Best Coastal Towns In Portugal
As almost half of Portugal’s circumference is rugged scenic coastline, it probably won’t come as a shock to hear that the country is lined with charming coastal towns.
Perhaps the best thing about these Portuguese towns is that you’re never too far from a beach, some of which are considered the best surfing spots in Europe, while others are considered the most scenic.
In the north of Portugal’s west coast, exposed to the throes of the Atlantic Ocean, there are many industrial old seafaring towns fraught with history and impressive architecture, while the central and southern west coast is where you’ll find surfers en masse, stunning natural parks, and staggering cliffs.
The Algarve on the south coast, on the other hand, is simply all about sun, sea and sand…and seafood.
After tracing every inch of the incredible Portuguese coastline, we present to you the ultimate compilation of best coastal towns in Portugal.
Viana do Castelo, Norte
Viana do Castelo, near Portugal’s northern border, is like a Monopoly board, as you seem to land on impressive streets around every corner.
From the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Santa Luzia Hill, a stunningly ornate 19th century domed church overlooking the town and the Atlantic Ocean, to the Praça da República, the old town central square surrounded by an assortment of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance buildings and monuments, Viana will never leave you feeling empty handed.
Not only will you be able to unearth many secrets from Portugal’s past in Viana, you will discover some of its delicacies in local restaurants and cafes, and make the most of the areas’ rugged landscape.
Vila do Conde, Norte
Situated on the far north of Portugal’s west coast on the mouth of River Ave, Vila do Conde is a little more industrial and somewhat unusual than the towns you’d find in the south, as it was historically a seafaring and shipbuilding town.
Santa Clara Convent, a high-walled 18th century prison-like building commands the town and its coastline, but there are many more historic intrigues to be found around it, especially in Praça Vasco da Gama, as well as a number of modern villas and restaurants around the seafront.
Its coast is beautifully rugged as grassy dunes open out onto breezy beaches, and a 400-year-old fortress rises out of the sand.
With the River Aveiro running through its heart from the nearby sea, Aveiro has become somewhat of a Portuguese Venice. Colourfully painted rowing boats, locally known as moliceiros, glide glacially along the canals, under petite arched bridges, and past Art Nouveau style buildings that rise directly from the water.
Aveiro has long farmed seaweed, salt, and fish from its river, and so a variety of delicious seafood dishes are popular throughout the city.
For some of the freshest seafood, head to the fish market on Aveiro’s coastline, Costa Nova, where you’ll be greeted by brightly striped cladded houses, much like beach huts, overlooking grassy sand dunes and Portugal’s tallest lighthouse.
Peniche is a popular surfing town on a small rocky headland in the centre of Portugal’s powerful Atlantic coast. 10km from shore, a natural reserve is created by the Berlengas Archipelago, known for its mesmerising rock formations, colony of puffins, and its historic island fort.
Back ashore, you can admire the sea crash thunderously against the 25-metre-tall limestone cliff face at Cabo Carvoeiro, or watch it swirl and tumble at Praia dos Superturbos, one of the town’s many beaches, where the world’s best surfers catch a wave.
Peniche harbor is always buzzing with action and filled with superb dining options, while the old town is filled with history and rustic charm.
Not only is Ericeira full of beach town charm with whitewash houses highlighted by orange and turquoise details, it’s the perfect location from which to explore the scenic Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, the whimsical palaces and castles of regal Sintra, and Portugal’s capital city itself.
But as one of Europe’s best surf spots, you’ll probably be most eager to whip on a wet suit and paddle out to sea to test your surfing skills.
If you’d rather adopt a slow pace of life, you can simply meander through the lazy town, watch the world go by at one of its cute cafes, or watch surfers glide along impressive waves as you soak up some sun on the beach.
Originally an old fishing town on the outskirts of Lisbon, Cascais has become a popular destination for those looking for equal amounts of exploration and relaxation.
