View of Dom Luis I bridge from Vila Nova de Gaia

Things to do in Porto before the Camino

Porto is the starting point of the Camino Portugues for the majority of pilgrims and it’s definitely worth spending a few days exploring the city before you set off to Santiago de Compostela. There’s a lot to do in Porto and you can easily fill several days with sightseeing.

Porto is a very walkable city but, be warned, it’s also very hilly. If you’re visiting before your Camino, it’s good practice for the hills you’ll encounter along the way but it’s important not to overdo it – it’s surprising just how quickly the miles rack up when you’re sightseeing, and you need to save your energy for the Camino.

There is a hop-on hop-off bus if you don’t want to walk too much, and you can combine the bus ticket with a boat cruise too. For something a bit different I spotted some classic car sightseeing tours, or you could take a tuk tuk, or hire an e-bike.

There are so many things to do in Porto which means that, if you only have a day or two before your Camino, you won’t get to do it all, but these are some of the highlights.

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Visit the Cathedral

A visit to Porto Cathedral should be at the top of your list as this is where you can buy your pilgrim passport. They’re sold at the ticket office in the cathedral and for an extra €3 you can enter the cathedral. You can also buy shells here to attach to your backpack. As well as the cathedral itself, the admission fee also includes access to the cloisters, and you can head to the roof for stunning views over the city.

Exterior of Porto Cathedral
Golden altar in Porto Cathedral
Cloisters of Porto Cathedral

In front of the Cathedral you’ll spot the way marker which is the official starting point of the Camino from Porto.

Backpack in front of a Camino de Santiago Waymarker in Porto

Wander round the Ribeira district

The Cathedral stands high above the Ribeira neighbourhood and, if you’re starting your Camino on the Senda Litoral, you’ll walk this way at the start of your journey when you set off.

However, it’s worth spending some time exploring this area even if you will be passing through on your Camino. It’s a jumble of narrow streets lined with colourful buildings, many of which have a somewhat dilapidated look to them which, to me anyway, adds to their charm.

Narrow streets of the Ribeira district in Porto
Narrow streets of the Ribeira district in Porto

Cross the Ponte Dom Luis I to Vila Nova de Gaia

There are six bridges over the Douro connecting Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia (or simply Gaia for short) but Ponte Dom Luis I is probably the most recognised, and one of Porto’s most famous landmarks. This bridge was built in 1886 by one of Gustave Eiffel’s students and has two levels – the lower level for cars, and the upper level which has a metro line.

If you’re crossing the bridge from Ribeira I’d suggest walking across to Gaia on the lower level and then heading back to Porto on the upper level.

View of Dom Luis I bridge from Vila Nova de Gaia

Ponte Dom Luis I is one of the best spots for taking photos and if you head across the bridge in the evening you might be lucky enough to catch a stunning sunset over the Douro.

Vila Nova de Gaia is where you’ll find all the port houses which leads me on nicely to my next suggestion.

Sample some Port wine

Port is a dessert wine taking its name from the city of Porto from where it was originally shipped. To be officially called port, the grapes must have been grown in the Douro Valley area of Portugal.

There are plenty of port cellars in Gaia that you can visit for a tour where you’ll learn about the history of Porto’s famous drink, and of course, have a taster or two.

View of Porto and Dom Luis I bridge from Vila Nova de Gaia

Even if you think you don’t like port, it’s worth a visit as you might just be pleasantly surprised. There are three types of port – ruby, tawny, and white – with ruby being the most common. Whichever port cellar you choose to visit, you’ll get to sample each type so you can make your own mind up as to which one you prefer.

If you want to know even more about port, and have enough time, you can take a day trip to the Douro Valley.

Discover some street art

I’m a huge fan of street art and there’s plenty of it in and around Porto and Gaia.

Probably the most famous of the street art here is the 3D Half Rabbit by Bordalo II which is made out of recycled materials and looms over the corner of Rua Guilherme Gomes Fernandes Rua and Rua Dom Afonso III.

Half rabbit street art in Vila Nova de Gaia

Back on the Porto side of the river there are lots of quirky pieces in and around the Ribeira district and, if you head along Rua das Flores, you can’t miss the electrical boxes which have nearly all been decorated, many of them by the Portuguese artists Isa Silva and CiriacoSir.  

