With nearly 1,800 kilometers of coastline, it’s no surprise that Portugal boasts many of Europe’s most appealing beaches. A quick Google search will turn up no end of picturesque seascapes and guides to the country’s most spectacular sandy spots. While off-the-beaten track beaches sound sexy, there are plenty more accessible spots that are just as gorgeous. Bonus that the road “slightly more traveled” is often lined with snacks and accommodations.
Northern Beaches (near Porto)
The sand may be coarser and the water colder, but you can still combine a trip to see one of Portugal’s most bustling and fascinating cities with a weekend of laying out in the sun. Espinho is fun little resort town just a 15 minute train ride from the city, and the Praia da Baia is a 5 minute walk from the train station. Locals flock here on summer weekends, but it’s large enough that even during busy times you should be able to carve out a spot. Pop into the beachside cafe Golfinho for a delicious francesinha sandwich when you need a break from the sun.
Slightly further south is the town of Miramar, and if you’re looking for a sleepier, more private beach experience, this is the spot. A five-minute walk from the train station, Praia de Miramar and Praia de Senhor da Pedra abut one another, and cafes and bars dot the esplanade connecting the two, making for a lovely beach stroll. Miramar has more space to sunbathe; Senhor da Pedra is so named because of the picturesque little chapel hovering at the edge of the sea.
If you’ve got the time for a weekend getaway, the idyllic town of Viana do Castelo is a 90 minute train ride from Porto. Book a stay at the Hotel do Chocolate (which also doubles as a chocolate museum!) and then take the bus 20 minutes to Praia de Afife, a lengthy stretch of sand so far north in the country as to be within a stone’s throw of Spain. It’s softer sand than most other northern beaches, and you’ll need to pack a picnic lunch, as there’s not much in the way of concessions directly on the beach. But if it’s seclusion and romance you’re after, this is a choice destination.
Central Beaches (near Lisbon)
The Estoril coast connects Lisbon to Cascais to the west, and there’s a myriad beaches in between. One of our favorites is Praia do Tamariz, about a 45 minute train ride from Lisbon. The Atlantic coastal waters can be rough for swimming, but the jetties and natural barriers surrounding this beach make it a more tranquil option for bathers. Jonas Restaurante is a great place to relax with a sangria and watch the sun set before heading back (or continuing on to Cascais).
Lisbon’s location means that the Estoril coast isn’t the only option for daytrippers. A 90 minute train ride southeast will take you to Setubal, a charming Portuguese city in its own right and the departure point for a quirky lime-green catamaran that will deposit you on the gorgeous shores of the Troia peninsula. There are some swanky resorts and golf courses in the area, but the Praia Troia Mar, with its expansive stretch of soft white sand, feels like you’ve escaped civilization. Since it’s a longer trip from the city, we’re partial to spending the night. The Aqualuz Suite Hotel Troia is a lovely option, and you can head to the Flamingo Club down the road for dinner and cocktails.
Southern Beaches (The Algarve)
Portugal’s southern coast is one of Europe’s best-loved beach destinations, and with good reason: dramatic cliffs give way to white sand and turquoise waters. Unlike the beaches outside of Lisbon and Porto, you really need a car in the Algarve; public transit would severely limit your choices. Luckily, renting a vehicle and driving along the coast between Lagos and Faro is an ideal vacation in its own right, and would allow you to stop at three of our favorite beaches in the area.
Praia do Porto de Mos is a 10 minute drive from downtown Lagos (or a 40 minute walk through town if you’re feeling frisky). It’s one of the region’s longest stretches of beach, just over a kilometer, making it a good choice for a leisurely walk along the water. It also means that even on busy days you should be able to find space. And O Antonio, one of the waterfront snack bars, serves up absolutely excellent gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp).
Drive 40 minutes east and you’ll come across the tiny village of Benagil, made semi-famous nowadays by the ethereal sea cave just off the beach. Praia de Benagil is a pretty little stretch of sand, but it’s really the grutas (grottoes) that make this a can’t-miss stop. If you’re the adventurous sort, it’s a quick swim from the beach to the opening of the cave, and as long as you go at low tide, there’s a sizable patch of sand on which to laze once you’re inside. The tamer option is to book one of the plentiful boat tours offered in town.
Continuing toward Faro, you’ll find the welcoming little town of Porches. Spend the night at the Pestana Viking hotel, which features a hammam with some pretty excellent spa treatments. In the morning, make your way down the cliffs to the compact and scenic Praia da Senhora Rocha, another beach named for the oceanfront chapel nearby. The water here tends to be calm and clear, and when you get peckish, the Ristorante Belmondo nearby offers surprisingly good pastas and wines, in case you need a break from the nonstop seafood offered in most coastal Portuguese restaurants.
Whether you’re headed to Lisbon or Porto and looking to combine a trip to the beach with a dose of urban culture or you’re sick of the cosmopolitan life and just want sand and sun, Portugal has a plethora of options. Vamos á praia!