Whether you choose guided or self-guided, a Porto Walking Tour will captivate you and the kids alike. There is no better way to start your visit in Porto or to make the most out of a single day in the city than with a historic walking tour.
If it is in your budget, I highly recommend booking a private tour through http://www.withlocals.com. Before my husband and I had kids, we always opted for the free walking tours and simply tipped our guide, but after kids, we are happy to invest a little extra to have a private guide and move at our own pace.
Booking a private tour through withlocals.com makes a tremendous difference in getting the most value out of a historic walking tour with little kids in tow. This allowed us to give them breaks when needed (for exercise, for snacks, or to chase pigeons). We paid $100 for our family of four to have a local, knowledgeable, private guide for 3 hours. On withlocals.com look for a tour called “Family Fun Adventure: From Porto to Gaia.”
Self Guided Tour – Porto Walking Tour Map and Highlights
If you want to move at your own pace and don’t want to splurge on a private tour guide, below is our walking tour summary. Be sure to check out our route map to use as a guide.
Fountain of the Lions – “Fonte dos Leoes”
Start your walking route at the Lion Fountain in one of Porto’s most beautiful squares
Neighboring Churches – Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas
Igreja dos Carmelitas was historically the church of the people, anyone could attend its services. Even today, entrance is free. Igreja do Carmo was attended by the wealthy.
These two very different churches almost share a wall. They are divided by a very narrow 3 story house, “Casa Escondida,” meaning hidden house. As the story goes, this house was built to discourage any relations between the nuns of Carmelitas and monks of Carmo.
For a small fee, you can tour the museum, catacombs and narrow house.
Museu Da Cidade – Bank of Materials
This was a most fascinating hidden gem that we never would have known about if it weren’t for a Porto Walking Tour with a local.
The free Museum serves as a bank of artifacts that are collected when a building is being torn down or redecorated. They retrieve the materials at no charge and anyone who can prove they are renovating their home to maintain historic appearances can come to this bank and reuse these valuable materials for free.
Livraria Lello – The World’s Most Beautiful Bookstore
This is a can’t miss stop on your Porto walking tour , but it is important to plan ahead due to ticketed entry.
The bookstore opened in 1906 by two brothers, Jose and Antonio Lello who wanted to open a temple dedicated to books. It has long been appreciated for its devastatingly beautiful architecture and active outreach in the community to foster a love of reading.
It’s popularity sky rocketed when rumors ran rampant that JK Rowling took inspiration for Hogwarts’ Library from Livraria Lello during her time spent living in Porto. While she debunked the belief, saying she had never stepped foot inside, thousands still flock to the bookstore each day to snap photos and admire the Art Nuevo style staircase, bookshelves, and stunning stained glass ceiling.
In 2010 the bookstore was bankrupt because swarms of people were walking in only to take photos and leaving without spending a dime.
So, in a genius business move, the bookstore applied for museum status so they could charge admission for entry. The status was given. At first it was only €2, and after only one year they had enough money for full inside and outside renovations. Since then, they’ve purchased another bookstore, a museum, and are now opening a theater.
For €5, you can book a timed entry ticket at their website. Each ticket is good for €5 discounted off a book purchase. (Only one discount can be applied per book.) The store has great representation of local writers and a collection of children’s books too (yes, in English).
If you’re traveling with kids (~3 and under), you can skip the line! Take your pre-purchased tickets right to the door for priority entry.
Jardim das Oliveiras – The Garden of Olives
The root system of ancient Olive Trees were carefully preserved while constructing the partially Underground Mall. Now it is a beautiful green space with shops and dining easily accessible. Our kids mostly enjoyed chasing pigeons while our guide told us about Clérigos Tower.
You can climb a narrow staircase 200 steps to the top of Clérigos Tower for a gorgeous view of Porto’s rooftops and the Douro River. (Entrance to the church is free, while a tower climb is €6.)
The attached church is worth a visit, especially at noon each day for a brief (~20 minute) pipe organ performance.
It was opened in 1763 and dominates Porto’s skyline as a defining landmark.
Need a bathroom break? There is a public restroom (WC) across from the tower. It costs 50c to use the toilets (young kids are free).
Porto Walking Tour Playground Break
If the kids are getting squirrely for exercise, there is a small but kid-pleasing playground in a shaded square across from the next stop. You’ll find it on the map called, Parque Infantil Cordoaria. Give them some time to run and play with local kids before continuing your Porto Walking Tour.
