A few short kilometres from the centre of Porto, Matosinhos is where Porto’s residents come to kick back and dine. For a long time this was the source of the city’s fish and seafood, and the market and profusion of seafood restaurants remain from this time.
Matosinhos also has one of the best beaches in the Porto area, with surf-friendly waves all year round if the conditions are right. The oceanfront is also still defended by 17th-century forts, and there’s history in the shape of Baroque and medieval churches, and a day out for kids at Sea Life aquarium.
Lets explore the best things to do in Matosinhos:
1. Igreja do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos
This church goes back to the middle of the 16th century, but almost everything you see now if from an exuberant 18th-century Baroque redesign.
This expansion was made by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni and funded by emigrants who had made their fortunes in Brazil.
The facade is masterful, with windows and pilasters that have sinuous curves.
There are three portals and a mass of sculpted granite, fashioned into pediments and alcoves, with statues of St Peter and St Paul.
The inside radiates with gilded woodwork, both in the side chapels and at the main altar.
Take a moment to check out the organ, which was made in 1685 in the Hamburg style by the Dutchman Michael Hensberg.
2. Matosinhos Beach
The largest sandy beach in the Porto area has an enticing, broad arc of pale sand.
For a long time the industrial activity up the coast prevented Matosinhos from earning the Blue Flag, but it has been awarded this mark of quality for the last few years.
As this is an Atlantic beach the water will be brisk and the currents might be a bit strong for inexperienced swimmers.
But the spacious sands, wide promenade and choice of bars and restaurants make up for it,
3. She Changes
Suspended above the roundabout behind the beach is an arresting piece of public sculpture.
This is the work of the American Janet Echelman and made in 2005. It was Echelman’s first permanent public installation, and she has gone on to produce sculptures for cities across Canada and the USA. In her now established style She Changes is a gossamer-light arrangement of circular nets 45 metres in diameter and harking back to Matosinhos’ traditional fishing industry.
The netting is in a variety of colours and densities, so it looks different depending on the time of day or angle you view it from.
4. Sea Life Porto
Northern Portugal’s largest aquarium is right in Matosinhos just a few a hundred metres or so from the beach.
There are 5,800 inhabitants here, from more than 100 species in over 30 tanks.
The largest of these, “Reino do Neptuno” has an underwater tunnel you can walk through.
The sharks are often the stars of the show, and Sea Life Porto has blacktips and smaller varieties like nurse sharks and the odd-looking zebra sharks.
These are joined by local and exotic creatures like octopuses, rays, seahorses, jellyfish, and freshwater species from the Douro River such as carp and trout.
Matosinhos can feel like a self-contained city, so it can be easy to forget that you’re only 15 minutes on the Metro from the centre of Porto.
If there’s a place to start it’s the Ribeira quarter on the north bank of the Douro.
This is under the Dom Luís I Bridge, an enduring landmark built by one of the founders of the Eiffel Company.
On the south bank in Gaia are the venerable port lodges, while if you make your way up the hill you’ll arrive at monuments like the Cathedral, Torre dos Clerigos and the extraordinary Palácio da Bolsa.
and even then you’ve barely made a dent on all the things to see in this city.
6. Mosteiro de Leça do Balio
There has been a church on this patch by the Leça River since the 900s.
And there may even have been a Roman temple here before that as it is on the old Roman road that connected Porto to Braga in the north.
When the church came under the control of the Knights Hospitalier in the 13th century they gave it the warlike appearance it has today, with a tough square tower defended by crenellations and equipped with arrow loops.
Inside, take a look at the column capitals showing bible scenes and the later recumbent funerary statue of the 16th-century bailiff Frei Cristóvão de Cernache.
7. Casa-Museu Abel Salazar
The noted 20th-century Portuguese scientist, artist and social thinker Abel Salazar spent 30 years of his life in Matosinhos, and the home he lived in has been turned into a museum.
This three-storey building is mainly dedicated to Salazar’s art, which is in the Neo-Realist style and includes hammered copper, pen drawings, sculptures, oil paintings and sketches.
To show you just how diverse Salazar’s talents were you can see his home laboratory on the second floor, with rooms full of equipment and revealing his research in biology that lifted him to prominence in the 1920s.
