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  • Tim Mathis

Porto to Matosinhos: The Start of the Portuguese Coastal Camino

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Distance: 11 Km


Terrain


A flat city walk along the river after you descend the hill from the Cathedral.


So, you’re starting your walk on the Portuguese Coastal Camino? If you’re like most, your starting point is going to be Porto.


There’s no particular historical reason to start at Porto, as far as I can tell. It's an important city that pilgrims have been passing through on their way to Santiago since at least the 10th century, but there's no other connection to St. James mythology. As far as I know there’s not even a Catholic church dedicated to Santiago in Porto - although there is, interestingly enough, an old Anglican Church of St. James that’s worth a look.


Never mind history though, Porto is a fantastic place to start your walk. It feels like the right place to start an epic journey. It’s convenient to get to, atmospheric, and worthy of the trip to Europe all on its own. Tradition builds over time, and you’re a part of the process of making Porto an important destination on this ancient pilgrimage trail.


If you fly in, the airport is small and easy to navigate, and there’s a convenient and affordable metro train that you can take into central Porto.


A view of Porto from the Cathedral
Porto from the Cathedral

Porto as the start of your Camino


It can seem like the Portuguese Coastal Camino is a relatively new route, because in recent years it’s regained popularity among modern travelers, and has become a nice alternative to the busier Camino Frances. However, the route actually dates back to the Middle Ages, and first became an important pilgrimage and commerce route in the 12th Century. You’ll find that a lot of the Camino infrastructure along the way is new and modern, but people have been walking this way for centuries.


Most people consider the start of the Coastal Camino to be the Sé Cathedral do Porto in the center of the old city. The Cathedral is one of the most important and impressive buildings in Porto. It’s a great place to start your immersion and get your first stamp along the Way to Santiago. It’s also well worth the cost to pay the small fee for entry to visit the grounds and get some great views of the city.


It’d be a shame to rush out of Porto from there there. If you have the time, spend a few days, eat some Francesinhas, drink some port and vino verde, and see the sights. You’re probably going to need to beat jetlag anyway. Do it here, in a really stunning European city.


Our strategy was to book a few nights of accommodation at Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto and wander the streets before we started the trip. There are plenty of accommodation options, but that albergue was a great, central landing spot that makes it easy on pilgrims at the start of their journey.


The beach at Matosinhos on the Coastal Camino
The beach at Matosinhos

Don't skip the Camino between Porto and Matosinhos


On one of our days in Porto, we walked a short section of the Camino from the Cathedral and Matosinhos, then took the local metro back to our accommodation in the city. Some pilgrims skip this section, but I’m not sure why you’d want to. It’s a nice, flat walk along the river Douro with great views and nice swimming beaches when you get to the coast. It is a nice way to get your feet wet with an easy day walk while also seeing the city. At about 7 miles you can integrate it into a bigger day of sightseeing. Even if you weren't doing the Camino, this would be a great way to spend a day in Porto.


View along the Douro from the Camino Portuguese
View along the Douro

How to spend a few days in Porto


With the rest of our time, we generally just did chores and wandered. If you need to buy gear, there’s a Decathlon within easy walking distance of the Albergue de Peregrinos where we picked up hiking poles. We also stopped in a Vodafone shop and got local SIM cards so we’d have phone service. (Make sure to ask for a plan that will work in both Portugal and Spain if you’re going all the way to Santiago!)


Porto is a city full of parks and narrow streets and nice restaurants and beautiful views. We happened upon a book fair at the Jardim do Palacio de Cristal, which is a lovely garden with great views of the river at sunset. The city is a vibrant place. Along with the book fair, we happened upon a breakdancing competition and a music festival, alongside a ton of street musicians and general urban life. It’s a great city to just wander for a few days.


Sunset at Jardim do Palacio de Cristal, Porto
Sunset at Jardim do Palacio de Cristal

Gathering in a crowd to watch the sunset has become a Porto tradition, and it really is spectacular over the river and out towards the sea. There are a lot of places in town to get a good view, but the most people gather either on the very visible, very pretty Luis I Bridge, or just nearby in Jardim do Morro. It’s not a Camino tradition, per se, but a Porto sunset, followed by a nice meal and some local vino verde really is a great way to start your journey.


A lot of people go to the Livraria Lello - “The most beautiful bookstore in the world,” and a place that people have claimed inspired the wizarding shop in Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling denies it. We didn’t go because it’s a whole thing - you have to book ahead and pay for entry. We did, however, pop in “The most beautiful McDonalds in the world,” which is also nearby.


You can easily spend a day just wandering in the old central city, taking photographs of Porto’s distinctive tile facades, eating pasteles de nata and other local treats. It’s easy to fall in love with the food in Portugal straight away. The bakeries are amazing, and you really should try to find a local spot and order a francesinha. It’s hearty.


If you have time, it’s also worth walking across the Luis I Bridge to the other side of the Douro from Porto, to Vila Nova de Gaia. There’s a nice market on the river and a beautiful old monastery on the hill.


Before you start your Camino, take some time, see the sights, get over jetlag. Porto is a fantastic place to start. No matter how much time you have there, you’ll be sad to go.


When you do leave town, the route is straightforward. It’s marked intermittently with arrows and scallop shells, but it doesn’t really matter. You just go down to the river, hang a right and walk to the sea. There are cafes and other services along the way, and Matosinhos is a great little town in its own right with plenty to do if you want to take some time exploring.



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