June 4, 2020 by Melissa Haun
The Ultimate Guide to Sagres: A Surfer’s Paradise in Southern Portugal
If you’ve spent time in Portugal or northern Spain, you might have noticed an abundance of geographic superlatives. I’m talking about claims to fame like “the westernmost point in continental Europe” (Cabo da Roca) or the decidedly more dramatic “end of the world” (Finisterre). But my personal favorite is even more of a mouthful: the southwesternmost tip of Europe, also known as Sagres. And yes, southwesternmost is a word.
In Portugal, Sagres brings to mind various things—including beer. The country’s ubiquitous beverage brand was in fact named after the town itself. But this place is known for more than its alcoholic namesake. It’s a haven for nature lovers, adrenaline seekers, surfers, and anyone who wants to experience the charm of the Algarve outside of the crowded resorts.
After spending several weeks exploring Sagres and its surroundings, I’ve amassed a lot of advice. Here’s my ultimate guide to where to stay, what to do, and — of course — where to surf in this stunning seaside town!
Where to Go and Where to Stay
When I say Sagres, what I really mean is the whole area encompassing the southwest corner of Portugal. The town of Sagres itself is located right in that corner, surrounded by dramatic cliffs that drop straight down to the waves.
The town is situated beside two points jutting out into the ocean. On one of them, you’ll find the Fortaleza de Sagres, a unique fortress built to take advantage of the cliffs’ natural protection. The other is the much more picturesque Cabo de São Vicente with its lighthouse, which is an ideal spot to watch the sunset. Just beware: it gets windy!
Apart from these two main landmarks, the area’s defining features are its beaches. Each of them is unique and offers a totally different experience for sunbathers or surfers (more on that below). It’s best to come here with a car, so that you can easily explore them all.
While Sagres makes for a great day trip, it’s well worth spending several days in the area. There are plenty of nice places to stay, from private apartments to high-quality hostels. If you have a car, consider staying at a bed and breakfast in the nearby town of Vila do Bispo, or at Good Feeling Hostel in the tiny village of Raposeira (it lives up to its name!).agrado
A Brief History of the Area
The name “Sagres” is derived from sagrado (holy), due to the area’s historical association with ancient religious rituals. The remains of Saint Vincent were buried here in the 8th century; hence the designation of the Cabo de São Vicente (Cape of Saint Vincent).
The area later became known for its importance in the Age of Discovery, being the primary residence of Prince Henry the Navigator for much of his life. It’s said to be the location of his legendary nautical school and a departure point for ships embarking on 15th-century voyages of exploration.
Various attacks, battles, and the 1755 earthquake destroyed many local monuments, but you can still find the remains of fortresses, churches, and sanctuaries. As you explore, keep an eye out for menhirs: neolithic standing stones that are scattered throughout the area.
A Surfer’s Guide to Sagres
While Sagres certainly has a rich history to explore, its main attractions are more natural than manmade. It’s a paradise for outdoor sports enthusiasts, especially surfers. Thanks to its unique location, the town provides easy access to both the western and southern coasts of Portugal. This means you can almost always find the kind of waves you’re looking for, no matter your level.
Up the western coast, you’ll find the beaches of Castelejo and Cordoama. Closer to town there’s Beliche, Tonel, and Telheiro — all great spots for more experienced surfers. Right beside the town center is Praia da Mareta, a sheltered beach where the waves tend to be smaller. It’s not uncommon for it to be totally flat, but when it’s going, this is an incredible spot!
On the southern coast, you’ll find Zavial, Ingrina, and the beaches further down the coast toward Lagos. Finally, there’s Barranco: a super secluded spot known as the “hippie beach.” With all of these options — and many more — it’s essential to have access to a car so that you can check the conditions each day.
Surf Schools and Rentals
If you’re not ready to go out on your own yet, book a lesson with a local surf school. In Sagres, you’ll find Wavy Surf Camp and Algarve Surf School, among many others. In nearby Raposeira there’s Good Feeling Surf School, with expert instructors and small class sizes. Most of the local surf shops will also happily rent you a board and wetsuit, once you’re experienced enough to go it alone.
Pro Tip: The Algarve’s top surf season is winter, when the swell picks up and the waves start pumping. Intermediate and advanced surfers should visit in the colder months to avoid the summer tourist rush and catch the best conditions!
What Else to Do in Sagres
If surfing’s not your thing (or you need a day off), don’t worry, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy in the area. Check out some of the ceramics shops alog the main street and continue on for a walk among the rugged cliffs for epic views of the ocean, or go further and take on a section of the Rota Vicentina. The 20-kilometer route from Vila do Bispo to Sagres is a great way to spend a day, taking you out to the lighthouse and then into town.
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, book an adventure with Poseidon Coasteering. They offer a unique combination of swimming, cliff jumping, and rock climbing that lets you explore hidden caves and swim in crystal clear waters. You can also explore the area’s legendary grottoes by boat, or even stand-up paddleboard.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to deep water solo without a guide, you’ll need to go to Dromedário to get locally-drawn topo as there aren’t many areas searchable online. Here’s our own personal map of all the areas you can find topo for there.
Where to Eat and Drink
Let’s talk about eating in Sagres: one of my personal favorite pastimes. This traditional fishing town is best known for (surprise!) seafood. Order the catch of the day at local spots like A Tasca do Careca in Vila do Bispo or Adega dos Arcos in Sagres. Have some fresh octopus at Marigil, where you have to order several hours in advance. Or sample a local specialty like percebes (gooseneck barnacles) or búzios (whelks/sea snails).
For more international flavors, grab a coffee and snack at Laundry Lounge (you can also wash your clothes while you’re at it). Head to The Hangout for pizza, pasta, tapas, and more in a chill and homey atmosphere. And whether or not you’re vegan, it’s obligatory to stop by Izzy’s Market for incredible plant-based takes on local specialties.
Once the sun sets, head to Three Little Birds for homemade comfort food, delicious drinks and live music — it’s a hotspot for awesome events. Other late-night favorites include Dromedário (where there’s a hand-written guide to deep water soloing in the area created by the local climbing community) and Agua Salgada, where you’ll find plenty of locals, surfers, and tourists. This may be a small town, but it definitely knows how to party. And if you don’t order an ice-cold Sagres, were you even really there?