Portugal is well-known for its beaches and sunsets, but the beaches in the south attract the most attention. Today, we will talk about the best beaches in Porto and northern Portugal.
There are some extraordinary beaches in the north of Portugal. Some have a seemingly endless stretch of sand, others have good infrastructure, and some are almost untouched. There are also beaches with unique characteristics and a very long history. In this list of the best beaches in the North, we have included a little of everything, family beaches, wild beaches, beaches with history, accessible beaches, and others not so much.
For the purposes of this article, we defined the beaches of North and Porto as all beaches between Caminha (on the Spanish border) and Espinho. To make it easier to read, we sorted them from north to south.
General characteristics of beaches in the North of Portugal
As we were saying in the north of Portugal, there are quite distinct beaches, with some peculiarities that make them very attractive. However, these beaches end up having some general trends and homogeneous characteristics that we need to highlight:
- Cold water – Unfortunately, all the beaches in the north of Portugal have very cold water, even in the peak of summer. Expect temperatures between 16º and 18º degrees at most.
- Wind – the beaches from the north of Portugal tend to be windy, and the wind usually comes from the north.
- Although generally windy in our experience we have to note that:
- it is more windy in summer than in winter;
- It is more likely to be windy when there is sun than when it is overcast.
- It is usually windier at the end of the day than in the morning.
- The wind is one of the main factors responsible for the low water temperature in summer, through the upwelling phenomenon.
- The beaches are practically all sandy, but in most of them the sand is quite coarse .
- The beaches of northern Portugal are renowned for their therapeutic effects due to the high levels of iodine.
12 Best Beaches in Porto and North Portugal
Moledo Beach, Caminha – the most beautiful beach in northern Portugal
Located in the far north of Portugal, less than 5 km from the mouth of the Minho river (and consequently from the border), Moledo is one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal. It is also a traditional seaside resort, very popular since the beginning of the 20th century.
Moledo beach is located in an area of obvious natural beauty, with the Camarido forest, a long stretch of sand, clear waters, the small rocky Ínsua islet, and Santa Tecla Hill on the other side of the river Minho gives the finishing touch. Unfortunately, it is poorly protected from the wind, and the swell is sometimes strong.
What makes this beach really different is Ínsua, a small rocky island with a 15th-century fort, remodeled in the 17th and 18th centuries that has become one of the icons of the Portuguese coast. This is undoubtedly the most striking feature of the beach, which gives it the charm and sets it apart from all others in northern Portugal beaches. It is possible to access the Insua fort from the Caminha riverside area, but we are unaware of any boat access from Moledo beach.
Due to its popularity, Moledo beach has good access and parking. It also has a bar/restaurant, lifeguards, and rental of shades and awnings.
Due to the wind and sea characteristics, this is a very popular beach for surfing, bodyboarding, and windsurfing. Still, the sandy beach, the views, and the infrastructure make it equally suitable for families and children. For all these reasons, this is often considered not only one of the most beautiful but also the best beach in the north of Portugal.
Cabedelo Beach, Viana do Castelo – one of the best beaches in the north for water sports
Cabedelo beach is perhaps the main beach in Viana do Castelo, but it is not in the city; it’s on the south bank of the Lima River. Access by car is easy, but if you are on the Viana side, you can also use the boat to go to the beach without driving and getting stuck in a traffic jam.
This beach consists of two sections, separated by a pier. On the north side, we have a small beach near the mouth of the river Lima and on the south side, a long, enormous, almost endless strand in a slight crescent. The sand is fine, golden and the seawater is clear but freezing as always in this region.
At first glance, Cabedelo beach looks quite undeveloped, almost wild even. Dunes and a pine forest surround it, but it also has 2 campsites, the Hotel feel Viana, good accesses, parking, bar/restaurant, showers, and lifeguards. The entire northern Portugal shore is quite windy, but at Cabedelo beach, it seems to be especially strong, which is natural as there is no protection from the wind. So, if you are going to the beach, take a beach shelter, or if you don’t, you can rent a tent in one of the beach bars.
