The Castelo do Queijo with Matosinhos in the background

The town of Matosinhos lies just north of Porto and although it’s considerably smaller and quieter than its more famous neighbour, you’ll find several things to do in Matosinhos, especially if you like low-key destinations.

Connection from Porto to Matosinhos is by a metro line that takes just over 30 minutes. You could even use Matosinhos as a base (see my accommodation suggestions below) and take day trips into Porto.

Matosinhos started life as a fishing village and you can still see parts of the older neighbourhood if you wander through the back streets near the parish church. The industry has since expanded and it is currently the country’s main fishing port, benefiting from related industries that have sprouted alongside it, such as canning, metalworking and wood processing.

Lacking any major monuments beyond the swirly Leixões cruise terminal, the local tourism board market their small city as having the “World’s Best Fish”. It’s a bold claim, and one that I’m not qualified to dispute or confirm! True or not, Matosinhos is, however, a great place to find an abundance of restaurants grilling fresh fare from the ocean, and a vast array of seafood at the local Mercado de Matosinhos.

If you’re curious about what other activities and attractions Matosinhos has to offer, this guide is for you.

1. Spend time at Praia de Matosinhos / Matosinhos Beach

The huge expanse of sand between the fortress and the port has attracted the people of Porto for many years and it’s easy to see why. There’s plenty of space for relaxing and it’s also very popular for activities such as surfing, bodyboarding and volleyball to name just a few.

Matosinhos beach with climbing frames, Portugal
Matosinhos beach

There are several other beaches as you head north from Matosinhos but this is the easiest one to get to by public transport.

See this Matosinhos beach guide for other options.

2. Learn to surf in Matosinhos

One of the best things to do in Matosinhos is to take to the water.

Because of the shelter provided by the port, the waves at Matosinhos beach are relatively gentle, making it a great place to learn to surf.

You can put your trust in one of the first surfing schools implemented in Portugal with this 90 minute surfing lesson, adjustable for all levels.

You can also get individual attention from your very own tutor on this private surf lesson.

3. Contemplate the Tragedy of the Sea (Tragédia do Mar) sculpture

Tragédia do Mar sculptures, consisting of 6 figures, Matosinhos, Portugal
Tragédia do Mar sculptures, Matosinhos, Portugal

As you walk along the beach look out for this thought-provoking sculpture, a remider of the perils faced by the town’s fishing community. 

December 1st, 1947, was one of the saddest dates for the fishing community of Matosinhos when four fishing trawlers sank, killing 152 fishermen. The Tragedy of the Sea sculpture by José João Brito, inspired by a painting by another Portuguese artist, Augusto Gomes, was inaugurated in 2005 as a tribute to the families and victims of this shipwreck.

4. Admire the architecture of Leixões cruise terminal

Architectural swirling lines of Porto de Leixos, Matsinhos
Architectural swirling lines of Porto de Leixões, Matsinhos

If contemporary architecture floats your boat, at the far end of Praia de Matosinhos you’ll see the iconic Leixões cruise terminal, a purpose built terminal for ocean-going passenger ships that opened in 2015.

This is where cruise ship passengers disembark for their excursion into Porto (or just to relax on the beach).

Even if you’re not on a cruise, you may wish to spend some time gazing at the pearlescent tiles, swirls and curves of this impressive award-winning building. 

Guided visits take place on Sundays and must be booked in advance by email. See this website for more details.

5. Watch the She Changes, or “Anêmona” sculpture

She Changes moving net sculpture, Matosinhos, Portugal
She Changes sculpture, Matosinhos

Look along Matosinhos beach to the south and you’ll see this majestic sculpture. Suspended above the roundabout are red nets which symbolise the local area’s fishing heritage.

She Changes was designed by the American artist Janet Echelman in 2005 and has received international awards. It’s affectionately known by the locals as Anêmona because its pulsating form resembles an anemone.

I found it quite mesmerising so do take a little while to watch the way the nets billow in the breeze.

6. Visit a working sardine factory

As the “World’s Best Fish” destination, Matosinhos goes hand-in-hand with the fishing industry, including canning. Not only can you see the fresh catches at the market and taste divine fish in restaurants, you can also learn how important sardines are for the local community by visiting one of the most iconic canning factories.

On this guided tour you’ll be taken around the Conservas Pinhais factory and offered detailed explanations of the cooking and canning processes. Unlike other canning factories that have been turned into museums, this is still very much in operation so you’ll get to see live action as well as taste some of the delicious fish.

7. Discover the area by bike

Besides walking, another alternative to keeping fit is to explore the area on two wheels. Because Porto and Matosinhos are so close to each other, many tours cover both areas.

One is this cycle tour of Porto, which includes a visit to Praia de Matosinhos and Castelo do Queijo as well as the usual Porto sights.

To make things even easier, try this 3-hour electric bike tour which covers the same places.

