July 15, 2016 by The Atlas Team
Portugal’s Best: Eleven Beaches You Shouldn’t Miss
Portugal’s beaches are often warm enough from April to October. Here are some of the finest:
Praia Guincho, Cascais
Guincho is the beach that has it all: dramatic scenery, thanks to its location next to protected areas, some of the most consistent waves for surfing, and great afternoon winds for kite-boarding, although that often makes sun-tanning difficult without a windscreen.
It also has a friendly vibe, good-looking people — think surf instructors and beach bunnies — and cheap drinks and snacks at a shack run by an adorable Portuguese family. There’s also fancier fare and good cocktails at fair prices inside the legendary Muchaxo Hotel that sits above the beach. It’s easy to plan to come for a half day and get stuck until sunset, which is gorgeous here. At night, this is the best place near Lisbon to see the Perseid meteor showers in the summer .
The beach itself and the coastline spread in both directions with walking trails, which is plenty for a full day, but there’s even more hiking paths inland. You can follow the wooden boardwalk for an intimate look at dune life and then learn about what you saw at the interpretation center, where you can also grab a snack or a coffee. Or head northeast along the road a few minutes until you come to a trail (sometimes the gate is closed, but go on over!) meandering through small farms and a forest.
If you decide you want to stay another day but can’t afford Muchaxo, walk up the boardwalk to the excellent campground Orbitur Guincho, where you can get a bungalow starting around 30€ or pitch a tent for about 9€ per person. It’s got a pool, a restaurant, and wifi too.
Getting there: If you have no car to get to Praia Guincho, ScottURB bus 405 departs from underneath the shopping mall in Cascais behind the train station, and there are free but beat-up bikes at a kiosk in front of the station, although they tend to run out by 10h. There is also a bike rental place in the marina with the yachts under the fort, which rents out decent mountain bikes for about 20€ a day. Read our Biking page for more information. If you’re in a hurry, a taxi will take you there for about 8 bucks.
Costa da Caparica
On the other side of the Tejo from Lisbon, Portugal turns into a long stretch of sand known as Costa da Caparica. The town itself is a popular beach for surfing but with plenty of space for those who want to laze around too.
The town still retains the charm of a sleepy seaside village when you’re inland, with a decent weekend flea market on the main square and a few stalls selling poorly made towels with Ronaldo or naked girls on them and a small but beautiful market peddling very fresh fruit and fish that still have feelings about what’s happening to them.
As you get closer to the water, however, there are some ugly high-rise hotels and all-you-can eat pigatoriums, while the beachside is all modernist boxes housing restaurants playing crappy covers and serving overpriced seafood, although most of them make quite good caipirinhas and sangrias (at beachside prices).
But the beach itself, separated from the commercial nightmare by a sandy boardwalk, is excellent, surprisingly well-divided between surf breaks and bathing areas protected from the waves by jetties. The water here is already very clean, and the further south you walk, the clearer it gets, and the less crowded the beaches, until you reach the brightly colored wooden shacks built straight on the beach, most of them still used as weekend homes. This marks the end of the town — keep going and you can find even more sand real estate all to yourself.
Caparica is a great place to try surfing, as competition among the schools keeps prices moderate and the selection of boards decent. We highly recommend the Samedi Surf Center, for classes and board rentals as well as an extensive selection of new and used boards for sale.
For food, the discerning visitor will stay away from the constantly sprouting sushi restaurants, although the seafood even in these hellholes is very fresh. There’s cheap tostas at most of the places in town. Our suggestion is to go where the locals go. We recommend getting a table at Tasca Rica, which stands out for both its tapas (they have boquerones!) and service. Don’t get scared of the iPad menus, but do check out the bathrooms, they’re quite stimulating.
Getting there: From Lisbon, take the Cais do Sodre ferry to Cacilhas and then TST bus 124 or 135. Or avoid the ferry by catching the TST bus 153, which starts in Praça da Espanha and makes a final stop in Lisbon across from Alcântara Terra train station. If you have a bike in Lisbon, take it to the Belem ferry, and get off on the second and last stop at Trafaria. Caparica is about 30 mins of easy pedaling south.
Fonte da Telha
Fonte da Telha is a fisherman’s town at the end of the trans-praia express rail line (5€, or 8€ round-trip) from Caparica. The closest beach to the central square (if you can call it that) is often a bit crowded with footballers, kite-surfers, and families with too many beach chairs to hike too far, but don’t let that stop you. If it’s personal space you’re looking for, there’s plenty of beach for everyone if you don’t mind walking a little.
If you want a bit of luxury, you can opt for a thatched umbrella and a meter or two of privacy, but you’ll have to pay for the pleasure. These places usually offer food that is far superior to what you’ll find on the waterfront in Costa da Caparica, but you don’t have to rent an umbrella to enjoy it. We recommend waiting ’til sunset and grabbing a table out back.
