Did you know there’s an amazing beach town just 20 minutes from the bustling centre of Porto? Matosinhos has the best beach in Porto, great cafes and restaurants and interesting things to do. Read on for why Matosinhos is worth a visit and how to make the most of your time in this Porto hidden gem.
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Where is Matosinhos?
Matosinhos is on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, 8km west of Porto’s historic centre. It’s just north of where the Douro river which flows through Porto reaches the sea; Matosinhos’s port is actually at the mouth of another river, the Rio Leça.
What is Matosinhos like?
We stayed in Matosinhos for the Primavera Sound Porto music festival, which is held in the Parque da Cidade do Porto (Porto City Park), just south of Matosinhos. I found it really difficult to find information online about whether Matosinhos is a good place to stay for visiting Porto, so I hope this is useful to someone else in my shoes.
Matosinhos is primarily a residential area, with lots of apartment blocks. The streets closest to the beach are a bit drab but there are pockets of older buildings, some of which have pretty tiles or are painted in bright colours.
Porto’s main port is in Matosinhos and the harbour is constantly busy with container ships. One of my favourite things to do in Matosinhos was to sit at a beach bar (we liked Bar Praia Do Titã), load up the MarineTraffic ship tracking app that I discovered in Hamburg and see where the ships had been and where they were going next.
You’ll also see cruise ships (including some very fancy ones!) docking at the Porto Leixões Cruise Terminal, a beautiful swirling building that looks like a cross between a pencil shaving and a soft-serve ice cream.
Things to do in Matosinhos
While it’s really easy to get to Porto city centre from Matosinhos, so you’re likely to spend most of your time seeing the city, there are lots of other fun and interesting things to do in Matosinhos.
Go to the beach
The top thing to do in Matosinhos is of course to go to the beach. I’m not even that much of a beach lover but the wide stretch of soft golden sand here is truly special. There’s loads of space for everyone, while the harbour wall and lifeguard service make the beach safe for bathing.
Matosinhos is one of the best places in Portugal to learn how to surf. There are a number of surf schools along the beach who can take you out for your first time in the waves. If you get the surfing bug, there are a number of surf shops in Matosinhos where you can get kitted out.
Visit Matosinhos market
The Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos is in a stunning Modernist building which opened in 1952 near the port. The roof inside is spectacular, and the building is a Portuguese National Monument. The market still opens early for fishmongers to sell the morning’s catch, and the local authorities are encouraging cafes and small craft businesses to move into the space.
While visiting the market is one of the top things to do in Matosinhos, I’m vegetarian, and a bit of a softy when it comes to animals, so I didn’t love the smell of fish or the wet market with chickens in tiny cages.
See the She Changes sculpture
Don’t miss seeing the fabulous She Changes sculpture at Rotunda da Anémona. Known locally as the Anemone, She Changes is a huge piece by American artist Janet Echelman on the seafront, made of a giant red net held up by three poles. The net billows and moves in the wind, making it look like an enormous sea creature.
Visit the Casa da Arquitectura
Casa da Arquitectura in Matosinhos is the most important centre for architecture in Portugal and hosts a wide range of exhibits related to architecture, along with temporary exhibitions.
Casa da Arquitectura also organises tours of several architectural gems in and around Matosinhos, many designed by Portugal’s greatest living architect, Álvaro Siza, who grew up in Matosinhos.
Go to the Primavera Sound Porto music festival
The Portuguese edition of the Primavera Sound music festival is held in Porto each June. Primavera Sound Porto is a smaller version of the original festival which is held in Barcelona, but has many of the same headliners – in 2023 I saw Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Sparks and Blur, along with tons of other acts.
Primavera Sound Porto takes place in Porto’s city park, Parque da Cidade do Porto, right by the She Changes sculpture. The combination of the seafront location, an attractive setting and a great lineup makes it one of my favourite city music festivals.
If you do go to Primavera Sound Porto, Matosinhos is my favourite part of Porto to stay in – read on for the best places to stay in Matosinhos.
Visit Castelo do Queijo
Castelo do Queijo, also known as the Cheese Castle, is a historic landmark. The fortress dates back to the 17th century and is one of several forts on this stretch of Portugal’s Atlantic coastline. The castle’s unusual name comes from the peculiar shape of a nearby rock formation, which resembles a giant piece of cheese.
With its strategic location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Castelo do Queijo played a significant role in protecting Porto from seaborne threats throughout history. The castle is now home to a small Commando museum; it also offers panoramic views of Matosinhos’s beach.
How to get to Matosinhos
Matosinhos is only 8km from the centre of Porto so it’s easy to get in and out of the city centre.
The easiest way to travel between Matosinhos and Porto is by tram; Porto Metro line A will take you from the centre of Matosinhos to the Trinidade transport hub just a short walk from Porto City Hall and São Bento station.
Line A continues on from Trinidade towards Porto’s main train station Campanhã, where you can catch trains from Porto to Lisbon, Coimbra and Aveiro. You can also take the tram to the airport; take line A towards the city centre then change to line E at Senhora da Hora.
While I used the tram during my stay in Matosinhos, there are also buses. The number 500 bus is the most picturesque; it goes from the Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos to the city centre via Foz do Douro, running along the seafront then along the Douro river.
Where to eat in Matosinhos
Matosinhos’s location next to the port makes it one of the best places in the city to eat fresh fish and seafood. I’m vegetarian and so is my partner, so we didn’t try any of them, but you can’t go far wrong with any of the places on R. Heróis de França.
If, like me, you don’t eat fish, you’ll still have plenty of choice. Our favourite place to eat was Terrárea, an unpretentious but very cool coffee bar and cafe a couple of blocks from the beach. Half of Terrárea is a beautiful plant and home decor shop, the other half serves vegetarian and vegan breakfasts, lunch dishes and cakes in fabulously leafy and relaxing surroundings.
Another amazing option for vegetarians and vegans is Da Terra, a small Portuguese chain of all-you-can-eat buffets – some of which are exclusively plant-based. I didn’t get to eat at the Matosinhos branch but I’ve eaten at their central Porto branch near São Bento station several times and it’s always been delicious.
On our last night in Matosinhos we ate at Thamel, a Thai restaurant overlooking the beach and this was another great meal with very friendly service. Thamel also has a terrace at the front that’s a great option for sunset drinks.
Where to stay in Matosinhos
I went to Matosinhos for the Primavera Sound festival and booked the Four Points Matosinhos hotel as it was the closest hotel to the festival site. The Four Points by Sheraton Matosinhos is practically brand new, very comfortable and is staffed by a truly lovely team.
If you do stay here, I highly recommend having breakfast – it’s one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had. The hotel is around 5-10 minutes’ walk from the Matosinhos Sul tram stop.
If the Four Points is full, the Eurostars Matosinhos is another 4 star hotel which also boasts a spa and swimming pool. It’s very close to the street of fish restaurants and the beach.
If you prefer a smaller, more boutique hotel, the Harbour Inn Design Townhouse hotel is even closer to the beach than the Eurostars Matosinhos. Set in a traditional, tiled building next to the Jardim Senhor do Padrão, the rooms at the Harbour Inn Design Townhouse are all individually designed to make best use of the building’s quirky spaces.
There are lots of apartments to rent in Matosinhos, some with great views of the ocean. Apartamento Matosinhos Mar is a spacious and well-reviewed one-bedroom apartment with a sea view and easy access to Matosinhos’s bars and restaurants.