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Silver Coast Portugal: Complete Guide
Portugal’s Silver Coast is known to Portuguese speakers as the Costa de Prata.
This stretch of Atlantic coastline doesn’t receive nearly as many visitors as the day-trip friendly resorts of Estoril and Cascais which are located closer to Lisbon.
It’s also far quieter than the eternally popular Algarve – something to remember if you’re planning a summer trip.
However, this overlooked gem is definitely worthy of your attention. Find out why with this guide to the Silver Coast Portugal.
Where Is Portugal’s Silver Coast?
There’s no universally agreed definition of the Silver Coast’s precise geography.
However, it’s the central part of the Portuguese coastline. Broadly speaking it extends from Peniche in the south to just shy of Porto in the north.
Some refer to the region as the Algarve of the north, but even that’s not quite the whole picture, as beyond Porto you’ll find the Costa Verde.
Aside from Coimbra, there are no significant cities in terms of population, and even that’s inland.
Instead, you’ll find many characterful and historic towns and villages which only add to the area’s laidback charm.
How Do You Get There and Around?
Regardless of how you define where the Silver Coast is, international visitor will need to fly in to Lisbon or Porto. There are no major airports serving the Silver Coast, but you can be in Peniche around an hour after leaving Lisbon’s terminal.
Aveira can be reached in about the same amount of time if you travel from Porto. Before you book your flights, take a look at where you think you might stay on the map and work out which of the two is closest.
Many people opt for the convenience of their own set of wheels. In your rental car, you can get about easily when you’re ready for some sightseeing.
If you don’t wish to drive, there is a train service. The railway line generally runs a little way inland, veering every now and again towards the Atlantic. Trains connect places such as Óbidos, Figueira da Foz and Aveiro. Journey times tend to be slow, but that shouldn’t concern holidaymakers.
Realistically, however, if you’re planning on being dependent on public transport, buses are your best option. Not only are they faster, they also offer a better connected network.
When’s The Best Time To Visit?
Working out when would be the best time to visit Portugal’s Silver Coast is not quite as straightforward as it might sound.
Of course, if you’re planning to head to the beach, then the summer months of July and August would be your best bet.
Even though it’s the school summer holidays, many more travelers will fly further south, making this section of the Portuguese coast less crowded.
In addition, summer on the Silver Coast is going to be when you find it at its warmest and sunniest.
However, manage your expectations: it’s rarely very hot, especially when you compare it to the beach resorts of the Algarve or the Mediterranean. That Atlantic location means it’s affected by cooler onshore breezes.
Typically, summer temperatures in Peniche, for instance, barely reach 21°C. By comparison, London’s July average is a couple of degrees higher and on the Algarve, you can expect 29°C or more on a regular basis.
Silver Coast temperatures aren’t unpleasant, but if you’re planning to fly and flop to top up your tan, you might end up leaving disappointed.
Water sports fans will be pleased to know that sea temperatures show considerably less variation, peaking at about 20°C by July and August, which is only a degree or two lower than you might expect in the south of Portugal.
In fact, those winds point to a different use: the area is popular with surfers, sailors, kite surfers and wind boarders who flock there to catch a warm wave. For sightseers, spring and autumn are just as enticing. Winter though feels cold, particularly in exposed spots, and it’s also the season that sees the highest rainfall.
What To Eat
Unsurprisingly, the Silver Coast is renowned for its seafood. Fishermen land their catch each day and chefs toil in the kitchens of oceanfront restaurants to bring it to the plate.
In Peniche, for instance, you might be served a caldeira (fish casserole), shellfish risotto or lobster soup. In Figueira da Foz, try Arroz de Tamboril, which consists of monkfish, cooked with garlic, tomato and of course rice.
If you find yourself in Nazaré, order Polvo a Lagareiro, which is octopus boiled and then roasted in the oven, with garlic and olive oil. Caldas da Rainha too is the perfect place for foodies, who might follow eel stew or other fish-based dishes with sweet treats such as trouxas de ovos, cavacas and beijinhos.
