Portugal is one of the most popular places in Europe for a beach holiday – it’s easy to get to and has over 300 days of sunshine a year. However, a holiday in Portugal does not just have to be lying on a beach in popular seaside resorts. There are quieter beach areas and historic cities, as well as the Atlantic Islands of Madeira and The Azores.
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Portugal Beach Holidays
The Algarve on Portugal’s south coast is the main beach holiday destination in Portugal. However there a few other sites, including the coast near Lisbon and a small island north of Madeira.
The Algarve Beach Holidays
The Algarve is Portugal’s most popular destination. Most of its beaches are safe for swimming and many of them are Blue Flag certified. There are lots of golf courses along the Algarve, as well as other sports including tennis and water sports. Behind the beaches there is a mountain range that is great for walking and cycling, and has beautiful old towns.
There are several resorts along the coast. Quinto do Lago is towards the eastern part of the Algarve and has some of the best golf courses in the area.
To the west of Quinto do Lago is the resort of Vilamoura. The centre point of Vilamoura is a marina with lots of bars and restaurants, as well as some nightclubs. There are beaches either side of the marina.
Next to Vilamoura is the lively resort of Albufeira, which has long beaches lined with bars and restaurants, and good nightlife.
To the west of the city of Lagos, the Algarve is much less developed and the beaches are quieter. At the western point of the coast is the resort of Sagres, which has the best surfing and windsurfing in the Algarve.
The Lisbon Coast, also known as the Cascais-Estoril Coast, is on Portugal’s west coast. The coast consists of ten beaches broken up by several towns.
The coast doesn’t have the sort of beach resorts that you get on the Algarve but it does have some boutique hotels with pools that are not far from the beaches. The closest beaches are only half an hour from Lisbon.
Of the ten beaches Praia da Rainha is the best for sunbathing, whilst Carcavelos is closest to Lisbon and has lots of bars and restaurants but gets busy. Guincho has some of the best surfing conditions, and as it gets less busy than the others is probably the best one if you are looking to surf.
The small island of Porto Santo sits in the Atlantic Ocean to the north of Madeira. The island has 10km of sandy beaches (its total area is only 42 square kilometres) and is a great place for a beach holiday if you have been visiting Madeira (which has pebble beaches).
There are a few hotels on the island, and although it has not developed as a luxury destination some of these make a great place for a secluded beach holiday.
Cities and Cultural Sites
Portugal has much more to offer than just beaches. Lisbon and Porto on the mainland are great historic cities, whilst the islands of Madeira and The Azores offer dramatic scenery.
Lisbon is a historical city that has several distinct areas, each with their own character. Comércio Square is a large café lined area overlooking the Tagus River. Behind the square is a network of straight streets with many churches and museums. This area was rebuilt in the 18th Century following a large earthquake and is in contrast to the Alfama neighbourhood next to it, which has lots of older, narrow alleys linking buildings exhibiting Moorish architecture.
Lisbon has lots of great bars and restaurants, and is very lively at night.
Porto and the Douro Valley
Porto is an old city on the coast in the north of Portugal. The river Douro flows through the city and the valley it has created is famous for producing port. The city’s walls date to the 14th Century, and the old town is full narrow alleys climbing steeply up the hill from the river.
From Porto you can explore the Douro Valley – travelling amongst rolling hills and through vineyard and olive groves. There are lots of wine tasting opportunities – the region produces port, red and white wine. One of the best ways to see the area is by boat.
Madeira is a group of four Atlantic Islands and is closer to Africa than to Europe. The islands are popular for hiking and spa holidays. The interior of the main island (Madeira) contains a network of canals used for irrigation that are very popular walking routes. The islands do have beaches, but most of these are pebble beaches as opposed to sand. Porto Santo, an island a few miles to the north has sandy beaches – see the beach holidays section for more detail.
Funchal is the capital of Madeira. The old part of Funchal has cobbled streets and historic colonial buildings, whilst the more modern part of town is centred around the marina.
From Funchal you can take a cable car up to Monte, which has great views over the city and the Atlantic.
Canico is a village to the east of Funchal that is set on rocks overlooking the sea. The area is popular for hiking and golf, and there are good dive sites near the village.
The Azores are a group of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic a two-hour flight from Lisbon.
Sao Miguel is the largest island and has the main airport so is most visitors’ first stop. The interior of the island is great for walking, with lots of lakes and waterfalls. The island has several golf courses.
Other islands are quieter and are also great for trekking through their volcanic interiors. From most of the islands you can go on boat trips to spots whales and dolphins.
Although not known as a beach holiday destination, there are plenty of beaches in The Azores. Santa Maria is the most easterly island and has a number of undisturbed beaches. However, there are no real luxury beach resorts.
If you are looking for more than just a beach holiday or a city break then start off in Porto with a few days exploring the city and tasting port in the nearby Douro Valley. From Porto you can head south to Lisbon before finishing off your holiday with some time on the beach on the Algarve.
If you want to explore Madeira but also want some time on the beach then you can spend a few days in Funchal, including treks around the island, before flying or taking the ferry to Porto Santo for its sandy beaches.
Where to Stay
Portugal has a range of accommodation from luxury beach resorts on the Algarve to Boutique hotels in Lisbon.
When to Go
Portugal is best from May to October when the weather is warm. The hottest months are July and August.
Hiring a car is the easiest way to get around if you are travelling longer distances, otherwise you can hire taxis.
If you want to travel between islands on the Azores there are frequent ferries.
There are frequent direct flights to Lisbon, Faro (for The Algarve), Porto and Funchal from the UK. There is one direct flight to the Azores each week, otherwise you can change in Lisbon.