For those unfamiliar with the merits of the destination, it’s always pleasing to learn that Lisbon, Portugal‘s enchanting capital city, is blessed with two glorious stretches of golden, sandy coastline, one to the north of the River Tagus (the Cascais Coast) and the Costa da Caparica to the south.
Both are a seemingly endless extent of wonderful beaches blessed with a great selection of praias (beaches), each with its own natural features, bathing facilities and tidal characteristics.
Beginning 20 kilometres west of Lisbon and continuing past the famous Guincho Beach (pictured above and indicated on the map below), just south of Cabo da Roca near Sintra, the Cascais Coast is a cosmopolitan, upmarket resort region easily accessible by train or car from the centre of Lisbon.
Some of the most popular beaches exist between Estoril and Cascais, while several more can be found further up the west coast between Ericeira and Nazaré, where the Big Wave Tow Surfing Challenge is contested each winter.
The best beach closest to Lisbon is Carcavelos, an ideal place for families with young children and less-experienced surfers. Further along the Cascais Coast lie the fine sandy beaches of Tamariz and Monte Estoril which are popular in the summer, while the two smaller beaches at nearby Cascais (Ribeira and Rainha) have well-sheltered bathing conditions, making them safe for the kids and non-swimmers. At the other end of the spectrum, and strictly for those looking to feel the real force of the sea, the Guincho caters for the most proficient surfers and kite-surfers with a succession of spectacular Atlantic breakers, some as big as a house.
Those who make the effort to visit the Costa da Caparica on the south side of the river will be rewarded with some of the best beaches in Lisbon. With 15 kilometres of uninterrupted sands, it has a thriving resort atmosphere between mid-June and early September, with many of its beaches accessible by a miniature railway operated along the coast during the summer months.
Those who enjoy water sports can take full advantage of some more sheltered beaches found further down the Costa da Caparica, most notably Lagoa de Albufeira and Portinho da Arrábida, where equipment is available for hire at reasonable rates.
The old adage that the best beaches are the most difficult ones to reach is certainly the case in the Lisbon region. The long sandy beach at Sesimbra, a picturesque fishing town located 40 km south of the capital, can be reached by car or bus in about an hour, which is well worth the effort, particularly for its many beach-front fish and seafood restaurants selling the local catch.
The lesser-known Sintra Coast north of Cascais offers the very best of the Atlantic shoreline, with many spectacular beaches to be enjoyed, most notably Praia Grande and Praia das Maçãs. A particular favourite among locals is the natural seawater swimming pool further up the coast at Azenhas do Mar.
People prepared to travel a little bit further south will be rewarded by some of the most idyllic beaches in the whole of the Lisbon area, those of the Troia Peninsula located across the River Sado from Setúbal. Besides its long white sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see, Tróia is also worth visiting for the remains of an important Roman fish-preserving town called Cetobriga located just 2 km from the ferry terminal.