Facing what the town claims to be Europe’s widest beach, FIGUEIRA DA FOZ is the largest and busiest seaside resort on this coast, its fabulous beach attracting a vibrant holiday crowd throughout the summer. It’s not an immediately attractive place – ugly high-rises blocks line up along the seafront – though the tight grid of central old town streets around the ultra-modern casino brim with shops and pavement cafés that give this seaside settlement and working port its own distinct and rather pleasant identity.
The town has a diverting municipal museum, but most visitors, however, are here for the enormous sandy town beach, which is 2km long and very wide – it takes a good ten minutes to reach the sea across the sands. Waves here can be pretty huge, making it a popular spot for surfers, who also frequent the nearby Praia do Cabadelo, on the other side of the Rio Mondego. The seafront suburb of Buarcos, around twenty minutes’ walk northwest of the centre of town, has some interesting restaurants as well as a diminutive maritime museum.
Figueira da Foz turismo has details of several waymarked walks in the area, including the 4km Rota das Salinas, an interesting estuary route around the saltpans that you glimpse from the bridge on the way into town. The walk begins 7km out of Figueira, at Armazens de Lavas, where you can leave your car by the small Núcleo Museológico do Sal, which details the history of salt production in these parts. Salt has been produced in the Mondego estuary for almost a thousand years, and around fifty salinas still operate between May and September each year. A boardwalk leads out across the saltpans, past weatherbeaten plank huts with salt bags piled outside. The well-signposted circular route takes about an hour (at a brisk stroll), through a pretty estuarine habitat of hedgerow flowers, rustling stands of bamboo and salt-tolerant shrubs. Black-winged stilts and other estuarine birds are a common sight, while the return leg of the path runs along the muddy banks of the Mondego, where a few fishermen still eke out a living from their painted wooden boats.