Decorated electrical boxes on Rua das Flores in Porto
Decorated electrical boxes on Rua das Flores in Porto
Decorated electrical boxes on Rua das Flores in Porto
Decorated electrical boxes on Rua das Flores in Porto

While you’re on Rua das Flores look out for Perspentico by Liqen, a huge blue cat which peeps out from a wall on Rua de Afonso Martins Alho. Not the easiest to get a photo of, as it’s on the smallest street in Porto, but worth a look anyway.

Marvel at the beautiful azulejos

For more traditional works of art keep any eye out for the beautifully tiled buildings that Portugal is famous for. The predominantly blue and white tiles are known as ‘azulejos’ and you’ll spot them all over Portugal. In fact, when you’re walking the Camino Portugues it’s rare to go more than a few miles without spotting at least one tiled building.

One of the most famous examples in Porto is the interior of the São Bento Railway Station which is decorated with tiles that depict Portugal’s history and culture.

Interior of Sao Bento station in Porto

There are also many highly decorated churches around Porto including Igreja dos Carmelitas on Praça de Gomes Teixeira, Igreja de Santo Ildefonso on Rua de Santo Ildefonso, and Capela das Almas on Rua de Santa Catarina.

Igreja dos Carmelitas in Porto
Igreja dos Carmelitas
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso in Porto
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
Capela das Almas in Porto
Capela das Armas

Go shopping at Livraria Lello

This bookstore frequently has a place in lists of the world’s most beautiful shops. With its Art Nouveau meets Gothic exterior it’s been in existence in its current form since 1906.

It’s on Rua das Carmelitas and you’ll probably spot the queue to get in before you see the shop itself. Yes, that’s right. It’s so popular that you need a ticket to get in.

Livraria Lello bookshop in Porto

The entry ticket is €5 but you can actually redeem it against any purchase you make.  

The interior is popular with Instagrammers but another reason for its popularity is down to the fact that JK Rowling used to come here when she lived in Porto.

Now I love a mooch around a bookshop but, I’ll be honest, having never read any of the Harry Potter books I wasn’t bothered about seeing it for that aspect, and the thought of the queues and the crowds inside put me off visiting. The interior is something that I would like to see though so on my next trip to Porto I’ll be buying a ticket for as early in the day as possible in the hope of beating the crowds. It’s open every day from 9am until 7.30pm.

Climb Torre dos Clerigos

If, after climbing to the roof of the Cathedral, and walking across Ponte Dom Luis I, you still want to see more of Porto from above then you can climb the 200 steps to the top of the Torre dos Clerigos.   

Built in the 18th century, you can spot the tower from most parts of Porto.

Torre dos Clerigos and the colourful houses of the Ribeiro district in Porto

If you do want to climb to the top, you’ll find the tower on Rua de São Filipe de Nery, just a short walk from Livraria Lello.

Have your photo taken with the Porto sign

Have you even been to Porto if you don’t get a photo of the big blue Porto sign?

It currently stands in front of the Câmara Municipal do Porto in Praça General Humberto Delgado.

Depending on what day of the week you’re there you may find there’s a queue of tourists waiting for their photoshoot. I was there on a Sunday and the queue was about twenty families deep so I just stood to the side and snapped a quick photo in between the changeovers!

Blue Porto sign

Take a cruise down the Douro

If you’ve had your fill of walking for now and want to save your feet for the big journey ahead of you, why not take to the water and enjoy a cruise up and down the Douro?

You can jump on a boat in the Ribeira district not far from the Ponte Dom Luis I, with boats running regularly throughout the day. Most cruises last about an hour and along the way you’ll get unique views of the city and learn about the various bridges that cross the river as well as Porto’s history.

Dom Luis I bridge from a Douro river cruise in Porto

Wander in the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal

If you need a breather from the hustle and bustle of the city it’s worth a detour to the Crystal Palace gardens. The gardens were built in 1865 and, although the Crystal Palace is no more, the gardens are a delight and offer more gorgeous views of the Douro.

As well as plenty of trees and flowers you’ll also spot peacocks wandering around the grounds.

Lily pond in the Crystal Palace gardens in Porto
View of Douro River from the Crystal Palace gardens in Porto

The Rosa Mota building (aka the Super Bock Arena) is in the Crystal Palace gardens and is home to Porto 360, one of Porto’s newest experiences – a climb to the top of the dome if you still haven’t had your fill of panoramic views of Porto.

Stroll along the banks of the Douro

If you’re not planning on taking the Senda Litoral out of the city when you start your Camino you might want to take a stroll along the banks of the Douro.

View of Douro river in Porto

With the river on your left you’ll be heading towards the Atlantic Ocean where you’ll pass another of Porto’s bridges – Ponte da Arrabida. This is one of the most recent bridges, only built in 1963 and, if you fancy, you can climb the arch of the bridge.

