Many of the best beaches in Portugal are found on the mainland in the southern half of the country. This doesn’t mean that beach enthusiasts should limit themselves to the southern part of the country or the mainland altogether, however. Portugal’s northwest coast offers some of the country’s most scenic beaches, and the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira can be a great place to go for some fun in the sun. Location aside, it should be noted that Portugal scores well with its Blue Flag beaches. More than 250 can be found throughout the country, to be more exact. For those who might not know, Blue Flag beaches are essentially known for their cleanliness and overall quality.
The Algarve region is a good place to begin discussions about the best beaches in Portugal. Found along the southern coast of the mainland, this main beach tourism area in the country is known for its mix of long sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, and scenic rock formations. Only adding to the allure of the Algarve are its coves, caves, and grottos. On the manmade side of things, the Algarve region of Portugal is recognized for its luxury resorts and hotel spas. Smaller, more affordable hotels are also in good supply throughout the region, and it has become increasingly popular in recent years to stay at a traditional guesthouse. Since there are so many great beaches in the Algarve region, it is hard to recommend just a few. That being said, the former Moorish town of Lagos boasts what is arguably the area’s best cove beach, while the resort areas of Albufeira and Praia da Rocha impress with their towering rock formations. It should be noted that many of Portugal’s best golf courses are found in the Algarve. The region also offers plenty of shops, restaurants, and nightlife venues.
Costa do Sol
The Costa do Sol, which is also known as the Estoril Coast and the Portuguese Riviera, can be found near Lisbon and boasts what many consider to be some of the best beaches in Portugal. This helps explain the popularity of the region’s beach resorts. Among the main beach resort destinations along the Costa do Sol are Estoril and Cascais. Estoril is a rather chic resort and has a historical reputation as a playground for monarchs. The Praia Estoril Tamariz is the stretch of sand that attracts most Estoril visitors. Over in nearby Cascais, you can find some of the newest hotels in the Costa do Sol region, not to mention what are arguably the region’s finest restaurants. Also, since the sandy beaches of Cascais have less polluted waters than many of the other beaches in the area, they are among the region’s best places to swim.
The Beira Litoral (coastal) province of Portugal is centrally located along the west coast and offers some of the finest beaches that you will find in all of Europe. These beaches stretch from Praia de Leirosa in the north down to Praia de Espinho in the south. The rather famous resort of Figueira da Foz attracts more beachgoers than any other resort in the area, which is due in part to the fact that its gigantic sandy beach is the largest beach on mainland Portugal. It should also be noted that Figueira da Foz is among the most popular surfing destinations in Portugal. In 1996, it played host to the World Surfing Championships. Buarcos is another popular resort in “the Beiras.” If you are looking for more secluded strips of sand in this area, you can head to the beaches between Praia da Mira and Costa Nova. As a side note, powerful surf and strong undertows can make it unsafe to swim in the Beiras. Yellow or red flags indicate when the swimming isn’t safe.
Along the northern coastline of Portugal is a region that is known as Costa Verde. A popular tourist destination, it features some of the most dramatic beaches in Portugal, not to mention some of the country’s best hotels, restaurants, and watersports equipment rentals. Among the more notable beaches in the Costa Verde region is the wide and sandy beach at Ponte de Lima. Popular beach resorts include Espinho, Povoa do Varzim, and Ofir. Espinho is rather big and busy and features a casino. Varzim is well known for its culture and nightlife, while Ofir has pine forests that meet the beach and is more relaxing on the whole.
Madeira is both an island and the name of the autonomous Portuguese archipelago that it belongs to. You can find this archipelago a few hundred miles off the northwest coast of Africa and approximately 600 miles from Portugal. Flights to the main island of Madeira from Lisbon take about an hour-and-a-half. Since the archipelago of Madeira is comprised of volcanic islands, it doesn’t offer a lot in the way of regular sandy beaches. Instead, the beaches, at least the natural ones, tend to have black volcanic sand or pebbles. That being said, there are some sandy stretches for beach enthusiasts to take advantage of. The most notable is the long beach on the island of Porto Santo. It extends for miles and is devoted to tourism. Back on the main island of Madeira, the man-made beach known as Calheta is the only real stretch of golden sand. Whether they are sandy or not, the beaches in Madeira are great for sunbathing and swimming. Surfing is also possible, and the islands in general offer plenty of scenic allure.