Portugal is arguably one of the most beautiful and romantic countries in Europe. Beyond Lisbon, there are many picturesque and lovely cities and towns to visit. One of our favourite cities is Porto. It’s the perfect romantic getaway for 2-4 days if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Lisbon. Here are our recommendations for 12 romantic things to do in Porto:
Walk Hand in Hand Across the Dom Luís I Bridge
The beautiful Dom Luís I Bridge, built between 1881-1886, connects the city of Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the Douro River. This double-decked iron bridge allows for both vehicles and pedestrians to cross between the two cities. The lower span is for vehicles and pedestrians, while the upper span is used by the Porto Metro trains and pedestrians.
If the bridge is giving you Eiffel Tower vibes, there’s a reason – the engineer, Théophile Seyrig, was a disciple of Gustave Eiffel.
The top deck is 190 feet above the river, allowing for some amazing views of both cities.
The view from the Vila Nova de Gaia side:
In 1982 the Portuguese Institute for the Management of Architectural and Archaeological Heritage gave the bridge “Property of Public Interest” designation. For the most romantic views, walk across the bridge at sunset or after dark, when the city is all lit up.
Visit the Port Wine Cellars, Then Try a Francesinha
Porto is, of course the home of port wine. Port is a type of fortified wine made with distilled grape spirits. It’s usually a sweet red wine, but you can also find it semi-dry, dry, and even rose or white varieties. Although port-style wines are now also produced in countries such as Australia, Canada, Spain, Argentina, and others, only products from Portugal can be labeled as port.
Vila Nova de Gaia (across the Dom Luis I Bridge from Porto) is the best place to visit port wine cellars. After the grapes are harvested from the Douro River Valley region, the wine is stored and aged in cellars (also known as caves) in Vila Nova de Gaia.
When you visit, you’ll notice Rabelo boats along the Douro River. These are traditional Portuguese flat-bottomed cargo boats, once used to transport port wine up and down the river. Although they’re not used commercially anymore, once a year on June 24 (St. John’s Day) they participate in a Rabelo boat race.
There are approximately 60 port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, but note that not all of them are open for tours and tastings.
For a more detailed description of the port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, check out this post: 5 Amazing Port Wine Cellars to Try in Porto
Once you’ve had your fill of port wine, you’re going to want a bit of food in your stomach! Stop off at one of the wonderful restaurants in Vila Nova de Gaia or Porto and order a Francesinha.
The Francesinha (Portuguese for Little Frenchie) may look like a glorified grilled cheese sandwich, but it’s so much more. Porto’s take on the croque monsieur is in a class all by itself. Daniel da Silva adapted the standard croque monsieur recipe in the 1950s to suit Portuguese tastes at the time.
The main ingredients of a Francesinha include thickly-sliced bread, ham, sausage, steak or roast meat, and melted cheese, swimming in a special spiced tomato-and-beer sauce. Every restaurant has its own secret recipe. This is the epitome of Portuguese comfort food.
Not only is it a great hearty meal on cool fall or winter days, but it’s also a great hangover food after a night of too much port wine!
Take a Historic Tram around Porto
Although Porto is a fairly walkable city, there’s something special about hopping the tram and seeing things from a different perspective.
The first mule-drawn tram line opened in Porto in 1872. Electric tram lines opened in 1895, putting the mules out of business by 1904. At one time there were approximately 30 tram routes across Porto. But most were decommissioned in the decades between 1960-90s, in favour of buses, which were cheaper to operate and maintain.
Today, there are three tram routes to choose from, and all three exclusively use vintage tram cars.
Line 1: Passeio Alegre-Infante: follows the northern bank of the Douro River. This line is the most touristy.
Line 18: Massarelos-Carmo: this line connects the Tram Museum with Carmo next to the University of Porto.
Line 22: Circular Carmo-Batalha: this line has the largest number of stops (12) and connects Carmo and Praça da Batalha with the Funicular dos Guindais. It also has connections to three stations on the Porto Metro.
You can purchase tickets on board the trams.
Go to a Fado Show
Fado music is very emotional – song lyrics speak to love, loss, and longing. This musical style gained popularity in Lisbon in the early 19th Century. And although its roots still remain firmly in Lisbon, Fado has become increasingly popular in Porto as well. Depending on your take on the style, you may find the music moving, depressing, romantic, heart-wrenching, or empowering. But regardless of whether you like Fado or not, one thing is undeniable – the raw emotion that the singers pour into their performances.
You have a few options for Fado shows – you can enjoy Fado during dinner, or you can just go to show on its own, which is the less expensive option. You can even see a Fado show if you go to the Calem or Quevedo Port Wine Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Nosh Local Pastries Outdoors
Portugal’s pastries are second-to-none – as long as you don’t have an egg allergy!
Back in the 15th Century, monks and nuns used egg whites to starch their laundry, ending up with copious amounts of egg yolks. This surplus of egg yolks, combined with the increased trade in spices and sugar, spurred an increase in baking and confectioneries.
While Portugal’s most famous pastry is the Pastel de Nata, don’t just stop there. Every coffee and pastry shop carries a different selection of delectable pastries to delight your sweet tooth.
Porto residents aren’t as gung-ho on to-go cups as we are in North America, preferring to take the time to sit and sip their coffees indoors, or at outdoor cafes. So instead of grabbing a coffee and pastry on the run, find a seat and watch the world go by with your sweetie while indulging your sweet tooth.
Shop at the Lello Bookstore
Have you ever been to a bookstore that charged a fee for admission and came with its own brochure? It might seem a bit excessive, but Livraria Lello & Irmão, or Lello Bookstore for short, is totally worth the price of admission.
Admission comes with a brochure outlining the history of the bookstore. The nice thing about the admission fee though, is that if you end up buying a book, your admission fee goes towards your book price. This is actually a great marketing strategy!
