To the north of the Porto metropolitan area, Maia is a thriving industrial city close to the airport and surrounded by several market-leading companies. If that doesn’t sound touristy, it’s still worth a stop, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Zoo da Maia is the best in the Porto area and is also just a few minutes from the coast with its open Atlantic beaches.
For heritage, there are medieval and baroque churches, as well as elegant old manors of 18th century nobles. Plus, Porto isn’t far away, with grand avenues and labyrinthine old towns to explore, and more museums and monuments that you can pack in a day.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Maia:
1. Mayan Zoo
Sure to get a thumbs up from the young, Maia’s zoo is what draws most day-trippers to the city.
While there are many mammals such as tigers, brown bears, zebras, capybaras and wallabies, the zoo is known for its cold-blooded animals: more reptiles than any other attraction in the country.
You’ll find a variety of turtles, tortoises, iguanas, geckos and snakes.
Another famous resident is the sea lion, which performs three feeding shows a day.
There are also bird of prey demonstrations with barn owls and Eurasian hawk owls.
2. Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Bom Despacho
Built in 1742, this exquisite Baroque church is photoworthy inside and out.
On a sunny day it is spectacular as the exterior walls are covered in blue and white tiles which look stunning under clear skies.
The tiles cover almost all surfaces, even the three-story bell tower, and are set off by stone pilasters and scrolls and two blue gates.
The many churches around Porto are enriched by mid-18th-century gilded wood carvings, whose interiors sparkle.
This occupies the entire altar and is topped by a glorious Maltese cross.
3. Mayan Forum
If there is some cultural event happening in Maia, you can be sure it will take place in this huge concert hall, which was inaugurated in 1991. There are four auditoriums, one outside, as well as five separate galleries, a café and a bar.
The Fórum has a lively schedule with touring rock and pop bands, folk musicians, dance and theatre.
The venue also hosts a number of annual festivals covering a variety of disciplines including puppet shows and manga plays.
But the main event is the World Press Photo exhibition every November and December.
4. Mosteiro de Leça do Balio
From a distance, you could easily mistake this medieval abbey church for a castle.
It has a square, jagged tower with pointed mellons and rings of arrows, and only a few narrow openings in the walls.
This tenacious appearance dates back to the 14th century, when Castilian troops attacked Lisbon and Porto.
It’s a building with mostly consistent Gothic architecture, with exposed stone interiors without the baroque gilding you’ll find in other local churches.
The most striking decoration was made by the 16th-century Manueline artist Diogo Pires, who carved Frei João Coelho’s massive tomb and baptistery.
5. Quinta dos Conegos
One of the best mansions in the entire Porto area is located in Maia.
Built in the 1700s and surrounded by gardens, Quinta dos Cónegos is worth a visit.
The most striking part of the property is the double arcade with a beautiful loggia on the first floor surrounded by granite balustrades.
Inside is a gleaming goldwork chapel, as well as living spaces filled with paintings, sculptures and furniture.
In the garden, there are also grand railings traced along the fountain and dragon sculptures.
6. Museu de História e Etnologia da Terra da Maia
Located in Vila do Castêlo da Maia, this museum of history and ethnology is housed in an 18th-century mansion that served as the seat of the local government until 1902. It is linked to the rural history of Maia, in a region dedicated to grain and livestock farming until the 20th century.
Traditional irrigation techniques and tools for a variety of traditional occupations are demonstrated.
Ancient ceramics and fantastic prehistoric megaliths with mysterious patterns are displayed in the History Gallery.
7. Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Ó
This Romanesque church was built in the 1120s, when much of Portugal was still under Moorish control.
It was originally part of the monastery of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.
The eagle-eyed visitor will find many features dating back to the foundations of the church in the circular chapel of the apse and in the capitals of the nave, which are inscribed with images of animals and leaves.
The Templar cross is carved above the side door, and there are five sarcophagi in the cemetery, one of which also bears the Templar coat of arms.
