The low-rise resort town of Esposende is a popular destination for beach holidays and water sports, thanks to its location at the mouth of the Cávado River on the Costa Verde (Green Coast). It’s also one of the stops on the Coastal Camino Português and another multi-day hiking trail along the Atlantic coast.
Part of Esposende’s charm is its relaxed nature and absence of major tourist attractions. While much of its culture revolve around the water, there are other things to do in Esposende that don’t involve getting your feet wet.
From nature walks with bird watching opportunities to learning about or simply tucking into the fruits of its fishing industry, there are activities to suit most people.
Riverside pedestrian and cycle path
Where I live, the steep hills make cycling an impossible pastime, which is why I appreciate it when flat places like Esposende make it as easy as possible for riding a bike. There’s a dedicated cycle path and boardwalks along the river enabling you to stretch your legs and admire the views without worrying about the traffic.
Bikes are available to rent from next to the tourist information office.
Walk through the nature reserve and along Ofir beach
While walking beside the river may be enough exercise for you, there are several other marked trails to explore. Some take you to points of historical or cultural interest within Esposende itself while others help you explore the surrounding countryside and villages.
I followed most of the PR2 EPS Nature Trail in a bid to explore part of the North Coast Natural Park (Parque Natural Litoral do Norte). A wooden boardwalk takes you through marshlands and along the Cávado estuary towards the tip of the sand spit between the river and ocean.
On the way, you’ll find a bird watching shelter with observation slits at different levels and a faded information panel which may or may not help you identify the birds you spot.
At the far end there’s a miradouro (viewing platform) which offers great views of the coast, town and the Minho countryside.
After admiring the vista, simply take one of the wooden boardwalks down to the sandy beach and walk south until you reach the rather ugly high-rise complex at Ofir Beach. As usual, I was running short on time so I skipped the last part of the circular walking trail that goes past the golf course and medieval cemetery in Fão.
Learn about Esposende’s deep connection with the Atlantic
Esposende’s economy has long been bound to the ocean and you’ll see reminders of this all around the town. One obvious landmark is the bright red lighthouse in front of the 16th century Fort of St. John the Baptist at the mouth of the river.
As you walk or cycle south from the fort, you’ll pass a renovated lifeboat station next to the small marina. It’s now a Maritime Museum although I haven’t been inside so you’ll have to tell me what it’s like. Kids will probably enjoy the yellow ship-shaped play area next to it more than the museum.
The Igreja da Misericória (Mercy Church) has a remarkable late 19th century side chapel devoted to Our Lord of the Mariners. Its arched ceiling is richly decorated with apostles, a clear indication of how important the seafaring industry was at that time.
The Esposende Museum was originally a theatre and has some beautiful Art Nouveau tiles as well as a detailed exhibition about the local fishing culture.
Apart from a leaflet available from reception, there’s not a great deal of information in English but you should still get something from the visuals, especially if the exhibition with photos of local fishing folk is still on display in the Tiles Room.
Even if you don’t visit the museum, you’ll spot other tributes around town including the ‘Man of the Sea’ sculpture in Largo Rodrigo Sampaio and a boat-shaped fountain in Largo Dr Fonseca Lima.
Fresh fish and seafood
Since I’ve devoted so much of this post to fishing, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the fruits of this labour.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample the catch of the day in and around Esposende. Look out for daily specials on restaurant notice boards – these will be dictated by whatever the local fishermen have brought back.
Sea bass (robalo) is deservedly popular, and one of my favourite fish.
Esposende’s signature dish is Polvo da Pedra, made with octopus that feeds on the mussels, barnacles, limpets and other rock-loving shellfish found in local waters. As with most Portuguese dishes, the ingredients are simple yet tasty. Cooked in a tomato-based stock with potatoes, vegetables and turnip leaves (grelos), it’s a dish worth stepping outside your comfort zone to try.
Watersports in Esposende
As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of your proximity to vast bodies of water.
Surfing is probably the most obvious sport, although not everyone’s cup of tea. There’s a surf school in Ofir and experienced practitioners catch waves on Suave Mar beach.
As well as windswept, dune-backed beaches with great surf, there are calmer waters which lend themselves to kite surfing and stand up paddle. There’s a sheltered channel for jet skiing and kayak trips from nearby Fão.
Adventures on dry land
I’m quite content with walking these days but if that’s not enough for you or your family, more adrenaline-fuelled activities include mountain biking, horse riding and a treetop adventure park.
I haven’t yet had the chance to visit any of the archaeological finds in this area but there are several megalithic burial chambers (dolmens) and an ancient fortified settlement at Castro São Lourenço near Vila Cha.
Local crafts and antiques
Esposende hosts two outdoor markets each month in Largo Rodrigo Sampaio. On the first Sunday of the month, you’ll find the antiques fair, which in practice ranges from rusty saws to marble-topped dressing tables and household ornaments and utensils. Whether you buy anything or not the market offers an intriguing insight into local history and lifestyles.
For local arts and crafts, come to Esposende on the third Sunday of the month to do some souvenir shopping while supporting local artisans and the community. Open 10 am-7 pm.
Where to stay in Esposende
Possibly the nicest hotel in Esposende itself is the 3-star Hotel Suave Mar, near the fortress, the town centre and Suave Mar beach. Rooms are clean, comfortable and mostly spacious and the onsite restaurant is a good option if you don’t want to venture out for your evening meal. It also offers an outdoor pool for safe, easy swimming or sunbathing. Check photos, prices, room options and availability.
If you would rather be on the other side of the estuary, try the 4-star Axis Ofir Beach Resort Hotel, which is spitting distance from the sandy shore and surrounded by pine trees. Bright, modern and family-friendly, it has an outdoor pool plus rooms and a restaurant with sea views (it’s not the ugly building I mentioned before, by the way). See photos and availability here.
Much of the accommodation in Esposende, Ofir and Fão is in apartments or villas. Take a look at the range of options here.
Practicalities for visiting Esposende
There are several buses a day from Porto to Esposende with a journey time of about 1 hour. It’s also 1 hour by bus from the pretty town of Barcelos.
If you rent a car, it’s a half-hour drive from Porto. This would also give you flexibility to explore the area and venture into the beautiful Minho region.
For more information about things to see and do in and around Esposende, check out www.visitesposende.com.
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Thanks. Heading there in July for a week, actually my first holiday in Portugal, I know Spain very well, especially the north west so really looking for ward to this trip!