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The historic center

Automatic translation

After packing your bags, the historic center of Porto is probably the first place you will want to go! It is the postcard par excellence, in the heart of the most charming cobbled streets, topped with medieval houses intertwined with other more recent constructions and on the banks of the Douro river. The entire districts of Sé de La Ribeira are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Page Summary

Historic Center of Porto Ribeira

The Ribeira quays, the bridge and a rabelo, from the end of the Dom Luis bridge

A word about Porto's UNESCO classification: The city center and the historic center of the city of Porto have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites since 1996. This inscription concerns the area of the Historic Center of Porto, the Dom-Luís Bridge and the Serra do Pilar Monastery (on the other side of the bridge). It is for the richness of its architecture, its continued occupation for millennia and 1000 years of development facing the sea and on the banks of the Douro River (fr), that this exceptional heritage is preserved today. You will realize during your trip, Porto is an exceptionally well preserved mosaic of influences from various eras: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassical and modern: all the styles merge, rub shoulders and integrate into a a beautiful set that will make you shudder with pleasure...

This is the opportunity to talk about the many scaffoldings and tarpaulins that you will come across throughout the city. It is in the process of restructuring and rehabilitating certain neighborhoods. It's not always very photogenic or practical for getting around, but in a few years, this work will make this set even more breathtaking with fantastic enhancement!

The must-sees of the Historic Center, Ribeira and Sé, in Porto

  1. Stroll along the Douro River, on the quays
  2. Take a stroll along the Douro River, on the river by boat this time!
  3. Cross the Dom Luis Bridge, on the way out the low deck and on the return the high deck!
  4. Enjoy the majestic views from the heights, for example the terrace of the Sé Cathedral
  5. Stroll through the tiny medieval streets
  6. Eating in a restaurant on the quayside… romantic and deliciously pleasant
  7. Visit the Stock Exchange Palace, the Sé Cathedral, the São Bento station, the São João National Theater…
  8. Go down Rua das Flores
  9. Treat yourself to an evening to discover Fado, traditional Portuense music
  10. Take the funicular to take a closer look at the ancient medieval wall and enjoy an unparalleled view of the Dom Luis bridge

Walking around Sé and La Ribeira

To get around Porto, you will definitely take the metro. It is likely that you arrive in the historic center via the São Bento station which is the only one to serve it. We then recommend that you go down the pedestrian street Rua Das Flores, one of the most beautiful streets in the city, which is at the same time bourgeois, elegant and trendy/fashionable. It is a shopping street, which connects the top of the city to the quays. Shops, boutiques, restaurants... One after the other, one on the street in beautiful buildings characteristic of the city. Look up at the wrought iron balconies and admire the electrical transformers that are painted all along the street. Don't miss the Church of Misericórdia, by Nicolau Nasoni (famous architect of the city, also at the origin of the Cathedral of Sé!). You will arrive at the Mercado Ferreira Borges, a rehabilitated cultural place with a bistro, just opposite a grassy area where the unmissable Stock Exchange Palace (Palacio da Bolsa) is located, obligatory visit! Continue going down the small steep streets, the view of the river becomes more and more beautiful!

Did you know? Porto, like many cities, offers beautiful graffiti and cool street art for fans! Read our article on street art in Porto.

Rua das Flores
Church of Mercy
Rua das Flores square and restaurants

The vibrant Rua das Flores, its buildings, shops, cafes, restaurants...

The Stock Exchange Palace, Palacio da Bolsa
Towards the docks of Porto

The square and the Stock Exchange Palace (Palacio da Bolsa), the Infante Henrique statue and the first views of the river!

You have now arrived on the quays, two streets to follow: Cais da Estiva and in its extension Cais da Ribeira which run along the river and lead you to the bridge. A must-see walk, here you are in the heart of Porto, take a breath and you can appreciate this astonishing spectacle before your eyes: passers-by amazed by the colors, flavors and smells emanating from the restaurants, street artists who brighten up the atmosphere with their songs and shows at all hours, the ballet of boats on the river, the bridge and its metro, the passers-by who cross it in a continuous flow, the cable car which takes travelers up to the other bank of Vila Nova de Gaïa, the funicular a little further on, the tuk-tuks which transport and guide the curious, the bicycles, scooters! It’s a surreal scene, in a heritage setting that will leave you speechless. We clearly realize here that what gives Porto all its charm is its tiered location on these hills which gently plunge towards the crystalline river. Take a moment for a walk to appreciate the majestic views of Vila Nova de Gaia and its wine cellars.

The Ribeira quays
Street artist on the docks of Porto
Cais da Ribeira Porto
Cais da Estiva Porto
View of the Douro La Ribeira
View of Vila Nova de Gaia

The quays of the Ribeira of Porto, a sparkling place, in constant excitement from morning to evening! Extraordinary !

