Costa da Caparica - Portugal

A major highlight of the enchanting Setúbal Peninsula south of Lisbon is the long stretch of sandy coastline known as the Costa da Caparica.

Enclosed by ochre cliffs (which date back to the Jurassic Period), pristine sand dunes and wooded hills, this broad, seemingly endless golden shoreline extends some 22 kilometres down the coast south of the Tagus Estuary to Cape Espichel far away in the distance.

The sands, which comprise a series of coves and lagoons as they gradually spread southwards, constitute more than twenty different beach areas, each with its own unique ambience and characteristics, including a bar or two and often a beachside restaurant selling the catch of the day.

The first few beaches are more easily reached from the centre of Caparica (such as Praia Nova and Praia do Norte, for instance) and tend to be popular with rookie surfers and families with young children, while the furthest beaches like Praia da Rainha and Praia do Castelo are better suited to couples and individuals seeking some quiet isolation, which can normally be found even during the high season.

Often the case in Portugal, there’s a centuries-old legend behind the name Caparica (which loosely translates as ‘rich cape’) and this tale derives from the story of an old lady who left the king of Portugal her most precious treasure, a cape decorated with golden coins.

To reach the Costa da Caparica, visitors staying in Lisbon can enjoy the added thrill of crossing the spectacular Ponte 25 Abril, one of the world’s most iconic suspension bridges which became the longest in Europe when it first opened in 1966. It was initially named in honour of the nation’s dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, but was later renamed to commemorate the 1974 Carnation Revolution.

The town of Caparica (indicated on the Google map below) itself is a vibrant seaside resort popular with Lisbon residents (especially at weekends) but is currently in the process of becoming a standalone holiday destination in its own right. Here you’ll find an abundance of cafés, restaurants, shops, trendy bars adjacent to the town’s long sandy beach and a buzzing beach vibe like no other place on the Lisbon coast.

Best beaches near Lisbon

The main focus is Praça da Liberdade, off which the pedestrianised Rua dos Pescadores features a long line of hotels and boutiques all the way to the beach where the local tourist information centre is conveniently located.

Regular buses run from Lisbon’s Praça de Espanha to Caparica throughout the year, alternatively it’s also possible to get there by ferry from Belém with a connecting bus service linking the beach town with Trafaria.

Much of the Costa da Caparica down to Lagoa da Albufeira is part of the Paisagem Protegida da Arriba Fóssil, a protected fossilised cliff of geological importance backed by a 600-hectare pine forest originally planted by King João V to stop the encroaching sand dunes. Sheltered by pine forest, Lagoa de Albufeira offers visitors a peaceful haven set round a shimmering lagoon whose mouth is open to the Atlantic for approximately half of the year. Further down the coast lies Meco Beach (one of the Costa da Caparica’s most fashionable beach resorts) at the base of an imposing cliff.

In the past, a 10-kilometre-long miniature railway connected many of the Costa da Caparica’s beaches throughout the bathing season, which currently doesn’t operate but plans are in the pipeline to restore the line in 2025 or 2026.

Besides enjoying the beaches and feasting on fresh fish and seafood, many visitors to Caparica make a point of seeing the little hermitages and chapels of the 16th-century Convento dos Capuchos located high on a cliff in a forest of pines overlooking the entire coast, with headspinning vistas stretching all the way to the Sintra mountains in the north to the Arrábida hills in the south on a clear day.

At the bottom end of Costa da Caparica lies Cape Espichel, an old pilgrimage site with a charming little church and a hiking trail that passes some of the Lisbon region’s rarest dinosaur footprints.

This southernmost part of the Costa da Caparica borders the enchanting Arrábida Natural Park (Parque Natural da Arrábida) which covers almost 18,000 hectares of protected parkland, including Sétubal, Sesimbra and the wine town of Azeitão in the shadow of the Arrábida Mountains.

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