Portugal is famous for its long stretches of sandy beaches that run for miles along the Atlantic Coast. Estremadura, a region that sits in the centre of the country and includes the capital Lisbon, contains many spots typical of this coastline. The sea plays a large part in Portuguese heritage. For centuries, fishermen have hauled their catch onto shores using the traditional Xávega technique, and seaweed scavengers have gently picked over the shallows. But today they are joined by adrenaline junkies drawn to surfing world-class breaks, with the internationally-famous swells at nearby Nazare. And on milder days, the less-active visitors that throng to golden sands to soak up hot rays, with a cool cerveja in hand.
In Lisbon, you are perfectly placed to visit some of these famous Portuguese beaches, either by car or train. Just pack sunscreen, an emergency waterproof and a wind guard and you’re golden. Whether you are after sun loungers and cocktails, wide open beaches and spear-fishing, or a gentle swim, these are the best beaches in Lisbon worthy of a day trip.
Praia da Comporta
Comporta is where celebrities, from Madonna to Christian Louboutin, and the rest of the millionaire-set, go for an eco-escape—and, spoiler, you can too. Comprising of several villages and spread across eight beaches, this paradisal enclave is a 90-minute drive from central Lisbon making it an ideal day trip. Located at the base of the Tróia Peninsula’s 13 miles of natural scenery, the upmarket ‘chic’ retreat has gentle lapping waters and a clutch of stylish beach clubs. Try light and airy Sal beach bar, Café Comporta, or newcomer Sublime Beach Club. The beach is not well-connected to Lisbon by train, so you will have to drive about 90 minutes to get there.
Santa Marta Beach
If you’re a refined beach-goer, fond of wide-brimmed sun hats and limoncello gelato, with only the very occasional need to dip a toe in the ice-cold water—then Santa Marta is for you. Once the private residence of Count de Castro Guimarães, his revivalist-style palace, turned museum, rises skyward as if it was an intricate sandcastle. The beach itself is a small slither of sand but hems a quiet park with the beautiful chapel of Santa Marta nearby. To reach this idyllic spot there is no need to rise early to beat the traffic, simply head to Cais do Sodré station and take the inexpensive 40-minute line to Cascais. Walk 16 minutes through the historic seaside town, once the summer residence of Portuguese aristocrats and royalty, to this special beach.
Fonte da Telha
Need to escape the crowds? The long, wind-swept Fonte da Telha is the perfect hideout close to Lisbon. Don’t be surprised by the odd nudist, they’re just looking for a solitary spot too. Framed by golden jagged cliffs, laced with scrub, this beach deliciously empty in the off-season. In these winter months, you can hike along the Transpraia railway as its located along with the Fóssil Nature Reserve. From June until September, the beach gets busier as it’s an idyllic spot to cool off from the penetrating Portuguese rays. Sophisticated beach clubs, O Bohemian, Praia da Princesa, and Irmão get lively, as they each serve good food and excellent tunes. The large crashing waves are perfect for surfing, so grab your board and spend the day in the beautiful scenery of this natural park. Swimmers, take care and don’t go too far out. The fastest way to get here is by car, which takes about 40 minutes outside of the peak traffic hours, but you can also combine a train and ferry journey for a 90-minute trip.
Praia do Guincho
Praia do Guincho is an Atlantic beach on the Estoril coast, just five bikeable kilometers from the charming town of Cascais. Largely considered one of the best beaches in Portugal, Guincho is what family holidays are made of. A word of warning: the sea here has a strong undercurrent, and check the wind forecast before heading out. If clear skies are ahead, pack your bags and take the 40-minute journey either by car or train. Its rugged cliffs and greenery make for a beautiful setting. In terms of activities, you can fish from the sand or rocky outcrop, plus surfing, wind or otherwise, is excellent here and if you are in need of assistance try Mowzes Surf School. But it’s not the best for sunbathing, and swimmers need to watch for red flags. To round off the day, grab dinner at Meste Zé. Or serious foodies might head straight for Michelin-star Restaurante Fortaleza do Guincho which has breathtaking panoramic views.
Praia dos Galapinhos
Swimmers will be much more comfortable at the Praia dos Galapinhos, a near-tropical beach set against the backdrop of the hills of Serra da Arrábida. It’s a tranquil crescent of sand, hidden behind a steep swathe of forest rising sharply above it. The glassy water is typically warmer and calmer than the peninsula's other roaring west-coast beaches. There isn’t much in the way of amenities, so come prepared. Although a few thatched, rustic umbrellas are scattered across one side of the Praia dos Galapinhos, and a sole beach bar serves ice cream and drinks. It’s as close as you’ll come to feeling as if you have stumbled across a deserted island—in fact, cars can’t get close as the area is protected. Expect a shuttle upon arrival. You won’t be able to get here by train, so you’ll need a car to make the hour-long trip.
Praia Grande is a simple choice, but this less busy and no-frills beach has everything you need. The large stretch of sandy beach is couched between a steep cliff face that has a historic walk around fossilized dinosaur footprints, and on the other side, the large Arribas Sintra Hotel allows visitors to slip in for a small fee and take a dip in its Olympic-size pool. A plus when the waves are epic and overrun with surfers and wind-kites. Bar do Fundo, a cliffside Portuguese eatery offers fresh seafood and fine dining, with a terrace for beautiful views. And nearby you’ve got Praia Adraga, a sandy inlet with jagged cliffs, and village Azenhas do Mar has an exceptional but expensive, restaurant carved into the cliff face. When scanning the menu, look for percebes (goose barnacles), a local speciality that is dangerous to catch. You can get here by train in about two hours or opt for an hour-long drive.
Praia da Parede
If you are short on time but want maximum sun, Praia da Parede is on your doorstep. A seemingly perfect curl of sand reaching the fortress of São Julião da Barra, this small beach is a welcome respite from the city heat. It is clean and is said to be rich in iodine, which makes it good for swimming when the tide is in. While neighbouring Carcavelos draws a younger, international crowd, Praia da Parede gets our vote. It's close to Buraca Roasters Cafe, to which you can lug your laptop, and you are just minutes from the delicious mounds of shrimp and crab at Portugese hotspot Eduardo das Conquilhas. Plus, just fifteen minutes on the Cascais line from Cais do Sodre, you can reach Parede in a heartbeat.
A Lisbon-based writer and researcher with her work featured in BBC Travel and SUITCASE Magazine. She never leaves a city without visiting a flea market first.
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