Located in Central Portugal, 50 km west of Coimbra, Figueira da Foz is famous for its beaches but the city has much more to offer. Read my article and visit Figueira da Foz – you’ll certainly be amazed with all the wonderful places to discover there.
The area where Figueira da Foz is located started by being populated in the 11th century by the Santa Cruz Monastery of Coimbra, aware of the strategic importance of this place – the river mouth of Mondego river, the same river that flows through Coimbra and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Throughout the centuries and little by little this location grew and became a town in 1771. In the 19th century, Figueira da Foz doubled its population mostly thanks to the harbour and shipbuilding but also due to the visitors that wanted to enjoy the magnificent beaches.
To accommodate that many people, a new quarter was built, Bairro Novo, facing the sea and inspired in the beach resorts of Arcachon and Biarritz. This quarter has most of the hotels, restaurants, bars and the casino.
In 1882, Figueira da Foz became a city and now it accommodates around 62 000 inhabitants (in the city centre and surrounding area).
You can visit Figueira da Foz just to enjoy its wonderful beaches but, when you discover the wonders I’m going to show you next, surely you’ll also be amazed with its authenticity and beauty.
What to visit in Figueira da Foz
1. Palácio Sotto Mayor
When you visit Figueira da Foz, you should start by going to Sotto Mayor Palace.
Built in the 20th century, Sotto Mayor Palace is, in my opinion, the most beautiful building in Figueira da Foz and one of the most beautiful palaces in Portugal.
Joaquim Sotto Mayor was a wealthy business man who, after returning from Brazil, visited the city and was amazed with its beauty in a way that he decided to settle there.
To build this palace, he hired the French architect Gaston Landeck who designed this wonder in French palaces’ image. Its construction lasted 20 years but it was worth it – Sotto Mayor Palace will amaze you (it happened to me) especially because of its wonderfully decorated interior.
After having visited the interior of the palace, stroll through the beautiful Romantic-style gardens and take some time to admire the tower located there.
This palace belongs to Casino Figueira since 1967 and it’s only open to public a few months in the year. When I visited this place, the palace was available for visits from the 1st June to 31st August and guided visits occurred every hour – the visit takes around 45 minutes.
Location: Rua Joaquim Sotto Mayor 75, Figueira da Foz
2. Museu Municipal Dr. Santos Rocha
Inaugurated in 1894, the city museum was built because of the need to preserve and divulge António dos Santos Rocha’s archaeological collection. Installed on a first phase in Casa do Paço and then in the city hall building, the museum finally gained its own space in 1975.
When you visit this museum, you’ll have the opportunity to admire archaeological and numismatic collections, religious sculptures, African and Asian ethnography, Indian-Portuguese furniture (that I loved) and an arsenal with weapons used in recent times, like the two world wars and others.
This is definitely another place to go to when you visit Figueira da Foz!
For more information about this museum (opening hours, tickets, history), visit this site.
Location: Rua Calouste Gulbenkian 70, Figueira da Foz
3. Fort of Santa Catarina
Built in the end of the 16th century, the Fort of Santa Catarina defended the river mouth of Mondego river and was part of a defensive triangle along with the Fort of Palheiros and the Fortress of Buarcos, that defended the city from pirates attacks.
Inside the fort you’ll find a small 16th-century chapel erected in honour of Santa Catarina. The strategic defense function was lost during the 19th century but this fort still helped out maritime navigation thanks to its small lighthouse.
Location: Avenida 25 de Abril, Figueira da Foz
What to visit in Figueira da Foz – other places
Apart from the above-mentioned places, you can also make a stop at the (market) Mercado Engenheiro Silva, inaugurated in 1892 and where you can buy fresh products, like fruit and vegetables, and flowers. The market is located in Passeio Infante Dom Henrique, facing Figueira da Foz marina.
Next, go to the avenue Avenida 25 de Abril to discover the Clock Tower (Torre do Relógio) and the huge, 2-km long Claridade beach – this is the perfect place for a stroll and to enjoy the views over the stretch of sand and the Atlantic Ocean.
At the end of the day, and if you want to do something different, take the opportunity to play in Casino Figueira, located in the street Rua Doutor Calado.
Buarcos was a small town from 1342 onwards and it was more important than Figueira da Foz at that moment. When Figueira da Foz became a town in 1771, Buarcos gradually started losing its importance and it was even integrated in the town of Redondos in 1794.
Today, Buarcos is part of Figueira da Foz but, when you visit this place, you’ll notice it has its own identity. It is, in my opinion, the most authentic place in the city.
What to see in Buarcos?
4. Fortress of Buarcos
Built between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, the Fortress of Buarcos defended the town of Buarcos from the pirates that came from the sea.
This is another place to explore when you visit Figueira da Foz and you should begin on the outside of the fortress, in the Avenida Infante Dom Pedro and facing the sea, then turn to Rua 5 de Outubro for a completely different view of the fortress and the sea.
