My favourite way to get to know a place is through its food, and there’s no better place to start than at the source – the local fresh produce markets. Every town and city in Portugal is home to permanent market halls filled with fruit and veg vendors, fish wives, butchers, cheesemongers and spice stalls.
Of course, not every fresh produce market hall is the thriving, buzzing heart of the community. These days the average Portuguese person is more likely to shop at a mega supermarket chain than their local mercado, meaning many of these traditional markets dying a slow death or being reinvented as fast food halls.
That all said, there are many market gems to uncover, and having travelled quite extensively across Portugal, here are what I consider to be the best produce markets in Portugal.
Mercado dos Livramentos, Setúbal
At one marble balcony a man is carving up a whole tuna. At another, a giant swordfish head has its nose reaching a metre towards the sky. This bustling market hall is probably my favourite on this list. It’s a hive of activity any day, with dozens of fruit seller, fishmongers, butchers, and specialty stalls filling the banks.
Beyond being the life of the industrial city, a 40-minute drive south of Lisbon, Setúbal’s market is beautiful inside. The entrance and the back wall are lined with stunning hand-painted tile murals, and down the centre aisle oversized cartoon statues depict four professions found in the market. If you want good local cheese, the best bacalhau, fresh as fresh can be fish, and in-season vegetables from across the country, this is the spot.
Bonus tip: Setúbal is a big historic city with an industrial and fishing heart. Wander the cute cobbled streets, eat choco frito (fried cuttlefish) for lunch, and if you’re mad for fish you might like the secondary market, Mercado do Rio Azul. This less fancy cousin is walking distance from the main one, and the prices are even friendlier.
Read next: 13 best day trips from Lisbon
Mercados de Olhão, Algarve
Said to have been designed by Gustav Eiffel himself, the twin red brick market halls that line the waterfront at Olhão are the life of the small coastal city. For me, this local market fights for number one spot in my heart along with the Mercado dos Livramentos in Setúbal.
Inside the western hall you’ll find seafood and only seafood – I challenge you to find a greater range of fish, shellfish and molluscs plucked from the sea. From local oysters fresh from the Ria Formosa, to wild-caught sea bream, to dried octopus eggs, you can truly find it all here.
The eastern hall is lined with butchers and cheese shops, with fresh produce stalls in the middle and old women hawking local goods homemade piri piri sauce and fig cakes.
Bonus tip: On Saturdays the market spills beyond the halls, when small vendors and niche farmers take over the waterfront selling in-season goods.
Market tours and wine experiences in Setúbal:
- This private walking tour includes a visit to the Mercado de Livramentos
- From Lisbon, this private tour covers Setúbal history and the market
- From Lisbon, this private wine and food tour includes local vineyards and oysters at the famous market
Bonus, bonus tip: Nearby, the small market at Fuseta is good for a quick visit, or the larger Tavira market is a worthy stop too.
Read next: 13 best things to do in Olhão
Mercado Municipal de Guimarães, Guimarães
When I saw an old man standing with two buckets filled with live rabbits I realised things are different in the north of Portugal. Guimarães, one of Portugal’s great historic cities, has a huge market hall that’s packed with vendors selling fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, baskets, flowers, bacalhau, and more.
We visited Mercado Municipal de Guimarães on a Friday, and there was a veranda wing with temporary vendors. You know the food miles are low when you’re buying seasonal plums off a lady who only has half a dozen cabbages, a bucket of lemons and some fresh flowers to sell. Slightly confrontingly, there were also live animals from rabbits and roosters to chickens and chicks.
Market tours and food experiences in Guimarães:
- This private food tour takes you across Guimarães, giving you a taste of the north.
Related read: Weekend guide to Guimarães
Mercado da Vila, Cascais
Perhaps the key to having a great market is to be a city of a certain size with access to the sea. In Cascais, the main Mercado da Vila has a hall of fishmongers with the best, freshest seafood, including sea urchins from Ericeira, oysters from across the country, and fresh local fish.
The main market hall is a big semi-circular tent lined with butcher shops and florists. The vacant and wide open space comes to life on Saturdays when 50 or so stalls arrive with seasonal produce, fresh bread, bargain flowers, and olives. Other days of the week or the month you can find various pop-up markets, from antiques to household goods too.
Bonus tip: Cascais is an easy day trip from Lisbon, either by train or a short drive. Take a cooler to load with produce, then head to the beach at Guincho, or wander down to the waterfront for a beach day and long lunch by the sea.
Mercado do Bolhão, Porto
It’s been curious to see the evolution of Porto’s central market, the Mercado do Bolhão. As I mentioned, in the 21st century some of Portigal’s historic and traditional markethalls have had to adapt and innovate or risk going extinct.
Porto’s beautiful Bolhão Market reopened in 2023 after five years of renovations. And its latest form is fun, but certainly leans towards the tourist market. And fair enough – as locals are pushed deeper into the suburbs, the market’s local clients are now primarily the tourists who fill the Airbnbs and short-let accommodation in this downtown neighbourhood.
Many of the local fruit shops now sell juices. The bacalhau stalls sell souvenir tinned fish conserves and fried snacks. The fish stalls sell white wine and freshly shucked oysters. It’s still Portugal at its core, it’s just a market for a different clientele.
Market tours and cooking experiences in Porto:
- Meet vendors at Bolhão Market and taste cheese, sardines, wine and more with this half-day foodie tour.
- Taste olives, alheira and more at Bolhão Market, then enter a kitchen to prepare (or watch) your chef create a traditional Portuguese meal.
- Taste 10 Porto specialties with this half-day foodie tour that includes the market.
- This half-day food tour takes you into the market and a traditional grocery store.
Bonus tip: The whole suburb is called Bolhão, and life revolves around the market – in the streets surrounding the main hall you can find some of the best traditional and antique grocers in Portugal. Close by you’ll also find Manteigaria, who bake one of the best pasteís de natas (Portuguese custard tarts) in Portugal.
If you’re going to Porto, read my 48 hours in Porto guide.
Mercado de 31 de Janeiro, Lisbon
Where do Lisbon’s chefs shop? I’ve found the answer is usually Mercado de 31 de Janeiro in Saldanha. Visually, this central market isn’t anything special, but inside you’ll find the city’s best range of fresh produce. Think classic seasonal produce, to hard-to-find ingredients not common in Portuguese recipes. As you’d expect, there’s a great range of cheese, fresh fish, butchers, and bacalhau.
There’s also a cheap, no-frills lunch spot called Cantina. Here you’ll find the small, busy tasca grilling up the catch of the day. Go early, it packs out.
Market tours and cooking experiences in Lisbon:
- This highly-rated market cooking class includes a visit to the Mercado de 31 de Janeiro.
- This half-day market and food walking tour drops by the Campo de Ourique market.
- Visit the local Mercado de Arroios with this market tour and cooking class.
- For something different, this Portuguese-Goan cooking class takes you south of the river to a local market.
Bonus tip: Lisbon’s oldest markethall, the Mercado da Ribeira, is absolutely beautiful. Here you can find great produce and fish there too, though the range is better in Saldanha. Time Out Magazine has taken over half and turned it into a gourmet food hall with hand-picked stalls from Lisbon’s best restaurants and chefs. While fun, it’s a bit chaotic and not relaxing. For a food hall experience I prefer the Mercado de Campo de Ourique. They’ve turned the central corridor of the old market into small restaurant counters with communal tables, while still retaining the fish vendors and produce sellers on the fringes. It has more of a local vibe and crowd.
Those are the best markets in Portugal according to me. Found another that deserves to be on this list? Leave me a comment and I’ll go check it out!