The Best Beaches (And Secret Sea Caves!) in Portugal
Secret caves! Misty shores! Seaside wine! And more!
Portugal, girl, you have done it again, constantly raising the bar for us all. The world has a great many top-tier beaches, and still, you sweep the competition without issue. Your shores aren’t just great for swimming or surfing or sunbathing: each one has a special oomph. The beautiful coastline is riddled with sea caves and grottos and fantastical rock formations, and now that Portugal has reopened to vaccinated travelers, we’re all craving a trip. Here are the most gorgeous beaches to explore on your next visit.
Praia de Benagil
Praia de Benagil itself is a stunning beach, set against golden cliffs and popular among both tourists and local fishermen (in fact, you should try and visit early in the morning to catch the latter in action—it’s a pretty soothing way to start the day). The truly spectacular draw here, though, is the prospect of exploring the nearby sea caves, which you can reach only by boat. Set aside a couple of hours for a tour led by one of the aforementioned fishermen; it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself while in Portugal.
Ponta da Piedade
A short drive from Praia de Benagil lies Ponta da Piedade, another spot that’s best explored via fishing boat tour. Your guide can take you through the winding rocky coves and potentially take you snorkeling, depending on the parameters of your particular tour. Aim for a boat on the smaller side, which will be able to navigate the smaller, more secret passages between the rock formations that your fellow tourists on the bigger boats will miss. And if you’re willing to climb 182 steps, the view that awaits you atop the nearby lighthouse will make you glad you did.
Praia do Camilo
Don’t worry, we’re going to get into some lounging-in-the-sun beaches, too. Praia do Camilo—which is technically not one, but two beaches connected by a short tunnel—lies at the bottom of a 200-step wooden staircase (which, despite being a pain in the ass, is worth the climb). Expect it to be crowded if you go during the peak summer season; can’t really blame people, though. This beach is iconic. Spend the morning down by the water and then, when you make your way back up the stairs, stop for lunch at the beloved clifftop Restaurante O Camilo.
Two hours south of Lisbon, Albufeira is a former fishing village turned hugely popular beach town. Although it’s not necessarily a hidden gem, it’s a gem nonetheless, and it’d be a shame to miss out. Here, you’ll find a number of Portugal’s greatest hits: Praia dos Pescadores, which backs right up to the white buildings of the old town; Praia dos Aveiros or de São Rafael, both for low-key vibes and crystalline, blue-green coves; Praia da Coelha, surrounded by cliffs; the list goes on. Spend a day splashing in the cerulean seas, then retreat back up the golden sand and into town for a night of partying along the Strip Albufeira.
Praia de Moledo
Praia de Moledo in northern Portugal has a hazy, dream-like nature about it. From tree-lined shores, a sand shelf slopes down toward the misty blue Atlantic; look into the distance, and you’ll see the hills of Spain. The wind-whipped, often powerful waves make this a popular spot for windsurfers and other water sports (you can rent boards or take lessons at Anchorpoint). On land, visitors go slack-jawed for the sunsets and views of Ínsua, a 15th-century fortress. In a country whose beaches can sometimes get crowded, you’re sure to find some peace and quiet here.
Praia da Bordeira
Oh, does this beach look big? Well, that’s because it is, and especially at low tide. Nearly two miles long, Praia da Bordeira is beloved by surfers and bodyboarders. But this stretch of sand also makes a great family vacation spot. The small Bordeira River sometimes branches out and connects with the ocean to form a warm, shallow lagoon that’s perfect for kids to play in, and the surrounding sand dunes make an equally excellent place to run in the sun. Want to surf? To the south, you’ll find a surf school and rental shop. Not so much? You’ll find a beach bar there, too.
Praia de Marinha
Remember how we mentioned the world’s very best, top-tier beaches earlier? Well, this is one of them. Praia de Marinha looks fully like something that should only exist in, say, The Lord of the Rings. Before you take the stairs down to the beach, check out the walking trail that runs along the cliffs; this is where you’ll get those dramatic views that can only be seen in full from above. Look for one of the most distinctive rock formations to be found anywhere: the M. You’ll know it when you see it. The waters are perfect for snorkeling, and this beach is another one where you can explore the surrounding sea caves via boat tour.
Portinho da Arrábida
If you’re visiting Portugal, chances are you’re interested in two things: beautiful beaches and good wine. Well, at Portinho da Arrábida, you can kill two birds with one stone. This uncrowded beach inside Arrábida Natural Park is surrounded by the sort of lush greenery you might not immediately associate with Portugal, where the best beaches tend to come with golden cliffs or seaside towns. Spend the afternoon diving or spotting dolphins with Portinho Divers, enjoying the boardwalk, and hiking in the hills above the beach. Then, top off your day with a visit to the Fonseca Winery just 15 minutes away.
Praia de Miramar
Praia de Miramar on the northwestern coast of Portugal has all the classic features of a truly great beach: smooth golden sand, relatively uncrowded shores, crashing blue waves. But its pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the Capela do Senhor da Pedra: a solitary white-and-orange chapel that sits on a bed of boulders at the edge of the Atlantic, and a former site of both (and result of a clash between) Christian and Pagan worship. Wander alongside the ocean, stop by to admire (and photograph) the little church’s architecture, and stop in at one of the beach bars or cafes by the shore to cap off a relaxed visit.
Tiana Attride is Thrillist’s Associate Travel Editor. You can follow her on Instagram at @tian.a.