Costa do Estoril is a stretch of coast reaching from Cascais towards Lisbon where you’ll find idyllic calm-sea-and-white-sand kind of beaches lined with vibrant bars and restaurants.
Heading along the coast in the opposite direction, you’ll find walking trails to Cabo da Rocha, a breathtaking cape adorned by a lighthouse marking the westernmost point in Europe. Cascais is also soaked in history with historic churches and houses filling its old town and 19th century mansions surrounding it.
Sesimbra is a holiday resort with everything going for it; not only is it just 45 minutes from Lisbon, it boasts some of the country’s most pristine beaches, it’s a mecca for Portuguese seafood restaurants known as marisqueiras, and it sits at the foothills of the Serra da Arrabida, a mountainous natural park with nature trails offering endless sea views.
Sesimbra’s stylish palm tree-lined promenade is a highlight of the town; many lavish bars and restaurants run along it where you can indulge in renowned local seafood specialties whilst soaking up calming vistas of Ouro Beach and the lush hilly landscape.
Azenhas do Mar, Lisbon
Azenhas do Mar is a quaint seaside town perched on a spine-tingling cliffs edge in the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. The town is much smaller and quieter than Sintra and Cascais, allowing it to offer an authenticity to Portuguese life that its neighbours can’t.
Walking along its cobbled streets and passing traditional white-wash stone houses (look out for Villa Maria, the most beautiful of them all), you’ll come across local cafes and restaurants, old water mills and stunning sea views. From the
village there’s a staircase leading down to a secluded beach and a natural seawater rock pool, perfect for a relaxed paddle.
Lagos is a typical Portuguese white-wash terracotta-tiled town teetering on the cliffs of the Algarve onto the Atlantic Ocean. The cliffs are the defining feature of this part of the Portuguese coastline, and Lagos is the perfect place from which to explore them.
To see the coves, caves and other mesmerising rock formations, walk along the paths of Ponta de Piedade, or take a scenic boat ride; there are plenty of hidden beaches to be found, including Praia do Camilo.
There’s also plenty to capture your imagination within the walls of Lagos’ old town too, like the medieval Castle of Lagos and Igreja de Santo Antônio, as well as its vibrant atmosphere.
Ferragudo is a charming old white-wash fishing town spilling over a bank on the mouth of the Arade River like a lump of sugar.
Compared to its bustling Algarvian neighbours, Ferragudo has maintained a modest sense of authenticity and charm, as its small riverfront lined with local restaurants leads you along narrow cobbled streets up to the town church where you can soak up views of the river mouth and the tiny fishing boats below.
Ferragudo’s quiet beaches, Grande and Angrinha, are its secret weapon; set back from the main coastline, they offer very calm seas — perfect for a relaxed swim — and Angrinha even has a medieval fortress that rises up from the sand.
Although it’s set back eight kilometres from the coast, Aljezur is undoubtedly deserving of a place on Portugal’s best coastal town list.
To reach the coastline, featuring some of the wildest views on the west coast, you have to drive through the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, a breathtaking untouched nature preserve which wraps around Portugal’s rugged southwest corner.
A 10th century ruined Moorish castle watches over Aljezur, which is split in two by a narrow river. While one side oozes with Moorish charm, the other is a mix of old and new, and filled with delightful restaurants and cafes.
Tavira sits along the scenic inlet of the Ria Formosa Natural Park on Portugal’s Algarve Coast, where rivers weave through dry marsh-like islands creating a natural 60 kilometre-long playground for both humans and wildlife.
You can coast through its canals on a kayak, birdwatching as you go, lay idly on an empty beach, and grab some refreshments in Cabanas de Tavira, a small nearby resort village.
Tavira itself possesses a beauty of its own with a Moorish influence adorning its architecture and a ruined medieval castle looking over its roofs, while traditional Portuguese cafes line its streets and fishing boats line it’s riverside.
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About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile, with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.