Piscina das Marés seawater swimming pools, Leça da Palmeira, Porto. Photography by Julie Dawn Fox

If you’re in the city for more than a couple of days, you’ll find a variety of things to see and do near Porto that don’t involve exploring the Douro Valley. Head towards the ocean instead and discover beaches, nature reserves, fishing villages and more within easy reach.

Check out this article if you’re still deciding where to stay in Porto.

Beaches and architecture in Foz

You can get to the pretty village of Foz on one of the old wooden trams (Line 1) or by bus. Either way, you’ll wind up in what was once a holiday destination for Brits in the Victorian era with pretty traditional houses clad with colourful ceramics. Although Foz has since been absorbed by Porto it’s retained its charm and personality and is a popular residential area.

Glass-fronted beach bars enable you to enjoy the seaside all year round, especially at Praia do Molhe. The sandy beaches have enough rocks to create interest although Foz isn’t the best place for swimming. Depending on how rough the sea is, you can stroll along one of the piers or venture out to the red and white lighthouse and dodge the spray of the waves as they bash into the rocks.

Get some exercise by walking, jogging or cycling along the prom towards the old fort, aka Castelo do Queijo (Cheese Castle) so-called because of the shape of the rock it’s built on. If you’d rather relax amid greenery and flowers, Jardim do Passeio Alegre is filled with palm trees, ponds and a bandstand.

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Matosinhos and Leça da Palmeira

Still within easy reach of Porto by car, metro or bus, Matosinhos is the place to go for the best fresh seafood with plenty of popular marisqueiras (seafood restaurants).

The Piscina das Marés seawater swimming pools at Leça da Palmeira, designed by renowned Portuguese architect, Álvaro Siza Vieira, are another major draw. There are sandy beaches here, too, if you don’t want to pay for the man made pools.

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The other side of the River Douro

Beyond the port wine lodges in Vila Nova da Gaia lie more beaches, nature reserves and traditional fishing villages.

You can easily cycle, drive or take a bus to explore the left bank of the Douro river. Continue past the port wine lodges and boat-building yard towards the river mouth where you’ll discover a world of contrasts.

Find out where to stay in Vila Nova de Gaia or Porto.

São Pedro da Afurada fishing village

The small, close-knit fishing community of São Pedro da Afurada occupy a cluster of low-level houses. Their communal laundry house and washing lines by the water’s edge are still very much in use. The humble wooden fishing boats are somewhat dwarfed by the fancy pants yachts and cruisers in the luxury Douro Marina just a stone’s throw away. To learn more about the history of the community and its cultural heritage, pop into the big red shed, which is now an interpretation centre.

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Nature reserves and beaches south of Porto

On the headland just past the fishing village you’ll find a sandy beach, Praia do Cabadelo do Douro, which has views of Foz. The river side of the sandy spit is part of a nature reserve so not for sunbathers or straying off the boardwalk. Once you get to the beach, be prepared to avert your gaze if you encounter nudists in the dunes. Focus instead on the antics of the surfers. Or other forms of nature such as birdwatching.

Praia da Lavadores

This is the first beach you encounter heading south along the coast. With regular buses from Porto and plenty of parking, Lavadores beach is popular with families but not overcrowded. If the sand and clumps of rounded boulders aren’t enough to keep you entertained, there’s a boardwalk promenade and kids’ play areas or you can hire bikes and water sport equipment. If you just want a bite to eat, take your pick from the range of cafés and restaurants both on the beach and set back from the road.

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Capela do Senhor da Pedra at Miramar

Bizarre as it may seem, there really is a chapel on the beach at Miramar. Having survived the location since the 17th century, I imagine it will be there for a long time to come. It’s not the only draw though. The abundance of sand, wooden walkways, sun shades and a lifeguard make this upmarket area quite popular. There’s a 9-hole golf course nearby if you feel the need to swing your clubs.

Voando sobre o Senhor (5025209997)

Aguda nature reserve

If you’re more interested in the wonders of nature, head to  the mini reserve at Aguda where you can follow the wooden boardwalks to discover protected dune plants.

These are just a few of the many things to see and do near Porto. If you have other suggestions, please leave a comment.

See my flexible self-guided walking tour of Porto’s highlights

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24 Comments

  1. Thank you all your information. We are coming to Portugal, March 2016 for 7 weeks. Your postings are helping us make wonderful choices. Thank you again. Can’t wait, our first trip to Europe!!

    1. Author

      Wow! 7 weeks! You’ll have such a great time exploring, especially as there’ no need to rush around. Glad I’ve been of use 🙂

  2. I really do hope to get back to Porto some day, Julie, and when I do I’ll take another look at this. That capela is awesome! 🙂

    1. Author

      Isn’t it just! I’m amazed it’s withstood the elements for so long.

  3. We’ve been to Lisbon and some pars south, but never to Porto, Coimbra and the north. Based on your blog post and others I’ve read about the area, a return trip to include Porto and environs is definitely warranted.

    1. Author

      Suzanne, there’s so much to see and do, especially in the centre and northern Portugal. You really should try to come back for more.

  4. Planning for next year’s Portugal trip has already started but after reading another of your informative posts, it looks as though I am going to have to stay longer in the Porto region than planned! So many interesting places to visit.

    1. Author

      Jenny, I’ve been here for 8 years and am still working my way through an ever-increasing wish list of places to go in Portugal!

  5. I just returned, a little over a week ago, from Portugal. I spent time in Porto prior to and after a wonderful Viking River Cruise. They took us to a lot of very interesting places but it looks as though you found some of your own gems. I just loved the country and the people and hope to go back so will bookmark your suggestions. Thanks!

    1. Author

      Portugal has a way of making you want to come back time and time again – there´s always something more to discover.

  6. It was way too many years (decades?) ago that I visited that area of Portugal. Such nice descriptions and photos, makes me crave a return visit.

    1. Author

      Thanks – you definitely should come back!

    1. Author

      You’re welcome. It’s hard to fit everything into just one trip but Porto is so easy to get to for many people that a repeat trip could easily take you out of the city centre.

  7. Always a pleasure to follow your travels….both verbally and visually, you inspire others to explore this wonderful country. Love your work, Julie.

  8. Heading off on Tuesday from Warwickshire to Portugal in our motorhome. This is a timely posting as it reminds me that there’s more to Oporto than the obvious. Had great visit last year but new delights to come, obviously.

    1. Author

      Have a great trip, Tony! Let me know if you find any more treasures in the vicinity. Vila do Conde is also worth a visit.

  9. Your photos show a gorgeous area with much to offer in the way of entertainment, learning or just relaxing. We can’t wait to visit this city as well as the villages around it upon our return to Portugal later this fall. I enjoyed my virtual tour! Anita

    1. Author

      Happy to be keeping your motivation levels high, Anita 🙂

  10. Julie:

    This article was opportune since we are planning to spend a couple of weeks in the Oporto area this Fall.

    Thank you for all your work regarding what Portugal has to offer. Your efforts help make our planning that much easier.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, Frank. Thanks for sticking with me all this time and have a great trip 🙂

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