Due to its location on the tip of Europe, Portugal has several miles of coastal areas, each different and beautiful in its own way. From the beautiful waves that sculpt the cliffs up north and west to the long sand extensions and calmer waters on the southeast of the country, there is something for everyone.
Driving along Portugal’s coast
If Portugal’s beaches and coastal towns are calling and you are planning on renting a car, we highly recommend you talk to a local specialist (Portugal Trails). Get ready for romantic, surf-washed chapels, the scent of freshly caught fish drifting through the air of traditional fishing villages. After all, a road trip is an excellent way to see more of Portuguese culture in a compact amount of time.
Driving in Portugal 101
- In Portugal, we drive on the right side of the road and the road signs comply with the international rules.
- All vehicles coming from the right have priority in squares and intersections and vehicles already at roundabouts have priority, as well.
- There is a great net of roads connecting different parts of the country. The A roads, for instance A5 or A24, stand for motorway/ highway, whilst the IPs or ICs are principal or complementary routes. These two connect the main cities in the country.
- The N and R roads, national and regional respectively, are the so often called local roads and you will encounter some of these should you wish to go off the beaten path.
- Since joining the European Union there were several incentives that allowed the country to modernize the road networks, so, nowadays, the majority of roads are very secure and modern.
- To drive in Portugal you need to have your country’s up to date passport, driver’s license and also an international driver’s license.
Portugal’s Coast Top 5 Road Trip Suggestions
1. Northern Portugal Road Trip
Northern Portugal that largely remains an unknown gem. Portugal is the perfect destination for a road trip, and the country’s north is one of the most authentic regions, often completely forgotten by international tourists. The coastal area in the heart of the Minho district is very fertile and very similar, in terms of geography and climate, to Galicia in Spain. The waters of the Minho come from the Atlantic and Viana do Castelo was founded at the mouth of one of the many rivers that wind through it. It is a city which has a port, naval dockyards, a marina and a riverside front. Discover the wonderful Minho region beach areas: Moledo, Vila Praia de Âncora, Praia do Forte do Cão, Praia de Afife and Praia do Cabedelo, are some of the local favorites.
2.Lisbon Coast Road Trip
Sintra and Cascais make the perfect day trip from Lisbon if you wish to drive along the coast and discover wonderful secluded beaches. From Sintra, venture onward to Cabo da Roca and see the westernmost point in mainland Europe. Then visit the stunning Ursa and Guincho Beaches, and finish off in Cascais. Cabo da Roca is a 150-metre cliff, located 18km west of Sintra. It’s Portugal and continental Europe’s westernmost point. It offers amazing ocean views. Despite the many tourists, mostly on weekends and when bus tours arrive, there is plenty of space. There are trails along the cliff top to explore the area. Located 9km northwest of Cascais, Praia do Guincho is another stunning beach. Usually windy, it is a great surf or windsurf spot. Many people cycle along the 9km shoreline path from Cascais to Guincho. There are some excellent seafood restaurants in the area!
3. Nazaré and Silver Coast Road Trip
The Silver Coast of Portugal offers incredible vistas on its national road system that weaves throughout rural Portugal towards postcard-worthy towns and beaches. For those travelers looking to take things a bit slower, these alternative routes are an ideal place to start day-dreaming and planning your travels through Portugal. A very picturesque coastal village, Nazaré’s history is undeniably related to the fishing industry. In its wide beach bathed by the rough Atlantic, the women used to wait eagerly for the return of their men. Above the beach, on a high cliff, called Sítio da Nazaré (lit. “Nazaré’s spot”), one can watch over the expanse of the beach and the village which stretches alongside it. Drive along the coast to discover the Center of Portugal beach towns of Foz do Arelho, São Martinho do Porto, and a few others in between.
4. Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park Road Trip
Extending over more than 100 km of coastline from São Torpes in the Alentejo to the Boca do Rio beach in the Algarve, this Park has rocky cliffs and steep slopes that end in the turbulent waters of the Atlantic. Includes the beaches of Porto Côvo and Vila Nova de Milfontes in the Alentejo and Odeceixe, Carrapateira and Arrifana in the Algarve which do not, however, bear any similarities to the famous beaches of the south coast of Portugal. Its wild beauty and absence of crowds make this stretch of the coast unique and appreciated by all who visit it. It is a nesting area for many important species of birds, such as the rare osprey and white stork. The marine environment is also a rare refuge for otters and this is one of the few areas in Portugal, and in the whole of Europe, where they can live in the wild.
