit need to be aesthetically pleasing (#doitforthegram). Millennials are also more in tune with sustainable tourism in making sure that their travels don't impact the earth in any detrimental way.
Porto is a relatively small city (in terms of attractions to visit) and there aren’t hundreds of tourists hogging up the city’s attractions. Surprisingly, Porto (and Portugal as a whole) has remained off people’s bucket lists. Until now, that is.
Thanks to Instagram and all the travel awards Portugal has won recently, more and more people are starting to notice how authentically beautiful Porto is.
I have carefully curated this guide on how millennials can fully explore this city by creating the millennial guide to exploring Porto. But first, you’ll need to be able to navigate around the city and even though most people know English, it helps to communicate with the locals by learning a few Portuguese words.
Basics to learn for your vacation in Portugal
I’ve created an infographic that will help you with some basic terminology for your adventure to Portugal.
The Millennial Guide To Exploring Porto: 16 Cool Things To Do
Dine At Trendy Spots
If you’re looking at trying out trendy but great quality restaurants and bars, then you should check out this list. These places are popular among locals and tourists alike.
Gin Tasting at The Gin House
With over 160 types of gins and exotic tonics to try, you could easily spend the day trying out new combinations of G&T. Based in super trendy downtown Porto on Cândido dos Reis street, which happens to be one of the busiest avenues of the city.
The Gin House recognised the gap in the market for a luxurious and stylish bar that serves hundreds of unique combinations of gin and tonic. It certainly makes my mouth water as I think about all the gins I need to taste! The G&T comes in fishbowl-sized glasses so you could attempt to try all the combinations but you’ll end up piddled in no time.
Cafe Candelabro is an arty/hipstery cafe that also doubles as a bookstore. The idea is simple yet so awesome. You go in, order your delicious coffee and then pick out a book to read. Most books are for sale and they are generally photography, arts and design books.
Pro Tip: This Cafe is perfect for solo travellers. No more feeling awkward at cafe’s when you’re sitting alone because you’ll have a book to keep your attention occupied.
Another pro tip: If you have any books that you’d like to sell then bring them along and negotiate a price with the staff.
Cafe do Cais
This restaurant has amazing burgers, amazing views and an amazing atmosphere. I know burgers aren’t traditionally Portuguese but you don’t come to this restaurant for authentic Portuguese food. You’ll come to this restaurant because you have an amazing view while you’re sipping on your gin and munching on your burger.
You might even be lucky and have a seagull swoop down and steal some of your fries while you eat. This didn’t happen to me but it did happen to the table across from me. Was such a funny moment!
Situated right by the river Douro, I recommend coming here for dinner and then taking a nighttime strong along the river and admiring the views and checking out the shops.
Rota do cha
This cute establishment is found close to downtown in a boho area. If you’re really into your teas then this place will be heaven for you! It’s a quiet, spiritual and charming little tea house with great options for tea. There are 300 different flavours of tea – need I say more?
You can read, spend time in the Indian room and enjoy the garden on a summery day. It’s a great place to reflect and quieten your mind in the middle of the urban jungle while sipping on a hot cup of tea.
Unique Things To Do
Ride the Cable Cart
To truly experience one-of-a-kind views then riding the cable cart from Gaia to the Dom Luis Bridge (or vice versa) is a must! You’ll see the river and Porto’s architecture from above. The trip is only 6 minutes long but those 6 minutes allows you to experience Porto from a unique angle.
There was no queue to get on the cable cart and the price of the trip is 6 euros (one way) so it’s quite expensive but if you want to get the perfect picture then it’s well worth the money.
On both ends of the cable car, there are points of interests to check out. Gaia has Porto wine lodges and the river cruises are accessible from that part of town. On the other side, the Dom Luise Bridge can be walked by pedestrians and is also close to the Serra do Pilar convent church.
Arrábida Bridge Climb
If you want to experience something that you cannot do in all of Europe, then you need to climb the Arrábida bridge. It costs 12.5 euros for the tour which includes a guide and all the safety equipment.
The top of the bridge is 65 meters high from the river and you’ll ascend and descend the bridge by climbing 262 steps each way. Receiving the chocolate and a glass of Port at the top is a great treat for all the climbing you have to do to get to the top!
Support the Portuguese locals by going on a walking tour in Porto. There is a trend among millennials to support local food, experiences and guides on their travels. The demand for authenticity and experiences contributes to an increase in popularity with locally run tours, restaurants, and shops.
So if you’re thinking of experiencing authentic and deeper travel adventures then look into going on city walking tours. It’s great for the environment (you’re not using any modes of transport) and you’re supporting the locals. There are lots of free walking tours but tip the guide if he/she was great at showing you around the city.
See a Fado Show
I experienced a Fado show in Lisbon but I know that you can also find fantastic Fado shows in Porto too. You’ll get to enjoy dinner at a traditional Portuguese restaurant while listening to Fado. It’ll give you a sense of longing, sorrow and remembrance. Fado sings about love, suffering and loss.
Although Fado was initially introduced in Lisbon, the tradition found its way to Porto too. If you want to find out where you can see a Fado show then check out this article.
Do It For The Gram
You’ll find plenty of insta-worthy pictures by going to the following recommendations of mine. Although, I’d like to think that Porto is quite beautiful no matter where you go. Just venture off and wander aimlessly and you’ll be sure to stumble on plenty of beautiful buildings and photo opportunities.