Before entering Buarcos itself, make a stop at the Senhora da Conceição Chapel, built in 1535.
5. Buarcos and Redondos Pillories
The pillories were used, during the Middle Ages, in every Portuguese town to expose the criminals in public and determine their sentences.
Buarcos has the particularity of having two pillories due to the integration of the small town of Redondos (which no longer exists). You’ll find Buarcos pillory in the square Largo do Pelourinho de Baixo and Redondos pillory in the square Largo do Pelourinho de Cima.
6. Núcleo Museológico do Mar
Created in 2003, the Núcleo Museológico do Mar (Sea Museum Centre) has as its main objective paying tribute to the community’s fishermen and to raise awareness of their history and difficulties of their trade.
In this museum you’ll have the opportunity to admire clothes of fishermen from this region, the boats used for cod fishing in the North Sea and much more.
When I visited this place, I loved discovering the stories of authentic people risking their lives to catch the fish the Portuguese people love and I also learned how hard cod fishing was a few years ago. This is definitely a place to discover when you visit Figueira da Foz!
Information: when you visit Figueira da Foz and if you want more information on this museum, don’t hesitate to check the City Hall’s website.
Location: Rua Governador Soares Nogueira, n° 32 – Buarcos
7. Torre de Redondos
In the uptown of Buarcos, Rua do Castelo, you’ll find Redondos tower, a place where the castle that protected the town was located. Today, one can only see the ruins from the tower reconstructed according to the rules of medieval architecture after the castle’s demolition in 1854.
Go down the street and turn to Rua dos Redondos. Here you’ll find the theatre Teatro da Trindade, commissioned by the philanthropist Fernando Augusto Soares. When you visit Figueira da Foz, and if the doors of this theatre are open, make sure you enter and admire its interior.
A few metres down, make a stop at Misericórdia Church, built in the 16th century, during the kingship of D. Manuel I – this church is another place to go to when you visit Figueira da Foz.
Next, go down the street Rua da Torre Eiffel (I couldn’t find an explanation for this name) and make a stop at Rua de São Pedro where you can admire São Pedro Church, reconstructed after the major earthquake of 1755.
Apart from these places, lose yourself in the streets and raise your eyes to admire the houses and their panels of glazed tiles, azulejos, located above the front door, most of which depicting Catholic saints.
The owners believed these panels would protect their houses from natural disasters, after the 1755 earthquake that destroyed the whole town.
What to visit close to Figueira da Foz
8. Cabo Mondego Viewpoint
Return to your car and drive towards one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the city and definitely a place to discover when you visit Figueira da Foz. From here, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful view over the Atlantic Ocean and the city centre.
9. Serra da Boa Viagem
Located 7 km away from the city centre, the mountain Serra da Boa Viagem was one of the places I most enjoyed when I visited Figueira da Foz. Apart from the beautiful landscape, the walking trails, the picnic areas and the adventure park, this mountain has many stories to tell!
It was here that, in 1750, a British citizen that lived in Figueira da Foz discovered coal. Once the coal at the surface was explored, some coal mines were created and active until 1967, when they were permanently closed in the aftermath of the fire in 1961.
Today, we can still see three of the chimneys that were used to ventilate the mine. You can check here the location of one of the places where you can easily see a chimney.
One of the places you can’t miss when you visit Serra da Boa Viagem is the viewpoint Miradouro da Bandeira (located here) where you can enjoy a breathtaking landscape.
Information: for people who want to spend a great time with family or friends, know that you can do tree climbing in Serra da Boa Viagem. To find out the opening hours, prices and exact location, click here.
If you love walking trails, know that there is the possibility to do the 10-km round walking trail PR3 FF to see all the wonders of this mountain. To get to know the walking trail, click here.
10. Costa de Lavos
After showing you the wonders of the city centre, of Serra da Boa Viagem to the north, now it’s time to head south, towards Costa de Lavos, a fishing village where you can discover Xávega Art, a traditional fishing style.
When you visit this small village, make a stop in Rua dos Pescadores to see, on the left side, two houses museum that depict how were the fishermen houses from this region some years ago.
Facing them, you’ll find Casa dos Pescadores, a fishermen association that aims to stimulate the village – don’t hesitate to go inside to have a cup of coffee. You can also ask to see the café museum located in the back of the kitchen – there, you’ll see how it was a 20th century fishermen café.
Next, leave to the magnificent beach to admire the natural beauty and, if you’re lucky, you can see the fishermen doing Arte Xávega.
This traditional fishing style was, in other times, very common in Portugal, especially in locations between Espinho and Costa de Caparica.
The fishermen go to the ocean and leave the purse seine (fishing net) and then return to shore to hook the fishing net to a tractor using a cable.
A few hours later, the tractor pulls the cable to bring back the purse seine – in other times, people used cows to pull back the fishing net. Next, several people pull the fishing net to the beach and start sorting the fish and put it into buckets.
