You’ve booked your plane ticket and you’re finally heading to Porto, the trendiest city in Northern Portugal.

This photogenic city; home to colourful buildings, charming cobblestone streets, and magnificent views of the Douro, won the Best European Destination Award in 2012, 2014 and 2017. It’s also where I grew up and give private city tours.

This Unesco World Heritage city makes for the perfect base to rent a car and explore the scenic Douro Valley, which is full of breathtaking landscapes and relaxing activities like river cruises. But first, here are my top picks of things to see and do in Porto.


VISIT THE SÃO BENTO TRAIN STATION

You’ll say goodbye to the mundane when you step inside the São Bentro train station. Its beautiful interior is full of Porto’s famous Azulejo tiles. In fact, you’ll find around 20,000 of these hand painted tiles which Portuguese artist Jorge de Colaço composed. These tiles not only depict epic scenes from Portugal’s history, but also humble, daily routines. The São Bento train station tops many lists as one of Porto’s most beautiful buildings.

Local tip: next to São Bento train station, there’s a tiny tavern called Adega Viseu no Porto where they serve the Portuguese version of tapas – head there if you’re in search of fresh, delicious seafood like octopus salad or codfish cakes.

WATCH A CONCERT AT MERCADO FERREIRA BORGES

This iconic, beautiful building, built in 1885 with eye-catching red iron and a plate-glass structure, was originally designed as a marketplace. However, Mercado Ferreira Borges now acts as a restaurant and hosts the Hard Club, the most famous concert hall in Porto.

Tourists usually overlook this interesting building, so you can feel like one of the locals while you enjoy the restaurant’s excellent Portuguese tapas and homemade pizzas. It has great vegetarian options as well as kids’ menus, so it’s ideal for both families and groups of friends.

GO FOR A GLASS OF WINE AT THE WINE QUAY

When it’s time to sit back and enjoy Porto’s lovely views, check out the Wine Quay bar. This is undoubtedly the best wine bar in Porto, with riverside views next to the Luiz I bridge. It boasts a comprehensive list of wines from producers spanning all over Portugal, as well as amazing cheeses, smoked meats and canned fish.

Local tip: it’s best to visit before 10pm, if you’d like to snag a table and enjoy a bite to eat.

GET LOST IN MEDIEVAL STREETS

Once you’ve checked out the unmissable Porto highlights like the Stock Exchange Palace and the St. Francis Church, the next best thing is to simply wander around its charming, medieval streets. Porto is best experienced on foot and the most picturesque streets are Escadas do Barredo, Rua da Lada, and Rua dos Canastreiros.

For an easy shortcut, take the stairs from Batalha Square to Luiz I Bridge called Escadas dos Guindais. Don’t forget to stop at Guindalens, a humble bar with amazing views of the Douro River and Luiz I Bridge, for a quick beer and some Lupin beans.

TAKE A PHOTO AT ONE OF THE BEST VIEWPOINTS IN PORTO

Porto is famously photogenic, and there are plenty of beautiful places to take the perfect postcard photo, but Miradouro da Vitória is really quite special.

Located in the heart of the former Jewish neighborhood, this viewpoint looks over the Douro River, the cathedral of Porto, Serra do Pilar’s monastery and dozens of Port cellars.

Local tip: to capture the perfect sunset for your photos, head there right after 6pm.


BUY SOME AZULEJOS TILES

The word Azulejo is derived from the Arab word “Zellige”, which means “polished stone”. Azulejos tiles were initially introduced in the Iberian Peninsula at the beginning of the thirteenth century and then introduced to Portuguese and Spanish colonies, which is why you can find Azulejos tiles all over South America and even in some African countries.

In Porto, they cover church facades, as well as inside the São Bento train station.

You need to be careful when you buy Azulejos tiles in Porto, as some unscrupulous sellers have been known to remove these ancient tiles from historical buildings.

Therefore, the best places to buy Azulejos tiles are certified ceramists like Zinda Atelier, in Rua de Ferreira Borges, or Prometeu Artesanato, in Rua Mouzinho da Silveira.

A bit further from the historical centre, you'll find a lovely shop called Gazete Azulejos, where you can join a workshop and try your hand at painting your own Azulejo. They will then ship it to your home - how convenient!

For further inspiration about road trips in Portugal, take a look at the Avis Portugal Road Trip guide, available online at www.avis.co.uk/inspires/guides/portugal-guide/

About the author: Sara Riobom is a Portuguese blogger at Portoalities, a native blog about Porto. She shelved her degree in Engineering and quit her job at a consulting firm to follow her passion of writing and telling stories. Contrary to just about everyone else’s expectations, this turned out to be a great idea.