Matosinhos is located just a few kilometers from the center of Porto and is a place for the residents of Porto to relax and dine. It has long been the source of the city’s fish and seafood, and markets and seafood restaurants have remained since then.
Matosinhos also has one of the best beaches in the Porto area, with good waves for surfing all year round if the conditions are right. The waterfront is still protected by a 17th-century fort, with a rich history in the form of baroque and medieval churches, and kids can spend the day at the Sea Life Aquarium.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Matosinhos:
1. Igreja do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos
The church dates back to the mid-16th century, but almost everything you see now is from an 18th-century baroque redesign.
The extension was built by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni and funded by immigrants who made their fortunes in Brazil.
The façade is superb, with curving windows and pilasters.
There are three portals and lots of carved granite, shaped into gables and niches, and statues of St. Peter and St. Paul.
On the side chapels and the main altar, the interior exudes gilded woodwork.
Take a moment to look at the pipe organ, which was built in the Hamburg style in 1685 by the Dutchman Michael Hensberg.
2. Matosinhos Beach
The largest sandy beach in the Porto region has a charming wide arc of light-colored sand.
For a long time, industrial activity along the coast prevented Matosinhos from getting the Blue Flag, but it has been awarded this quality mark over the past few years.
Since this is an Atlantic beach, the water will be active and the current can be a bit strong for inexperienced swimmers.
But the wide sandy beaches, wide promenades and numerous bars and restaurants make up for this,
3. She has changed
Suspended above the roundabout behind the beach is a striking public sculpture.
This is the work of American Janet Echelman, produced in 2005. This is Echelman’s first permanent public installation, and she continues to make sculptures for cities in Canada and the United States. In her now established style, She Changes are hairspring arrangements of circular nets 45 meters in diameter, reminiscent of Matosinius’ traditional fishing.
Netting comes in a variety of colors and densities, so it looks different depending on the time of day or the angle you’re looking at.
4. Porto Sea Life
The largest aquarium in northern Portugal is in Matosinhos, only a few hundred meters from the beach.
There are 5,800 inhabitants, from more than 100 species in more than 30 tanks.
The largest of them, “Reino do Neptuno”, has an underwater tunnel that can be passed through.
Sharks are often the stars of the show, with Porto marine life ranging from blacktip sharks to smaller species such as nurse sharks and the odd-looking zebra shark.
Native and exotic creatures such as octopuses, rays, seahorses, jellyfish and freshwater species from the Douro such as carp and trout are also added.
Matosinhos feels like a self-sufficient city, so it’s easy to forget that you’re only a 15-minute metro ride from downtown Porto.
If there’s a starting point, it’s the Ribeira district on the north bank of the Douro.
It is located under the Dom Luís I bridge, an enduring landmark built by one of the founders of the Eiffel company.
On Gaia’s southern shore are the old port huts, while if you go up the hill you will reach monuments such as the Cathedral, the Basilica and the extraordinary Palácio da Bolsa.
Even so, you barely get to know all of the city’s attractions.
6. Mosteiro de Leça do Balio
There has been a church on this land by the River Lesa since the 900’s.
There may even have been a Roman temple before this, as it was on the old Roman road connecting Porto to Braga to the north.
When the church came under the control of the Knights Hospitaller in the 13th century, they gave it the belligerent appearance it has today, with solid square towers defended by zigzags and equipped with arrow rings.
Inside, see capital capitals showing biblical scenes and a later burial statue of the 16th-century bailiff Frei Cristóvão de Cernache.
7. Casa-Museu Abel Salazar
The famous 20th century Portuguese scientist, artist and social thinker Abel Salazar spent 30 years in Matosinhos, living in a house that has been turned into a museum.
The three-story building primarily showcases Salazar’s art, which is in the Neorealist style and includes hammered bronze, pen and ink drawings, sculptures, paintings and drawings.
To show you how diverse Salazar’s talents are, you can visit his home lab on the second floor, a room full of equipment that showcases his research in biology that brought him to fame in the 1920s.
8. Parque da Cidade
Portugal’s largest urban park, bordering Matosinhos in the south, starts from the seafront and has 83 hectares of lawns and woodlands.
