For many travellers, Portugal is synonymous with images of golden sun-baked beaches. And with a generous 1700 kilometres of coastline, there’s enough sand for everyone. Famed for its wonderful, resort-groomed beaches the south-facing Algarve coast may be the country’s main tourist magnet, but the country is also dotted with secluded, cliff-backed coves.
And there’s plenty more beyond the Algarve. 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. Whether you want to fly and flop or make a splash, we’ve picked ten of the best beaches across the country.
1. Praia de Tavira, Ilha de Tavira, The Algarve
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 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.
2. Praia da Marinha and Benagil, The Algarve
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.
3. Nazaré, Estremadura
Now a busy seaside resort – 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 has a worldwide reputation among surfers seeking serious waves – this is where the world’s largest-ever wave was surfed.
4. Foz de Minho, The Minho
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, here 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 a great Atlantic beach, with a little fortified islet just offshore and Spain visible opposite.
5. Praia da Figueira, The Algarve
You’ll have to walk to get here, but it’s worth it to find this often deserted beach. The small village of Figueira, is the starting point for a rough track to Praia da Figueira, that lies below the ruins of an old fort. This is one of the least-visited beaches along this stretch of coastline, mainly due to the fact that it’s not reachable by car. The walk takes twenty to thirty minutes, with the path passing through some lovely countryside.
6. Praia de Odeceixe, The Algarve
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 it’s magnificent beach, which lies just 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 relatively safe swimming.
Tucked into a remote part of the northern Alentejo, a drive west of the historical port town of Alcácer do Sal, is one of the region’s best beaches.
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.
8. Praia da Bordeira and Praia do Amado, The Algarve
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. 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.
9. Galapos, Parque Natural da Arrábida
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 wildcats, polecats, badgers, buzzards and eagles, the area has remained more or less off the tourist map. It’s a stunningly beautiful area, dotted with 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.
10. Porto Côvo’s beaches, Alentejo
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.