Can you picture surfing in the morning, taking a cultural trip in the afternoon and discovering the wonders of Portuguese gastronomy in the evening? This is all possible in the Porto region. You'll soon realise that going on a surf trip is much easier than standing up on a surfboard during your first surfing class.
In the Porto region the most popular beaches for surfers and body boarders boast good quality water and support services such as bathrooms, showers and first-aid posts. it is usually possible to hire surfing and body boarding material and even take private classes with experienced teachers.
The ease of accesses allows you to visit several beaches only using public transport such as the train and underground. So you can take an ecological surf trip and for three days discover the best beaches of the city of Porto, Matosinhos, Espinho, Vila do Conde and Póvoa de Varzim in total comfort.
Day one: Porto is so near the waves
For wave lovers, the first place to visit in the city of Porto is the International beach. This is located right alongside Matosinhos Beach, another beach that is highly sought after by water sports' lovers. Both are ideal for beginners or more experienced surfers which is why there are several surf schools providing group or private lessons and which allow the hiring of material.
Get to International beach early to breathe in the sea air and check the state of the sea. On this beach, as well as on the Matosinhos one, the waves are almost always guaranteed. The Matosinhos beach breakwater means that the sea is almost always calm so you can surf or bodyboard in total safety.
Before dipping your toes into the water, take a look around. Here the link between land and sea is particularly harmonious: on the one side there is the City Park, the largest green space in the city and the habitat of various species, whilst on the other side are the waves of the Atlantic. Architecture lovers should stop a while here to behold the Edifício Transparente (Transparent Building) which serves as a connection between the park and the beach as well as the huge sculpture separating the cities of Porto and Matosinhos, popularly known as the “anémona” (anemone).
More experienced surfers will love the lefthander waves that form alongside the rocks. The waves are strong in this area and the waves reach higher. For beginners, Matosinhos beach, accessible via the extensive sands, is more appropriate. These beaches are very popular at weekends so if you wish to exchange impressions about the waves with surfers from Porto this is the spot.
After a morning in the sea it's time to take a rest. Take a snack with a view over sea in Edifício Transparente or in the restaurants on the Porto coastal road. Then get on the streetcar which will take you from Foz to Ribeira do Porto. Go down along the alleys until you reach the banks of the Douro river. From here you can behold the bridges that cross the river, the colourful houses of the Ribeira and, right over on the other side, the city of Gaia and the stores where you can find the famous Port Wine.
Going along the riverside area, classified as intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO, discover the narrow streets and the remains of several architectural ages. A visit to the Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) is a "must", a 19th century building whose maximum exponent is its Salão Árabe. Right alongside is the church of São Francisco, one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Portugal. The church interior, almost totally bedecked in gilded wood, is simply breath-taking.
The day is getting on now and the body needs its rest because tomorrow it's time for more waves. In the riverside area there are a wide range of dinner options: international cuisine, signature restaurants and traditional Portuguese cuisine. Whatever you choose, rounding off your meal with a glass of Port wine is the ideal occasion for savouring the most famous Portuguese wine.
Day two: By train to Espinho
Kick the day off with breakfast at one of the most iconic cafés in the city, the Majestic. Open to the public in the mid-1920's and situated on one of the busiest streets in the city, Rua de Santa Catarina, this is the perfect spot to drink an espresso whilst taking a look at the Art Nouveau architecture elements of the building.
Next stop is São Bento station which is reached after a short walk. At this station you will get on the train to Espinho, one of the best spots for surfing and body boarding in the north. But before getting on board, look at the tilework of the station's atrium. There are more than twenty thousand of them and they illustrate scenes from the History of Portugal.
It's less than 30 minutes from Porto to Espinho and from the train station to Baía beach it's around 500 metres. Baía beach is located right opposite Espinho casino and it is renowned for boasting one of the best waves for surfing and body boarding. The “Casino Right-hander”, the name of the wave that forms on this beach is the favourite for many surfers, including top-level athletes.
The most experienced athletes will love this beach because of the quality of its waves. For starters there are surf schools in the vicinity to help them improve their technique over the waves. Now your board's all ready and you're warmed up, time to go into the sea!
After a few hours of fun on the waves, find out about the gastronomy of the city of Espinho. If you're a fan of fish and seafood, guess what? There are loads of restaurants on the coastal road serving diverse specialities such as fish soup and seafood rice. After lunch, it's time to go back to the city of Porto.
The train will bring you back to São Bento station. Your body might be asking for a rest now, but it's worth going up Avenida Dom Afonso Henriques (on the left of the station) and going along to Porto Cathedral. From Largo da Sé, a building that dates back to the 12th century, you can behold the episcopal palace, the Pillory and a beautiful sunset over the city.