To stake your sandy claim, our advice is to walk south along the water along the cliffs of Arriba Fóssil da Costa de Caparica. Pass the sign reading “Fim de Concessão” and you’ll see fewer people, and fewer articles of swimwear. This is one of Portugal’s official nude beaches, but the nudists here generally keep to themselves and their windscreens. If you’re more of a social nudist, walk north of Fonte da Telha to Praia Bela Vista. This might not be the bela vista you imagined once you reach the famous Paragem 19, the second-to-last stop on the trans-praia and see some “activity” going on in the dunes.
Getting there: For a less revealing ride, you can also take the Cais do Sodré ferry to Cacilhas and then TST bus 145 or 127 to its last stop. On a bike, it’s about an hour from Trafaria (see Caparica), but the ride can get very dusty in the summer thanks to the traffic.
Praia da Marinha, Carvoeiro
This is Portugal’s most iconic beach — it was ranked as one of the ten most beautiful in Europe and 100 most beautiful in the world by the Michelin Guide. Praia da Marinha (or Navy Beach), with its natural arches and rocky out-croppings offers calmer waters (excellent for snorkeling) with often warmer water temperatures than are common in the Algarve.
The beach can all but disappear during high tide, leaving only a sandy strip for beachgoers to fight over, but at low tide, there is plenty of space for everyone. The water recedes from the coves opening up loads of caverns and caves to explore. You can also hire a boat for a lazy cruise along the coastline, which has spectacular views of the Ponta da Piedade and the odd dolphin sighting.
Getting to the beach can be a bit challenging if you haven’t done your stretches. A long stone stairway leads down from the left side of the parking area, and if you have an oversized cooler and beach chair, they can be daunting to schlep. Coming back up might make you short of breath, but so will the views. If you’re more of a walking-trail kind of beachgoer, you’re in luck. There’s a trail that leads from the parking lot along the cliffs on the right side.
Hungry? Fear not. There’s a little cafe at the bottom of the stairs that can sort you out if you want to pack light.
Getting there: Follow the N125 and exit at the International School at Lagoa and follow the signs to the clifftop parking lot. Unfortunately, this beach isn’t accessible by public transportation.
The word is out when the surf is up at Carcavelos due to the atypical lack of rocks and spacious coastline. Since it’s only a 25-minute train ride from Cais do Sodré, it’s the beach of choice for urban wave riders since there’s plenty of room and consistent swells. If you get there before 9h, you’ll find a sprawling, empty beach — most surfers around Lisbon like to sleep in. A long stretch of soft sand is flanked by the ocean and a wide boardwalk lined with board rental shops and cafes if you need a fix before your plunge into the (usually chilly) water.
Like at all of Portugal’s surf spots, you will need a wetsuit no matter the time of year, so if you plan to give it a go, make sure you’re prepared. Hourly and day rentals of both boards and suits are plentiful if you left yours in the garage. Check out Angel’s Surf School for pricing information on suits and different types of boards available, or just show up and start negotiation with one of the many others there. 20€ to 25€ is the standard for a full-day rental of a board and suit, but sometimes that’s flexible.
If you’re just here to watch and sunbathe, that’s cool too. The views of the nearby fort are stunning (especially around sunset) and the vibe is friendly and relaxed. There’s ample parking close to the beach entrance if you should choose to drive.
Getting there: Take the CP Comboio to the Carcavelos stop and it’s a short five-minute walk from the train station toward the coast. If you have a car, you can get there by taking the N6 west from Lisbon.
Praia de Nazaré
Located on the Costa de Prata (Silver Coast), Nazaré is famous for two things: fishing and surfing. This fisherman village may be THE destination for big-wave riders, but it is still deeply rooted in tradition. Everyday at around 17h, you can watch (or take part in) the Arte Xávega when nets teeming with fish are dragged in from the ocean by the locals. It only takes up a fraction of the long sandy beach, but it draws quite a crowd.
Its massive waves made headlines in 2013 when Garrett McNamara rode the famous 100 footer from trough to crest off its shores. A lot of the time, McNamara can be seen off the water around town, usually eating in his favorite (and Atlas-recommended) seafood restaurant, A Celeste, which serves awesome polvo (octopus) and a mouthwatering zapateira (crab).
Tired of beaching? Take the Nazaré Funicular up to the top of the cliff at Sítio, the old village, for some awesome views and a recommended peek inside the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré. In front of the church you will find a small market on most days, where locals in traditional dress (seven skirts and fancy red socks) sell cheese, sweets, and breads.
Getting there: Take the A1 north by car. It will take you about an hour and a half, but it’s worth the trip. You can also take the Rede Express bus for €11,50 one way if you’re not so keen on driving.
Praia de São Bruno, Caxias
If you’re into getting on the beach and back home quickly, this is the way to go. It’s only a 10-minute ride from Cais do Sodré and where the Tejo has almost completely filtered itself into the sea. In the early mornings, it’s a popular spot for older ladies to gossip and do their exercises after their husbands have finished theirs.
