Many travelers visit Porto with one thing on their mind: Port wine. But there’s a local secret that most tourists don’t know about. A culinary claim that is as intriguing as it is bold. Matosinhos, Porto’s oceanfront neighbor to the northwest, lays claim to having the world’s best fish.
Shortly after our arrival in Porto, our Airbnb host pointed to a map and let us in on the secret: “this is where you need to go… for the BEST FISH in the area.” The next day, we took his advice and set off for an unforgettable seafood experience in Matosinhos.
If you’re visiting Porto, set aside a day and add this charming fishing village to your itinerary. If your time is limited, try to squeeze in a half day to visit these two can’t-miss destinations:
- Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos (the local fish market)
- “Restaurant Row” on Rua Heróis França, where fresh fish & crème brûlée are grilled to perfection on outdoor BBQ’s
Matosinhos: a city built on fish & pride
Though humans have lived in the area for over 5000 years, Matosinhos only officially became a city in 1984. What finally put Matosinhos on the map? Fish. The local sardine fishing & canning industry began to boom once the Port of Leixões was built, at the end of the 19th century.
Today, Matosinhos is known throughout Portugal as a prime seafood destination. To the locals however, the fish here is more than just great–it’s a key piece of their identity.
We want to build the brand Matosinhos: World’s Best Fish making it a recognized seal worldwide.
– Câmara Municipal de Matosinhos (Matosinhos City Council)
The two city centers of Porto and Matosinhos are less than 5 miles (8 km) apart and are closely connected through a network of buses and metros. We took the bus, and recommend others do the same. Of course, taxi is always an option, but if you’re traveling on a budget, the bus or metro are the way to go.
The line 500 bus route is considered one of the most scenic public transport routes in Porto, running from the city center (near Avenida dos Aliados) all the way along the coast until it ends at the fish market. A one-way trip from beginning to end will take about 40 minutes.
which stop to get off for the fish market: Matosinhos Mercado
which stop to get off for restaurant row: Godinho or Lota – both will put you within a 5-minute walk
The Metro do Porto light rail system is another convenient & cost-effective option for reaching Matosinhos. Take the “A” (blue) line from central Porto. This system map shows you several station options.
which stop to get off for the fish market: Mercado
which stop to get off for restaurant row: Matosinhos Sul or Brito Capelo
Seafood sights to see
Local fish market
Many locals–as well as the few tourists that are really in the know–buy their fresh seafood at the Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos. Inside the market, you’ll find sea bass, tuna, sole, cod, monkfish, swordfish, lobster, octopus…and of course the famous sardine. Most of these sea creatures were swimming in the ocean only a few hours earlier.
when to go: if you’re hoping to actually purchase fish to cook yourself later in the day, head to the market early in the morning while there’s still a selection to choose from. If you’re only there to sightsee, you should still arrive no later than late morning, as the market begins to close around noon.
Restaurant after restaurant lines both sides of this walking street. Most of them offer outdoor seating in the sun or in the shade. Outdoor BBQ’s fill the air with the smell of smoke, charcoal, fresh fish and mouthwatering crème brûlée.
getting there: the main intersection is Rua Heróis França & Rua Godinho. If you’ve taken the bus or metro to one of the stops we mentioned earlier, enter these cross-streets into your navigation system and you should find it within a few minutes.
As we rounded the corner of Rua Heróis França on foot, we soon realized that this was the destination that our Airbnb host had described to us!
Our Matosinhos experience was spent at Casa Serrão, a restaurant that we selected simply based on the crème brûlée they were preparing on the outdoor grills. We spent close to 3 hours here, and the delicious meal included:
- A complimentary octopus appetizer
- Perfectly-grilled sea bass (ordered by D)
- Fish stew built for 2 (ordered by A)
- A bottle of local vinho verde (“green wine”)
Last but certainly not least, desert was the largest & most uniquely-prepared crème brûlée we’d ever seen. Rather than burning the top layer of sugar with a torch, they placed the entire dish directly on the grill, and pressed down on the top of the crème brûlée with a piping hot, metal device–similar to a cattle brand!
A story that left us smiling
Before we tell this story, let us first say: our overall experience at Casa Serrão was fantastic. The food was incredible, and we shared some very friendly conversation with all of the staff members we interacted with. Nonetheless (maybe it was the 3-hour meal, or maybe it was the vinho verde), this one had us laughing for awhile:
reflections from DnA: as we’re wrapping up our meal, we asked waiter #1 (for the 3rd time) if we could have a to-go box for our leftovers. He apologized for the delay, told us ‘just one more minute!’ and then quickly pulled one of his colleagues–waiter #2–aside. We observed their interchange, and then watched as waiter #2 ran as fast as he could away from the restaurant, and out of sight. 15 minutes later, he reappeared–out of breath–and with some newly-purchased, empty to-go boxes. Later still, upon paying the bill, we noticed a 2€ charge for the to-go boxes that we had “ordered”…!!!
Other sites & landmarks in Matosinhos
Depending on your consumption during lunch, you may be in need of the nearest patch of grass or plot of sand for an afternoon siesta. If you controlled yourself, there are some other sights to see in Matosinhos or on your way back to Porto.
This map will take you from where we ate lunch at Casa Serrão to each of the 4 places below, heading north to south. The total distance is just over 2 miles (3.4 km) and can be done as a quick 1-hour stroll or a casual half-day excursion if you’re interested in stopping and exploring along the way.
- Parque da Cidade: as the largest urban park in Portugal, the Parque da Cidade (Porto City Park) offers plenty of open space for sports or siestas.
- Sea Life Center: directly next to the Porto City Park, the Sea Life Center is an aquarium that features more than 100 species of ocean creatures including sharks, rays & turtles.
- Fort of São Francisco do Queijo: this small 15th century fortress is across from the Sea Life Center. It’s called the Castelo do Queijo (“the cheese castle”) because the rock it was built upon resembles a block of cheese. No argument here!
- Praia do Molhe: less than a mile south of the Sea Life Center, Praia do Molhe is one of several beaches you’ll pass on your way back to Porto. It came highly recommended to us as one of the best places in Porto for caipirinhas.
Our day ended with a casual stroll along the beach, to-go boxes in hand, shortly before dusk settled over the beautiful beach town. We then caught the 500 bus alongside the beach, and enjoyed the 40-minute ride back to Porto to continue our adventures.
“world’s best fish?” → hard to say…
“the best fish in the area” → in our personal experience, yes!
While you’re in Porto, take a day to visit Matosinhos, and decide for yourself.