It's time for dinner and today the snacks are typically Porto-style. The "francesinha", a spicy meat and sausage sandwich, has been winning fans all around the world. Taking a phot eating this sandwich is a must, regarded by some as one of the best in the world. There are several restaurants in Downtown Porto that serve this delicacy so you'll have no trouble finding this snack.
After dinner, you need to take a walk to the streets Cândido dos Reis and Galerias de Paris, the centres of Porto's nightlife. These parallel streets concentrate the larger part of the bars and nightclubs of Porto. There are spaces and music to suit all tastes, from bars with vanguard designs focusing on electronic music to bars bedecked in vintage decoration. In any case, the majority of Porto-dwellers stay in the street talking whilst they drink a draught beer, a glass of wine or a gin. It may be a long night, but let your body decide what time to hit the sack.
Day three: Sea and traditions in Vila do Conde and in Póvoa de Varzim
Today's a surfing day in Póvoa de Varzim, the city which is situated around 30 kilometres away from Porto centre. The sea is the engine of this city: fishing is a very important activity for the population and the extensive sandy beaches are sought out by lots of tourists in the north of Portugal.
Line B (red) of the Porto underground ends at Póvoa de Varzim, that's why we would suggest you use this means of transport to get to the beach. The trip lasts for around 60 minutes and you'll see that the landscape gradually changes during the route. The clusters of houses begin to thin out whilst greenery starts to dominate the landscape.
After reaching Póvoa de Varzim, walk to the coastal road. This is very busy in the summer months as one has a cycle track that takes you to Vila do Conde, a skate park and an amusement park. However, we've come to Póvoa de Varzim for surf so take a look along the coastal road and choose the spot that is endowed with the best conditions for surfing/body boarding.
The sea in Póvoa is aimed at experienced surfers as the bottom of the sea comprises sand and rocks. When the sea conditions are favourable, the waves are consistent and very strong, they are perfect for surfing.
Don't leave the city until you've taken a look at the fishermens' area packed with small vessels and fishing nets. In this area which is so intrinsically linked to the sea, try out the grilled fish in the region. There are sardines, charcoal-grilled sea bream and sea bass which come to the table accompanied by boiled potatoes and vegetables seasoned with Portuguese virgin olive oil.
Off back to Porto now to say goodbye to the city. There's still time to go up to the highest point of the city, the Torre dos Clérigos (Clerics' Tower). After such action-packed days, it's quite a challenge to go up all the steps to the top of the 75-metre tower, but it's well worth it. The view is breath-taking and one that you'll surely never forget.
From the best view in Porto to one of the most attractive bookshops in the world. The beauty of the Lello bookshop is recognised by travel guides and specialised publications. The red, spiral staircase, the stained glass windows and the busts of Portuguese writers make this bookshop an unmissable place.
Move on from the bookshop to one of the historic cafés in Porto, the Âncora d'Ouro café situated at Praça Parada Leitão. Popularly known as “O Piolho” (The Louse), this café has been the meeting place for university students since its foundation in 1909. Its walls are bedecked in dedications to former students of the University of Porto as the historic building of this university is right opposite the café.
Relax on the Piolho esplanade whilst recalling the beautiful beaches you have discovered and slowly saying goodbye to the city. Take advantage of your last few hours in Porto to visit the art galleries and author stores on Rua Miguel Bombarda, the heart of Porto's artistic district.
For dinner, choose a restaurant offering traditional Portuguese food. As well as meat and fish dishes, there's lots to choose from: octopus, cod-based dishes, Tripe Porto-style or a "caldo verde" (potato and cabbage based soup). Finally, good gastronomic memories should also form part of a surf trip.
How to get there
There are several direct connections to the city of Porto. If you're taking a low cost option you can fly from London (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseille, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan Bergamo, Rome Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg Lübeck, Munich Memmingen and Dusseldorf Weeze.
In summer there are low cost companies flying from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.
With the traditional airlines you can fly to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt and Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Luanda, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto and Luanda. In summer you can also fly from Montreal, Menorca, Brest and Brive.
At Francisco Sá Carneiro International Airport take the underground: the E line will leave you in the city centre in only 30 minutes
Espinho is easily accessible from Porto centre. If you take the train, you can leave from São Bento or Campanhã station and the trip takes less than 30 minutes. By road, you can get there via the A1 and the A29. If you don't wish to hire a car, buses leave from the centre of Porto to Espinho.
The Porto underground has a direct line to Póvoa de Varzim, but you can also go by bus to get to this fishing city. On the underground it takes around an hour to get to Póvoa de Varzim. By car it takes around 30 minutes on the A28.