A Guide to Portugal’s Best Beach Towns

The famed and lesser known spots on and off Portugal’s stunning coast, from the Algarve to the Azores.

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Portugal is the place to go at the moment. An approximately seven-hour flight from the East Coast, it’s one of the most accessible countries in Europe—but that’s not the only reason why it’s so popular. Portugal is a choose-your-own-adventure country; you can embark on a city exploration, wine tasting tour, action-packed adventure or beach retreat. The best part? You don’t need to pick just one. Everything is a short car ride, train or quick flight away. 

Planning a vacation around Portugal’s beach towns is one of the best ways to organize your trip. Each town offers a glimpse into a different side of the country, from the sweeping coastal capital, to the smaller southern regions, to the sunny islands. With picturesque beaches and an impressive culinary scene with plenty of fresh seafood, there’s something for everyone.  For those looking to narrow down the ample options of scenic towns, start with Lisbon, and then venture down the coast to the Algarve. The Azores—a collection of volcanic islands off of the mainland—are not to be missed.

Now, we present the best beach towns (and cities) in Portugal. Don’t forget to pick up a pastel de nata—or two—while you’re there.

Discover Portugal's Beach Town Hidden Gems

Lisbon

When you think of a beach town, a bustling city might not be the first thing to come to mind. Lisbon, however, defies expectations at every turn. As the only European capital along the Atlantic coast, Lisbon is as much a beach town as it is a cultural hub. There are a handful of famed museums—like the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and Museu Nacional do Azulejo—and you can admire the pastel-colored architecture of waterfront Belém. Walk to the suburbs of Alfama and Mouraria, along the hillside below the castle.

For a home base, the luxurious Four Seasons Ritz is always a safe option. Slightly removed from the commotion of the city, the hotel serves as a relaxing retreat where you can venture up to the rooftop for a grand view of the ocean. After exploring the city and its local beaches, take a trip to the famed resort town of Sintra. Once a royal sanctuary, it now stands as a glamorous historical site, replete with palaces and sweeping vista points. It can be pretty chaotic, so we recommend booking a guide. Upon your return back to Lisbon, stop into Trinca—a hole in the wall local eater—or dine beachfront at Casa Reîa.

Lisbon. Four Seasons

Porto

You can also visit Lisbon’s northern cousin, Porto, which is famed for its massive bridges and port wine production. Head to the medieval Ribeira district and meander through vibrant streets while observing the ornate architecture. Stay nearby at Gran Cruz House, which overlooks the Douro River. Go to Foz do Douro to experience the city’s buzzy beach, and follow it with drinks at one of the terrace cafés. You can also take a day trip down the coast to Nazaré and watch the surfers come from near and far to tackle the monster 100-foot waves.

Porto. Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Melides


Looking to escape the touristy crowds and up for a longer road trip? Smack in the middle of Lisbon and the Algarve (about an hour and forty minutes from the capital) is the lesser-known parish of Melides. The creative community of Melides is a stark contrast to its sceney neighbor, Comporta. An international set of famed artists—designers, painters, architects and more—have second homes in this humble town. You can pop into the quaint restaurants lining the main cobblestone square, opt for a wine tasting, or go horseback riding on the beach. Stay at the Christian Louboutin-designed Vermelho Hotel for one of the most uniquely ornate experiences; he has permanent residence in Melides. It’s an amalgamation of glamorous art and sleepy coastal streets. 

Vermelho Hotel in Melides. Vermelho Hotel

Cascais

One of Europe’s quintessential beach towns is located just 45 minutes outside of Lisbon. Known for its silky sand and crystal waters, Cascais is the Portuguese Riviera’s top vacation spot. Choose a hotel that’s situated on the coast, like Relais & Châteaux’s Fortaleza de Guincho, which was built on the site of a 17th-century fortress and is home to an eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant. Make sure you squeeze in a cliffside lunch at The Albatroz Hotel overlook for unparalleled ocean views. To take full advantage of all the coastal town has to offer, book a sailboat that takes you along the Atlantic Ocean.

Cascais, Portugal. Jeroen den Otter on Unsplash

Algarve

The Algarve is on everyone’s radar as of late, but the southernmost region of Portugal has been enticing travelers since the 15th century. The fishing villages of the past are now filled with restaurants, villas, hotels and bars, making this one of the liveliest beach areas in Europe.  For a bigger resort with a wide range of activities and experiences, book somewhere like Domes Lake Algarve. While you can venture to the beaches, the resort also offers activities in its surrounding lake. Bella Vista Hotel is a romantic oceanfront oasis featuring a L’Occitane spa. Make sure you visit the Bengali Caves on a kayak, paddle board or dolphin cruise from Portimão.  

Algarve. Artem Zhukov on Unsplash.

Azores

Dubbed the “Hawaii of Europe,” the Azores are the talk of the travel industry. If you want to stick with just this region, there are five-hour direct flights from New York. The Azores are composed of nine volcanic islands, boasting breathtaking foliage and natural feats. Sao Miguel, the largest of the islands, has lake-filled caderas and Europe’s oldest tea plantation. The Azores archipelago also features lagoons, thermal springs and craters to explore, as well as ample whale watching. Two notable hotels include Octant Furnas and Santa Barbara (with its sister partner White serving as a romantic option for honeymooners). Santa Barbara is the Azores’ first eco-beach resort; a luxurious, calming retreat set amid green pastures and blue waters. For a spa-centric vacation, Octant Furnas is all about wellness, with thermal pools, treatment rooms and culinary and sensory experiences. Outside the hotel, there’s no shortage of epic experiences, from an ATV tour of the massive crater of Sete Cidades to canyoning and rappelling down waterfalls.

Azores, Portugal. Anne Zwickermann on Unsplash

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