Europe's westernmost beaches are located by the continent’s sunniest capital. Lisbon’s abundant sunshine, mild temperatures and long stretches of sand make it one of Europe's most blessed cities and a unique tourist destination, combining urban pleasures with fun by the sea. Facing the Atlantic, it’s the European capital closest to sandy beaches, with a varied and beautiful coastline. Most of it flies the Blue Flag, indicating cleanliness and water quality, and it’s also one of Europe's major surfing destinations. You can head west to the resort towns of Cascais and Estoril, or south to the Caparica coast, and there is always a spot for you.
When in Lisbon, a trip to the beach always enhances your city break or holiday experience.
Lisbon Beaches Highlights
- Surfing and swimming on Europe’s westernmost coast
- Sandy beaches surrounded by natural beauty
- Unique resort experience by urban attractions of a European capital
The Lisbon Coastlines
Lisbon doesn’t have one coastline, or two, or even there, it has four very different coastlines! There’s the coast along the Cascais train line, which faces south and passes by the suburbs of Oeiras and Estoril; the coast of the Sintra mountain range which faces west, the Caparica coast to the south, and the coast of the protected Arrábida Nature Park.
The Cascais coastline extends to the west of Lisbon and is the easiest to reach (by a regular train service). It’s therefore the most popular with tourists (especially families and couples), and has some beautiful sandy beaches with calm waters, good facilities, and excellent hotels by the sea. The historic center of Cascais, which is the last stop of the train, is quite an attractive and cosmopolitan destination for a day at the beach or a beach-based vacation.
The coastline below the Sintra mountain range is found to the north of Cascais, and is a wilder and coast. Public transportation to the beaches is rather infrequent, so it attracts few tourists. Those who plan carefully or who choose to rent a car, however, are rewarded with a dramatic natural landscape made up of white sand nestled between towering cliffs and rugged rock formations. It tends to be windy and therefore cooler, but the powerful waves attract surfers. Nearby is Cabo da Roca, a promontory that’s the westernmost point of the European continent.
The Caparica coastline lies to the south of Lisbon, and is one continuous 15km- (nearly 10 mile-) stretch of golden sand. It’s really one long beach, but divided into different sections, each with its own atmosphere and type of crowds. It’s also a trendy place to be on summer nights, thanks to the beach bars. Buses connect Lisbon to the town of Costa de Caparica, and during bathing season there’s a small tourist train that runs down the coast from the town, stopping at several beaches. Despite the transportation links, it’s still better reached by car, and there are few places to stay, so it mostly attracts locals.
Still part of the Lisbon region, the romantic Arrábida coastline (further south by the city of Setúbal) has some of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal. Surrounded by the lush hills of the Arrábida Nature Park, it has calm, crystal-clear waters and soft golden sand. It’s a protected area, so there’s no public transportation. You’ll need a car, but if you want pristine beaches of great natural beauty and secluded spots, it’s worth the 45-minute drive from central Lisbon. Immediately to the south is the Troia peninsula, which, although no longer part of the Lisbon region, is easy enough to reach if you have a car.
The Fortresses on the Lisbon Coast
Once you pass Belém (the last Lisbon neighborhood before the seaside suburbs), you see a number of fortresses along the coast. They mostly date from the 1600s, and were built to protect Lisbon from “unwelcome visitors,” as the Portuguese capital received spices and gold from its colonies in Asia and Brazil. The oldest fortress dates back to 1553, and is found in Oeiras, but the others are from between 1647 and 1679. Some of these military constructions also served as residences, but are now mainly landmarks on some of Lisbon’s most popular beaches. Sadly, only a few have been restored and are in use (as official residences or as a hotel, as is the case of the Guincho fort). Most are closed and in a state of disrepair. The last cannon was fired in 1998, as a symbolic act to mark the end of the military function of these constructions.
The Bathing Season
The official bathing season in the Cascais coastline is May 1st to October 15th, while in Caparica it’s from June 1st to the 30th of September, and in Sintra and Arrábida it’s between June 15th and September 15th. However, although you have no lifeguards or sunbeds for rent outside the official season, you may still have pleasant beach days as early as April and as late as late October, when there may be a few rainy days but it may also still feel like summer.
The busiest months are July and August, when many locals on vacation join the tourists and there are usually no rainy days. The best times to enjoy a day at the beach on the Lisbon coast are late June and early September, if you want clear blue skies without the crowds.
If you can, avoid a beach day on a weekend, when the entire population of Lisbon seems to head to the shore.
Choosing the Right Beach for You
Which beach you choose depends on how far you’re willing to travel, your transportation options, your travel companions, and what kind of experiences you want to have:
- Easiest to Reach by Public Transportation:
Praia da Conceição, Praia da Rainha, Praia do Tamariz, Carcavelos
- Most Beautiful Beaches:
Praia da Ursa, Portinho da Arrábida, Praia da Adraga, Praia do Guincho, Praia de Santa Marta, Praia da Rainha
- Closest to the Center of Lisbon:
Carcavelos, Praia de Santo Amaro, Praia de Caxias
- Best Beach for Sports:
- Best Beaches for Surfing:
Carcavelos, Costa da Caparica, Praia do Guincho, Praia Grande, Praia do Magoito
- Largest Beaches:
Costa da Caparica, Carcavelos
- Best Beaches for Families:
Praia da Rainha, Praia das Moitas, Praia de Santo Amaro, Praia das Maçãs
- Romantic Beaches:
Praia da Ursa, Portinho da Arrábida, Praia da Rainha, Praia de Santa Marta
- Gay Beach: Praia 19
- Nude Beaches: Fonte da Telha, Praia 19, Meco, Praia da Ursa, Praia da Aguda
- Best resort town: Cascais