Budget Travel

Enjoy the best of Porto with these 10 free activities

Comparatively speaking, Porto is among Western Europe's most affordable tourist destinations. From a world renowned wine country, to concerts and chilled sunset sessions, here are some ways to see Portugal's beautiful northern city free of charge.

Fall in love with the colorful Azulejos

Take one look at Porto and you will understand the city's interest in tiles, known locally as azulejos. Many heritage buildings are sheathed in repetitive pops of colour or impressively detailed murals, using the latter doubling as open access history files.

The foyer of the S~ao Bento stop takes the cake with 20,000 hand-painted tiles depicting scenes from Portugal's past – from industrial milestones to wartime victories. Other Insta-worthy contenders include the traditional blue and white tiled churches Capela das Almas, Igreja do Carmo and Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. Then there are all of the less prominent, but equally endearing tiled facades scattered across the city. Start an azulejo photography journal and you could lose yourself for days.

Take in gorgeous views at Jardim do Morro

Porto's golden sunsets possess a magnetic pull. Come late afternoon, hordes of sun worshippers find a river-fronting patch of turf to watch the sun make its steady descent in to the deep distant Atlantic. Grab a Super Bock beer, an open-air picnic rug along with a wheel of Portuguese cheese and follow the crowds to the slopes of Jardim do Morro (from where you'll see the romantic postcard picture of Porto), or the thin sliver of grass known as 'Virtudes' – not to be confused with the encompassing, larger park of the same name. Ask any local where you can catch the Virtudes sunset and they'll know exactly where you're targeting.

View the varied street art

Urban art is really a feature of numerous cities, but Porto's street art scene comes with an interesting backstory. In an economical low-point in the not-so-distant past, Porto was dominated by crumbling buildings steadily being swallowed by vines. Having a bleak cityscape and scarce job prospects, local art students began taking their talents towards the streets. The artists' work became so prolific the federal government established an anti-graffiti brigade in an attempt to curb the 'vandalism', prompting a game of cat and mouse with the creatives. Walk round the city today and it is easy to understand who won.

The colourful exhibition ranges from storeys-high murals to tiny cartoon characters hiding down laneways, making the hunt half the enjoyment.

Read more: How to get from the beaten path in Porto

Come hungry towards the Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos

Located outside the city centre, Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos is aimed at locals instead of tourists, making it a beautiful choice for those who relish the straightforward spectacle every day life. The indoor marketplace is well regarded for its fish, which is fitting given its seaside location, but additionally has fruit, vegetables and, uncomfortably for many, the odd caged chicken.

Wander the nearby streets and you'll see the market's saltwater produce offer good use on smoking streetside barbecues. Note the market is closed every sunday.

Visit the monuments at Cemitério do Prado Repouso

Ambling alongside the dead may not be at the top of every holidaymaker's hit list, but Porto's ten-hectare Cemitério do Prado Repouso is definitely an unconventional attraction with an alluring calmative quality. Rows of magnolia and camellia trees shade the tombstones of everyday folk as well as former mayors, physicians, actors and writers (identified in both Portuguese and English). There is also a monument that honours those who lost their resides in Porto's 1891 revolution, which triggered Portugal's republican movement.

See the gardens at Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

The Jardins do Palácio de Cristal give a serene and sizeable patch of inner-city greenery. Stepped terraces offer delightful views over the Douro and cross-river town of Gaia.

These days, the nineteenth-century' crystal palace' is decidedly absent, having been replaced by what seems to be a giant green UFO. As the domed 1950s-built sporting facility is perhaps less elegant, it's an eye-catcher nonetheless. Use it like a beacon to find the garden entrance, then trigger over the eight hectares to find a medley of landscaped gardens.

Read more: How to spend an ideal weekend in Porto

Climb the steps of Torre dos Clérigos

The baroque spire from the Torre dos Clérigos is one of Porto's most recognisable features. The 76m-high tower is the focus from the city's money shot and tourists queue to climb the narrow staircase for any peek from the top. What many don't know, however, is that every single day at noon the church adjoining the tower fires up its eighteenth-century pipe organ for a free 30-minute concert. Listen out for that delightful chime from the midday bells remember.

Be transported at the Centro Português de Fotografia

Two minutes' walk from Torre dos Clérigos, browse free exhibitions within the eerie enclave of the old prison at the Centro Português de Fotografia. There are both permanent and temporary expositions displayed over the three storeys, showcasing a mix of contemporary and historical works from both Portuguese and international photographers. Thick granite walls and windows fixed with forbidding iron grates remind from the building's function before its decommissioning in 1974 following a Portuguese revolution and revival like a gallery space in 2000.

Get a brief history lesson at Igreja da Lapa

The gallant figure on horseback in Porto's main square denotes King Pedro IV of Portugal and first emperor of Brazil, who, despite hailing from Lisbon, were built with a particular affinity for Porto. He therefore requested that his heart be bestowed to the city upon his death (the scene shown at the base of the statue symbolises this moment) also it landed in Igreja da Lapa in Porto's north. While there's no science-lab jar of preserved remains to ogle at, the Catholic church is really a worthy attraction off the main tourist trail – not least for its devote Portugal's historical timeline but in addition for its neoclassical architecture and tranquil demeanor. It also has among the largest pipe organs in Europe.

Trek towards the lighthouse Farolim de Felgueiras

While there's certain attract clacking along the Douro River in a single of Porto's quintessential old trams, taking the same route by foot could be just as rewarding and undoubtedly less crowded.

Set off in the Ribeira district and head west for six kilometres. Pass tangles of fishing nets and boats bobbing using the tide before reaching the stage where the forest dissolves into the ocean. Continue out to the jetty to watch the ocean throw the weight against the Felgueiras lighthouse, but stay alert or resign yourself to a soaking from a merciless wave.

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