This is a very popular beach among young people and groups of friends, as it is great for sports such as surfing, windsurfing, and bodyboarding. Plus, it also has plenty of entertainment during the day, which often extends into the night.
Praia de Ofir, Esposende – one of the best beaches in the North of Portugal
Ofir became famous for the 3 towers built almost on the beach and in an area of great beauty where nothing justified. However, there is a lot more to Ofir beach than those monstrosities.
The entire area surrounding Ofir is lovely, with dunes, pine forests, walkways, and cycling routes. Located on the south bank of the mouth of the Cávado river, it’s a beach with excellent access and all the infrastructure you might need, in a beautiful environment, with pine forests, the river, and dunes. In our opinion, it is one of the most beautiful stretches of the northern Portuguese coast. Yet, more than simply a beautiful beach, it is a charming coastal area to explore.
This is why it’s a popular beach in the summer, especially for families. Due to its popularity, there is no shortage of bars, restaurants, and clubs in the area. However, the diversity of activities, the walkways in the dunes, and the size of the strand make it suitable for everyone.
Praia da Apúlia, Esposende – the beach of the Sargaceiros
Apulia beach is known for the old windmills that still survive despite being transformed into holiday homes. Located just 5km south of the city of Esposende, this beach is surrounded by dunes, a granite outcrop to the north, and a jetty to the south.
The beach has a wide strand of sand, with yellow sand, not too thick and relatively sheltered in the northern part by the rocky outcrop. There are walkways for easy access to the beach. It is a beach very rich in iodine due to the famous sargassum (algae) that sometimes accumulates in the waters and sands.
Sargassum is very common on the beaches of this region; however, it is perhaps in Apulia that it is best known. Sargaceiros collected these algae to be used as fertilizer in agricultural fields in the region.
The proximity to Braga and the quality of the beach make it very popular. Consequently, it is a beach with good support infrastructure. On the beach, or next to it, we have parking lots, concession areas, tents for rental, bars, and restaurants. Several beachside restaurants are known for excellent grilled fish and other typical fish and seafood dishes.
Póvoa de Varzim beaches, best urban beaches in the north of Portugal
Póvoa de Varzim beach is perhaps the best known and most popular beach in northern Portugal. Tourism developed very early, since the 19th century, especially after the construction of the railway connection. However, it is mainly frequented by northerners and Portuguese emigrants. It is also the first urban beach on this list.
Póvoa de Varzim is a city that lives and has always lived to and from the sea. First through fishing and then its beach. That’s why during the summer it’s a place where large crowds gather, with entertainment during the day and night. On the beach, by the beach, and in town. It even has a casino, which is said to be one of the most beautiful and reputable in Portugal.
This is, therefore, an urban beach, and naturally, we have all the necessary infrastructure, both on and off the beach. The strand is huge, housing a high number of vacationers. However, the sand is a little thick, and those who are not used to it can take a while to get used to it. Like most beaches in the north, the sea is rough, and of course, the water is quite cold.
Access to Póvoa de Varzim beaches is excellent, and there are several car parks, paid during the summer. However, note that it is difficult to find a spot in summer, especially in August, even in paid parks. Furthermore, a lot of traffic accumulates, along the beaches and for entering and leaving the city. If you are coming from Porto, you can use the metro, whose last stop is exactly in Póvoa. However, the station is not next to the beach, so you will have to walk about 1km (15 minutes).
Lastly, note that what in this article we call Póvoa de Varzim Beaches is the central beach of Póvoa which is usually subdivided into Praia de Carvalhido, Praia da Salgueira, Praia Redonda, as each concessionaire gives its section a different name. Otherwise, it’s the beach on Avenida dos Banhos.
Vila do Conde Beaches, one of the best beaches in the north for families
Vila do Conde is right next to Póvoa de Varzim, so close that one may think they are the same city, as there is no real separation. Despite this, they couldn’t be more different. While Póvoa is an almost electric place in summer, with lots of entertainment all day (and night), Vila do Conde is completely different. It is more relaxed, calm, and a city whose center was born along the Ave River and not along the beach.