When I was there, the fishing nets were pulled to the shore at 10h and 16h. This traditional fishery is done only between June and August.
When you visit Costa de Lavos, don’t hesitate to stop at Casa dos Pescadores, located in Rua dos Pescadores 8, and ask for the exact hour when Arte Xávega is going to be used.
11. Núcleo Museológico do Sal
Created in 2007, the Núcleo Museológico do Sal (Salt Museum Centre) is a place to go to when you visit Figueira da Foz. Apart from the museum, where you can discover more about salt, its history in Portugal and the necessary stages to produce it, you’ll also have the possibility to visit the Corredor da Cobra City Salt Pan.
During my stroll through the salt pan, I loved watching and talking to the workers to understand more about their job, what they do and how they do it.
Apart from the visit to the salt pan, you can also visit the warehouse where the salt was stored, a place where some workers lived during the 20th century, and see the old tools used in this activity (some of them are still used today).
During your visit, take the opportunity to stroll through the 4-km walking trail PR6 that will show you the beautiful landscape around the salt pan, the fauna, like flamingos (you’ll have to go in the morning if you want to admire this bird), Pranto river and several warehouses and water reservoirs (viveiros).
It’s in these viveiros that the salt water flows into in the summer and is, afterwards, distributed by the workers (known as marnotos) in the salt pan; the water stays there until it evaporates, leaving the salt to be picked.
Location: Armazéns de Lavos, Lavos, 3090-451 Figueira da Foz
You can leave your car here and make the last 500 metres on foot. You can also drive to the museum but you should know that the last metres are made on a dirt road.
To know the opening hours and ticket prices, click here.
Where to sleep in Figueira da Foz
Hotel Wellington (affiliate link)
When you visit Figueira da Foz, consider spending the night at the Hotel Wellington (like I did), a 3-star hotel, rated in Booking.com with 8.5/10.
Located close to Casino Figueira and just 300 metres away from the beach, this hotel is perfect if you want to spend some time in the city but don’t want to drive to the beach.
What I loved the most about this hotel was its beautiful decoration, the amazing staff and the varied breakfast.
Where to eat in Figueira da Foz
Here are the restaurants I’ve tried and enjoyed in Figueira da Foz and surrounding area:
Located in front of Figueira da Foz marina, the restaurant Tapa’s Bar serves wonderful fresh fish dishes.
Location: Avenida de Espanha 20 | Clube Náutico da Figueira da Foz
If you like meat dishes, tapas and eating at typical Portuguese places, then don’t hesitate to eat at Taverna Ti João.
Location: Rua Poeta Acacio Antunes 7, Figueira da Foz
Located in CAE (Centro de Artes e Espetáculos), close to Santos Rocha City Museum, here you’ll have the possibility to eat amazing dishes while enjoying the view to the Abadias Park.
Location: Rua Abade Pedro, Figueira da Foz
Facing Cova Gala beach and 6 km away from the city centre, this restaurant has delicious dishes (especially fresh fish dishes).
Location: Rua Praia – Cova | Largo, Figueira da Foz
The restaurant O Palheiro do Avô has typical Portuguese dishes at very affordable prices.
Location: Rua Vindimas 2, Cova Gala – Figueira da Foz
How to get to Figueira da Foz
You can get to Figueira da Foz by car, train or bus.
If you drive there (that is my suggestion because then it’ll be easier for you to discover the surrounding area), I recommend you park your car in the parking lot facing the Fort of Santa Catarina or in the parking lot behind the marina.
If you spend the night in Figueira da Foz, then you should park your car in the hotel’s park (private parking).
The highway will take you to the city which will make it easier and faster to get there from Porto (1h20), Lisbon (2h) or Coimbra (40 minutes).
If you take the train from Porto or Lisbon, know that you’ll have to switch trains. If you’re coming from Porto, you’ll have to switch trains in Coimbra; if you’re coming from Lisbon, then you should switch trains in Alfarelos. The journey to Figueira da Foz will take around 2h30 from both cities. To know the prices and schedule, click here.
How to move around in Figueira da Foz
When you visit Figueira da Foz, you can and should explore it on foot so that you can discover all the details of this city. If you visit all the above-mentioned places (city centre and Buarcos), then you’ll walk between 5 and 7 km.
To explore Serra da Boa Viagem and Costa de Lavos, you’ll have to drive there or take a taxi.
Important information: I have to thank the City Hall that helped me discover all the places in Figueira da Foz. Without their help, I wouldn’t be able to get to know all the wonders of this city nor its history.
Are you going to visit Figueira da Foz? Then don’t hesitate to book your hotel room, your car or the best activities by clicking the links below. This way you are helping me in the development of my blog and I’ll be able to offer you free tips and travel guides so that you can better prepare your visit to Portugal. Thank you!