A Traveller's Guide to Arrábida Natural Park, Portugal

The vineyards near the town of Azeitao are often shrouded in mist of an early morning
The vineyards near the town of Azeitao are often shrouded in mist of an early morning | © Zoonar GmbH / Alamy
Photo of Lucy Bryson
3 September 2021

Just 35km (22mi) south of Lisbon, you’ll find the wild Arrábida Natural Park, home to some of the most spectacular beaches in Portugal, alongside craggy hiking routes and hidden gem wineries.

Spanning nearly 181sqkm (70sqmi) of protected habitat, Arrábida Natural Park is a paradise for outdoors lovers – and you can explore it with Culture Trip on our immersive nine-day Portugal adventure.

Pine-covered peaks and limestone cliffs rise dramatically out of the ocean and steep trails lead to beautiful beaches. The turquoise waters and white sands look more Caribbean than European and hungry visitors are never far from freshly caught fish cooking on an outdoor grill, served with a carafe of locally produced wine.

What to do in Arrábida Natural Park

Whether you want to try coasteering, kitesurfing or paragliding; embark on a hilly bike ride; take a winery tour or just lounge on pristine beaches, this is a stunning place to do it.

Hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners will find themselves in the beautiful wilderness – shepherd’s trails carving pathways through green hills dotted with colourful wildflowers, while birds of prey soar overhead. You may be lucky enough to spot a fox or mongoose.

Castelo de Sesimbra, a Moorish castle, sits above the city of Sesimbra | © Witold Skrypczak / Alamy

Arrábida Natural Park is wine country. Enotourism is a growing industry, especially around the postcard-perfect village of Azeitão, on the outskirts of the park. Here, you can tour historic wine cellars and sample local varieties. Cyclists flock to Azeitão to brave the steep climbs and daring descents that make for thrilling rides to nearby destinations, such as Sesimbra. This fishing town is famed for its castle, Blue Flag beaches and excellent seafood restaurants.

Alternatively, head out to the bleakly beautiful Cabo Espichel, where a clifftop pilgrims’ sanctuary sits against a backdrop of endless ocean and rugged cliffs. From here, you can follow trails to dinosaur footprints, or just bring a bottle of something chilled and wait for the dramatic sunset.

Nearby – and often requiring a scrambly descent along rough trails – lie noteworthy beaches such as Portinho da Arrábida, Praia do Creiro and Praia dos Galapinhos (ranked among the best beaches in Europe).

Find pretty beaches in nearby Setubal

For a photo opportunity with an edge, the abandoned army barracks on the cliffside near Outão is an increasingly popular destination among Instagrammers, you can reach it by car or private bike/jeep tour.

Those based in the city and looking for an adventurous escape can sign up for excursions, leaving for Arrábida Natural Park from Lisbon, with options to try anything from kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding to climbing and coasteering.

Where to stay in Arrábida Natural Park

While some visit Arrábida Natural Park on a day trip from Lisbon, there are many enticing reasons to make your base in or around the park itself. Alongside an ever-growing array of holiday rentals, particularly in Setubal and Sesimbra, there is gorgeous accommodation to be found in refurbished country homes, farms and wineries.

At the heart of the park, you’ll find Quinta da Arrábida, three chic properties set in acres of scenic farmland. If you hire a car, you can access blissfully isolated spots. Families and groups of friends might consider a villa with a pool in scenic towns such as Azeitão. Those reliant on public transport have plenty of options, including beachfront stays at Hotel do Mar. Budget travellers can find stunning views without breaking the bank by booking an apartment in Sesimbra.

Hotel do Mar offers clean-cut, beachfront accommodation | Courtesy of Hotel do Mar / Expedia

Where to eat in Arrábida Natural Park

This area is a major foodie destination. Everything seems to taste particularly delicious with salt in your hair and sand on your feet. Freshly grilled fish is the order of the day in Sesimbra (make like the locals and join the queue at Tasca do Isaias, or take a seat on the patio and enjoy the sea view at O Pescador).

In Azeitão, be sure to try the sweet, spongy local pastries at Casa das Tortas and the moscatel at José Maria da Fonseca, one of the oldest wine cellars in Portugal. Local goat and sheep cheeses are excellent throughout the region, too, and make an excellent companion to a chilled white wine on a hot day. In Setubal, you can’t miss choco frito (breaded cuttlefish, a local speciality).

Jose Maria da Fonseca is a historic wine cellar in the region

How to get to Arrábida Natural Park

From Lisbon, it’s a 35-45 minute drive across the impressive 25 de Abril bridge over the River Tagus to most destinations within the park. Drivers should be prepared for busy traffic during the weekday rush hour and at weekends when city-dwellers decamp to the beaches for the weekend.

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