Vila do Conde is a great destination for those looking for a beach holiday, but without the huge mayhem that Póvoa sometimes is. The beach is excellent, forming small bays of different sizes among the various rocky outcrops. During low tide, the rocks create small ponds, great for children. The sand is slightly coarse, and the water is cold, like all other beaches in the North.
The sandy beach of Vila do Conde extends for almost 6 km, from the river Ave to almost Póvoa de Varzim. In this article, we suggest the most central area of Vila do Conde, on the southern part of the beach between S. João Baptista fort and the lookout, which includes Praia do Forno, Praia da Ladeira, Praia Azul, and Praia Olinda.
One of the best features of these beaches is that they combine the advantages of an urban beach with a relaxed and calm environment. Although the city has recently grown towards the beach, with bars, restaurants, and support infrastructure, the beach area does not have high buildings. On the other hand, it has a wide waterfront, with pedestrian and bicycle paths, and even dune areas.
The accesses to Vila do Conde are similar to those of Póvoa, with the same traffic problems and parking difficulties. There is also the possibility of taking the metro that connects Vila do Conde directly to Porto, but the line is in the city center, about 1km from the beaches.
Vila do Conde is my beach, the beach of my childhood, and the beach in the city we chose to live in. We suggest you check this article if you want to know a little more about Vila do Conde and the best things to do and visit in Vila do Conde.
São Paio Beach, Vila do Conde – a beach with a long history
The beach of São Paio is located about 10 km south of the city of Vila do Conde in a relatively undeveloped area. It is well known for the nearby Castro de São Paio and the marks you can see on the rocks that are said to be Viking. Thus, a visit to this beach is more than a simple trip to the beach, as you can explore a little of Portugal’s history.
The small beach is hidden between granitic rocky outcrops that protect it from the winds and waves. For this reason, this is one of the least windy beaches in the north of Portugal. Although undeveloped, it is not a wild beach, as it has a bar/restaurant with a pleasant terrace.
The access to the beach is not simple, as it is made through cobbled, winding roads where it is not easy to navigate if you don’t know the area. Alternatively, you can choose to walk along the walkways of Vila do Conde and take a spectacular hike along the coast from Vila do Conde to São Paio. Note, however, that it is a roughly 9km hike each way.
The geomorphology, archeology, and landscape make this place a complete destination, but the beach is really nice and lovely. For all that, this is undoubtedly one of the best beaches in the North of Portugal.
Tide pool in Leça – where you can go to the beach in a national monument
Swimming pools in an article about the best beaches in Porto and Northern Portugal? Yes, for those unfamiliar, these are exceptional pools. Both because of their architect and for their framing and beauty. What’s more, in this place you can go to the beach and dive in the sea!
Located in Leça da Palmeira, the Tides Swimming Pool has excellent access and plenty of parking. However, note that the entire area is very crowded, so it may not be easy to park, and it is likely to catch traffic. Given the proximity to Porto, it is also relatively easy to get there by public transport.
Built in the 1960s and inaugurated in 1966, the tidal pool was designed by the renowned architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. The harmonious integration into the maritime landscape is one of the striking features of this work built on rocks and structured along the beach wall without creating volumetric disruptions. The pool is supplied by the sea at high tide and invites you to contemplate the landscape but also to enjoy this fabulous infrastructure.
The tidal pool naturally has a bar, restaurant, WC, showers, and shade hire. Access to the swimming pools is not free, and it is necessary to buy a ticket, so we advise you to go relatively early.
Leça da Palmeira is known for its seafood and fresh fish restaurants. The area outside the tidal pools is also quite beautiful and pleasant for walking, with plenty of bars and restaurants. If you want to go for a “normal” beach, Leça beach is right next door, and it is also trendy.
Matosinhos Beach – one of the most accessible beaches in Porto
A little further south, and right before we reach Porto itself, we have Matosinhos beach. The main reason why this beach has managed to enter the list of the best beaches in Porto and the North has to do with its location and accesses. For those who are in Porto and want to spend a day at the beach, Matosinhos beach is probably the best option.
