While Portugal has many enticing attributes — from the vegetation-covered volcanic landscape of Sao Miguel and the rolling vineyards of Douro Valley to the cultural hubs of Porto and Lisbon — one of the other great reasons to visit is the abundance of spectacular beaches. The tiny nation that occupies just a slice of the Iberian Peninsula has more than 500 miles of coastline that stretches from Moledo in the north all the way down to the Algarve in the south. And don’t forget about the shores of the Azores and Madeira. That adds up to countless beautiful beaches and charming seaside villages that make the perfect sun-splashed vacation. Whether you’d prefer to settle in one spot for a week or go on a wave-seeking road trip, these are our picks for the best beach destinations in Portugal.
Comporta used to be Portugal’s best-kept secret, but now the word is out on this fishing village-turned-buzzy-yet-still-relaxed holiday haven on the coast of Alentejo. An influx of visitors means a burst of energy injected into this once-sleepy community. That looks like a spate of stylish boutiques such as Lavanda and Casa da Cultura da Comporta, plus excellent restaurants like Cavalariça Comporta. Of course, the primary reason people come to Comporta is still the chance to enjoy some of the most blissful beaches in Europe. Sublime Comporta Beach Club on Praia do Carvalhal is the perfect spot to rent chairs under a shaded umbrella or make a reservation for lunch at the excellent restaurant steps from the waves.
Where to stay: A little slice of arcadian paradise that’s just a short drive from the beach, Sublime Comporta is tucked away on a 17-hectare countryside estate that’s framed by umbrella pines and cork trees. The pastoral setting and back-to-nature philosophy shape every aspect of the property — from villas teetering on the edge of biologic swimming pools to the hyper-local ingredients plucked from the garden
One of the most popular destinations in southern Portugal’s Algarve region for myriad reasons, Lagos is a hotspot that brims with natural beauty and interesting attractions. Among its most famous — and snap-worthy — sites, Praia do Camilo lures travelers down the 200 steep wooden steps with the promise of a sandy cove, blue water and staggering rock formations. Praia de Dona Ana and Ponta da Piedade are also photogenic faves. Meia Praia is a long swath of sand that’s punctuated by colorful umbrellas, especially in the summer months. The walled old town buzzes in peak season when travelers from allover Europe and beyond fill the many bars, restaurants, hip cafes, juice shops, souvenir stores and gelaterias (there’s no better way to cool down with the temps spike than a scoop of frosty goodness from GeIícia).
Where to stay: If you’re interested in the whole wellness thing but don’t want to stay far from town in case the mood for cocktails and seafood rice strikes, consider Cascade Wellness Resort, a sophisticated cliff-top hotel that proffers a spa and special health-oriented programs and sits within walking distance of the historic walls and Praia de Dona Ana.
Ericeira is widely considered the surfing capital of Europe. A favorite of locals and international travelers, this legendary seaside community on the western coast of Portugal attracts wave-chasers from all around the world. The long pointbreaks at Ribeira d’Ilhas — which regularly hosts surf competitions — are better suited for folks with a bit more experience. Just starting out? Definitely book a lesson or sign up for a surf camp. Even if you don’t have any intention of paddling out, Foz do Lizandro is a great spot to watch wetsuit-clad thrill seekers, try kitesurfing or just laze on the golden sand.
Where to stay: Hidden away in a verdant valley, Immerso feels like fantasy zen hideaway with a sparkling pool, spa and yoga that’s a world away from basically everything. But in reality it’s just seven minutes from Coxos – World Surfing Reserve Ericeira. So you get all the relaxation of a far-flung refuge without sacrificing access to waves.
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While Madeira isn’t specifically known for its beaches (despite there being some pretty nice stretches to speak of) the opposite could — and should — be said of neighboring Porto Santo, an arid dot in the ocean that’s accessible via a two-and-half-hour ferry ride (to manage expectations, it’s really more of a cruise ship with a cafeteria, game room and movie theater). This 16-square-mile island brims with spectacular beaches that kiss turquoise tides. Planning a day trip? You can walk from the marina to Praia do Penedo in about 20 minutes. Further down at the southwest tip of Porto Santo lies the Ponta da Calheta, a magical spot where gorgeous waves lap sun-warmed sand, and rock formations add wild appeal.
