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Portugal’s 30 best beaches

The country’s 943km of coast boasts the kind of unspoilt spots that Spain enjoyed 50 years ago

A bird's eye-view of Nazaré beach, north of Lisbon. Ampliar foto
A bird's eye-view of Nazaré beach, north of Lisbon.

This is what Spanish beaches used to be like 50 years ago  – and it’s too bad they didn’t stay that way: places where you can find respect for nature, good food at affordable prices in the beach bars, parking lots situated away from the beachfront, wooden boardwalks stretching over sand dunes...

Considering Portugal has 943 kilometers of coastline, it is a bold task to pick out 30 of its best beaches, but the following list undoubtedly includes some of the country’s top spots in three categories: general, surfing and nudist.

TOP 10 GENERAL

In general, Portuguese beaches have not yet embraced the craze for water sports that has infected other parts of the world, turning leisure into something more like the Olympic Games.

And so, in an act of pure, unfettered hedonism, it is possible to enjoy its beaches exactly for what they are.

1. A beach in the mountains?

QUIAIOS

Located near the village of Figueira da Foz, this elongated stretch is dotted with dunes, pine groves and vegetation, making it look like a beach in the mountains. Swimming is reserved for the brave: the water is just 18ºC at the height of summer, which is typical for the untamed Atlantic Ocean.

A panoramic view of Quiaios beach. ampliar foto
A panoramic view of Quiaios beach.

2. Wild and windy

GUINCHO

Talking of nature in an untamed state, you can find it just half hour from Lisbon. Sun worshippers will find few opportunities for catching some rays here, but surfers, kite surfers, strollers, cyclists and observers of raw beauty consider Guincho and the surrounding area a uniquely attractive spot.

3. Chic and exclusive

SOLTRÓIA

Also known as Atlántica, this chic beach is located on the peninsula of Troia and Comporta and serves as a haven for the rich and famous. In fact, there is no public access to Soltróia, although anyone is free to walk over the dunes to get there. The waters are clear and lack the rough waves of other beaches, guaranteeing peace and quiet for miles around.

4. The best in the world?

PEGO

Also in Comporta, this is probably the most familiar-sounding of all the beaches here because its size and accessibility always earn it a place on lists of the world’s best.

5. Fierce seas

MALHÃO

The sea at this spot located north of Vila Nova de Milfontes, in the Alentejo region, can be surprisingly rough on windy days. Looking down from the craggy cliffs, the beauty of the place is also striking. When the tide is low, it is possible to go stretch out in the sun, but this entails climbing down a little wooden staircase that is the only vestige of civilization around.

A soccer game on Malhao beach, in the Alentejo region. ampliar foto
A soccer game on Malhao beach, in the Alentejo region.

6. Fresh water

AMEDO AND BORDEIRA

The little village of Carrapateira, in the part of Algarve known as Costa Vicentina, can proudly boast two of the best beaches in the country: Amedo for surfers and Bordeira, which has something truly exceptional: a spit of freshwater. There is room for everyone at Bordeira – except those who want a beach bar or tourist information center. There’s nothing here. Thanks to its small estuary, those more sensitive to the cold can go swimming like in the Caribbean. Families with children like to come here to get away from the waves and the undercurrents.

Bordeira beach, near the village of Carrapateira in the Algarve region. ampliar foto
Bordeira beach, near the village of Carrapateira in the Algarve region.

7. Warm and child-friendly

MANTA ROTA

This enormous sandy spot with warm, shallow waters is excellent for families with children – the main visitors here. There are all kinds of services towards the middle part of the beach, including a children’s playground, but the two ends are less crowded and more peaceful.

The houses slope all the way to the sand at Carvoeiro. ampliar foto
The houses slope all the way to the sand at Carvoeiro.

8. The village-slash-beach

CARVOEIRO AND CARVALHO

Nestled between the rocks and the trees, the little white houses of Carvoeiro look right over the sand. In fact, some of them are right on the sand. This place has everything you need to move straight from the sofa to the sun lounger without having to drive or even walk much at all. Anyone wishing for something a little more private can mosey along to the charming Carvalho, which is only accessible via a cave that in times past was blocked by a gate, as it used to be private property.

9. Cave included

DONA ANA

This place is protected by rock formations that have created caves and grottoes, turning it into a favorite spot for skin divers. There is no protection from humans, however, who occupy the space at their leisure. To reach the beach you have to walk around 15 minutes and take the wooden stairs going down the ridge to the sand.

10. The warmest waters

FALÉSIA

An hour-and-a-half from the Spanish province of Huelva, you don’t see Falésia, you discover it. The name “falesia” refers to the red cliffs, the bottom of which are lined with kilometers of white sand and the warmest waters along the entire Portuguese coast (22ºC).

A bicycle on the boardwalk on Falésia beach. ampliar foto
A bicycle on the boardwalk on Falésia beach.

TOP 10 FOR SURFERS

The ocean crashes against the continent in Portugal. And as if that weren’t enough, the seabed at some beaches features rocky canyons that increase the strength and size of the currents and the waves. In short, Portugal is surfer heaven.

1. Urban tide

MATOSINHOS

Just north of Porto, this city beach has waves to suit everyone and is accessible on foot.

