Praia da Califórnia is one of the two central beaches in Sesimbra
Sesimbra is home to some of Portugal’s finest beaches. Right in the center of town is a long stretch of sand, divided into two beaches by a 17th-century fort. To the west of the monument is Praia do Ouro (“Golden Beach”) and to the east is Praia da Califórnia (“California Beach”). Both beaches can be quite crowded in the warmer months, with local families, day trippers from Lisbon, and a few tourists. They’re faced by modern hotels and restaurants famous for fresh seafood. In fact, these restaurants attract as many Lisbonites as the beaches, and remain open throughout the year.
View over Sesimbra from the walls of the castle
Outside the center of town are other sandy beaches, including one of the country’s most beautiful (Praia do Ribeiro do Cavalo) and one of the first official nude beaches (Meco). For those you’ll need a car, but you’ll also want to drive to the stunning coast of Arrábida nearby and its pristine beaches. A car also allows you to visit the beautiful windswept cape of Espichel, home to a number of well-preserved dinosaur footprints and an abandoned sanctuary from the 18th century (in 2019 it was the main filming location of Madonna’s "Dark Ballet” video).
The abandoned sanctuary at the Espichel Cape
The town of Sesimbra itself is worth exploring. Its old center is a typical Portuguese fishing village with picturesque, narrow streets, and is overlooked by a castle on a hilltop. From the walls of the castle you can see the entire town and its central beaches, and within the walls is a church from 1160, decorated with tile panels illustrating biblical scenes, like The Last Supper and The Circumcision. Getting there involves an uphill walk for almost 30 minutes, so you’ll definitely want to rent a car.
Beaches in Sesimbra
- Praia do Ouro - The main beach in the center of town, known as one of the most child-friendly in Portugal, due to its calm waters. Part of it is faced by the seafood restaurants that Sesimbra is famous for.
- Praia da Califórnia - Separated from Praia do Ouro by a 17th-century fort, this is the second beach in the center of town. Its shallow and calm waters also make it popular with local families.
- Praia do Ribeiro do Cavalo - It’s one of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches, but remained a secret until recently. To reach it, you have to follow a trail for about 20 minutes down a cliff, but the reward is a stunning scenery that looks more like an island in Thailand than Europe.
- Praia do Meco - Portugal’s most famous nude beach is a short drive from the center of Sesimbra and is also a popular destination outside the bathing season for its fish restaurant.
- Praia das Bicas - Located to the south of Meco, this is a more secluded stretch of sand that’s also been officially recognized as an official nude beach. It remains rather wild, so there’s no lifeguard supervision.
- Praia da Lagoa de Albufeira - With dunes as far as the eye can see, this beach is part of the National Eco Reserve, and has the calm waters of a lagoon for families and the waves of the Atlantic for surfers and bodyboarders.
How to Get to Sesimbra
Sesimbra is 40km (25 miles) south of Lisbon, and can be reached by bus (there’s no train service). That’s bus 207 of the TST company, that departs from the Sete Rios terminal, and makes several stops along the way, so the journey takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Tickets are bought from the driver (a single ticket costs €4.50). Note that there are just 10 departures on weekdays (4 in the morning, two in the early afternoon and 4 in the late afternoon and early evening), and as little as 5 on weekends (two in the morning, one in the early afternoon, and two in the evening).
You may want to drive instead, and many of the attractions around Sesimbra do require a car. The drive takes just 40 minutes, through good, well-marked roads. Take 25 de Abril Bridge, and follow the A2 highway and then road N378 which leads to Sesimbra.
Hotels in Sesimbra
Sesimbra Hotel and Spa
The beach is right outside, and so is the promenade with its popular seafood restaurants -- you can’t ask for a better location. The 84 rooms and 8 suites are spacious and have balconies facing the sea. The infinity pool is a very inviting alternative to the beach.
SANA Sesimbra Hotel
It’s in a contemporary building, but the exterior is reminiscent of an Art Deco hotel in Miami. It’s right by the beach in the center of town, and offers 100 comfortable rooms with sea views. Best of all is the rooftop swimming pool and bar.
Hotel do Mar
This large hotel’s location on a hillside allows you to wake up to ocean views. Praia do Ouro is a few feet away, and Praia do Ribeiro do Cavalo about a 30-minute walk. All rooms have a private terrace, and there are indoor and outdoor pools.
Four Points by Sheraton Sesimbra
It’s highly rated, except for the location, which is rather far from the beaches (about a 20-minute walk). If you have a car, you’ll want to consider this hotel, which has a large outdoor swimming pool, a fitness center, and large rooms with balconies.