Crashing waves, rugged cliffs or emerald green waters surrounded by caves – whatever your preference, Portuguese beaches have something for every taste. Here is a guide to the most beautiful beaches in and around Lisbon for those who want to make a short trip to the coast.
What was once a strategic political position on the Tagus Estuary, with its direct access to the Atlantic coast, now offers visitors access to some of the best, untouched coastlines in Europe. Lisbon is an excellent starting point for day trips to dazzling coastlines, rugged cliffs and world-class waves that have made Portugal one of the top surfing destinations. Below is a guide to Lisbon’s beaches that will blow your mind with their beauty, and waves that just might (literally) blow you out of the water.
Guincho Beach is a wild expanse of sand and rocks on the coast between Sintra and Cascais, just at the foot of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park hills. Fans of James Bond films may recognise it from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service(1969), where 007 rescues a drowning woman. Since then, thanks to restrictive national park regulations, most of the 800 metres (2600 feet) of this beach have been left undeveloped despite its popularity. The strong waves coming off the Atlantic make Guincho a tough place for swimming (unless you don’t mind getting a swimsuit full of sand). However, the high swells make it an excellent spot for water sports, especially in the winter when the waves are at their biggest. Sign up for surfing, body boarding or, if you’re fearless, kitesurfing lessons at one of the local schools, or rent out a board and tackle the waves on your own. The beach is a 30-minute drive from Lisbon, but if you don’t have a car or are on a budget, you can take a train from the Cais do Sodré station in Lisbon to the Cascais stop, about 30 minutes away. Once in Cascais, take one of the two buses from the nearby Cascais Villa shopping mall, another 25 minutes. During the day, there are regular buses at least every hour.
With blue-green waters surrounded by sheer cliffs, Adraga Beach will feel like your own private getaway, especially in the off-season. Wade among the rocks, or take a dip in the calm waters near the shore. If the tide is low, explore the caves on either side to try and catch a glimpse of the local delicacy percebes (goose barnacle), which grows in caves in the region. Goose barnacles are a treat, but wait to try them in a restaurant rather than pick them yourself, as they are illegal to harvest without a permit – plus they taste better cooked. Like all beaches in Portugal, Adraga is free and open to the public, and it gets quite crowded with tourists in the summer. To get to Adraga, you will need to take a car or get a taxi from nearby bus stops in Sintra or Cascais. Because of the limited space in the car park, a taxi might be your best bet for quick access to the beach.
Whatever your pleasure, you can find it Carcavelos Beach: a long, tourist-friendly stretch of coastline only 30 minutes from Lisbon city centre by train. The water is clear, the waves are big and many people congregate here to see and be seen in their best summer wear. Try your hand at beach volleyball, surfing, or sip cocktails from one of the lounge chairs at the beachside restaurants. Because of the wave size it’s not an ideal spot for swimming, but it has more shops and restaurants than some of the more remote, surf-friendly spots. Before you leave Carcavelos, take a walk to the northernmost end of the beach to check out the façade of the São Julião da Barra Fort, the home of Portugal’s current minister of national defence. To get to Carcavelos, take the train from Cais do Sodré in Lisbon, and the beach is a 10-minute walk from the Carcavelos train station.
Cut off from the outside world by sandy cliffs and the forest of the Serra da Arrabida National Park, Meco Beach is known as one of the best naturist (read: nudist) beaches in Portugal. Originally a destination for hippies travelling the coast in the 1960s, it eventually became a hotspot for naturists and free-minded souls in the LGBTQ community thanks to its rugged beauty and out-of-the-way location. For those interested in baring it all, note that only half the beach is officially nudist. The dividing line is marked by the large sand dune in the middle, with the ‘textiles’ (non-nude bathers) in the north half, and the naturists in the south. It’s a 45-minute drive southwest to this naturist oasis. Or, you can take two buses: one from Lisbon to Sesimbra, then another to Meco village. If you’re looking for refreshments and other entertainment, head to the non-nudist side. No shirt, no shoes, no pants? No service.
Calm, teal waters surround the shore of this hidden gem off the coast of the Arrabida National Park. Ribeira do Cavalo Beach is tucked into a cove, which makes it the perfect destination for sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling. The only way to reach the beach by land is a 20-minute hike through the national park. This added challenge has kept the crowds at bay, but recently, thanks to its growing reputation as one of the marvels of Lisbon, travellers can now arrive via boat. The increase in traffic has caused the small beach to become over-crowded and noisy during peak times. To avoid the rush try going during the week or off-season, but make sure the tide is low so you don’t lose your spot on the beach to a rising water line. It’s a 45-minute drive from Lisbon, south on the highway. Unfortunately there are no public transportation options, but as mentioned, there are many boat tours that stop there – just beware the crowds. The beach is undeveloped so bring everything you think you’ll need: good walking shoes, food, water, sunscreen and a snorkel. Because there are no rubbish bins, prepare to bring it all back with you.
Take in views of the estuary at Lisbon's closest beach, Praia de Algés
Enjoy white sands and the views across the Tagus when you go to Alges, Lisbon’s nearest beach. Rent out a fishing rod, or spend an afternoon leisurely sunbathing on the shore. Or, if you have a schedule to keep, it’s only a 20-minute walk from the Torre de Belem, making it ideally placed for a lunchtime break on the water. There are several ways to get here from central Lisbon, but the best options are to either take a taxi or hop on the Cascais train to the Algés Station. In summer, there are plenty of activities in the area including the Nos Alive music festival, which brings in a global roster of bands for the three-day event every July.
Sintra’s coast, situated about 30 kilometres (20 miles) northwest of Lisbon, is rugged and wild. It is also home to the western-most point in Continental Europe, the wind-blown Cabo da Roca. While there are no inhabitable beaches at this popular tourist destination because of the high cliffs, you can explore the lesser-known Ursa Beach a mere 15-minute walk away. This intimately sized cove is protected from the elements by odd-shaped boulders dotting the shores, and thanks to its natural privacy screen, visitors have designated this as a clothing-optional destination. Unlike Meco Beach, there is no division between naturists and textiles, so be prepared to take in views of all kinds. The drive to Ursa Beach, the only way to go, will take about an hour. Go when the tide is low to make the most of your visit as the tide comes up quickly. This beach is part of a national park and does not have any rubbish bins or clean-up crews.
Emerald green waters, two kilometres (one mile) of white sand and close proximity to bars, restaurants and the Estoril garden are just a few of the reasons why locals flock to trendy Tamariz beach. Grab a lounge chair, or set up camp on the sand to spend the day admiring the waves off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Walk to the east end to take a plunge in the Tamariz Ocean Pool, which offers beach-goers a protected place for swimming without the strong currents from the Atlantic. To get there, you can either drive or take the train to the Estoril station, each option about 30 minutes from central Lisbon. While in Estoril, check out another local attraction with a connection to James Bond, the Estoril Casino. It’s rumoured author Ian Fleming got his inspiration for a debonair spy character after meeting a double-agent at the casino.