Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Portugal has quietly become one of the best places in Europe to visit on a beach vacation. From going on walks on the sand to professional surfing, Portugal’s coast can offer you whatever beach vacation you might be looking for.
To help you with your planning, we’ve weighed the pros and cons of all the beach spots on the Portuguese shore. The competition was tough, but we narrowed it down to the top 20 beaches in Portugal, no matter the region.
Apúlia’s beach is a great destination if you want to make sure you’re near the action. You can walk to the sand from virtually everywhere in town.
The city isn’t very populated. There are only around 5,000 residents, so you’re likely to have a peaceful time. That’s especially true if you’re traveling during the off-season, which is basically any time other than June to August.
The beach is gorgeous. The sand is smooth and soft, making it perfect for walking or lounging. The water is also incredibly clean. The city takes care to reduce pollution, and there aren’t any boats near the swimmable parts of the water. You’ll be able to see the bright blue of the water 24/7.
Matosinhos is the beach spot to head to if you want excitement and the buzz of city life nearby. It isn’t the biggest city in Portugal, but it’s also nowhere near the smallest. You’ll find a nice mix of bustling city life and some smaller-town comforts as well. The beach is no different.
You’ll find a mix of tourists and locals on the sand all year. During the summer, you’ll be able to join beach parties and activities if you want to make new friends while you’re on vacation. However, you can also stray away from the action to a calmer and quieter part of the beach if you prefer a more laid-back experience.
During the high season, you’ll have company on the beach later in the day and well into the night. You might even see night swimmers.
Praia de Afife is the place to head to if you want a more natural beach day that’s more of a getaway than anything else. While there’s a parking lot and a few buildings, there aren’t many businesses lining the beach, so there’s less noise from people going about their lives off the sand.
This is also a great place for surfers to go since there aren’t many obstacles getting in the way of catching waves. There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re interested in this beach.
There aren’t many places to get food, so if you plan to spend all day here, you might want to pack your meals. There isn’t much natural shade, so pack hats, umbrellas, and plenty of sunscreen if you plan to visit when the sun is at its highest.
Praia de Moledo has been one of the most famous beaches in Portugal since the early 1900s, and for a good reason. It’s one of the most scenic beaches in the country and will make any picture you take while there seem like a postcard or a scene from a movie.
Considering you’re in the northern part of the country, the water is pretty warm for much of the year. You can even start swimming comfortably in early May. However, the sand, surprisingly, doesn’t get scalding hot the way it does on some of the beaches in the south.
It’s naturally a comfortable beach where you can spend hours on end relaxing on the shore or splashing around in the water. There are also some restaurants and bars within walking distance you can head to if you need some refreshments.
Costa Nova beach is one of the most characteristic and memorable-looking in the country. The shore is lined with striped houses that are painted in bright colors and give the area a distinct and artistic vibe. You’ll definitely want to make sure you take time to go for a walk so you can look at them all and even take a few pictures while you’re there.
There are also plenty of sand dunes to explore and climb. Children will love letting their imaginations run wild while they’re running around on the sand while waiting to go back in the water after eating.
You can rent an umbrella as well if you want a stress-free visit, or you can bring some shade yourself. The area is definitely more alive during the summer months, but you’ll be able to have fun at any time of year.
Nazaré is a surfer’s paradise. The beach is near the Nazaré canyon, the largest underwater canyon on the continent, which helps create huge waves.
If you’re not much of a thrill-seeker, you’ll still be able to enjoy your time on this beach. Near the shore, the waves don’t get that big, and you can walk on the sand or wade leisurely.
It’s also a great place to go if you like watching the waves, even if you’re not a big fan of riding them. You can sit on the sand or go for a walk to listen to the calming sounds of the water or keep an eye out for dolphins or whales that can be spotted.
The water does get cold here, so if you are planning to surf, make sure you come during the summer or you pack a wetsuit.
Praia da Foz do Arelho is a family-friendly destination spot that has plenty of excitement for any visitor. There are numerous nearby restaurants so you can spend all day at the beach.
You don’t have to worry about planning a lot of activities to keep you busy while you’re there, especially if you like socializing while you travel, because it’s a popular beach for locals and tourists.
Since it’s where the Lagoa de Obidos meets the sea, it has a unique water current that’s gentle near the shore but with more waves a short distance off the coast. That makes it an excellent place for both swimming and wind-surfing.
The beach is well-maintained by the town. The sand is pristine, and the water is bright blue and clean even during the height of tourist season.