8. Parque da Cidade
Portugal’s largest urban park forms borders Matosinhos to the south and has 83 hectares of lawns and woodland, beginning on the beachfront.
It was nine years in the making, between 1993 and 2002, and conceived by the landscape architect Sidónio Pardal.
There’s a vague ancient theme to the gardens, with small pavilions, pergolas supported by granite stones.
In the northeast corner you’ll find the Pavilhão da Água, an exhibition about water, its cycle, function and importance to mankind.
9. Jardim da Foz
For a restorative oceanfront walk just head down to the Avenida Montvideu, which is traced by a long garden beside a craggy length of the Atlantic coastline.
There are lawns here, and the dense vegetation offers plenty of shade in summer.
The magic comes from the sight of the Atlantic crashing against the rocks, and some of the public art installed here in the 1930s.
These are in the Art Deco style, and were fashioned by some of the leading lights of the period, like Irene Vilar, Henrique Moreira and Manuel Marques.
There’s a tribute to local seafarers, a statue of the 16th-century writer Luís de Camões and a fine monumental fountain.
10. Matosinhos Market
As it once made a living from the ocean, Matosinhos has an affinity for seafood, and the place to get in touch with this tradition is on Rua França Júnior.
The building is pretty special too: It’s a curving white pavilion dating to 1944 and revamped in the last couple of years.
As part of this renovation, offices and studios have been set up for young designers in the galleries above the market floor.
These merit a quick look, but the headline is the hall below, and you could come just to stare at the counters piled with ocean-fresh fish and seafood.
It’s one for the early birds as the best time to visit is first thing in the morning.
11. Sea Fortresses
After Portugal’s independence was restored in 1640 Porto set about strengthening its Atlantic fortifications to fend off attacks by the Spanish navy and privateers.
Two remain in Matosinhos, and show few signs of wear and tear.
The best preserved is the Forte de Nossa Senhora das Neves just across the Leça River, and although it isn’t open to the public its bartizans and star configuration are photogenic.
Further down is the Forte de São Francisco do Queijo, from the same time and resting on a headland south of Matosinhos beach.
This one has a trapezoidal shape and a small military museum inside.
Southeast of Matosinhos, on the way to the centre of Porto is a cultural space that contains a park, Art Deco villa and a contemporary art museum.
The villa, the Casa de Serralves, was built between the 1920s and 40s and is a swish venue for some of the museum’s temporary exhibits.
It’s possibly Portuga’s best example of Art Deco architecture and has fittings by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and glassmaker René Lalique, who designed the skylight in the main hall.
The gardens in front the villa are in 18 hectares and organised in parterres.
There are fountains and pergolas, and a very grand alley lined with gum trees.
The museum itself was founded in 1999 and puts on short term shows of contemporary art; Joan Miró, Christoper Wool, Luc Tuymans, Claes Odenburg, Roni Horn and Franz West have all featured since it opened.
13. Pharmacy Museum
This terrific museum is hidden in Porto’s industrial quarter, so doesn’t receive as many visitors as it might.
But it’s a short way from Matosinhos and warrants the effort to get there.
There are pots, mortars and instruments from Ancient Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, China, as well as civilisations like the Aztecs and Incas.
The best bits though are the reconstructions of various pharmacies: There’s one from Macau in colonial Brazil, an 18th-century pharmacy that used to be in Porto, and one of the most recent additions is an Islamic apothecary, brought here piece by piece from Damascus.
Another elevates Matosinhos above the other beaches around Porto is the absence of rocks.
These are restricted to the south end of Matosinhos beach, and as the beach is so exposed you could surf here at any time of year if the conditions are right.
When there’s an easterly wind blowing you’ll get a good reef break with rolling waves.
There are also eight surf schools in Matosinhos in case you or your kids are inspired to get started here.
Porto’s residents come to Matosinhos purposely to dine on fish and seafood, which is straight from the ocean and surprisingly affordable.
The amount of restaurants will make your head spin; there are literally scores in the area, many packed around the Porto de Leixões.
If you’ve got an big appetite you could go for a seafood platter, which will have crab, clams, goose barnacles (a particular speciality), shrimp and lobster.
Also very traditional are grilled sardines, served with new potatoes, and salted cod (bacalhau), in its dozens of different preparations.
Pair it all with vinho verde, a crisp young wine from the Minho Valley in northern Portugal.