It's time to immerse yourself in the heart of the medieval streets... They are often served by stairs ("Escadas", but there is also a free elevator to go up to the Cathedral). Everywhere you walk, going up towards the upper town, you risk a stiff neck because the views are so majestic over the gently unfolding city. Little tip, the “miradouro” (viewpoints) are well indicated on your favorite GPS applications, good news for photo enthusiasts. Don't miss the unmissable visit to Sé Cathedral and the view from the terrace that it shares with the Episcopal Palace. This is where the Porto Tourist Office is located (one of its branches).

Panorama of Rua das Aldas
Rua das Aldas viewpoint
Medieval alley historic center of Porto
Sé Cathedral
The Episcopal Palace Porto

Go up from the quays towards the upper town and enjoy the views and the picturesque streets. Sé Cathedral awaits you for a visit.

Zoom on the Dom Luis Bridge: This is the emblematic bridge of Porto, which also has 6, so 5 others that you can discover during a delicious boat trip from the quays (on both sides). Built in the 1880s, it is an all-metal bridge that spans the Douro to connect the Ribeira to Vila Nova de Gaia. 395m long that holidaymakers can take by crossing via the lower apron, or the upper apron (60m high) on foot or by metro. Built by the Eiffel workshops, its steel arch is impressive.

The Dom Luis Bridge
The Dom Luis Bridge2

What we like best about this neighborhood in the historic center

Its atmosphere is as buzzing as it is intimate. It is undoubtedly the liveliest place in Porto, especially in high season. There is an air of celebration there, yet from the banks of the quay to the tranquility of the shaded medieval streets, there is only one step.

Our advice for discovering the neighborhood

Get lost in the medieval streets, take the winding staircases whose end you can't see, look up at the village houses where the laundry is drying and where at all hours, employees are relaxing between two shifts. Get off the beaten track (and crowded alleys) by delving into the small streets and riverside gardens east of the Dom Luis Bridge. We particularly like the area early in the morning, when all the excitement of the quays sets in, the restaurant tables are set up, the first early morning vacationers stroll around nonchalantly.

To the east of the Dom Luis Bridge, there is a quieter area, currently undergoing partial rehabilitation. Go for a walk towards Passeio das Fontainhas to enjoy beautiful views of the bridge and the city. There is a nice working-class neighborhood to discover, along the river with allotment gardens, up to the junction with Ponte Do Infante.

Viewpoint east of the Dom Luis Bridge
Walk near the walls of Porto
Fontaines district east of the Dom Luis bridge

The district east of the Dom Luis Bridge (Fontainhas), more intimate and authentic, calmer and in rehabilitation

The essential visits to the old town of Porto

These districts of the historic center are an open-air museum: absolutely everything will catch your eye, the shimmering colors of the buildings, the sculpted and worked patterns in the stone or the wrought iron balconies, the dead ends and picturesque streets… However, there are unmissable visits (free and paid) that you need to know about in order not to miss out on Porto's remarkable heritage.

In the historic center and the city center, always walk around in awareness of being in residential areas, you rub shoulders with residents, you must respect their place of life (you are quickly tempted to enter a small courtyard or to stick your head out of the window of a house, avoid!)

Sé Cathedral (Sé Catedral do Porto)

Which sits on a magnificent terrace on one of the highest parts of the city. The Sé is recognizable by the battlements which adorn the top of its walls, it is imposing and commands respect. It dates from the 12th century and with its many alterations, it is a mixture of Romanesque style in its core, a Gothic cloister and a marked Baroque influence. Nearby, the Guerra Junqueiro House Museum (which is free with the Porto Card).

The Episcopal Palace of Porto (Paço Episcopal do Porto)

The visit is quick. You will see beautiful decorations and paintings on the ceilings, period decorations, very beautiful view of the city. Tip: take the ticket combined with the Sé Cathedral.

The São João Theater (Theatro São João)

It is interesting because of its imposing facade. It is a cultural place where you can see shows, but also take an interesting guided tour with a guide and/or audio guide.

São Bento Station (Porto São Bento)

It is a place as practical as it is beautiful. You will of course go there to take a train, for example to visit the surroundings of Porto, but also to admire the sumptuous Azulejos which adorn the entrance hall, recounting the History of Portugal through scenes of daily life.

The Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa, 1891)

It is truly one of the best tours in Porto, we recommend a 30 minute guided tour. You will pass through several reception and meeting rooms, each more beautiful than the last and different. You will learn a lot about the history of Portugal!

Casa do Infante

Small price (free with the Porto Card) for this large museum on several levels in a 12th century building, to learn more about the construction of Porto, its historical dimension and its accession to the title of Portugal's first trading post, in over time.

The Church of Saint Francis, (Igreja de São Francisco)

You will be amazed at the luxury, decorations and fine ornamental details of the interior of this church. Gothic style and Romanesque decoration, lots of gilding (more than 300kg estimated!). You can visit the catacombs, burial place of Franciscan friars.