8. Torre do Lidador
The Maya is easily recognizable by the oval outline of this modern skyscraper, which was built in 2001 and is the tallest building outside of Lisbon, Portugal.
It’s an obvious point of reference when you’re visiting the city, but you can also take a guided tour on certain weekdays; it’s best to ask Maia’s tourist office for opening hours.
At the top of the 92-meter tower, there is an indoor observation deck with 360-degree views of the Mayan panorama and overlooking Porto to the south.
9. Estátua do Lidador
Small but rich, this statue was sculpted by Lima do Carvalho and unveiled in 1984. It depicts Gonçalo Mendes da Maia, the city’s most famous figure.
He was born in 1079, before Portugal even became a country.
During his lifetime, his country gained independence and he was a knight to its first king, Alfonso Henrique.
But his real fame (and his “Lidador” moniker) came when he died, allegedly leading the attack on the Beja Moors at the age of 90.
10. Pharmacy Museum
In an industrial area a few minutes from Maia, there is a great museum that is hardly noticed by those who visit Porto.
It tracks human efforts to cure disease and alleviate suffering over the course of thousands of years and countless civilizations.
There are musical instruments and vessels from China, Japan, ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome.
Also on display are objects from the pre-Columbian culture of the Americas.
The showrunner is a reconstructed pharmacy with original clay pots and wooden shelves.
One is from a 19th-century Ottoman palace in Damascus, and the other is the Estácio Pharmacy, relocated piece by piece from its former residence in Rua Sá da Bandeira.
11. Aviso Park
Covering over 30 hectares, this park is located on the green banks of a tributary of the Leça River and is your first choice for jogging or restorative walks in Maia.
The meandering trails pass through eucalyptus, oak, pine and cork oak forests for a total of over 4.5 kilometers.
There’s also a towering observation tower that you can zoom to consider the park, as well as children’s playgrounds, picnic areas, cafes with terraces, and a large pond.
Between Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport and the Atlantic Ocean is the Mayan industrial area.
Sadly the beaches are pretty much intact along it, wide, clean and otherwise beautiful except for the chimneys behind them.
However, if you want a picturesque place to relax in the sun, you can head north along the coast to Praia da Memória, Praia do Marreco, Praia da Quebrada or Praia du Agudela.
These are all similar, with golden sand, dunes and pounding Atlantic waves crashing against the rocks of the coast.
13. Music House
Just 20 minutes away by metro line C is Porto’s famous concert hall, whose design was led by Rem Koolhaas.
It has been likened to the Guggenheim Museum in Gehry, Bilbao, and is such a beloved landmark with such groundbreaking architecture that you can visit on a guided tour.
These activities take place twice a day, 7 days a week.
There’s no shortage of cool stuff inside, like two massive glass walls (Casa da Música is the only concert hall in the world with two), or a VIP room covered in traditional Portuguese glaze.
14. Casa da Prelada
An interesting property to wander around for an hour or so, Casa da Prelada is a manor and garden designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni.
In the 18th century he was very active in the Porto area and also worked in Quinta dos Cónegos in Maia.
The highlight is undoubtedly the garden, with its stunning boxwood labyrinth, fountains and towering 19th century gnarled trees.
The interior, which was restored in the 20th century, is sparsely decorated and occasionally used as an exhibition space.
The city of Porto can be reached in 25 minutes by metro, making it an easy day out from Maia.
In fact, a day, or even a weekend, you can hope for far more than you can hope for.
This is a city with splendid Baroque churches, like the iconic Torre dos Clérigos.
These are decorated in Porto’s swim of wealth, and they’re all unfettered.
The Ribeira district is Porto’s unpretentious riverside with a bustling square where people gather for special occasions like São João.
Also take time to explore the cool coastal area, Foz, the surrounding 18th century buildings cultivated, Praça da Liberdade, the port houses on the south bank of the Douro and the river’s iconic bridges designed by the Eiffel firm.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Maya, Portugal
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