And don’t forget that ubiquitous Portuguese favorite, bacalhau, the tasty salted cod that’s eaten all over the country. Don’t leave Óbidos until you’ve tried the potent Ginjinha d’Óbidos; they steep morello cherries in aguardiente to create a deliciously sweet liqueur.
What Is There To Do?
All along the Silver Coast, aside from food, there’s a variety of other activities and visitor attractions to keep you occupied.
From art to history, sport to nature, no matter what your interests you’ll find something to appeal. Golfers will find a number of excellent courses, and it’s also possible to explore the region in the saddle as part of a horseback tour.
Both inland and by the sea, there’s no shortage of places to go and sights to see. Here are some examples to get you started.
Sleepy Nazaré was once known for its fishing. On a summer Saturday, they’ll show you how to do it: if you manage to catch sight of the Arte Xávega (drag nets) being used, it’s quite the spectacle, as nets burdened with fish are pulled in from the ocean.
Tractors have replaced the traditional oxen, but it’s an impressive sight nevertheless. If you’re self-catering, you can buy fish right on the beach; some of the catch is left out to dry in the sun.
Other notable sights for tourists include the chapel of the Ermida da Memória and several cliff top viewpoints.
But in fact, it took a Hawaiian surfer to put Nazaré on the map. When Garrett McNamara came here in 2011, he tamed a 78 foot wave and with that feat, earned himself a place in the Guinness Book of Records. His achievement would be short-lived: in 2017, a Brazilian called Rodrigo Koxa rode one that was even larger.
The monstrous swells that crash onto Praia Norte beach form because of a massive undersea canyon 1000 feet deep, 105 miles long and three miles wide that sits just offshore.
If you’re a surfer looking for a challenge, this hitherto unheard of fishing village is arguably the best place on the planet to find it.
And if you’re not, the vast swath of sand and fabulous seafood is more than adequate compensation for missing out on the thrill of a lifetime.
You might also consider heading inland from Nazaré to visit the Sanctuary of Fátima, a Catholic pilgrimage site. It is believed that the Virgin Mary appeared here at the Capelinha das Aparições in 1917.
The dates of 13th May and 13th October are especially important; come and watch the procession. The place gets its name from a Moorish woman who converted to Christianity after falling in love with a Templar knight called Gonçalo Hermingues.
Óbidos is one of Portugal’s best preserved mediaeval walled towns. Situated only a few kilometers inland from the Silver Coast, its position on higher ground gave it a strategic importance for the wider region.
Its royal connections date back to the 13th century when King Dinis gave his wife the town as a present.
Today, within the fortifications, there’s a castle that’s been further developed over the years to add dungeons and towers. The castle is now a pousada; anyone with deep enough pockets can stay the night.
Óbidos itself is a delight to explore on foot, a labyrinth of alleyways and cobbled streets lined with historic mansions and littered with charming churches.
In summer, they throng with coach trippers, falling silent when the buses have departed and rewarding those who afford it more than a hurried tour.
Without the crowds it’s easier to appreciate its 16th century aqueduct, countless ornately decorated churches and the floral displays that spill out of window boxes against whitewashed walls.
Aveiro is often dubbed the Portuguese Venice. While its Italian counterpart is famed for its sleek black gondolas, here, the preferred mode of transport along the canals is the moliceiro.
With its curved, raised bow, there’s more than a passing resemblance between the two types of vessel, but the Portuguese boats are far more colorful, bearing decorative paintwork which seems at odds with their original purpose as a means of transporting harvested seaweed.
These days, moliceiros ferry tourists instead, giving them a unique perspective of the city’s Art Nouveau houses from the water.
On dry land, a 15 minute drive south gets you to the Museu Vista Alegre which tells the story of this fine porcelain.
It’s a similar distance west to the coast and Praia da Costa Nova if you want to take a look at the striped wooden houses that once sheltered fishermen and stored hay.
Nearby is Portugal’s oldest lighthouse, a formidable structure erected in 1893; 288 steps will get you to the top.
Caldas da Rainha
Caldas da Rainha, or the Queen’s Thermal Springs, boasts the oldest thermal hospital in the world. So the story goes, Queen Leonor, wife of King João II, passed by in 1484 en route to Batalha.
