In easy reach of Porto, Espinho is a holiday resort with ample sandy beaches, rolling surf and a helping of seafood restaurants.
What more could you ask for? A few things have put this former fishing village on the map: Competitors from around the world descend on Espinho in June for the high swells and hollow waves on Praia da Baía.
The shrimp caught just off Espinho is known across Portugal and is utterly delectable.
Then there’s the weekly market on Mondays, which is the largest in the country, with rows stalls that go on for kilometres, selling almost anything under the sun.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Espinho:
1. Praia da Baía
Right in front of the town, Espinho’s favourite beach is an enticing bay with a shallow curve, flanked by long breakwaters.
There’s a raised promenade tracing the beach, running past restaurants and with a wall where people meet up and hang out.
Surf shops and schools are along the strip, as the beach gets a reliable hollow beach break.
Praia da Baía also shelves gradually, so the waves break quite a long way you, leaving a large space with knee-high water and pools of water when the tide goes out.
2. Mercado Semanal
Try to spend at least one Monday in Espinho, as this is when the weekly outdoor market happens.
The Mercado Semanal is an colossal operation and most people agree that it’s one of the best outdoor markets in Portugal.
It has been trading since 1894 and pulls in thousands of shoppers to the town each week.
Beyond its mind-boggling size and variety, the great thing about the market is the opportunity to buy regional goodies like cheese, ham, fruit, spices and cured sausage direct from the producer.
You may be startled by the sight of live animals like ducks, chickens and rabbits being sold, while there are hundreds of stalls trading homewares, clothes, accessories and handicrafts.
3. Museu Municipal
The imposing “Fábrica de Conservas Brandão, Gomes & C.ª” canning factory in Espinho has been converted into the town’s Forum of Art and Culture.
It’s an early 20th-century building with an airy, modern interior.
The museum presents the story of old cannery, with old ads photos and cans of all shapes and sizes give an idea of how Espinho used to be before tourism.
There’s also an exhibition about traditional xávega fishing, using crescent-shaped wooden vessels and massive conical nets.
One of these boats is in the galleries, and there are photos and firsthand accounts on fishing in this period.
4. Centro Multimeios de Espinho
The town’s multimedia centre has been here since 2000 and has loads going on.
Check the website once you arrive in Espinho because there are plenty of options for rainy days, or nights when you have no other plans.
On the upper level is an astronomical observatory and a planetarium able to screen 3D shows.
There’s also an auditorium hosting plays, live music and dance, which doubles as a cinema.
What’s handy about this is that nearly all movies in Portugal are shown in English with Portuguese subtitles.
And to finish up there are galleries for contemporary art, and a trendy coffee shop, all in the same building.
5. Piscina Solário Atlântico de Espinho
On the seafront, this pool complex is for bathers who need something warmer and calmer than the open ocean.
There are two pools here, a shallow one for kids and a full-sized pool for grown-ups and both are fed with water straight from the Atlantic.
There are sun loungers and parasols on all sides, and a bar serving snacks and drinks.
As you relax you might also appreciate the Art Deco design of this complex; it dates to 1942 and has a beautiful entrance pavilion and a diving platform like a piece of modern art.
6. Praia de Silvalde
Also known as Pau da Manobra, Praia de Silvalde is a couple of minutes down from the resort.
Where Praia da Baía is full of people and activities, this Blue Flag beach is altogether quieter.
Behind are only dunes and a golf course, and there’s a spacious swathe of sand for you to watch the bodyboarders and surfers taming the waves.
The upper part of Praia de Silvalde has a bit more going on, with lifeguards, a bar and a place that hires sun loungers.
And on the breakwater there are always a few locals casting off fishing lines into the waves.
7. Parque João de Deus
Espinho feels more like a city on this central square and garden, landscaped in the 1940s.
All the important amenities like the municipal library, post office, banks and the town hall are on Parque João de Deus, and on the coastal side are pedestrian shopping arteries with highs street stores, cafes and bars.
If you’re getting to know the town the garden is as good a place as any to take a break.
There are big, lush lawns, flowerbeds, leafy avenues and a playground for kids.