Lagoa de Santo André offers you the experience of going to the beach, but without the intimidation of heading into open water. Since it’s a lagoon, the water is calmer, and there usually isn’t much of a current, making it a safe place for people of all ages and swimming levels to go.
It’s close enough to the sea that you can walk there in a few moments so you can have some variety on your beach day. The lagoon is near a nature reserve that you can also visit, though make sure you know the hours ahead of time so you can plan around them if you need to.
Because much of the beach is used by the reserve, there aren’t many businesses around. Make sure you’ve packed everything you need.
Praia do Guincho is the best beach spot to visit if you’re a fan of taking in sweeping panoramic views. The Atlantic Ocean’s currents are particularly strong here as well, which makes it a good place for surfing, though not always the best place for swimming.
If you stay near the shore, you’ll likely be fine. Even children should be okay if they stay in areas where they can easily touch the ground. However, if you start to get deeper into the water, you might find yourself fighting the current a little more, so keep that in mind if you’re not a proficient swimmer.
This is definitely a place to go if you like spending time on the beach overlooking the water, though. The sound is calming and the water is a dark blue that creates a dramatic look when contrasted with the cliffs that line the beach.
Praia Vasco da Gama isn’t large, but it’s still well-equipped to provide you with a fun day by the water. There are public amenities you can use, like showers and changing rooms, so you can be comfortable before and after you go out on the sand. The water is also nice and warm during the summer, though it does cool down around October and stays chilly until the end of May.
This is also a great beach to go to last minute if you’re staying in Sines. You can get to the water with public transportation or on foot from pretty much anywhere in the city with ease.
It’s one of the best places around Lisbon to go swimming since it’s safe and the water is gentle. There are even lifeguards regularly on duty to keep an eye on you and your travel party.
Ribeira do Cavalo is a secluded beach area that’s tucked away from the rest of the busy world. In order to get to the water here, you have to go on a little hike down a rocky path, which can be difficult to find if you’re not looking for it.
Since it takes some work to get to, many tourists overlook this particular beach, even though it has a lot to offer. It’s a peaceful area that has warm, shallow waters that are safe and clean to swim in. There are also multiple rocks you can climb or include in your pictures for wild and exotic keepsakes.
It’s just a short drive from Lisbon, so if you’re staying in the city, you shouldn’t have trouble finding your way here. Just make sure to pack your food and drinks with you.
São Torpes is the best place to go if you want to make sure you’re guaranteed to have warm, natural water to swim in. This beach is fairly close to a thermo-electric power plant that uses the ocean’s water to help keep its equipment from overheating.
As such, much of the water in this area is warm while still being clean and safe to swim in. Since the plant works all year, this is one of the few places in the country where you can swim no matter what the season is.
However, make sure you know when the tide comes in if you decide to come to this beach. The water rises quickly, so high tide can come in before you know it if you don’t know when you should expect it to happen. Do a little planning before hitting the beach.
If you search for pictures of Portugal’s beaches, you’ll likely come across photos of Praia de Marinha without realizing it. This beach is considered the quintessential Portuguese coast.
It has multi-toned blue water that’s dark blue at its deepest and turns more of a turquoise near the shore. It also has recognizable boulder and cliff formations all along the sand and even in the water, which makes the area seem wild and untouched.
Since the cliffs jut out in an uneven way, the beach is broken up into smaller coves and bays that you can get to on foot or by swimming from one area to another. This beach is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a little bit of a vacation adventure, but still want safety, peace, and security of calm, clear waters.
Visiting Praia da Ilha de Armona is the perfect excuse to get off the Portuguese mainland and visit some of the country’s islands. Armona is a small island that is just a few miles in length, but it has some of the best coastlines in the region.
There are residents on the island, which help give it a small-town feel and will help you feel like one of the locals. The beach is simple, but that’s part of its charm.
You get miles of soft sand you can walk on for hours. Most of the time, the waters are calm, though you might notice more waves if there are storms nearby or if the tide is starting to come in. During the summer, there are some beach activities, but you can easily have a peaceful trip here too if you’d prefer that.
Praia de Dona Ana is yet another gorgeous beach in Portugal, but it manages to set itself apart from the rest. While it’s not hard to find relatively clear water all over the country, this beach’s water is like crystal. Even on busy days when the sand is disturbed, the water never seems to get murky.
That might be in part due to the cliffs that help keep sand in place and can act as a sort of filter to keep the water clear and clean. The sand on the shore is golden and soft but still firm enough that you can walk or lay on it easily without feeling like you’re sinking.