She noticed people were taking a bath in the swamp and thought it a little odd until she was told that the water seemed to have healing properties.
She tried it for herself and was so impressed she founded the Thermal Hospital of Our Lady of Pópulo, the following year and today’s settlement is the one that grew up around it.
Caldas da Rainha is also well known for its daily market; vendors have been selling fruit and vegetables here for more than 500 years.
Grab the makings of a picnic and drive the few kilometers down to the coast if you want to get a closer look at the water from the wooden boardwalks of Foz do Arelho, designed by landscape artist Nádia Schilling.
Peniche is the westernmost city in mainland Europe. Its long sandy beaches are frequented by surfers, wind surfers and kite surfers, who come here to take advantage of the prevailing winds that blow over the Atlantic.
It has a lot of charm, and people also come to enjoy the charm of its white windmills, attractive harbor and historic chapels. Its 17th century fortress, built on the orders of King João IV, is the main must-see.
From 1933 to 1974 it was used as a political prison and scene of a daring escape by communist leader Álvaro Cunhal. Today, it houses a fascinating museum.
A few kilometers north, you’ll find one of the Silver Coast’s best golf courses, Praia D’El Rey. This spectacular yet challenging course is surrounded by pine forests and sandy dunes, and offers breathtaking views over the Atlantic Ocean.
The Berlenga Islands
Visitors also come to Peniche as the jumping off point for boat trips to the Berlenga Islands, which have been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2011. This place is situated about 10 kilometers from the mainland.
As well as being drawn by unspoilt nature, day trippers come to hike to Berlenga Grande’s Fort of São João Baptista.
There are opportunities to snorkel to get a closer look at the plethora of marine life or putter around the rocky islands by kayak or glass-bottomed boat to admire its cliffs and caves from the water.
Midway between Nazaré and Figueira da Foz, Leiria is an interesting inland excursion. Check out what were once historic palaces and mansions in places like Rodrigues Lobo Square or visit the Mercado de Sant’Ana, which is now a cultural center and sometimes hosts arts and crafts fairs.
Among the souvenirs you might pick up are the colorfully painted tiles known as azulejos.
Learn about the long tradition of paper making at the Paper Mill Museum on the River Lis – its working watermill has been churning it out since 1411 and you can watch a demonstration if you’re keen to find out how it’s done.
Rent a bicycle to take you along the river bank and around town to take a look at the many street art murals. The town’s castle quarter also hosts a Gothic music festival called Entremuralhas each August.
Figueira da Foz
The name of this town translates as “fig tree at the river’s mouth”, though these days you’ll see a red lighthouse, installed in 1968.
Originally the inhabitants of Figueira da Foz made a living from fishing, but during the Belle Époque, it became one of the most fashionable resorts in Portugal.
That’s easily explained: as it boasts the widest beach in the country, it was inevitable that it would turn its attention to tourism. Locals fondly refer to the broad strip of sand as Rainha das Praias, or “queen of the beaches”.
Some of the finest buildings in Figueira da Foz date from the end of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th, bestowing upon it an abundance of Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture in the Bairro Novo district.
Today’s visitors still admire the Sotto Mayor Palace, one of the most elegant buildings of that period, and fill the tables of its casino which started out as the Theatro-Circo Saraiva de Carvalho.
The tile collection housed within the Casa do Paço is also worth a detour.
Coimbra is situated about 50 kilometers inland from Figueira da Foz, but if you only make one trip inland, this should be it.
Coimbra is important for a number of reasons: for starters, it is the final resting place of Portugal’s first king, Alfonso I, who died here in 1185.
Its whitewashed buildings with their terracotta roofs overlook the Rio Mondego and though you’ll feel its steep streets in your aching calf muscles, there’s no better way to enjoy this historic city than on foot and without a plan.
On summer evenings, accompanied by the Guitarra, you’ll hear the melancholy notes of fado; the city has its own genre.
Listen out, too, for the bells that toll in the university’s tower. Coimbra is where you’ll find the country’s oldest university, though pedants will be eager to remind you that it was originally founded in Lisbon in 1290 before moving to Coimbra a few centuries later.
In term time, the streets throng with students, whose presence and political views make this a lively place that’s full of energy.