8. Visit the Sanctuary of Senhor Bom Jesus

Senhor do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos
Senhor do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos church, with Baroque façade designed by Nicolau Nasoni

The Sanctuary of Senhor Bom Jesus is the city’s main monument of architectural, historical and religious significance, although it’s not as impressive as the Bom Jesus sanctuary in Braga.

The original site had a temple and monastery on it but it wasn’t until the 16th century that instructions were given to build a church, with further expansion in the 18th century.

That’s when Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, whose works include Clérigos Tower and Porto Cathedral got involved. He raised the side walls and produced a completely Baroque façade, with the nave and main chapel covered in gilded carvings by the Porto carver Luis Pereira da Costa, some of the best to be seen to this day in Portugal.

The origin of the sanctuary is linked to an intriguing story. According to the legend, a wooden figure of the Senhor do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos was thrown into the sea by Nicodemos in Palestine and turned up Matosinhos in the year 124. However, during its journey it lost an arm and no matter how many skilled craftsmen tried to make a replacement limb, all failed. The figure was placed in the nearby Bouças Monastery under protection. Later, an old lady was busy lighting a fire on the beach close to where the figure was found and was surprised to see a dry branch that kept popping out of the fire. She then realised that the fire-resistant branch was actually the figure’s missing arm.

9. See the Senhor do Padrão monument

Senhor do Padrão monument surrounded by grass, Matosinhos
Senhor do Padrão monument, Matosinhos

Standing in a small park close to the corner of the beach is the Senhor do Padrão monument. The arched stone construction marks the spot where, the above-mentioned statue of Senhor do Bom Jesus allegedly washed up on the shore.

This commemorative monument was built in 1758 and was originally completely isolated in the middle of a vast sandy beach, which just goes to show how the land has been reclaimed since then.

10. Go to a fish restaurant

You can find plenty of restaurants dotted all over Matosinhos but I particularly like strolling along Rua Hérois de França, a street full of tempting grilled fish and seafood restaurants.

Choose whichever takes your fancy, although O Lusitano is among the most popular and traditional.

11. Indulge your senses at Mercado de Matosinhos

If you want to experience a local market, the one in Matosinhos is far more authentic than the tourist-oriented Bolhão Market in Porto. It’s full of colour and life, including live animals and a fantastic fish section as well as fruit and veg.

12. Cross the bridge over the Leça River

As you come out of the market you can cross the River Leça via Ponte Móvel de Leça, a movable bridge. This connects Matosinhos with Leça da Palmeira, where you’ll find more beaches and a small marina. There are other attractions on this side of the river, including seawater swimming pools and pretty gardens (see below).

13. Chill out at Praia de Leça / Leça Beach

This is another large beach with a big expanse of sand but with a different vibe to its cousin in Matosinhos. Its stronger waves are ideal for surfing and bodyboarding and it’s very popular amongst young people thanks to various entertainment and late night bars.

There’s plenty of room for everyone but if you’d prefer somewhere to swim calmly and safely, try the adjoining Piscinas de Marés seawater pools.

14. Go for a dip at Piscinas de Marés

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

The Piscinas de Marés are a set of saltwater pools that date back to the 1960s. Designed by renowned Portuguese architect, Álvaro Siza Vieira, they have recently undergone renovation to bring them up to date.

It’s a safe place to swim with the added benefit of the Atlantic Ocean just a few feet away, making it a good option for a day trip from Porto.

15. Check out the Boa-Nova Lighthouse (Farol da Boa Nova)

Farol da Boa Nova with buildings at side, in Leça da Palmeira, Matosinhos
Farol da Boa Nova, in Leça da Palmeira, Matosinhos

Further along the coast you’ll find this fine lighthouse standing 46 metres high and the second highest in Portugal at 57 metres above sea level. Built in 1927, the Boa Nova Lighthouse naturally has fantastic views if you can manage the 225 steps!

There’s also a small museum where you can see various exhibits concerning parts and mechanisms associated with the workings of lighthouses.

Open for visits on Wednesday afternoons.

As you approach the lighthouse you may want to avert your gaze from the defunct oil refinery to the right, an ugly but important part of the industrialisation evident in the area, which is currently being dismantled.

16. Discover little beaches

Sunbathers on the sands and the wooden boardwalk and rocks at Praia Azul, Matosinhos, Portugal
Praia Azul beach and boardwalk, Matosinhos

A little further along the coast are two beaches worth visiting, Praia da Senhora da Boa Nova and Praia Azul.

Praia da Senhora da Boa Nova is closest to the lighthouse and small and sheltered, ideal if it’s a little windy.

Praia Azul is a small cove on the other side of the rocky promontory. Its small sandy beach is about 50 m and shaped like a shell. If you fancy a walk beside the ocean, follow the wooden boardwalk north from here to find other, larger beaches.