If bridge climbing isn’t your thing you can keep walking where you’ll eventually reach Matosinhos where a lot of pilgrims start their Camino. Matosinhos has some lovely beaches and a multitude of seafood restaurants and, from there, you can get a tram back to Porto.

If you want to know more about the walk along the Douro you can read my day one experience on the Camino Portugues taking the Senda Litoral from Porto.

Try some of the local cuisine

You’re literally spoilt for choice in Porto with hundreds of restaurants to choose from.

If you’re a fish and seafood lover then you’re in luck thanks to Porto’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Fishy Portuguese delicacies include bacalhau (salt cod) and sardines.

My favourite place is Floresta Café by Hungry Biker on Rua das Flores. They have an amazing all day brunch menu – I loved the scrambled eggs, avocado and smoked salmon on toast so much that I went back twice!

Smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and avocado on toast

Carnivores will also find themselves in food heaven, although you might need a strong stomach to tackle one of Porto’s delicacies – tripe.

If that doesn’t appeal then how about the city’s most famous dish, the Francesinha? It’s basically a giant meat sandwich (usually steak, sausage, and bacon), covered with melted cheese, drowned in a sauce made of tomato and beer, and often with a fried egg on top. Not forgetting a side order of chips! If you’re after a Francesinha then Francesinha Café on Rua da Alegria comes highly recommended. For the vegan version try Francesinhas Al Forno da Baixa on Rua do Almada.

Although I eat fish and seafood, I haven’t eaten meat for over 30 years so I had to give this one a miss. I know there are some places that do vegan options but, I’ll be honest, it just didn’t appeal to me.

I’m not advocating a Big Mac as an ideal pre-Camino meal, but the McDonald’s in Porto isn’t your average burger joint – at least from the outside. On Via Caterina you’ll spot it thanks to the huge eagle over the entrance.

Enjoy a pastel de nata (or two)

This is much more my cup of tea. Pasteis de nata are the famous Portuguese custard tarts.

With deliciously flaky pastry encasing creamy custard, anyone visiting Porto should have at least one before they leave.

I sampled them in a few different places in Porto including Confeitaria do Bolhão (Rua Formosa) but my favourites were from Manteigaria (Rua de Alexandre Braga) where you can also watch them being made.

Pastel de nata and cappuccino

You can even book a cookery lesson and have a go at making your own.

My blogger friend Carolin has written an amazing guide to the best places to find pasteis de nata in Porto. I totally admire her dedication to the task and recommend you give it a read if you’re heading to Porto at any time.

There’s so much to see and do in Porto but I hope this has given you some idea of things to do before your Camino. Let me know of anything else you’ve discovered so I can add it to my list for the next time I visit.

While you’re in planning mode, have a read of ‘Things to do in Santiago de Compostela at the end of the Camino‘.

Porto Essential Information

Getting to Porto

There are regular flights to Porto from most major destinations worldwide. The metro runs from the airport into the city centre (Trindade Station) on the purple line (Line E).

You can buy an Andante ticket from the kiosks at the airport – don’t forget to validate it before your journey.

Where to stay in Porto

There’s a huge selection of places to stay in Porto whatever your budget.

I stayed in Zero Box Lodge ahead of my Camino.

It’s a quirky hotel in a converted bank where each room is a wooden box. Zero Box Lodge is around a ten- to fifteen-minute walk from the Cathedral so ideal for getting to the start of the Camino as well as being close to many of the tourist sights.

Another interesting place to stay is Passenger hotel. This is somewhere I’d definitely like to stay if I return to Porto as it’s actually situated inside São Bento Station. There are a mix of dorms and private rooms with some even overlooking the platforms.


Getting Around Porto

You can see all the main attractions easily on foot but Porto does have a good bus and rail network.

If you’re planning to explore further afield you might want to hire a car.

I always use Discover Cars and have found them easy to deal with over the years.


It’s worth considering an international debit card which enables you to spend abroad without having to worry about unfavourable exchange rates. A Wise account gives you access to more than 50 currencies and also enables you to withdraw up to €200 per month free of charge at ATMs abroad.

Travel Insurance

I never travel without taking out insurance. You might think you don’t need it but you never know what can happen so it’s better to be safe than sorry. I use Globelink International who offer value for money insurance for travellers worldwide.

Get Your Guide offers hundreds of tours in and around Porto.

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The top things to do in Porto before walking the Camino de Santiago.

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