The main draw to the small whitish-sand area, besides it proximity, is the old fort of São Bruno, which separates the beach into two parts. On the right side, there is a cafe called Baía dos Golfinos with island-time service, free wifi, and huge tosta mistas perfect for two to split. On the left side, there is a fence with a sign warning beachgoers of falling rocks and telling you that entrance is not permitted. That doesn’t stop anybody from opening the fence and going about their beach-going business. No one seems to care.
Getting there: Take the CP Comboio to Caxias and it’s only a three-minute walk from the station. If you drive, just follow the N6 west out of Lisbon and you’ll be there in no time.
Praia Barril, Tavira
This huge beach is incredibly scenic and long enough to find privacy even if it’s packed. The approach isn’t a simple one and it does require some walking. If you’re not in the mood to be active, you can pay 1€ to ride on the adorable miniature train and skip the 15- to 20-minute walk to the beach. Once at the entrance, you are surrounded by former tuna stations that have been converted into cafés to serve the throngs of picnic-less beachgoers.
The loveliest part of Barril are the decaying wooden tuna boats that nature is reclaiming in overgrowth, moss, and rising white dunes. The iconic symbol of the beach, and why so many are drawn to visit it, is the graveyard of enormous rusted iron anchors and cables that protrude from the dunes. While romantic and visually stunning, their uniform placement is not accidental. At one point they were used to secure heavy tuna nets to the sea bed, but now they’re used for the photo-op that will put all your Facebook friends’ spring break photos to shame.
Getting there: From Lisbon, drive south along the A2 for just under three hours and follow the signs for Tavira. Park at Pedras del Rei near St.Luzia and walk across the lagoon to the train or path. You can also take the Eva or Rede Express bus for 20€ one way, 36€ round trip from Sete Rios.
Praia dos Pescadores, Ericeira
As one of the larger, more scenic stretches of white sand in Ericeira, this one can get kind of crowded, but it’s worth it for the dramatic view of the cliffs falling out into the ocean and the city towering behind you. At low tide, there is substantially more space, so we recommend getting a spot at the back for longer beach days and at the front for shorter ones.
If you’re into the idea of surfing, nearby São Julião beach (38.931898, -9.419328) is a popular spot and there are schools you can hire if you want to take a class. Ericeira in general is a great place to escape the summer heat of the city as it’s always at least five degrees cooler no matter the time of year.
There are also loads of great places to eat in town if you can find a table. Atlas recommends checking out Prim for grilled fish and meat at decent prices. They have comfortable wooden tables out front and are generous with their blankets when the temperature drops.
Getting there: From Lisbon, take the A8 to the A21 if you’re driving. It will take you about 45 minutes and the drive past the abandoned windmills is an adventure in itself. No car? No problem. Take the hourly Mafrense bus from Lisbon’s Campo Grande terminal for €5,50.
Zambujeira do Mar, Odemira
For cliff-side beach inlets in the Alentejo region, look no further. Here, you can find a string of them if you walk far enough either south or north, or stay by the town on the longest and widest of them. If you go to the southernmost cove, you’ll find the nude beach if that’s your thing.
White sands meet a chilly coast and, unless it’s August (Sudoeste Festival time in particular), you’ll have most of Zambujeira to yourself. You can expect to run into the occasional backpacker or surfer dude as this coastline is popular for hikes and sports. Once you see the dramatic scenery, you’ll understand why people are flocking here.
If you’re hungry, there is some serious seafood going on in town and we recommend gorging on a marisqueira platter (featuring heaps of shrimp, crab, clams, and more) post haste at O Martinho. If you find yourself too full to leave, there’s usually a nearby hostel you can grab for cheap and more are opening up all the time as this spot on the Costa Vicentina is gaining popularity. Maybe a little too fast.
Getting there: It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive south along the A2 expressway, but if you’d rather bus it, you can take the Rede Express from Sete Rios for €17.50 one way and €31.60 round trip. Note that it takes just over five hours to get there, so it’s best to plan on staying overnight.
The Algarve has lots to offer when it comes to beaches, but this one feels local and somehow preserved from the throngs of the British and French who descend on the Southern coast to soak in the sol ’til they get good and lobster-y. A stone staircase descends from the town’s steep, sloping main street until it reaches an almost grand seating area (good for a picnic!) and, finally, the beach below.
Cliffs flank the white-sand beach so you get shelter from the high winds typical of Portuguese beaches. As a result, the lapping waves are mild and good for a leisurely swim and lots of families are attracted to this spot. Further out, the waves can get high and consistent, which makes for good surfing. For those who would rather watch than participate, the sight of thrill-seeking surfistas paddling out to meet the waves can be thrilling as well.
Hungry? There are lots of little cafes at the top of the steep hill. Atlas recommends planning ahead and grabbing something on your way down to the beach, instead of braving the incline more than once. In the town proper, about two km inland, the prices are much fairer and the fare tastier.
Getting there: Take the A2 south from Lisbon for just under three hours. You can also take the Rede Express bus, which departs from Sete Rios once a day, but fair warning: It will take you about six hours to get there, so it’s definitely not a day trip.