The hilly city of Porto boasts an endless choice of museums, cathedrals and port cellars just waiting to be explored. I must say that compared to other European cities the entrance costs to attractions are relatively reasonable but it’s always fun to find free things to do in a new city! Here are a few things to do in Porto for free if you’re travelling on a budget (or just want to spend all your money on Pastel de Nata):
Centro Português de Fotografia
This historic former prison, complete with thick iron bars and imposing high walls, serves as a unique setting for a photography museum. This wasn’t high on our list of things to do in Porto but we had an hour to spare before dinner so gave it a try. We were pleasantly surprised as we took some time to browse the contemporary photography exhibitions on display as well as the impressive collection of cameras located on the top floor. With everything from old fashioned cameras larger than your average human to miniature ones that would fit in palm of your hand, this part of the museum should not be missed. For a non-expert such as myself it was still fascinating so I imagine a pro could spend hours in that section alone!
Where? Campo Mártires da Pátria, 4050-368 Porto, Portugal
When? Always free! Open Tuesday to Friday 10:00 – 12:30 and 14:00 – 17:00. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays (except Mondays) 15:00 – 19:00
Walk over the Dom Luís I Bridge
The iconic Dom Luís I Bridge was opened in 1886 and connects the two halves of the city which lie on either side of the River Douro. This double-decker monster of a bridge is a popular route to reach the port cellars of the Vila Nova de Gaia with spectacular views of the entire city to boot, certainly one of the top things to do in Porto. We crossed on the higher level to get the best vistas (and photos) then travelled back on the lower level to save our little legs from more uphill action.
Where? Ponte Luís I, Porto, Portugal
Sunday Mornings at Museu Serralves
With a bit of research you sometimes find that a city’s major galleries, which usually demand a fee, will have periods when you can visit for free — I was delighted to discover that the contemporary art museum in Porto was no exception. Every Sunday from 10:00 until 13:00 Museu Serralves is free of charge as long as you complete your visit by 13:30. It’s a bit of a way out the city but on a sunny day it is possible to walk. On the day of our visit we had torrential rain so we caught the public bus which cost €1.85 each way. Lines 201, 203, 502 and 504 all drop you around a 5-minute walk from the entrance and the bus driver can hopefully point you in the right direction (if in doubt follow the other tourists).
Where? R. Dom João de Castro 210, 4150-417 Porto, Portugal
When? Free between 10:00 until 13:00 on Sundays
Admire the tiles
One of my favourite things about Portugal is the tiles which adorn almost every building, as a matter of fact I was so enamoured by their beauty that I dedicated a whole photo diary to them which you can check out here. There is nothing better than simply wandering around and admiring the magnificent tile work on the city’s buildings. Top of your hit list should be the São Bento Train Station, which is truly the most awe-inspiring train station I have ever seen (close seconds are Antwerp Central Station and Grand Central in New York). Many of the churches and cathedrals have also been covered in exquisite tiles and one of my favourites was the baroque Igreja do Carmo which we passed by each day and ranks highly when it comes to things to do in Porto.
Where? São Bento Train Station, Porto District, Portugal | Igreja do Carmo, Rua do Carmo, Porto 4050-164, Portugal
Go to the beach
On the last day of our visit, with the sun shining and temperatures around 20 degrees, we decided to head west to the beach. There is an old fashioned tram which runs alongside the river until it reaches the ocean, unfortunately for us the tram was perhaps unsurprisingly crammed full of tourists & drove straight past us. Rather than wait another 20 minutes for the next one, only for the same thing to happen again, we decided to walk and followed the river for around an hour until we reached the ocean. The walk is beside the main road but boasts beautiful river and ocean views. A lovely little discovery along the way was the depot for the old fashioned trams where we peeked through the railings to get a better look. When we reached the beach there were plenty of little bars and eateries to choose from and as it was out of season the beach itself was fairly quiet making it the perfect place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Where? Just follow the river towards the sea
Have you visited this beautiful city or are you from there? What are your favourite things to do in Porto? If you’re looking for great places to eat and drink in Porto you can check out my previous article here.