Where to stay: While the overnight options on Porto Santo are somewhat limited, travelers keen to stay on the island will find the newly built Pestana Ilha Dourada to be a great choice with proximity to the Combro Beach and the golf course. The property itself has all the makings of a vacation with a spa, freshwater swimming pool, bar, restaurant and sleek rooms.
Quinta do Lago
Part of the ritzy Golden Triangle, aka “the Beverly Hills of the Algarve” — the posh area between Faro and Albufeira that’s a favored by celebrities and people with piles of money to spend — Quinta do Lago is an exclusive resort that draws an upscale clientele. Many returning travelers own a second residence here, while others rent a holiday villa each summer or reserve a suite at a luxury hotel. In between lazing on Praia da Quinta do Lago and hitting the links, be sure to carve out some time to check out the championship golf course and beaches in Vale do Lobo and dine at one of the acclaimed restaurants in Almancil — notably 2 Passos, Alambique and Pequeno Mundo.
Where to stay: If you don’t own a multi-million-dollar mansion in Quinta do Lago, it’s still possible call this affluent community home for a few nights by checking into the Conrad Algarve, a five-star luxury resort with swish rooms, an infinity pool, five bars and restaurants — including Gusto by Heinz Beck, the recipient of a coveted Michelin star — a spa and a beach club on Praia de Vale do Lobo.
While the Azores, the autonomous Portuguese archipelago in the mid-Atlantic, isn’t lacking in eye-popping natural landscapes — among them lush vegetation, volcanic peaks and waterfalls — when it comes to take-your-breath-away-level white-sand beaches, Santa Maria, aka “Algarve of the Azores,” reigns supreme. Because of its position as the southernmost island in the chain (for reference, it’s a short 20-minute flight from São Miguel), the climate tends to be warmer, drier and sunnier. A short drive from Vila do Porto, Praia Formosa is particularly alluring due to the combination of powdery shoreline and temperate, calm water that makes it ideal for swimming. Situated on the northeast of Santa Maria, the other snow-hued standout, São Lourenço Bay casts a breathtaking visual as the wide, sheltered cove inches into the blue water.
Where to stay: Most travelers tend to choose from the bounty of accommodations in nearby São Miguel (Senhora da Rosa and Santa Barbara are top picks). If you’re keen to spend a few nights on Santa Maria, Cantinho do Paraiso is a gorgeous escape with two well-designed eco-builds to hang your hat: a modern villa and a more traditional villa.
Zambujeira do Mar
Zambujeira do Mar is a quintessential Alentejo fishing village. It’s a place where nothing happens too quickly, and slowing down comes with the benefits of savoring fresh seafood at local restaurants, ambling around and soaking in sea views. The Fisherman’s Trail, which follows the coast of southwestern Portugal for 140 glorious miles, crosses through town. You can easily pick it up as a day hike or strike out for a few hours before enjoying an afternoon filled with swimming, sand and sunshine at Praia da Zambujeira do Mar. Feeling ambitious? Trek to 90 minutes south to Praia da Amália, a stunning, hidden-gem cliff-backed beach that’s accessible through a foliage-shielded pathway and many stairs.
Where to stay: Craveiral Farmhouse reflects a more rural side of this part of Alentejo that’s sandwiched between the countryside and the coast. It feels arcadian in spirit with farm animals (chickens, donkeys, horses and goats), fruit orchards and wild-growing shrubs, but you can still drive to Zambujeira do Mar in just 15 minutes.
Culatra Island makes the perfect Algarve day trip. It’s unhurried, photogenic and possesses a languid charm that’s impossible to resist. The easiest way to reach this sun-faded barrier island on the Ria Formosa? Hop on a ferry — or even quicker water taxi — from Olhão. Once you arrive on Culatra Island, follow the concrete pathways, which eventually become the boardwalk and go straight to the beach. Unroll a towel or shell out a few bucks for a shaded sun bed on the fine sand beach and go for a dip in the turquoise tides. On the way back to the dock, stop by one of the seafood joints for fresh oysters and sardines or kick back with a cold beer by the dock before heading back to the mainland.
