Liz and her husband are keen travelers. Portugal is a favorite destination of theirs. By writing from experience Liz hopes to help others.
Taking a Break From City Sightseeing in Porto
Escape to the Coast Near Porto
One of the great advantages of a stay in Porto, especially during the warmer months, is that it offers the opportunity to take time out from city sightseeing to explore the nearby Atlantic coastline. Our Holiday Inn Express Exponor location in Leca da Palmeira, to the northwest of Porto, left us within walking distance of two good stretches of coastline.
Praia de Leca da Palmeira is to the north and Praia da Matosinhos heads south to Foz and the mouth of the River Douro. During our stay near Porto, we had time to explore both.
Praia de Leca da Palmeira
We walked west, towards the sea, along Avenida Antunes Guimares. After passing the port of Leixoes and rounding the corner to the north, past the marina, we came upon Praia de Leca da Palmeira. This sandy stretch of beach is bordered to the south by the harbor wall and has a conveniently located beach bar. This is the widest stretch of sand, but it is often windy here and the sea can be rough. This is probably one of the reasons for the construction of the Piscina das Mares, the open-air saltwater swimming pool 850 meters further north along the coast. Another reason is the tendency of the sand to give way to a rockier coastline heading north.
As we walked north, the path followed the coastline and we were soon joined by Avenida Liberdade with two separate carriageways. Although this was a wide road, it was never busy, bordered on the one side by the coastal path and, on the other by a row of eating places and shops.
Piscina das Mares, Leca da Palmeira
The most striking point of interest on this stretch of coastline is the Piscina das Mares (swimming pool of the seas). It was completed in 1966 and designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, a Portuguese architect. Since 2006, this has been classified as a national monument. The complex consists of two pools; one shallow and unusually shaped and another deeper one of a more traditional rectangular shape.
Access to several architectural sites, such as these pools and the cruise terminal in Matosinhos, was free the first week of July and we joined a tour. Ours was in Portuguese, so we did not learn a lot, but it was worth it for a free look inside. Changing facilities are functional but basic. If you are looking for a similar standard to your leisure club at home, you will not find it here. We considered paying to stay for a swim but decided against it. It was a blustery day, the water was on the cool side, and by the time we got there more than half the morning session had passed.
There is a small amount of beach within the complex and sunbeds are available for hire. Shade is very limited.
Tip: Look out for information and posters in tourist information offices about days when admission is free to local sites.
Admission to Piscina das Mares
Tickets are sold by the day (09:00-19:00) or the half-day (09:00-14:00 and 14:00-19:00). Prices vary depending on when you go. On weekdays and non-holiday days, adult admission is around 22% cheaper per day or over 16% cheaper per half-day than at weekends and in the holidays. Under 12s are a little cheaper. For the regular swimmers, books of 10 tickets can be bought, saving around 10%. If you just want to take an unguided look around without swimming, there is a small nominal charge per person.
Tip: If you are planning a day or half-day at the pools check out the forecast and get there early, especially at the height of the summer season
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Piscina das Mares reopened in June 2021 after a programme of refurbishment.
The opening season is short. It typically runs from 15th June to 15th September.
Heading North Along the Coast Near Porto
We appreciated the pleasant break from city sightseeing afforded by our walk north along the rocky coastline. Avenida Liberdade is well set back from the coastal walkway and not very busy. There are well-maintained grassy areas, which separate the coastal path from the road. The inland side of the road is built up with modern apartment blocks, a few restaurants, and shops.
The apartment blocks served a useful purpose in shielding us from the sight of the nearby oil refinery, which came into view as we left the built-up area and reached the lighthouse, a kilometer north of the swimming pool. Set back slightly from the coast, the lighthouse is 46m (150ft) high and dates back to 1926 when it was built to protect ships from overrunning the entrance to the port and ending up on the rocks.
Capela da Boa Nova, which translates as 'the chapel of the good news' is 300 meters beyond the lighthouse on a rocky outcrop between Praia da Boa Nova to the south and Praia Azul to the north. The chapel dates from 1392 and is formally called Capela de S. Clemente das Penhas, which translates as Saint Clemente of the Rocks.
Time to Turn Around on the Coast Walk North of Porto
Once we reached the Capela da Boa Nova we decided to retrace our steps, choosing the shadier built-up side of the road. My disappointment at leaving the more scenic views on the seaward side was short-lived. We stumbled upon a supermarket, where we found bottles of Vinho Verde (Portuguese green or young wine) at a vastly reduced price of just 49 cents. Needless to say, we cleared the shelf of the remaining 5 bottles. It was a bargain find. Vinho Verde is a Portuguese specialty. It is a refreshing, lightly sparkling wine made from young grapes, with a slightly lower alcohol content than more mature table wines.
