For many travellers, Portugal is synonymous with images of golden sun-baked beaches. And with a generous 1,700 kilometres of coastline, there’s enough sand for everyone. Famed for its wonderful, resort-dotted beaches, the south-facing Algarve coast may be the country’s main tourist magnet, but there’s plenty more beyond. The rest of the coast is also dotted with secluded, cliff-backed coves. Stretching along the west coast are expansive swathes of sand that are rarely busy even in the height of summer, as well as a number of major surf destinations where you can tackle the full force of the Atlantic. Here's our list of 10 of the best beaches in Portugal, whether you want to fly and flop or make a splash.
Strung along this are miles of soft, dune-baked sand, without a hotel in sight. The main part of the beach is dotted with umbrellas and pedalos for rent and scattered with a handful of bar-restaurants.
In high summer this main part of the beach can get very busy, but you only have to wander fifteen minutes or so to escape the crowds. Come here out of season and you’ll probably have the place to yourself.
Pousada Convento de Tavira - Set in a converted sixteenth-century convent around beautiful cloisters and with its own church, this pousada is hard to fault. Most of the plush rooms look down over the old town or a rural hillside, while the swimming pool sits inside Tavira’s old town walls. During renovation work, the remains of a Moorish settlement were found and these can be viewed through a glass partition in the bar. There’s also a highly rated restaurant that uses local ingredients.
Visit the fishing village of Santa Luzia, dubbed 'The King of Octopus', you'll take an electric tuktuk to discover the octopus traps on the jetty, Tavira's salt pans and Ria Formosa - a natural park with a lagoon system and islands.
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The stretch of coast between Armação de Pêra and Centianes has a series of delightful cove beaches that have mostly escaped large-scale development. Two of these idyllic beaches stand out: Praia da Marinha and Benagil.
A classic cliff-backed warren of coves, the only trace of development on Praia da Marinha is the seasonal beach restaurant. Follow the clifftop path on from here as it winds round to the next bay at Benagil, a pint-sized village with its fine beach sitting beneath high cliffs. Fishing boats can take you out to an amazing sea cave, as large as a cathedral, with a hole in its roof.
Holiday Inn Algarve in Armacão de Pêra - Right on the seafront, this plush, modern hotel has a pool and terrace overlooking the beach; there’s also a restaurant, gym and live entertainment.
Benagil caves & wild beaches - take a boat tour from Armacão de Pêra to discover the rugged Algarve coastline, seeing beaches and caves along the way that are inaccessible by land.
Now a top surf spot – with all the hustle and trimmings that you’d expect with that title – the former fishing village of Nazaré has a great town beach. The main stretch is an expanse of clean sand, packed with multicoloured sunshades in summer, while further beaches spread north beyond the headland.
The water might look inviting on calm, hot days, but it’s worth bearing in mind that swimming off these exposed Atlantic beaches can be dangerous. Nazaré's North Beach in particular has a worldwide reputation among big-wave surfers – in fact, this is where the world’s largest-ever wave was surfed.
Mar Bravo - The most upmarket seafront choice has smallish rooms but all have an ocean view and are handsomely styled with good marble bathrooms. There’s an equally refined fish and seafood restaurant downstairs (closed Tues from Nov–March).
The Nazaré North Canyon is a submarine canyon, generating giant waves. Take a boat tour to discover this phenomena.
Sleepy out of season, the charming village of Odeceixe comes to life in the summer when it draws a stream of surfers and holidaymakers, lured by its magnificent beach, which lies some 4km west of the village.
In the summer take the road train to Praia de Odeceixe, or follow the road on foot through the river valley to the broad bay framed by low cliffs. The beach here is one of the most sheltered along this stretch of coast, where you can enjoy fantastic surfing and safe swimming.
Residencia do Parque - On the street by the post office, this friendly backpackers’ haunt has a mixed bag of en-suite rooms – the best are on the top floor with small balconies. There’s also a hammock lounge downstairs and huge off-season reductions.
Take some Stand Up Paddle Boards and discover Odeceixe beyond the beach.
Just 2km southwest from the sleepy town of Caminha lies Foz de Minho, Portugal’s northernmost beach.
Located on an idyllic wooded peninsula where the broad estuary of the Rio Minho flows into the Atlantic, a wooden boardwalk hugs the water’s edge, leading to a sheltered river beach. Wander slightly further on for five minutes through the pines, and you’ll reach this great Atlantic beach, with a little fortified islet just offshore and Spain visible opposite.
