Few regard Lisbon as a beach destination. The city, however, is blessed with a meandering coastline that extends west for over 40 kms (25 miles) and is within shouting distance of some great stretches of sand that offer welcome respite from summer heat that at times can be stifling and oppressive.
Remember that this is an Atlantic coastline, and the water is never going to be as mild as that found in southern Portugal. But Lisbon beaches are for the most part clean and safe, with several awarded the coveted Blue Flag for environmental sustainability.
A long coastal road, the “Marginal”, separates land from sea, a dual carriageway that connects the city’s Alcântara district with the resort town of Cascais. This busy highway is a sun-worshipper’s road to freedom – it skirts all the major beaches and several nearby car parks into the bargain. No wheels? No problem. Lisbon-Cascais is served by a very reliable train service. Some of the stations overlook the ocean; others stand inland but are rarely more than a 20-minute walk to the water’s edge.
So, where’s the nearest beach from the city centre? That is Praia de Caxias. It’s not the prettiest, and the proximity to the “Marginal” can make it a noisy place to relax. But it is one of the most convenient to get to. It’s right off the train and over a pedestrian crossing. The beach is distinguished by the pocket-sized 17th-century Fortaleza de São Bruno, and a handy neighbouring snack bar and restaurant. Small but perfectly formed, Caxias is very popular with the locals.
For some Praia de Caxias is a little too near the mouth of the river, and lacks international appeal. In that case, carry on to Oeiras. Here, Praia da Torre nestles in a sheltered bay overshadowed by the brooding Forte de São Julião da Barra, a huge 16th-century stronghold built to defend the Tagus from invading forces.
This is one of Lisbon’s most attractive beaches. Served by a cluster of excellent bars and eateries, and a short walk from bustling Oeiras marina, Praia da Torre lures with its shallow water and sense of community – it’s a big hit with families!
Lisbon’s most celebrated sandy environment unfolds on the other side of the fort – Praia da Carcavelos.
Loved by surfers and body-boarders, spacious Carcavelos is an impressive beach. The promenade is lined with bars, cafés and restaurants, and several highly regarded surf schools operate out of here. In mid-summer it’s hard to find a patch of virgin sand, and at weekends and during August it can become rather claustrophobic. But Carcavelos rocks! It’s fashionable and lively and a great place to chill.
Another hot spot is Praia do Tamariz, in Estoril. A beach that is also easily reached by train, Tamariz has a slightly more sophisticated appeal to it situated as it is on the so-called Portuguese Riviera. This is home to the famous Estoril Casino, and there’s a moneyed air about the place. Smaller than Carcavelos, Tamariz tends to fill up quickly as the mercury rises and an early arrival is recommended to bag a sun bed with all the trimmings.
A 15-minute walk west along the promenade and you’re in Cascais, the end of the railway line. This is a trendy, upmarket resort destination, a bit expensive for some pockets but undoubtedly attractive with a postcard view beach called – surprise, surprise – Praia de Cascais.
Beyond Cascais is the daddy of surf beaches – the world-renowned Praia do Guincho. You’ll need a vehicle to get out here. There is a bus service out of Cascais but it’s infrequent and not handy if you’ve a surfboard over your shoulder.
Guincho benefits from its position on the western edge of continental Europe and when those westerlies kick in this is definitely not the place to catch rays. Instead, wax down well, or hook up to the kite, and partake of some of the most challenging watersports conditions Neptune can muster.