When you think of European capitals, pristine beaches aren’t the first thing that springs to mind. Lisbon, though, is different. Sitting on the western edge of the continent, with warm, sunny weather most of the year, the city is blessed with dozens of beaches within easy reach of the city center.
Being on the Atlantic coast is both a blessing and curse for Lisbon’s sun lovers. On the upside, the crashing waves bring white sand to most of the city’s beaches, rather than the pebbles and rocks that dominate most Mediterranean coastlines.
On the downside, the water is surprisingly cold, even in the height of summer. If you want to find a spot to yourself on a busy August weekend, the best place is probably a few feet offshore!
Regardless, with so many sandy options to choose from, it’s not always easy to pick the best. We’ve picked out four of the top beaches near the city, each of which have their own ‘special something’ that make them stand out for locals and visitors alike.
None of them... are more than an hour from anywhere you’re likely to be staying in Lisbon.
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Once a small fishing village, Cascais has transformed itself in recent decades to become a tourist destination in its own right.
On summer weekends, the half-hour train from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodre station is packed with tourists and Lisboetas alike, all seeking out a slice of sand on one of Cascais’s small, sheltered beaches.
Because of that, if you can time your visit for a weekday or during the city’s long spring and fall seasons, you’ll have a lot more breathing room.
Closest to the main square and historic part of Cascais lies tiny Praia da Ribeira. It’s also known as Fisherman’s Beach, and you’ll likely see several small boats coming and going as you lie on the sand. It’s calm and safe for children, although the water quality isn’t amazing due to that commercial activity.
Larger beaches lie just to the east, and it’s easier to find somewhere to lay your towel on Praia da Conceição and Praia do Duquesa. Joined together at low tide, these two stretches of sand offer the classic Cascais... beach experience.
When you tire of time in the sun, be sure to visit the famous Gelados Santini before jumping on the train back into the city. This little store has been turning out incredible ice-cream for over sixty years.
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Praia do Guincho
If Cascais is too crowded, or you’re looking for water-based activities more strenuous than padding in the shallows, hire a bicycle or jump in a bus or taxi from Cascais, and head a few miles further along the coast.
Whether you follow the scenic N247, or cut through on the shorter inland route, you’ll soon find yourself looking down on Praia do Guincho – and likely, being buffeted by the strong winds that dominate this part of the coastline.
There isn’t much shelter on the beach, so if the breeze is particularly strong, sunbathers may want to choose a different spot. Powerful rip currents can make also make swimming dangerous, so pay close attention to the flags and lifeguards if you’re planning to get in the ocean.
Instead, this beach is a prime sport for surfers and, when the winds blow across the bay in summer, kite-surfers as well. Equipment hire and lessons are relatively inexpensive, with a few different shops to choose from.
Once you’re done, some of the best seafood in this part... of the country lies in wait at nearby restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Fortaleza do Guincho. As in many other parts of the word, if you’re on a budget, you’ll pay less once you get further from the water.
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Praia do Cresmina
Separated from Praia do Guincho by a rocky headland, the much smaller Praia do Cresmina doesn’t look like much from the road.
Pick your way down the steps, however, and find a spot beside the cliffs, and you’ll be rewarded by a more sheltered, calmer beach experience than is offered by its windy neighbor.
The beach is divided by a small outcrop, and you’ll get the most shelter in the tiny northern section between Hotel Fortaleza and Restaurante Mar do Guincho. There are no amenities there, though, so if you’re looking for cafes and beach umbrellas, pick a spot on the longer southern section.
There’s a kite-surfing school there, and easy access to a few restaurants if you didn’t bring your own picnic. On those long Lisbon summer afternoons, Praia do Cresmina is the perfect spot to while away a few hours.
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Costa Caparica should be far more popular with international tourists than it is. Starting on the southern side of the Tagus river, it’s the longest stretch of sand in Portugal, the best part of twenty miles end to end.
It’s easy to get to, with ferries and express buses running from downtown, and it’s far less crowded in summer than any of the beaches between Lisbon and Cascais.
Despite that, international holidaymakers are in relatively short supply in Costa Caparica. You’ll find far more locals, or visitors from elsewhere in Portugal, especially at the weekend.
The busiest part of the beach lies alongside the town of the same name, which has plenty of bars, cafes, and restaurants, but is otherwise a relatively charmless affair. Walk along the boardwalk, though, and the crowds quickly thin out.
Drive south a few miles (or take the small train that runs in summer), and the buildings disappear almost completely, replaced by eucalyptus forests. This is also where you’ll find the gay and... nudist areas, but it’s easy to find a large stretch of sand all to yourself.
If you want to stay closer to town, it’s worth strolling along the boardwalk to check out the beachside bars and restaurants, and enjoying a vinho verde or sangria as the waves crash in front of you and seagulls wheel overhead. There are also good, inexpensive seafood restaurants a few blocks back from the beach.
It’s easy to spend an entire, enjoyable day shuffling between Costa Caparica’s beaches, bars and restaurants, waiting for the sun to start setting before catching the bus or cab back over the bridge to Lisbon.