17. Admire Capela da Boa Nova

Capela da Boa Nova, a small chapel on a rocky promontory near Matosinhos, Portugal
Capela da Boa Nova, Matosinhos

This quaint little chapel occupies the site of an old Franciscan Monastery on the promontory. It was once a hermitage for Franciscan friars who, due to the harsh conditions of the place, relocated to Quinta da Conceição (see below) in 1478.

The grassy area around the chapel enables you to take some quite dramatic photos of the rock formations leading down to the sea.

18. Treat yourself to a meal at Casa de Chá de Boa Nova 

A perfect place for a special lunch or dinner would be this outstanding restaurant designed by the award-winning Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. Built around the rocks, offering amazing views of the ocean, this Michelin-starred restaurant has been classified as a National Monument since 2011.

19. Explore the gardens at Quinta da Conceição & Quinta de Santiago 

Garden of Quinta da Conceição with stone fountain in Matosinhos
Garden of Quinta da Conceição in Matosinhos

Quinta da Conceição has been transformed into a lovely park with shady trees and grassy areas. If you wander around you’ll find porticoes, figures, columns and a small chapel. Once upon a time it was a hermitage for the Franciscan friars who moved from the more challenging location at Boa Nova (see Capela da Boa Nova). These days it’s the perfect place for a relaxing stroll.

A short walk along Rua Vila Franca will bring you to Quinta de Santiago, built originally as a summer house, now a local history museum. You can tour the various floors and get a feel of life in bye-gone eras and a walk around the gardens offers sculptures from various artists. 

Opening times: From April to September
Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 1pm and from 3pm to 6pm

From October to March
Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 1pm and from 3pm to 6pm
Saturday, Sunday and public holidays from 3pm to 6pm

20. Contemplate the architecture at Nossa Senhora das Neves Fort

This fortress, sometimes known as Leça da Palmeira Fort or Matosinhos Castle, is a well maintained fortification and looks pretty impenetrable. It was part of the defensive line of the city of Porto and, while you can’t visit, its angular lines make for good photos, even though I don’t have any!

21. Take a walk through Parque da Cidade

Winding path through leafy trees, Parque da Cidade, Porto
Parque da Cidade, Porto

The famous Parque da Cidade, the largest city park in Portugal, is so big it’s shared between Porto and Matosinhos. It’s a great place to wander through and because of its many entrances it’s easy to explore. You can walk, bike or even park your car nearby if you want to keep your transport options open.

22. Hang out with locals at Fort Castelo do Queijo

Local men playing cards near Castelo do Queijo fortress, Matosinhos
Local men playing cards near Castelo do Queijo, Matosinhos

Just off the huge roundabout after leaving the park is Fort Castelo do Queijo or “The Cheese Castle”. The fortress gets its name from the rounded granite rock it was built on, which apparently looks a little like Portuguese cheese.

Officially called the Fortress of São Francisco Xavier, it was originally built to defend Matosinhos from Spanish invaders in the mid-1600s.  You can find a military-historical museum there and a program of cultural and entertainment events, which is open to the general public.

It’s quite a striking building and you get some fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean. On an afternoon, you may also encounter local men playing cards nearby.

Open Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 to 5 pm. Closed Mondays.

23. Explore the underwater world at Sea Life Porto

Sea Life is one of those places where time seems to disappear. Whether it’s walking through an underwater tunnel, discovering thousands of different creatures or learning about sea conservation, this aquatic centre is really well set out and ideal for families.

Ticket prices start from just under €18. Opening times: Monday to Friday 10 am – 6 pm, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 10 am -7 pm.

Where to stay in Matosinhos

Matosinhos hotels

Green Sustainability leaf for hotels

This 4-star hotel with pool, fitness center and sauna is just a few minutes walk from Matosinhos beach. The rooms are bright and spacious and you can start the day with a very good breakfast. You’ll find the staff very friendly and helpful, too. See availability.

Green Sustainability leaf for hotels

This recently renovated small boutique hotel set in a historical building close to Matosinhos Beach has an outdoor pool and garden. Rooms are nicely designed and warmly decorated and the staff will make you feel welcomed. Book your room now.

Guesthouses in Matosinhos

You can select a room with a garden view or a studio with a terrace at this lovely centrally located guesthouse. Everything is clean with good communication with the hosts. Check for dates.

Green Sustainability leaf for hotels

Brito Capelo 183

The rooms at this stylish and modern guesthouse may be a little on the small side but everything is spotless, with comfy beds and easy check-in. There’s a well equipped kitchen shared with other guests. See availability.

Matosinhos Apartments

Green Sustainability leaf for hotels

You get some great sea-views from these apartments, just a stone throw from the beach. Apartments are modern, stylish and spacious and free parking is available onsite. Select your apartment now.

Search for other places to stay in Matosinhos.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.