This isn’t a great beach for surfers since there usually aren’t waves, but swimmers, waders, or sunbathers will be able to have a fun day on dry land and in the water.
If you’re a beach lover on the hunt for a slightly different experience than what you’re used to, Praia do Barril is the place for you.
You get the same laid-back environment most people are looking for since there are a few places to get food or beverages near the sand, and the water is generally pretty calm all year. However, there are a few things that make this beach one-of-a-kind. For example, if you walk for a little bit on the shore, you’ll find the anchor cemetery.
Years ago, the tradition for tuna boats to leave their old anchors on this shore started, and it’s been going strong ever since. The anchors are partially buried in the sand, but they’re still very visible, so you won’t miss them or bump into them. You can also find tide pools and lagoons.
Vila Franca is another small island off the coast of Portugal. Since it’s not connected to the mainland, you’ll have to take a boat to get there. You’ll need to do at least a little planning ahead of time so you know the schedules. However, this island should definitely top your list of places to go while you’re in the country.
The island and the waters surrounding it are considered protected, so conservation efforts have been put in place to maintain its natural beauty and wildlife. You’re still able to go swimming here, though. In fact, if you’ve ever been interested in cliff diving, there’s no better place to try it than here.
Just make sure you know what you’re doing, or you have a seasoned cliff diver with you for safety since there aren’t usually lifeguards keeping watch.
Porto Santo is one of Madeira’s archipelago islands with a bustling city life that you can fit right into.
While you’re on the sand, you’ll be able to see a mix of natural and exotic beauty and the evidence of people on the island by seeing the juxtaposition of buildings and cliffs. The result is a cinematic view that looks like it belongs in a movie.
Porto Santo is known for many things, but its beach is its prime feature. It’s a long, uninterrupted stretch of sand that practically circles the island. However, you don’t have to just stay on land.
The water in Porto Santo is warmer than average all year, so you might even find yourself able to tolerate its temperatures in the cooler months if you visit during the off-season.
Hot Tip: You can also try your hand at diving at the many famed diving spots.
Praia do Porto do Seixal is an example of a rare black sand beach that gives the area a very tropical look and feel.
Black sand is notorious for its softness, and this beach is no different. It’s cushion-soft and velvety, and it tolerates the sun well, so it never feels like it’s scalding. You can walk on it comfortably on a sunny afternoon in the middle of the summer without any problems. That’s fantastic since you’ll definitely want to go for a long stroll on this beach.
At one end of the beach, there’s a small waterfall you can admire, and the entire shore is lined with trees and rocks that make the beach feel even more peaceful and secluded. This beach is relatively unknown and is a bit of a local hidden gem without many tourists.
Zona Balnear da Praia Grande is known as the “big beach,” and it shows. There are miles of wide shoreline that’s able to accommodate the summer crowds without people feeling like they’re practically on top of each other.
It’s also the largest sandy beach on the island, and it’s the most popular. If you like being where people are, and you want excitement from the bustle of having others around, this is the perfect beach for you.
You’ll find people of all ages here, but it’s considered a family-friendly beach. There are lifeguards around to make sure everyone stays safe. The sand is kept clean and well-maintained to make sure it’s soft and free of any sticks or shells that could scratch or splinter.
If you feel like you need a break from the noise and you want a little peace, just walk a few minutes, and you should find it.
No matter where you go in Portugal, you’ll clearly have plenty of choices of where to spend your beach vacation. We hope that this list has helped you narrow down your options, so you know which beach or beaches you’ll want to plan on visiting … even if that means you’ll have a few Portuguese vacations in the future.
There are many swimmable beaches in Portugal. Typically, if a place is off-limits, there will be plenty of signs posted to avoid confusion. If you have any doubts, you can always ask the locals or contact the authorities to ask ahead of time.
Some of Portugal’s beaches tend to have warmer water than others. The warmth of a coast’s water will depend on its depth and currents, which can vary. However, during the summer months, the water should be warmer everywhere, with the opposite happening in winter.
Swimming isn’t a popular outdoor activity in February. For most people, the water is too cold, and you can risk hypothermia if you’re not careful. However, if you are a surfer and don’t mind wearing a wetsuit, you shouldn’t be as affected by the cold as swimmers are.
If you plan to go swimming while you’re in Portugal, the best times to visit will be between May and October. The land and water temperatures will be warmer then. If you just want to stay on the sand, Portugal is beautiful all year.
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