The facade is decorated in Art Nouveau/Neo-Gothic style. The figures painted on the exterior represent Art, on the left (holding a sculpture in her hands) and Science on the right (she’s holding an anthropological symbol in her hands).
Pretty nice, right? But wait until you see the inside.
Lonely Planet named Lello the third most beautiful bookstore in the world. But it depends on which list you read; some consider this bookstore to be the most beautiful of them all.
The bookstore was built in 1906 and owned by Jose and Antonio Lello, two brothers, and is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. But, other than its age, why is this particular bookstore so popular, you might wonder?
While J. K. Rowling lived in Porto, she frequented this shop. In fact, this staircase was apparently her inspiration for Hogwart’s staircase in the Harry Potter series. What do you think?
The ceiling is also something to behold. Look up and admire the 8×3.5 meter stained glass skylight. The insignia in the center reads “Decus in Labore” in Latin, or “Dignity in Work”.
Although it’s often crowded, you can still take your time to appreciate the romantic Art Deco ambiance while perusing travel books for your next adventure!
Shop at the Local Markets
There’s something so wholesome and romantic about winding your way through a farmer’s market. Porto’s most famous market is Mercado do Bolhão (Bolhão Market, which dates back to 1837. The current building dates to 1914, and consists of two floors connected with numerous staircases.
Here you’ll find everything from fruits and vegetables, to olives, fresh flowers, and even wine.
Other great markets to check out include:
Clérigos market – filled with antiques and second hand items (every second and last Saturday of every month, from 10am to 8pm)
Porto Belo – antiques, vintage clothing and records, olive oil, preserves, and other homemade goods (every Saturday in Carlos Alberto Square)
Take a Douro Valley Wine Tour
The Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful and romantic regions in Portugal. A Douro Valley tour typically takes a full day, so factor that into your stay in Porto. If you love wine, you can’t miss this tour.
Tours typically include transportation (pick up and drop off), lunch, and visits to several wineries, plus tastings, of course! Some tours also include a rabelo boat tour or cruise. For a more detailed overview of what you can expect from a Douro Valley wine tour, check out my post on the tour we experienced: A Day Trip on a Douro Valley Wine Tour
Stroll Through the Crystal Palace Gardens
Walking through a lush, green garden is one of the most romantic things to do in Porto. Porto has many beautiful parks and gardens scattered around the city, but our favourite was the Crystal Palace Gardens (Jardins do Palácio de Cristal). This multi-leveled park affords amazing views of the Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia.
The gardens were designed in the 19th Century. The gardens got their name from the Crystal Palace of Porto, a huge glass building which was fashioned after the Crystal Palace in London. It was built for the International Exhibition of Porto held in 1865. Unfortunately it was demolished in 1952, so only its name remains.
The garden has a central fountain surrounded by four statues representing the four seasons.
You’ll also notice this interesting dome-shaped building – the Rosa Mota Pavilion (also known as the Super Bock Arena) was built in 1954. It’s still in use for concerts, sports events and other cultural events.
The park also features two museums – the Port Wine Museum and the Porto Romantic Museum.
Experience Porto at Night
Strolling the streets of Porto after dark is particularly romantic. After the storefronts close and the sun goes down, Porto falls into a more peaceful vibe. Be sure to check out the narrow, winding streets such as Santana Street in Bairro da Sé, one of the oldest streets in Porto.
If you’re looking for a little more action, head toward the river to Bairro da Ribeira. This neighborhood marks part of the historical center of Porto, and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Center list since 1996.
Here you’ll find all the night life you can handle – cafes, wine bars, restaurants and night clubs. For a truly romantic evening, find a restaurant with outdoor tables facing the river and indulge in some traditional Portuguese specialties – bacalhau (cod), bifanas (Portuguese sandwiches), or piri-piri chicken to name a few!
Admire the Eclectic Architecture
Porto’s architecture is a fascinating mix of modern, medieval, renovated and dilapidated. With many businesses moving stakes to Lisbon, Porto’s economy has suffered as a result. And while it’s port wine business continues to boom, it’s not enough to support the entire city’s economy. It’s estimated that 20-25% of the buildings in Porto are abandoned, derelict or in desperate need of repair and restoration.
Luckily, there are several local groups working to bring new life to some of these old buildings, and you’ll notice cranes and construction crews around the city working on new initiatives to bring Porto back to its former glory. So don’t let the sight of some of these buildings deter you from visiting Porto. The city still maintains a lively, warm, authentic vibe, unlike the busier pace felt in Lisbon.
Note the church architecture in particular, at once both ornate and austere, such as with the Carmo and Carmelitas Church:
Portuguese azulejo tiles abound on many building exteriors. Just look at the beautiful exterior of the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso (Church of Saint Ildefonso), covered in over 11,000 glazed tiles. This proto-Baroque-style church dates to 1739!
Have Brunch at the Majestic Cafe
You can’t have a romantic stay in Porto without having breakfast or brunch at the Majestic Cafe. This 1921 Art Nouveau-style cafe is classy beyond measure. It even has a doorman!
Take special note of the wall and ceiling decorations, especially the ornate plaster work. The cafe went through several rounds of restoration throughout its lengthy history.
Just note that eating here will cost you a few more Euros than other cafes in Porto. My breakfast, consisting of 1 slice of French toast and hot chocolate with whipped cream came to €14. (Note the “ghost fork” outlined in cocoa powder to make the plate look less empty. We found that really amusing!)
Despite the extra cost, eating at the Majestic made us feel a bit spoiled and lux. It’s not something we treat ourselves to every day, so it made the experience feel a bit more special. And, dare I say, it was romantic too – but I’m sure much of that also had to do with the company!