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.
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.
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.
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.