I love to watch kids interact seamlessly even though they don’t understand each others’ languages.
Former Municipal Prison (Now Center of Portuguese Photography)
This wasn’t just any prison, this was a VIP prison. The cheapest cells were located in the basement with no windows, but rich inmates were paying for cells at the top floor with an ideal view of the city, river, and port wine cellars. Now you can tour the prison with free entrance into the Center of Portuguese Photography.
Viewpoint – Miradouro da Vitória
From this viewpoint you have a great vantage point of the Porto Cathedral which is the birthplace of Porto. We will see it up close later on this walking route.
To the right of the Cathedral you’ll see a large white palace, this is the Palace of the Bishop of the Cathedral. He lives and works from here.
Between the Viewpoint Balcony and the river you’ll see a building with a glass domed roof. This is Bolsa Palace, the Stock Exchange Palace. Eiffel (the architect) once spent a year working here and you can now tour his office and numerous other ornately decorated palatial rooms. We aren’t stopping at Bolsa Palace on this Porto Walking Tour Route, but it might merit a return visit if you have a few days in town.
By Now You’ll be Ready for a Snack Break on Your Porto Walking Tour
There are good options for quick bites near Clérigos Tower.
Grab a beautifully crafted rose shaped gelato from Amorino Gelato or the Portuguese specialty, Pastéis de Nata at Manteigaria. Nata is a custard tart that we couldn’t help but consume daily, it is such a treat with an afternoon espresso drink.
Explore Sao Bento Train Station
Sao Bento is ranked the 2nd most beautiful rail station in Europe, behind Antwerp’s station. I’ve been to Antwerp and personally think the elaborately painted azulejo tiles here merit the top spot.
Due to the order from the Bishop at the time, the builders of the station were not allowed to start construction under after the death of the last remaining nun who occupied the convent that stood in the grounds targeted for construction. Legends say this last nun still haunts the station since her 1892 death at the age of 94. I wouldn’t want to live under that kind of pressure! I imagine she had quite a stubborn personality.
The first stone was laid for the station in 1900 and it was finished in 1916 after the Kingdom of Portugal had become the Republic of Portugal (which happened in 1910).
Inside the lobby, 25,000 tiles decorate the walls. The artist spent 11 years creating the tiled masterpiece. In the artwork, you’ll find every day life of Portuguese people depicted; things like harvesting grapes, food markets, and religious celebrations. Another wall captures a significant event, the battle of Porto. Along the entire tip border you’ll see the evolution of transportation technology. From the Romans to Moorish to French Soldiers, ending with the train coming to the villages. On the ceiling, you’ll see the words Douro and Minho, the two main rivers in Portugal, representing that the train travels between them.
This station is another great spot for a bathroom break. Again, there is a small charge, 50c for ages 6+ (small children are free).
The first King of Portugal started to build this cathedral to establish Christianity here, starting in the 12th century. The structure is still original so it looks like it did at that time.
As you approach the Cathedral you’ll notice several blocks of dilapidated homes and building. This is a social neighborhood and the people living here live for free. The revival of these neighborhoods is a slow process but they’ve come a long way from the ghettos just a few decades ago.
Wander the Narrow Alleyways toward the Ribeira District
A wonderful feature for visitors is that when you feel lost in Porto, all you have to do is follow the streets downhill and you’ll end up at the river to regain your bearings.
Walk the Riverfront in the Ribeira District
This area is the most popular for visitors.
In the water you’ll notice anchored rabelo boats which were used to transport wine from the vineyards back to Porto for fermentation in the cellars. Now they stay put, except during the festival of St. John when they race them upriver regatta style.
Cross the Luís I Bridge by Foot
For the best views of Porto, you’ll want to cross the river over to Gaia. You can easily do so via the walking paths on the top and bottom sections of the arched, double deck metal bridge. It was designed by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel.
Alternatively, you can take a water taxi boat across the river for a few Euros per person.
Eat at the Waterfront on the Gaia Side
Riverfront restaurants line the promenade so take some time to sit and soak in your surroundings and enjoy the charming view of Porto.
We found lots of mouthwatering traditional fare at Taberninha do Manel which came highly recommended by our local guide.
Try the Codfish Cakes and Francesinha sandwich.
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