Santa Clara Church (Igreja de Santa Clara)

It has been completely renovated! Entrance is low and the guided tour is led by an enthusiast!

Porto Sé Cathedral
Episcopal Palace and its terrace

Sé Cathedral and the esplanade where the Episcopal Palace is also located

The Sao Jao Theater
Sao Bento Station
Stock Exchange Palace

The Sao Jao Theater, Sao Bento Station and the Stock Exchange Palace

Sao Francisco Church Porto Photo: Adobestock Pelatophoto
Santa Clara Church

Golden interior of the Sao Francisco Church and the recently renovated entrance to the Santa Clara Church

Activities to do and beautiful views of the historic center

You can easily dedicate 2 days to exploring the city center. Especially if you are fond of cultural and heritage visits and have taken the time to explore several of the proposals above. Here are some ideas for activities to complement the religious and historical visits. Don't forget to wear good shoes when visiting these areas where the slope is significant and the ground can be slippery in wet weather.

The Dom Luis Bridge

It is the epicenter of Porto and is a landmark that will be useful during your stay, both in the landscape and on a map of Porto, to organize your visit to the city. You will surely take the bridge on foot (it is free, we reassure you!) starting from Ribeira. A promontory allows you to take beautiful photos at the end of the long esplanade with restaurants in front of the river. We recommend enjoying it at any time of the day. The view of the bridge and the view of the bridge from the banks is different in the morning or in the evening (superb sunset), at night it is a magical spectacle. Be careful of the metro when you are walking on the upper deck!

The Dom Luis Porto Bridge
Panorama of the Dom Luis bridge

Guindais Funicular (Funicular dos Guindais)

You can consider it as an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful view of the bridge, a (paid) way to avoid the stairs to go up to the heights of the city or a fun time (less than 3 minutes journey) to to take a walk ! Please note, you must pay in cash with the extra (rate varies depending on the day).

Porto Funicular
Porto Funicular

A cruise on the Douro

Let's go for adventure! You have probably taken photos of the ballet of boats, the Rabelos, the traditional flat-bottomed boats. They are a sort of barge, with the appearance of a larger boat. They were once used to transport wine barrels from the Douro Valley to the mouth of the river. Grab a ticket and climb on board for a cruise to meet the 6 bridges of Porto. The boats go up the river with their engine, to take you to discover the landscape upstream of the Ribeira quays (you can also take a boat from Vila Nova opposite) and then go back down to the confluence with the sea at Fos do Douro. It's really a nice walk, we recommend doing it in the morning or late afternoon, when the lights stretch with the sun on the horizon. The views of the city are magnificent and the commentary of the ride can be live or in the form of a recorded soundtrack. The prices are more or less the same for all companies, the journey is similar and the comfort too. It is possible to take tickets combined with other attractions such as the tuk tuk or the cellar visit.

Cruise on the Douro
Cruise on the Douro Porto

Visit the historic center by Tuk tuk

Are you tired of walking? Treat yourself to a guided tour of Porto and in particular the historic center, by tuk tuk! You will see them wandering everywhere on the roads and sometimes in the small alleys. Classic motorized or electric version (quieter), they carry 2 to 6 people. You can book in advance or organize your ride spontaneously by speaking with the drivers, who often speak several languages. Some tuk tuks are accessible to PRMs, others refuse children under 7 years old, there are several offers and circuits, it's up to you to choose your favorite on site! You can do night visits, and also combine tickets with a visit to a winery and a boat trip on the river.

Tuk Tuk ride
Tuk Tuk ride

Visit Porto by little train

The Porto Magic Train runs between the city and historic center. As in many countries, it's a smart way to familiarize yourself with the city, its points of interest and neighborhoods, and then find your way around more easily on foot. The tour lasts 2 hours, there is an audio guide which gives you basic historical and cultural information as the journey unfolds. The ticket may include a winery visit (a twin ticket) and a boat cruise. The departure will be in Sao Bento.

Take a ride on an old electric tram

Lovers of old machines will be in heaven with Porto's 3 tram lines! Line 22 leaves from the historic center, trams run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (approximately). The cost of access is modest, it is more of a tourist attraction than a means of transport, although the line which runs along the river to the beach is very practical because it complements the metro! Don't miss a visit to the Museo do Carro Eléctrico, the tram museum to learn everything about the history of this means of transport which has been overtaken by modernity.

Porto Tram Ride
Porto Tram Ride

A tourist bus tour

There are plenty of means of transport available to help you discover Porto, and the tourist bus is no exception. Tourist buses operate with a hop-on/hop-off system (you get on and off without limitation). There are several companies and circuits, in general the ticket is valid for 24 or 48 hours and they are in circulation all day. It's a great way to get around and visit at the same time, when you don't know the city at all. Buses pass by the main attractions and tourist spots on both sides of the riverbanks.

Porto tourist bus ride

You have explored the historic center from top to bottom, turn towards the rest of the city which is just as attractive!