Hotel Porta do Sol - Caminha’s biggest resort-style hotel is at the entrance to town, right on the river – you can cross the road and walk up the boardwalk to the beaches at Foz. It’s a four-star place with nice enough rooms – they all have a balcony, though not necessarily a water view – plus restaurant with panoramic views, two pools (one for kids), sauna and spa, gym and tennis court. You can get here by train too – it’s just 7min walk from Senhora d’Agonia station, the stop before Caminha.
If you're pressed on time, consider taking a day tour from Porto to discover Minho.
You’ll have to walk some way to get here, but it’s worth the effort to find this often deserted beach. The small village of Figueira is the starting point for the rough track that winds below the ruins of an old fort to lead to Praia da Figueira,. This is one of the least-visited beaches along this stretch of coastline, as it is not reachable by car. The walk takes twenty to thirty minutes, with the path passing through some lovely countryside.
Tucked into a remote part of the northern Alentejo, west of the historical port town of Alcácer do Sal, is one of the best beaches in Portugal.
Here at Comporta, deserted sands stretch as far a the eye can see – a magnificent swathe of soft beach that is served by a couple of seasonal café-restaurants, which double as popular hangouts for wealthy Lisboetas.
Pousada Castelo de Alcacer do Sal - The former Moorish castle is now home to the fabulous Pousada Dom Afonso II, one of the classiest of the chain. The ancient shell of the castle makes a dramatic setting for the surprisingly contemporary rooms, and there’s also a swimming pool and top-notch restaurant.
Enjoy a horseback ride on the coast, followed by a wine tasting in Melides, only a 30-minute drive from Comporta.
The Algarve has some of Europe’s finest beaches, yet two beaches tucked into a remote corner of the region often steal the show. Near to the low-key village of Carrapateira are Praia da Bordeira and Praia do Amado, undoubtedly two of the best beaches in Portugal. There are few more impressive European beaches than Praia da Bordeira: a spectacularly wild beach backed by giant dunes, a tiny river and crashing surf.
A couple of kilometres south of Carrapateira, there’s a further fantastic broad, sandy bay, Praia do Amado, with a couple of seasonal cafés. Backed by low hills, it’s particularly popular with surfers.
Monte da Vilarinha - situated within the Vicentine Coast Natural Park, it offers splendid views of the valley and an outdoor swimming pool.
If you prefer a day tour from your hotel in the Algarve, you can visit Carrapateira, the Vicentine Coast Natural Park and other beautiful beaches in a small group tour.
The craggy, wooded slopes of the Serra da Arrábida rise above a dramatic coastline – a region that since 1976 has been protected as the Parque Natural da Arrábida. Home to polecats, badgers, buzzards and eagles, the area has long remained more or less off the tourist map. It’s a stunningly beautiful area, dotted with white-sand cove beaches. The best beach hereabouts is Galapos, a beautifully positioned bay with calm waters, located near to the tiny harbor village of Portinho da Arrábida.
Casa da Adoa - This lovely house right on the seafront has a sunny patio garden and a variety of fresh-feeling rooms, all with minibar, a/c and satellite TV; two have kitchenettes, as does a larger family room.
Explore the natural park in your own canoe. Discover a hidden beach, the rich marine life and find out more about the region with an expert guide.
The Portuguese love the southern Alentejo coast, an unspoilt expanse of low hills, wave-pounded cliffs, and low-key resorts clustered around idyllic sandy coves. One of the best spots is the former fishing village of Porto Côvo, which provides easy access to a number of beaches. A popular weekend retreat for Lisboetas, it becomes busy in August, but for most of the year the predominant sound is the whistle of the Atlantic breeze.
Just north of the town is the nearest beach, a sheltered sandy wedge below cliffs. Beyond this lies Praia Grande, the appropriately named “Big Beach”. Clifftop paths run north and south of town providing access to other beaches, such as Praia da Samouqueira, which is named after its extraordinary rock formations.
Hotel Porto Côvo - Popular with Portuguese families, this is Porto Côvo’s top choice, a few minutes’ walk beyond the market building – it’s a modern place wrapped around a small pool, with air-conditioned studios and one-bed apartments with a kitchen.
A wonderful way to explore Porto Côvo and many other attractions in the region is taking a private day tour from Lisbon. Your driver will go at your pace, making recommendations on the way but allowing you to discover the region yourself.
Top image: Benagil Cave © Nido Huebl/Shutterstock