Matosinhos Beach is right next to Porto, in the Matosinhos Sul area, very close to Parque da Cidade, with Castelo do Queijo and Foz to the south, and Leixões Port to the north. And that’s your big problem. The Port of Leixões is the second largest in the country, and in addition to creating visual pollution, it also doesn’t exactly help to have clean water.
The sandy beach of Matosinhos is quite wide, so there is plenty of space for various activities, from sports in the area to simply sunbathing. As it is an urban beach, there is a whole support infrastructure (bars, showers, toilets, etc.) and, as we said, good access, both by car and public transportation. There is some street parking, but you will probably have to use the underground car parks as this beach is usually very crowded.
Ingleses beach- the best beaches in Porto
The city of Porto does not have a very long coastline, as it is only about 4 km. Furthermore, it is a very rocky area with a tiny sand strand. In general, they are not the best beaches in Portugal, but since we are talking about the best beaches in Porto and the North, we have to include at least one, and the chosen one was Praia do Ingleses.
The sand at Ingleses beach (literally Beach of the English) is neither very long nor wide, but it is pleasant, and the rocky outcrops to the north protect it a little from the wind and make the sea calmer, especially at low tide. Given the location, it is obviously a very, very popular beach in summer.
This is a typical urban beach, with a beach bar/restaurant, shade rentals, and usually many people. Access is naturally easy, but as expected, it isn’t easy to park, and there is always a lot of traffic in the summer and weekends.
Although the beaches here are not the most stunning, Foz is one of the most beautiful areas in Porto. It is great for walking and cycling. The Parque da Cidade – Castelo do Queijo – Foz route is one of the most pleasant urban walks in Portugal. If you are on a bike, you can even lengthen this route and go all the way to Ribeira.
Senhor da Pedra Beach, Miramar – the most iconic beach in the North of Portugal
About 15 km south of Porto in Miramar, Vila Nova de Gaia, we have Senhor da Pedra beach, an iconic beach with a beautiful chapel on a rocky outcrop. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular images of Portugal.
This is a beach with long, wide sand strands. The sand is a little thick but nothing too much. The sea is quite protected due to some rocks. As it is a very popular beach, it has good infrastructure, with beach bars, bathrooms, showers, shade, and wind hire.
However, the focal point of the beach is undoubtedly the Chapel. Built on the rocks of the beach during the 17th century with a hexagonal plan, it stands out from the sand creating an incredible setting. The origin of this religious belief is much older and pagan, but it was converted to Christianity over time.
It is a beach that attracts vacationers who want to relax on the beach, as well as those who enjoy sports in the sand or who need other attractions besides the beach itself. Consequently, it’s a very popular and eclectic beach as it’s great for families, children, groups of friends, basically for everyone. Photographers in particular love this beach for obvious reasons.
This is another good beach with excellent accesses, and even with plenty of parking. If it is not possible to park on the beach, there are plenty of parking spots on the parallel streets. If you want to use public transport, you can go to Miramar by train, as the Porto-Lisbon line passes right through Miramar.
Baía beach, Espinho – Beach with the easiest access from Porto center
Espinho is already 20km south of Porto and is the last beach on this list of the best beaches in Porto and the North. Nevertheless, if we had to choose a beach to visit using only public transport in the Greater Porto region, Espinho would be. The distance to Espinho is similar to Vila do Conde and Póvoa de Varzim, and there is no metro. But there is a train, and Espinho station is right in the city center, only a few meters from the beach! Thus, in about 30 minutes, it is possible to move comfortably from the center of Porto to Espinho beach.
Bay beach in Espinho is an urban beach and therefore has excellent infrastructures. There are plenty of bars, cafes, and restaurants along the beach and in town. It is possible to rent tents, and there is plenty of parking available. Although in the peak of summer it becomes insufficient. Naturally, this is a top-rated beach.
This is a perfect beach for families as it has plenty of space and support services. However, it is also very popular with sports enthusiasts, both on the water (Bodyboard and surf especially) and the sand (volleyball and beach football).