Praia de cavalo, Sesimbra

Road-trip: in search of secret beaches near Lisbon

Nothing can be better than being connected to nature, feel the summer wind and eat outdoors during the long and warm summer days. With no real plan and one week of vacations left, we packed a tent, some clothes and pillows and started our 6 day road trip down the coast of Portugal. Our plan was to discover secret beaches near Lisbon.

Gralha beach Sao Martinho do Porto, Portugal

We explored the area between Nazareth and Setubal. We tried to fit in some beaches along the way, but for the next time we will definitely slow down a bit. 1000 km in 6 days is trying. There are loads of secret beaches in Lisbon district, which deserves some time of exploration. Still leaving a lot to see for the next times.

We slept in camping parks 4 out of 6 nights, crossed Sintra National Park, discovered a couple of truly unique secret beaches and besides many cans of tuna, tasted some local cuisine speciality (which now takes a place in my “top 5 favourite portuguese dishes”). We skipped entering the big cities like Lisbon and Sintra. Best decision you can make considering the weather. It would be a self torturing getting stuck in the traffic jams. Summer vacation is for quality beach time – swim, tan and play Volleyball! Cities and cultural stuff – that´s for winter!

Road trip itinerary – exploring the beaches near Lisbon

Day 1: Porto – Nazare, Praia da Gralha

Gralha beach, Nazareth

A bit disappointing – no waves, have to come back in November. Our intentions was to pitch a tent in a secret beach nearby – Praia da Gralha. However we lost all the courage once we arrived. Actually I think it was a perfect place to wild camp (if u have experience). Not a single light source near by, no houses, nothing, just big waves hitting the coast and pitch black all around you. The idea of someone appearing in the middle of the night didn´t leave our heads. We turned around, took some photos and decided to return after some years once we gain some confidence and experience.

If you have some spare time and you want to learn about local hidden spots that you wouldn’t find alone try this Nazaré Full Day Tour.

Day 2: Sintra – Cascais NP

This day we spent mostly googling where to stay next. We reached some eco-camping. Price was appealing, but once we saw the conditions (dry toilet, surrounded by chickens and organic gardens), we said “no, thank you”. The Sintra National Park is very beautiful. Existing vegetation is dense and juicy green. The main national road N247 goes in loops up and down between 200 and 300 m above the sea level.  Pena Palace of Sintra is the highest point of the hill.

When we were on our way to Cabo da Roca, it was about time for the sunset. Seems like there are two micro climates. Along the coastline it was foggy and chilly, while more interior, 200 m above – warm and sunny. We were reaching one of the many curves, when suddenly the trees opened up with a view towards the sea. We stopped the car right after a guy who had noticed exactly the same scene. Pillows of clouds on the horizon and the sun right above them. That view you see only from the plane, unforgettable. Once arriving to Cabo da Roca, it was foggy and windy again. You could barely see the surface of the water, certainly a unique sight. It is the most western point of continental Europe.

Outdoor activities you could try in Sintra

Day 3: Praia da Ursa

We were left with no choice – 2 nights in a hostel. In this are there are very few camping parks, and even those ones are overpriced during the summer season. We returned to Cabo da Roca area to see one of those beaches you see in National Geographic.

Praia da Ursa

I liked the sign at the beginning of the trail down the cliff. It said something like this: “Access is not easy; Clean up your Rubbish; Dangerous: Rockfalls; Nudist beach, be respectful.” Everything was true besides the part of nudists. Most of the people were actually foreigners. What was truly surprising was how people were able to climb down with umbrellas, food containers, fridges and small kids. It´s a tricky climb, so imagine extra kids to worry about. In contrast to the majority of Mediterranean beaches I had seen before, Pria da Ursa was stunning, wild and dangerous.

Praia de cavalo, Sesimbra
Praia do cavalo | Source:

Day 4: Sesimbra, Praia do Cavalo

Sesimbra is located on Arrabida Peninsula. Our goal initially was to explore the beaches along the coast of Serra da Arrabida Nature park. Unfortunately the roads were cut and the only access was by bus from Setubal. Lucky for us, our camping was right next to another secluded beach. The hike is long and challenging, around 1 km, and the beach itself looks like one of those tropical beaches. Vertical rock sculptures surrounded by cyan, crystal clear water. Unlike the first beach, Praia do Cavalo has calm and peaceful water. This beach was not as well kept secret as the others, since there are boats bringing people from the main beach.

Soak up the sun on Praia da Ribeiro do Cavalo and Praia da Baleeira with this Sesimbra and Arrabida’s Secret Beaches and Bays

Day 5: Troia, Praia de Bico das Lulas

Our last beach was Troia. Within a 40 min drive we reached Setubal and took a ferry to cross the canal. This area is a nature reserve and is the only place in Europe where you can see Dolphins! And we were lucky enough to see them! Three of them appeared for a show, bouncing in and out and then with a high jump disappearing underwater. The access to the beach is made out of wooden passages respecting the existing vegetation. The beach was long and sandy, again very clear water and almost no undulation.

The last day we spent returning to Porto, around 400 km. This trip was a short sneak-peak. If I were to come here again I would explore also Costa da Caparica, the Serra da Arrabida Nature Park which has many hiking trails and one of the most scenic roads in Europe, as well as  local wineries. My recommendation for beaches: Praia de Galapinhos.

Galapinhos beach
Praia de Galapinhos | Source:

We are still beginners in camping. We are still learning what is the equipment and the amount of prior planning needed for the travel to go smoothly. The cooking outdoors thing was new for me and it turned out quite fun! It´s an advantage to have a car when camping and changing locations. 

Some photos from the trip

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Wild, secluded beaches near Lisbon

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