Where to stay: Culatra Island doesn’t have any hotels. While the closest overnight options (excluding rentals) are located in Olhão, it’s worth the extra 15 minutes in the car to stay at Octant Villa Monte, a breezy boutique gem in the countryside with white-washed buildings that house airy suites, grassy lawns for picnics and a farm-fresh breakfast spread.
An end-of-the-world destination for laid-back visitors who enjoy sand and swells, Sagres offers a super chill vibe and packs ample beach options into a pint-sized footprint. You’ll often see swimsuit-clad visitors riding around on bikes, heading to turquoise bays for swimming and kayaking (hello, Praia da Mareta) and cliff-backed coves with challenging breaks like Praia do Beliche. Don’t worry if you’re never carved before, this small Algarve town has some top-rated surf schools and rental shops. The dramatic coastal views from Cabo de Sao Vicente and Ponta da Atalaia are another huge draw. When it’s time to refuel after surfing, snapping photos and sunbathing, A Sereia is great for a casual lunch of fresh-caught seafood. While Formento wins praise for its veg-forward small plates and natural wine.
Where to stay: Traveling with kiddos? Book a room, suite or villa at Martinhal Sagres, a family-focused resort on the beach that’s crawling with children and parents and overflowing with ways to keep tiny travelers entertained — from kids clubs broken down by age and toy corners at the restaurants to playgrounds and swimming pools galore.
Located within the greater Lisbon metropolitan area, Setúbal makes an easy weekend escape or even day trip from the Portuguese capital. While it’s just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of the City of Seven Hills, it feels far more relaxed and overflows with scenic assets. Most of its top attractions are tied to Arrábida Natural Park, which dazzles nature lovers with its coastal trails, cliffs, old forts and convent that dates back to the 1500s. Praia de Galapinhos is frequently voted the best beach in Europe. Not to be overlooked, Praia dos Galapos and Praia do Portinho da Arrábida also are well worth visiting. The Troia Peninsula is a 13-mile-long spit bordered with even more beaches, like forests and a marina that’s the point of departure for dolphin watching cruises.
Where to stay: Set on an 11-hectare farm in Arrábida Natural Park, Quinta da Arrábida is a quiet, cork-studded homebase to relax in between hiking and beach going. The houses are set up like light-drenched sanctuaries with big windows, wood furnishings and functional kitchens. There’s also an outdoor swimming pool and plenty of spots for picnics.
Madeira, the main island on the autonomous Portuguese archipelago of the same name, is best known for fortified wine, botanical gardens, cable cars and lush hillsides teeming with UNESCO-protected laurel forests. But the coastal charms of this water-surrounded sub-tropical paradise shouldn’t be overlooked either. A lot of the beaches in Madeira, like so much of Europe, are covered in volcanic stones and pebbles, but quite a few sandy beaches do exist — two of the most notable being Prainha do Seixal, a cliff-backed crescent near the natural pools and the larger Prainha do Caniçal on the eastern tail. Both have soft, black shorelines of volcanic origin that provide a cinematic contrast to the tides and are great spots to stop for a few photos or to spend the afternoon.
Where to stay: Savoy Palace, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, occupies a prime perch in Funchal, so it’s walkable to many restaurants, wine lodges and points of interest. Towering 17 floors, the massive resort faces the ocean and even has a private access point if you’d rather take a dip in saltwater than one of the six pools.
Castro Marim is a typical town in the western part of the Algarve, near the Spanish border, that puts the laid-back southern Portuguese lifestyle and heritage on display with an emblematic castle and a 17th-century fortress. While many visitors go just for the day, those who decide to stay a bit longer won’t have a hard time filling their time. Besides the prominent reminders of the past, the town sits next to a nature reserve, which brings with it opportunities to explore wetlands and take a relaxing dip in the salt ponds. Of course, the best places to cool off on a hot summer afternoon are the top-rated beaches. Within a relatively small area, you’ll find Praia Verde and Praia do Cabeço.
Where to stay: Continuing on the child-friendly holiday bandwagon, Octant Praia Verde supplies the ideal setup for families with spacious suites featuring separate sleeping and living spaces. There’s a large pool and pint-sized piscine for little ones as well as two kids club areas. The restaurant caters to diners of all ages with great food and service to match. And it’s walking distance from Praia Verde.
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