8. Espinho Casino
After dark it’s impossible to miss the neon lights of the town’s casino behind the promenade on Praia da Baía.
The casino has been in business since 1974 and promises baccarat, roulette, a legion of slot machines and bingo.
Like all casinos it tries to keep punters around for longer, with six reasonably priced bars, a restaurant and live shows in a comfortable auditorium.
If you’re not in the mood to gamble you could always just come for a meal or a bit of live music and move on.
9. Castro de Ovil
In the Paramos parish you can walk among the ruins of a Iron Age settlement.
A “castro” is a fortified hilltop village, going back to the millennium before the Romans arrived in Portugal.
These had a group of circular dry-stone houses, normally made of shale and guarded by an outer wall or moat.
Castro de Ovil has all the traits of a typical castro and was found in 1981 on a pine-covered hill.
There are thirteen houses in all here, some of which are set on courtyards laid with flagstones.
One of the intriguing things about the site is that there are no signs of Roman architecture, which tells us that it was abandoned before or during the invasion of Lusitania.
10. Praia da Frente Azul
Espinho’s other yearly Blue Flag-winner is an urban beach on the upper side of the resort.
Praia da Frente Azul is backed by the same long and wide promenade, so it’s a good idea to come for a stroll even in the low season.
In summer it’s full of action, hosting European championships for beach volleyball, bodyboarding and surfing.
Whatever’s on the agenda, there’s plenty of room for everyone on this very broad sandy beach.
Praia da Frente Azul also something called a “ludoteca”, which rents out toys and games for children.
The capital of the Norte Region and a World Heritage city, Porto is a brief drive.
You’ll need a lot more than one day if you want to see the best of Porto, but if you can only manage a whirlwind tour there are a few musts: By the Douro, don’t miss the Ribeira quarter and its busy square surrounded by brightly painted houses.
On the opposite bank are the port lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia, storing and trading this fortified wine for 200 years or more.
There’s culture and history at the portentous Praça da Liberdade, the Clérigos Church, a Baroque masterpiece.
Don’t pass up the Palácio da Bolsa, which has rooms in various opulent styles and a central courtyard with an immense metal and glass dome.
Espinho is up there with Portugal’s top surf towns.
And for that you can thank the three-metre swells and long, hollow “right” at Praia da Baía.
It’s all given rise to a small but healthy surf industry in the town, with shops and schools in the streets around the casino.
You could show up on the day for a one-off lesson or book a longer course if you’re serious about improving your technique or learning the basics.
All through June there are bodyboard and surf events, building up to the Junior Pro Espinho on the last weekend, an event on the World Surf League tour.
13. Oporto Golf Club
Beside Praia de Silvalde is the oldest golf course in Portugal, and the second oldest on continental Europe.
Oporto Golf Club was set up in 1890 by British port traders, and since 1891 has staged the Skeffington Cup every year without fail.
The 18-hole par 71 poses all the challenges of an old-school links course, with vast greens and winds blowing off the ocean.
The fairways are also very narrow so you can’t take too many chances with your drives.
After some very tricky holes, both the front and back nine end with a forgiving par 5.
14. Estação Litoral Da Aguda
You might be keen to know more about life on the coast before tourism arrived, and if so there’s a likeable museum and aquarium five kilometres away in Aguda.
First to the aquarium, which has 15 tanks containing some 60 different species.
The idea is to reveal the Atlantic wildlife in the region, which includes spider crabs, octopi, common turtles and moray eels.
The wing for Aguda’s fisheries records the lifestyle and tools of the trade of local fishers; there are nets , buoys, model boats and a few cases of marine archaeology.
Espinho may not be a big place, but all over Portugal its name is associated immediately with seafood.
One kind more than any, the camarão de Espinho (Espinho shrimp). These are fresh, tasty and sold all over the town, in sit-down seafood restaurants or cervejerias (bars). You could just order a plate of to go with a light beer or glass of vinho verde from the Minho valley to the north.
Also look out for sopa de peixe, a rich fish soup, or caldeirada, Portugal’s beloved fish and potato stew.
Arroz de marisco is seafood rice, normally with mussels and shrimp, while sometimes nothing can beat barbecued sardines.