5. Algarve Coast Road Trip
Algarve region covers the southern part of Portugal from the Spanish border to the west coast. The south coast of the region, with sun-kissed sand dunes, impressive rock formations and cliffs, small islands and former fishing villages. One of the major attractions in the Algarve is to take a road trip along the Portugal coast, visit the coves and beaches, wander through the towns of whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets, and eat your fill of Portuguese food of course. It is highly recommended hiring a car and taking advantage of as much of the coast as possible. The most secluded beaches on the Algarve are scarce on public transportation and the freedom of a car definitely helps. From Lagos, to Portimão or even the Ria Formosa, there are plenty of sand extensions to discover. A road trip along the Algarve is the best way to be able to see it all.
Portugal Top 10 Secluded Beaches
1.Praia do Senhor da Pedra
The Praia do Senhor da Pedra is one of the finest beaches close to Porto and is known the for the small chapel perched on a rock outcrop. Senhor da Pedra beach is the perfect destination for a beach day, especially if you are based in Porto, as there are direct and inexpensive train services from Sao Bento train station.
2. Praia da Costa Nova
A part of the colors and beauty of Aveiro is inseparable from the famous haystacks of Costa Nova. These traditional structures were used by fishermen to store their fishing materials and have also been used as beach houses throughout the years. Built near the beach, they welcome the sea with their façades painted in bright colored stripes. You can also visit other beaches near-by like the Vagueira and Mira beaches where cattle is still used to pull the fishnets. A true journey back in time!
Known by surfers as Portugal’s big wave spot (6-100ft+), a long finger of deep water points to Nazaré, allowing swells to hit virtually unchecked. Nazaré beach, with its mild climate and natural beauty, has one of the most ancient traditions connected to fishing in Portugal.
You will most likely encounter fishmongers who still wear the traditional seven skirts. At the end of the afternoon on Saturdays during the summer months, be sure to watch the fascinating “Arte Xávega” (Drag Nets) spectacle, in which nets laden with fish arrive from the sea and the women scream out their wares for sale. If you fail to understand the words, relax – sometimes there are local codes involved.
The beach of Baleal sits at the opposite end of the wide bay, around 4km (3 miles) from the town of Peniche. The sandy beach here connects the island of Baleal to the mainland around 100 metres away. Baleal is a great, clean beach popular with families and even more so, surfers. The variety of coastline here means there are waves suitable for all levels of surfer and all weather conditions.
5. Azenhas do Mar
Azenhas do Mar boasts a stunning location where houses are perched on the side of a cliff all the way down to the sea and are bathed in dreamy white light, at once beautiful and awe-inspiring. It is one of the most popular beaches despite being only 30 meters wide and even those scant 30 meters are dependent on the winter, which every year determines the size of the beach. Nevertheless, the ocean pool is thoroughly appreciated by its visitors. It is a former fishing village which over the last few decades has become a quiet summer destination and a source of inspiration for many painters and writers.
6. Praia da Ursa
Located next to Cabo da Roca cape, Ursa Beach is reached via dirt track along a twisting and steep route right through to this calm and sparsely populated beach.The strains of the route are more than justified by the superb landscape that awaits with the enormous rocky formations dominating the beach. The beach itself was named after one such formation that takes a shape suggestive of an urso (bear).
7. Portinho da Arrábida
Located within the Serra da Arrábida Natural Park, Portinho Beach is one of the prettiest in all of Portugal. Its fine white sands and the various tones of blue of these clear waters contrast with the deep greens of the hills to create a beautiful scenario that is perfect for contemplative relaxation. This calm bay is good for diving to enjoy the diverse marine life although fishing itself is forbidden given that the seabed itself is included in the Natural Park’s protected area.
Arrifana beach nestles in a pretty shell-shaped bay, which shelters it from the cold wind and waves from the north. Although narrow, the beach stretches for over 700 meters and is framed by imposing, craggy, black schist sea cliffs. If you look to the south, you will see a huge, dark, thin rock sticking up out of the sea. This is called the Pedra da Agulha (Needle Rock) and it has become an icon on the Costa Vicentina. At the northernmost tip of the beach, next to the little fishing harbor, there are good conditions for diving, and this is also a great beach for surfing and bodyboarding. The panoramic view from the Arrifana Fortress (currently in ruins), standing atop the cliff to the north, is breathtaking. At Ponta da Atalaia, famous for its barnacles, traces can still be seen of a Muslim Ribat, a convent-fortress of great archaeological value.
Located halfway between Sagres and Lagos, Salema Beach has long been used by fishermen, an activity that continues as any early morning visitor to the beach will discover. Very popular, and well equipped with bars and restaurants, this beach, with its clear waters, contains evidence of visitors from the depths of history – dinosaurs, which left footprints in two of the rock slabs next to the beach.
With fishing boats practically hiding its small area of sand, Benagil Beach is located on one of the prettiest stretches of Algarve coastline, with its truncated cliffs and spurs forming grottoes and caverns. With its calm sea, this area is ideal for boat trips taking you out to deserted beaches, unreachable by land, where you will find a most peaceful and relaxing place to lay in the sun.