São Bento Train Station
Considered one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, the São Bento train station was completed in 1903 and has over 20 000 azulejo ceramic tiles covering the inside of the building.
Even though this train station is highly touristic, it is not overcrowded with tourists and you’ll be able to take some beautiful photos without too many people clogging up your pictures.
The blue and white azulejo tiles have a story of wars, transport and history to tell. Take a look closer and unravel what the beautiful tiles have to say. The train station is in downtown Porto and is walking distance to other attractions.
Get your Harry Potter on at Livraria Lello
Being a complete Harry Potter nerd, I am sourly upset that I didn’t get to see this bookstore. The Livraria Lello is said to have inspired J.K Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone and by looking at the pictures online, it’s hard not to see why.
The bookstore has a beautifully shaped staircase that is wooden, twists upwards and spirals into other stairs. It looks a lot like the moving staircase described at Hogwarts.
You will need to pay to get inside the bookstore and to avoid the long queue of tourists, you can book your ticket online. The ticket costs 5.5 euros and is redeemable against a book purchase if you decide to buy.
Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, you will still appreciate the bookstore as it is considered the 3rd most beautiful library in the world, according to Lonely Planet.
Pro tip: If you are obsessed with Harry Potter then go visit the Porto University. The students dress up in black robes which is what the students at Hogwarts wear.
Just a cool fact: J.K Rowling found the name for Salazar Slytherin by taking inspiration from Portugal’s former dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. Pretty cool, right?
Stroll along the Ribeira
Porto’s Ribeira, which is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, is beautiful in both the daytime and evening. During the day, the streets are lively and you’ll get to see the colourful Portuguese architecture. The evening has the streets lit up with lights and it gives such a romantic atmosphere.
Gaze at the fishing boats while you walk up and down the quay. I spent many hours taking photos of the Ribeira, the views are stunning and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Visit the Porto Sign
Walk uphill from the Ribeira and you’ll find yourself in the centre of Porto. The large, blue Porto sign is hard to miss! Surprisingly, you’ll find people patiently waiting for everyone to get a turn to take a picture with the sign. It’s quite nice because I remember visiting Amsterdam and the sign was always being hogged up by at least 20 tourists.
There is nothing wrong with visiting touristy attractions if that’s what you enjoy. I like to see a mix of both when I’m travelling. Tourist attractions can also offer a great experience and generally, they are popular for a reason! Most likely it’s because it is a must-see!
Sé Catedral do Porto
This cathedral is home to some of the greatest views in Porto. You should visit Sé, light a candle and then go outside to admire the impressive cityscapes. The cathedral itself is not that impressive, especially if you’re accustomed to seeing the many churches around Europe, but it is the biggest church in all of Porto. I recommend going to check it out for the views that you’ll see.
Pro tip: Check out the Cloister of Porto Cathedral which has beautiful blue and white Azulejos tiles that depict stories from the Bible.
Walk The Dom Luis Bridge
You can walk on both the bottom and top platforms of this bridge. The bottom platform has two small pedestrian platforms on either side. Cars are allowed to drive on the bottom platform and there is not much room to walk and take pictures.
The top platform has no cars but watch out for the metro trains though. There’s more space to manoeuvre and the views are delightful. Quite busy with tourists but you’ll get to admire the perfect views of Gaia.
Climb the Torre dos Clérigos
The tower has over 200 steps and 49 bells. If you crave the exercise then you can pay to climb the tower. The cost for entering the tower is 5 euros and it’ll give you access to the Clérigos Museum too. It’s highly unlikely you’ll need the exercise though, Porto is so hilly that you’ll end up exercising those legs by just wandering around.
Igreja do Carmo
If you’re not tired of seeing the Azulejos tiles by now (nope nope nope), then visit the Carmo church. The outside is covered with the blue and white tiles. The building is truly an architectural gem.
Pro tip: Don’t pay to enter the catacombs. The general consensus is that it is a tourist trap with nothing more to show than a locked room with silverware inside.
The Millennial Guide To Exploring Porto: Tips and Tricks
- Being connected is important to me. I had bought a sim card in Spain with the promise that it would work in Portugal too (hint: it didn’t). I spent hours trying to find a Vodafone store in Porto and couldn’t find a single branch after walking around the centre. If you’re like me and want to always be connected then my advice is to buy a global sim card. It’ll work even when you cross borders.
- Most Portuguese restaurants don’t cater to food allergies so you could have a hard time finding the right restaurant. I love coffee and I always order it with soya milk instead because I’m lactose intolerant. Yup, I know, it sucks. I learnt how to say soya milk in Portuguese, which is ‘leite de soja’, but the waiters kept looking at me like I was from another planet. Either I was butchering the words so badly or they don’t have any dairy alternatives. Your best bet would be to go to a vegan restaurant (even if you’re not vegan) because they normally cater to food allergies at these type of restaurants.
- The metro is an affordable transport option but I was staying in a suburban area in Porto which was 30 mins away from the River Douro. I first used a taxi to get there and wow was that an experience in itself! The roads are narrow and the taxi’s driving is too crazy for my liking. I ordered an Uber on my way back to the hotel which turned out to be a lot calmer and safer.
That’s a wrap!
I hope you enjoyed my Porto guide for millennials. I would love to go back and explore the city further as there seem to be so many hidden gems I need to discover. Please, share this post if you liked it! And don’t forget to leave your feedback in the comments below.