2. For wave hunters

NAZARÉ

In November 2011, surfer Garrett McNamara put this place on the map after riding the biggest wave in the world, a 24-meter-high monster. Since then, this fishing village has become a pilgrimage spot for surfers.

3. A world competition

SUPERTUBOS AND MEDAO

Yet another place boasting the best waves in the world, and home to a world surfing circuit competition. If the waves fail, the surfer scene never lets you down.

4. Save the waves

RIBEIRA D’ILHAS

After Malibu, this was the next beach to be declared a World Surfing Reserve by the Save the Waves Coalition. There are only five beaches in the category in the entire world. It is a craggy spot filled with octopus catchers. Not to be missed: the fishing village of Ericeira and the monumental Mafra.

5. Good for bodyboarding

PRAIA GRANDE

This is bodyboard heaven, as one of the world circuit’s competitions is held here in late August.

6. Don’t forget the kite

GUINCHO

If stretching out on a towel here is difficult, surfers, wind surfers and kite surfers have an easier job of it, since wind reigns supreme at Guincho almost every day. Visitors without a board of some kind can enjoy the spot’s picturesque charms.

7. From the train to the ocean

CARCAVELOS

The quality-proximity to Lisbon ratio is so good that it makes up for the fact that this lacks the same great conditions as other spots. Being able to jump from the train on to the sand is a luxury worth enjoying.

8. The red one

PONTA RUIVA

The reddish tone of the rocks give this place its name – ruiva means redhead. This is one of the most spectacular beaches on the coast of Sagres. Part of its charm resides in the fact that it is nearly inaccessible: the only way there is along two unmarked paths with starting points in Vila do Bispo and Sagres. It is a good idea to wait until sundown to really appreciate the reddish hues of the rocks.

A woman walks her dog on Arrifana beach. ampliar foto
A woman walks her dog on Arrifana beach.

9. Short on sand

ARRIFANA

There are waves for beginners and for professionals. For everyone else, the beach is a bit small at just 500 meters long.

10. Hippie friends

AMADO

This place has two schools, guaranteed wind and waves, and a nice big beach, making it good for surfers, sunbathers, street vendors and hippies.

TOP 10 FOR NUDISTS

Sunbathing naked is not what it used to be. Fortunately, you no longer have to risk your life walking along narrow footpaths near yawning precipices, getting scratched by bramble bushes and losing your belongings along the way to find paradise. Large beaches such as Caparica, Meco and Cacela have enough space to accommodate the entire range of options, from complete nudity to head-to-toe wetsuits. Even so, there are a few official nudist beaches, and many others where nudism is more the rule than the exception.

1. A bit of everything

FOZ DO MINHO

River, sea, mountains, Spain and Portugal. Who could ask for anything more from this beach on the mouth of the Tagus, surrounded by the pine forest of Camarido? You can choose between fine sand and rough seas, or rough sand and calm waters.

2. Room for everyone

CANIÇAL

Located under a cliff, this beach is shared by nudists, surfers and fossils.

3. The beach of the she-bear

URSA

The last peaks of the Sintra mountain range sink down into Ursa (bear) beach, where the rocks create natural sculptures. Whereas clothes are not necessary here, a sun umbrella and an icebox are – as is climbing gear.

4. Stop 18

FONTE DA TELHA

On the coast of Caparica, near Lisbon, there is a beach whose name changes along its 30-kilometer length. Near one end is a gay nudist area called Fonte da Telha. To get there, you either drive or take public transport to the village, then board a pretty little train called the Transpaia that chugs along through dunes and colorful tin houses until it reaches Stop 18.

Bathers at Dona Ana beach. ampliar foto
Bathers at Dona Ana beach.

5. Nudist heaven

MECO

As well as famous for its music festivals, Meco is the Mecca of Portuguese naturism. It is protected by clay cliffs from which springs flow down.

6. Mussels and clams

ALTERINHOS

This is an official nudist beach near Zambujeira do Mar. When the tide is low, the sand comes alive with mussels, scallops and clams.

7. A nice little secret

MURRAÇÃO

Carrapateira has two splendid beaches on prominent display, and another one that is very well concealed: the nudist one. Only the brave manage to make it there, but the spectacular landscape is a reward in itself.

8. Naturism pioneer

HOMEN NU

On the wild and semi-deserted island of Tavira, a spit isolated from the mainland became Portugal’s first nudist beach. To get there, take a boat from Praia do Barril or walk when the tide is low.

9. A three-kilometer walk

FURNAS

The three-kilometer path to reach this spot starts somewhere between the village of Figueira and Zavial beach, crosses a forest of eucalyptus, goes over a bridge, and reaches Furnas, a long beach with wonderful waters that is protected on both sides by rocky massifs. This place is trying to obtain official nudist status, although in practice it already has it.

10. A boat ride away

BARRETA

Barreta, a sand barrier and bird sanctuary on the Formosa estuary, is part of the natural park of the same name. The first few kilometers of beach are taken up by reclining chairs and paddle boats, but the remaining nine kilometers of spotless sand are given up to silence. The best way to get here is to take the boat that departs from Faro several times a day.