It took nine years from 1993 to 2002 and was conceived by landscape architect Sidónio Pardal.
The garden has a vaguely ancient theme, with small pavilions, pergola supported by granite stones.
In the northeast corner you will find Pavilhão da Água, an exhibition about water, its cycle, function and importance to humanity.
9. Jardim da Foz
For a rejuvenating coastal walk, just head to Avenida Montvideu, with its long gardens along the rugged Atlantic coastline.
There are lawns, and the lush vegetation provides plenty of shade in summer.
The magic is in the sight of the Atlantic Ocean hitting the rocks, and some of the public artwork installed here in the 1930s.
These were all Art Deco styles and were shaped by some of the leading figures of the time, such as Irene Vilar, Henrique Moreira and Manuel Marques.
There are tributes to local seamen, a statue of the 16th-century writer Luís de Camões and a beautiful monumental fountain.
10. Matosinhos Market
Having lived on the sea, Matosinhos has a soft spot for seafood, and the place to come into contact with this tradition is in Rua França Júnior.
The building is also special: it is a curved white pavilion dating from 1944 and remodeled over the past few years.
As part of the renovation, offices and studios for young designers have been set up in galleries above the market floor.
These are worth a visit, but the title is the lobby below, where you can come and see the counters piled high with fresh fish and seafood from the ocean.
This is the early bird as the best time to visit is first thing in the morning.
11. Sea Fortress
After Portugal regained its independence in 1640, Porto set about fortifying its Atlantic fortifications against attacks by the Spanish navy and privateers.
Two remained in Matosinhos with little sign of wear.
The best preserved is the Forte de Nossa Senhora das Neves across the Leça River, and although it is not open to the public, its bartizans and star-shaped configuration are photogenic.
Further down is Forte de São Francisco do Queijo, from the same time, on a headland south of Matosinhos Beach.
This one is trapezoidal and houses a small military museum.
In the southeast of Matosinhos, on the way to the center of Porto, is a cultural space with a park, Art Deco villas and a contemporary art museum.
Villa Casa de Serralves, built between the 1920s and 1940s, is an excellent setting for some of the museum’s temporary exhibits.
It is probably the finest example of Portuguese Art Deco architecture, and was designed by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and glassmaker René Lalique, who designed the skylight in the main hall.
The garden in front of the villa covers 18 hectares and is organized in the form of flower beds.
There are fountains and pergolas, and a very grand alley lined with gum trees.
The museum itself was established in 1999 and hosts short-term contemporary art exhibitions; Joan Miró, Christoper Wool, Luc Tuymans, Claes Odenburg, Roni Horn and Franz West have all appeared since its opening.
13. Pharmacy Museum
This amazing museum is tucked away in Porto’s industrial area, so it won’t receive as many tourists.
But it’s not far from Matosinhos and it’s worth the effort to get there.
There are pots, mortars, and instruments from ancient Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, China, and civilizations such as the Aztecs and Inca.
The best part is the reconstruction of the various pharmacies: there’s one from Brazil’s colonial Macau, an 18th century pharmacy that used to be in Porto, and the most recent addition is an Islamic pharmacist, shipped here piece by piece from Damascus .
Another thing that makes Matosinhos higher than other beaches around Porto is the absence of rocks.
These are limited to the southern end of Matosinhos Beach, and since the beach is so exposed, you can surf here any time of the year if the conditions are right.
When the east wind blows, you get a good reef break in the rolling waves.
Matosinhos also has eight surf schools, in case you or your kids are inspired to start here.
Residents of Porto come to Matosinhos specifically to eat fish and seafood, which come directly from the ocean and at an affordable price.
The sheer number of restaurants will make your head spin; the area does have many scores, many of which are crowded around Porto de Leixões.
If you have a big appetite, you can have the seafood platter, which includes crab, clams, goose barnacles (a special speciality), shrimp and lobster.
Also very traditional are grilled sardines, served with new potatoes and salted cod (bacalhau), in dozens of different preparations.
Paired with vinho verde, a refreshing young wine from the Minho Valley in northern Portugal.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Matosinhos, Portugal
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