North from the Port of Leixoes, Porto
Exploring the Coast to the South of the Port of Leixoes
For a totally different beach experience, we walked west again along Avenida Antunes Guimares, but this time took a left along Rua Congosta do Abade over the Ponte movel (moving bridge), which took us south of the port of Leixoes. After passing the Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos (Matosinhos municipal market) we took a right down Rua Conde Sao Salvador. At the end, we turned left onto Rua Herois de Franca. The port was now to our right. Fish restaurants lined the street on the left. We took the first right down Rua Godinho. This road bends round to the left and becomes Avenida General Norton de Matos. At last, we had sight of a beach and a useful Posto de Turismo de Matosinhos (local tourist office) to the right.
The Cruise Terminal
The wide stretch of sand is well worth the walk and is sheltered by the harbor wall and Terminal de Cruzeiros do Porto de Leixoes. The cruise terminal was designed by Luis Pedro Silva and was opened in July 2015. Like the open-air swimming pools on Praia da Leca da Palmeira, the terminal was open for free viewing on the first weekend of July 2017. I now regret not being prepared, at the time to take the extra walk out there, as it looks like a stunning location.
Praia da Matosinhos
Ideal for families, Praia da Matosinhos is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike in the warmer months. The broad promenade is overlooked by a selection of modern apartment blocks set behind landscaped greenery and the occasional eating place. The wide stretch of sandy beach gently shelves into the sea, offering safe bathing, overseen by lifeguards at busier times. The coastline is tidal and, even in the warmer months, Atlantic sea temperatures can be on the cool side.
Surf schools operate from the beach. The sand gradually gives way to the rocks around Forte de São Francisco Xavier (Fort of San Francisco Xavier ) or Castelo do Queijo (Castle of Cheese), which marks the end of the beach area. With the original fortification dating from the mid-1600s, this castle gained its name from the cheese shape of the rock formation. We opted to walk further rather than explore inside the castle, but others recommend a look for only 50 cents admission.
City Park, Porto
Crossing the road and heading inland we took a look at Parque da Cidade do Porto, 1.2 kilometers from the tourist office by Praia da Matosinhos. The City Park did not live up to our expectations, although it is Portugal’s largest urban park. The greenery and lakes were pleasant enough, but it had a slightly run-down feel about it, which was not helped by the dismantling of a stage from an event the previous day. For a city park, it was surprisingly empty of visitors and we had a job finding our way in and out of it. Admittedly it was a weekday in late June and maybe the inland end is more stunning.
There is a Sealife Centre sandwiched between the City Park and the roundabout behind Castelo de Quiejo, which links with Avenida da Boa Vista, heading into Porto. We did not visit on this occasion, but from experience elsewhere, Sea Life centers are usually popular with younger visitors.
Tired of Walking?
If by this stage you are tired of walking, an alternative would be to pick up the Bus 500 from a roundabout behind Praia da Matosinhos or near Castelo do Quiejo. This runs south along the coast of Foz do Douro and then follows the northern bank of the River Douro into central Porto. If not, walk on, as we did, into the area known as Foz do Douro.
Foz do Douro
The coastline is rockier as you walk south from Castelo do Quiejo through Jardins da Avenida de Montevideu, a pleasant area of trees and grass with a slightly run-down monument/fountain, along the coastal walkway. This leads eventually to the district of Foz do Douro, literally translated as the mouth of the Douro, as the area follows the coastal bend into the river estuary. Rocks predominate, so swimming is not as easy as from Praia da Matosinhos to the north, but there are a few bars with views out to sea, as well as a Pizza Hut on this stretch of coastline.
The most striking sight is the Pergola da Foz. It is associated with romantic photographs and it was built in the 1930s in the affluent area of Foz do Douro, which was inhabited by the wealthier classes. The pergola was refurbished in 2008. It is 1.6-kilometer from the coast entrance of the City Park.
Rounding the corner from Foz do Douro, you will find a collection of cafes and food sellers backing onto the water and the view across the river estuary. Jardim do Passeio Allegre, with its pleasantly landscaped grounds, dating from the end of the 19th Century, is a little further along, around 1.8 kilometers from the pergola.
Having walked a fair distance by now, you might want to pick up the vintage tram 1 by the gardens, which will take you along the riverbank into Porto.
South from the Port of Leixoes, Porto
Enjoying the Coastline
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© 2018 Liz Westwood