Overview & Brief History

Portugal is an altogether different experience than most other western European countries, and Porto epitomizes this feeling. An eclectic mixture of the old and new world, it’s hard to put a pin on this cultural gem. Porto is full of historical buildings and world class museums with much of the city’s historic center a UNESCO world heritage site.


A Brief History

Known as Portus Cale, it served as a key commercial outpost during the Roman Empire. The name “Portugal” itself is derived from Portus Cale, emphasizing Porto’s foundational role in the country’s history. Over the centuries, Porto became a significant trading hub, renowned for its wine production and maritime activities.


During the Middle Ages, Porto played a crucial role in the establishment of Portugal as an independent kingdom. The city witnessed battles, sieges, and periods of both prosperity and decline. In the 14th century, Porto joined forces with Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, in the struggle against Moorish occupation, contributing to the formation of the Portuguese identity. The city’s historic Ribeira district, with its narrow streets and colorful buildings, reflects the medieval charm of this period.


Porto became a thriving center of commerce and culture during the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. The wealth generated from overseas exploration, particularly in Africa and the Americas, fueled the city’s development. The historic Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) and the Clerigos Tower are architectural legacies from this era. In the 19th century, the construction of the Dom Luís I Bridge and the growth of the port wine industry further shaped Porto’s modern identity.


Today, Porto stands as a UNESCO World Heritage city, celebrated for its architectural heritage, historic districts, and the production of the world-famous port wine.

Things to See & Do


Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Ribeira is one of Porto’s oldest neighborhoods. Ribeira Square is included in the historical center of the city, home to a 17th century water fountain and a sculpture of José Rodrigues.

Clerigos Church

Clerigos Church is a Baroque church built in 17th century by an Italian architect, popular for its famous tower. This used to be the tallest tower in Portugal once upon a time, and climbing its 200 steps rewards you with an undulating view of the city.

Porto Cathedral

Porto Cathedral is a National Monument and as its name implies, a Catholic Cathedral. It’s a gorgeous building worth a visit and from here you can have see the Douro River. The cathedral sits in a large square with a column in the middle where criminals in the olden days were hanged.

Livraria Lello Bookshop

Time Magazine, The Guardian, and Lonely Planet call this bookshop the coolest in the world. A bookshop with an extraordinary historical and architectural value, Livraria Lello has been the inspiration for many a writer and it’s even been said J.K. Rowling got some of her inspiration for Harry Potter in this amazingly eclectic bookstore.

Local Dining

Portuguese cuisine is influenced by…

The Portuguese gastronomy is the sum of many influences and culinary customs of other civilizations that passed here through the ages.


Make sure to try…

No trip to Porto is complete without trying the delicious Francesinha sandwich, a delicious multi-layered meat sandwich covered with melted cheese and a hot and thick spiced tomato and beer sauce. Fantastic!


A Guidester favorite…

Hidden from the tourist sights, in the Paranhos neighborhood, is one of the best traditional restaurants in Porto, Manuel Alves. The menu is diverse, consisting of countless options with a cuisine characterized by quality dishes and a characteristic Portuguese flavor.

Insider Tips

Inside the UNESCO neighborhood of Ribeira would be preferable if you’re short on time as it puts you right in the middle of the major attractions, however this will be a more expensive option.


There are plenty of hotels outside the historic center that may be more cost effective and you can simply walk or take a cab into the old town.

Virtual Tours

Porto from Above

History of Port Wines

Portugal History Summarized

Jack’s Favorite Moment

Exploring Portugal’s Northern Gem

Porto is largely built on a steep hillside overlooking the river Duoro, with abundant overgrowth giving it an almost mystic feel. I’m glad that I spent several days here to really understand what the city has to offer. Not only can you find historic beauty in abundance, but the great cuisine and connection to port wine is one of the city’s lasting legacies.

The historical center of Porto is an urban set of rich history and incalculable significance. Dating back to Roman times, and saturated with Medieval architecture, a large portion of the historic district was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Keep Reading

Despite all the changes over the years, the historic center of Porto maintains its unique urban character. Located on the south hillside of Porto, the neighborhood of Ribeira makes up this UNESCO site with its winding streets and tiny alleyways leading down to the river.


As the name may suggest Porto is where port wine originated from. This area of Portugal is the industry epicenter and the city embraces this culture as such. Do not miss visiting a port wine cellar as part of your experience. A must see port wine cellar to visit is Grahams. This place was a full on factory and storehouse of the finest port wines in the world. You can get on a tour highlighting the origins and history of port wine, showing how they make it, and a special tasting after the tour. The tasting room is placed on a hill in a large patio garden overlooking the city, which is just gorgeous.


If you’re up for it, I would highly recommend getting a scooter to explore the area. It’s a great way to get around and it’s a fun experience in itself. Renting a moped in any European city is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to experience a new place. You can see more in less time, and you can experience the city from an entirely different perspective.


There is nothing quite like zipping past cars on a scooter while being surrounded by thousand year old buildings and historic monuments. Some cities are better for this than others, but Porto was one of my favorites to date; second only to Rome. I rode it everywhere, parked it anywhere, and traffic wasn’t bad at all. I was able to jump around from point to point without needing a cab or walking several miles.


Porto is also near the coast so you’re only a short ride to the ocean from the city center. Portugal’s coast see the largest waves of any place in the world which makes a trip to the ocean doubly worth a visit. I took a half day with the moped and zipped around the gorgeous coastline.


Definitely add Porto to your travel bucket list for when we can all travel again!


Jack Bauman

Founder of Guidester


Interactive Maps

Visit Porto Cathedral

Explore the streets of Ribeira


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